Menu

Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Like? Subscribe.

Audio: My armchair analysis of Automattic acquiring Tumblr

Date recorded: August 19, 2019

Yesterday while driving (sorry for the audio quality) I recorded a quick audio bit to distill my thoughts on why Automattic acquired Tumblr.

Short-version: Automattic sees Tumblr as an entry point for new WordPress.com customers – especially youth. For someone to go from idea to full commerce or publishing success via WordPress.com’s current offering could seem cumbersome and not nearly as hip as Tumblr.

Listen to the audio bit for more details. We’ll see if I’m right in 5 years.

Links relevant to this audio bit:

Automattic acquires Tumblr

Matt Mullenweg, on this Tumblog:

When the possibility to join forces became concrete, it felt like a once-in-a-generation opportunity to have two beloved platforms work alongside each other to build a better, more open, more inclusive – and, frankly, more fun web. I knew we had to do it.

Let’s get a few things out of the way immediately. Matt’s team acquired Tumblr for beans. That alone is a big part of this story. Yahoo! paid just over $1B for the platform and Automattic, reportedly, paid somewhere in the $3M area. In the world of acquisitions, this may end up being one of the most profitable acquisitions made by a tech company. Time will tell but I’d be willing to bet that Automattic will profit on this acquisition in a very short period of time.

Second, the tech stack of Tumblr is going to be replaced by WordPress. This is good for a variety of reasons. It ensures Tumblr will very likely be around in some form or another in perpetuity while still retaining its unique posting UI that its community no-doubt loves. I know I love it. I wish I had the same thing for my WordPress blog. Maybe I will get that now?

It also likely means that Tumblr and WordPress users can move back-and-forth between these two platforms much easier. I remember when I switched The Watercolor Gallery, which began as a Tumblog in 2010, to WordPress. It took me weeks to get everything right. Presumably this will no longer be the case.

And lastly, Automattic is an excellent home for Tumblr. They don’t just throw things out like Google, or apparently Verizon. They believe in building things for the long haul, doing them openly (for the most part), and retaining the ethos of the companies they acquire.

Both Flickr and Tumblr have seemingly found good homes.

I’m cdevroe on Tumblr.

Mike Davidson on working remotely

Mike Davidson:

First, let’s dispense with the easy part: despite what you may read on Twitter, remote work is neither the greatest thing in the world nor the worst. We are not moving to a world where offices go completely away, nor are we going through some sort of phase where remote work will eventually prove to be a giant waste of time. In other words, it’s complicated.

I worked remotely for about a decade. I now find myself working remotely again. A lot has changed since the first period that I worked remotely – as Mike points out in his post – but some things still remain the same.

Things that are improving:

  • Internet speed
  • Real-time chat tools
  • File sharing
  • Video / audio conferencing
  • White boarding

Things that will always be the same:

  • The need to over communicate
  • Distractions hurt productivity
  • Most meetings are terrible
  • People need to see people

I’m going to address each of these quickly.

That chatter that happens in office can sometimes bear fruit. Since these serendipitous interactions will no longer happen you have to create those interactions through deliberate action. Over communicate with your team about what you’re doing, what your ideas are, etc.

I feel there are less distractions working remotely than in an office though I can see how some would disagree. I suppose it depends on experience. In my experience, working in an office is like going to public school – a huge amount of time is “wasted” on chit-chat. Some, but not all, of that chit-chat moves into your chat client of choice. You have to be OK with this.

Meetings do not have to be terrible. There are some simple rules that I like to follow that help them suck less. Namely; Be certain you need an actual meeting, rather than an email or chat. Always give people enough time in advance to prepare. Always have an agenda. Always have action items. Follow up on those action items weekly or as appropriate.

Some people need to see people more than other people need to see people. 🙂 Finding some way to “get together” now and then is really valuable to the entire team.

I’m bullish on remote work. I think it is the way of the future for a large number of jobs though I totally understand people that would not want to do it. I cannot see it slowing down. I only seeing it becoming more and more normal and acceptable.

Google Pixel 4 wishlist

Yes, I know there have been leaks galore regarding the Google Pixel 4. While I’ve seen the leaks I haven’t paid much attention to them. I’ve tried to ignore them so that I could be at least a little surprised when it is announced.

I currently have the Google Pixel 2 XL. I’ve had it since December 2017. You can read my review here. This has been my favorite phone since the iPhone 7 Plus. So I’m eager to see what the next Pixel will be.

As my time to upgrade my phone comes around of course I’m left with a choice to go back to iOS or stick with Android. I’m sticking with Android. I really like my current phone OS. iOS 13 looks like a great update but it doesn’t have anything in it that would entice me to leave Android behind yet.

I’ve given thought to switching phone manufacturers also but there are a few things that keep me from doing so. The first obvious choice would be to go to Samsung. But Samsung’s software – both their apps they preinstall and their flavor of Android – seem subpar compared to the flavor of Android that ships on the Pixel. Also, their updates to Android under-the-hood come months (sometimes 9 months) after they are shipped. I like software updates far too much for that.

Another possible phone would be the OnePlus 7 Pro. This looks like a great phone for most people. Super fast, great display, etc. However, the camera system seems to not yet be what it needs to be for me.

