Before I dive in, I should note that this post was written as LexBlog hits its fifteenth birthday. It’s been my pleasure to work in the Seattle offices at LexBlog for over 6 years. So much of that pleasure stems from truly enjoying the people that work here and overcoming the challenges we face on
I should note that I continue to remain positive about the direction of the Gutenberg project (the new WordPress editor, coming to you as of WordPress 5.0). My feelings on this are numerous and expansive, but the long and short of it is that I believe WordPress core needs a major shakeup to help the community (re)develop focus and draw in engaged and effective technical participants. Gutenberg represents a wonderful opportunity to do that as it brings a new paradigm to the core editor (and likely elsewhere as the foundational technology expands into other areas of site management) and has the potential to draw in a new wave of web developers.
That said, the introduction of Gutenberg into core has been an interesting thing to watch. From afar, the concerns of the Accessibility Team seem to clearly show the divisions between WordPress as an open source project (WordPress.org) and as a commercial one (WordPress.com):
Updating LexBlog.com’s aggregation engine was no small feat. Scott Fennell and I spent months testing all of the various components of our new aggregation engine that powers the vast majority of the site, but something that was hard to prepare for was the shear scale of the site. Now that it’s up an running, we’re learning a lot about how to manage a site like this, and what sorts of features are necessary for it to be a successful publication from the perspective of an editor or reader.
One thing that I’ve recently keyed in on is search. Normally, I would tell a client that on-site search is not important. Most visitors are coming to a site from a much better search engine (Google), and are more apt to click around the site once there. LexBlog has layered in some nice features to the standard WordPress search, but most of those are around making sure that readers can search by an author’s name when they’re on a blog or website. This seems like a thing WordPress should do by default, but the generic WordPress search is “dumb” in the sense that it only looks to the post content and post title when running a search. Authors are not in either, so some work had to be done to support searching an author’s name and getting their posts.
Like many technical specifications on the web, RSS (which stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication depending on who you talk to) has a confusing history that seems to only get more confusing as time goes on. The format became popular in the late 1990’s as the need to standardize information held on websites became a pressing concern with the rise of blogging and dynamic websites. The influx of information and content, all organized in different ways, was exciting, but without a standard way to consume the content, you were left with just a few options:…
Engineers make hardware and software for humans. It should go without saying, but remembering and staying true to that axiom is complicated depending on where you’re standing. With each passing year, it seems that things get more complicated, more random, more uncertain. This year was no different, especially in the realm of technology.
Facebook and Twitter are defending their platforms amidst allegations that they were used for interfering in America’s 2016 Presidential elections. Net neutrality seems to be going by the wayside with nary a peep from the so-called “Big N”, many of whom participated in protests in 2014 when the issue first came to the public’s attention. Uber dug itself into a hole as scandal after scandal rocked the company; the first of which was a female engineer lifting the veil and exposing a misogynistic and Darwinian culture, followed by revelations that the company had written software to avoid local law enforcement agents in areas where Uber was prohibited from operating. Meanwhile, the threat of automation and the looming specter of artificial intelligence have every working professional worried about the future of employment in this new economy.
The list could go on and on, and doesn’t end when last year began. As long as corporate greed and bad company culture are not only allowed, but praised, problems of this ilk will continue. The problem as I see it, is that it’s most troubling in the context of computers.
Over the past few days, the Product team at LexBlog has been busy launching a few bodies of work that have been a long time coming. While our Success team launches sites and solutions on a hourly basis, the product side of LexBlog has the luxury of spending weeks, sometimes months, working on new features (what luxury!). It’s a truly fortunate situation, and one that we don’t take for granted.
This week, our team had the pleasure of being in the same offices together with our Lead Developer, Scott Fennell – who blogs over at Code in the Cold – and Director of Design, Brian Biddle making their quarterly visit to the LexBlog Mothership (now at WeWork!), and we made sure to capitalize. This Thursday and Friday we celebrated our team’s geographical unity, short-lived though it may be, by launching a new admin color scheme, a redesigned LXBN – named The LexBlog Network from here on out – and LexBlog Network subscription options for each author on LexBlog’s publishing platform.
While our authors may not find the new admin color scheme groundbreaking, this update was the source of some headaches for yours truly, and served as a great technical opportunity for Mr. Biddle and Angelo Carosio, LexBlog’s in-house DJ and developer extraordinaire.
In my time at LexBlog, I’ve seen three different office buildings and worked in two.
The first LexBlog offices where my first “real” desk job began was on 95 South Jackson Street in Pioneer Square. The building was near the waterfront, and a stone’s throw away from the Seattle Ferry Terminal. Our CEO, Kevin O’Keefe (he of Real Lawyers Have Blogs), lives on Bainbridge and so LexBlog has always stuck near the ferries. The offices were nice; brick walls, open layout, corner offices with good views, but toward the end of LexBlog’s lease we were neighbors with one of the largest construction projects in Seattle’s history.
One of the things that we strive to do at LexBlog is help data drive decision making processes. The fetishization of data in business is somewhat akin to the fetishization for new specs and frameworks in development, but data is still a helpful tool (just like arrow functions in ES6) and should not be ignored. And so we track actions in the admin – clicks, navigating to a certain page, performing an action – all the data that a product manager like myself craves. One thing I’ve noticed in watching how our customers use the LexBlog platform is that people post. A lot.
That simple fact shouldn’t be surprising. We run a network of digital legal publications. Lawyers are trained writers, so they write constantly. Basically, if you give a lawyer a blog, be prepared to see them log in, go to Posts -> Add New, and begin writing away. So when I heard that Matt Mullenweg included the editor in the list of primary focuses for the core team, my interest was piqued. When I saw Aaron Jorbin’s post on using Gutenberg last night, I had to try it out for myself.
At LexBlog, my team is responsible for keeping a lot of sites up and running. We help manage the reputation of lawyers and law firms, where each pixel matters. As a result, our product team performs a host of functional tests before launching updates, and we lean on test driven development practices to catch things that functional tests cannot.
An unfortunate blind spot is that humans aren’t machines. We’re prone to miss simple things, and after staring at a screen for hours on end, our brains and eyes get tired. To help catch things that we may gloss over, we use an internal application built using Node.js, React, and Selenium that integrates with the WordPress REST API and an external service, Applitools.
Every Product Manager that I’ve had the opportunity to speak with, listen to, or read about makes one thing abundantly clear: Knowing your users is your job. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. If you take a moment to peruse career pages or job boards with Product Management positions, you’ll notice that each listing notes an ability to simultaneously be an Excel/SQL/database master and product expert. The nature of product management requires you to live, breathe, and eat the customer’s experience while understanding why their experience is the way it is.