There are other options like Huawei, LG, Xiaomi. But each of them has their trade-offs compared to the Pixel as well.

According to my research, the best Android phone for someone that cares about digital photography and having the latest, greatest software is the Pixel.

The only downside is that it is made by Google. And Google could, on a whim, wake up one morning and decide to discontinue making it. But I suppose I’ll have to live with that if it happens.

Now, onto the wishlist. Similar to my iPhone SE wishlist in 2016, my wishlist for the Google Pixel 4 is very short.

  • Faster – It isn’t that the Pixel 2 XL is slow. But is isn’t nearly as snappy as something like the OnePlus 7 Pro seems to be. I’d be totally OK if Google ships a Pixel 4 with 16GB of RAM to accomplish this.
  • Water resistant – “Waterproof” would be too much to ask, I fear. But a decent amount of water resistance would boost my confidence. I recently hiked 5 miles in a downpour and was very worried about my Pixel 2 XL but – surprisingly – it didn’t skip a beat.
  • Increased megapixels – I know, I know, megapixels aren’t everything. The 12MP front-facing camera in my Pixel 2 XL is extraordinarily good (see examples). But I’d be all for more pixels.
  • Better speakers – In quiet contexts the speakers in the Pixel 2 XL are more than adequate. But in nosier situations they simply do not hold up. And they aren’t good for music really.

That’s it. Faster, water resistant, increased megapixels, better speakers. I’m fairly confident that all of these things will come to be and that none of them are too much to ask. Looking forward to remaining on #teampixel for at least a few more years.

iOS creates a competition hostile environment

Below is a screenshot of the sheet you see on YouTube for iOS when tapping on a link in a video’s description.

They invoke this custom sheet because, like Google, Apple has created iOS to be competition hostile to other browser vendors like Mozilla, Opera, Microsoft, etc.

Tapping on a link should open your default browser, not provide you choices to download the developer’s other apps. I’m guessing the Safari option on this sheet is there because Apple wouldn’t approve the app otherwise.

But why should Google write the YouTube app any differently? If Apple can be competition hostile, why can’t they?

Early in iOS’s history I understood why Apple limited the browser, mail, maps, and calendar options to only their own apps. It made sense. The integration with the OS was just too deep and the OS didn’t have enough APIs to make a good user experience. But, today, on a platform that is into its second decade of existence, with features like deep links, extensions, services, SiriKit, etc. there is likely very little excuse any more not to allow users to choose their own default apps.

How can we force Apple to change this?

Jonnie Hallman on burn out

Jonnie Hallman, who created Cushion and a bunch of cool stuff you’ve probably seen, burned out building his start up:

Then, on Cushion’s 5-year anniversary, I experienced my first panic attack.

Read his post for the full story. But the entire post resonates so much with me because with Plain I (and Kyle, my co-founder) experienced many of the same emotions.

Burn out is real. Creating and running a start up isn’t for everyone. It isn’t for me – I know that now. While I may be capable and knowledgeable enough about the “how” I’m just not suited for it emotionally. I take things far too hard. Put too much on myself. And I wig out.

His jumping to Stripe is just like what I’ve done. I’ve found a home at Jujama where I have some of the same basic things I love about being an entrepreneur (autonomy, small team, flexible hours, remote office) but enough stability to keep me sane and – most – weekends my computer is off.

Congrats to him for recognizing that he needs to make a change and doing so even if seemingly painful. He finishes his post with a note that I’d like to finish this one with.

Note: If you overwork yourself and feel like you’re burning out, stop what you’re doing and find stability—whatever you’re working on isn’t worth your health. Don’t feel the need to “hustle” because some people glorify it. Doing good work while living a healthy life is much more respectable.

Microsoft invests $1B in OpenAI

Microsoft on the investment of a cool $1B in OpenAI:

The companies will focus on building a computational platform in Azure of unprecedented scale, which will train and run increasingly advanced AI models, include hardware technologies that build on Microsoft’s supercomputing technology, and adhere to the two companies’ shared principles on ethics and trust. This will create the foundation for advancements in AI to be implemented in a safe, secure and trustworthy way and is a critical reason the companies chose to partner together.

Don’t let the name OpenAI fool you, as there is no word from either company on whether their efforts will be open sourced.

However, OpenAI does publish a charter to which they say they hold.

Either way, it seems to align with Satya’s Microsoft that believes in empowering people to do their work and in doing it ethically and morally.

Nice partnership.

On a Microsoft Surface Phone

Zac Bowden:

It’s fair to say that in 2019, Microsoft is “all-in” on the Android platform thanks to its efforts like the Microsoft Launcher, Edge, and Office, all first-class experiences on Android smartphones around the world.

I’m glad Bowden wrote this post. I’ve been wanting to.

Longtime readers of my blog will know that I liked Windows Phone very much. I bought a Lumia for testing and immediately fell in love with the device and OS. If only it had apps! It was the only thing holding it back.

Today, if Microsoft decided to do what Bowden is suggesting, that wouldn’t be an issue. Android has tons of apps. And so many of Microsoft’s own apps are already first-class citizens on Android (as well as built to be cross platform from the ground up).

Bowden points out Launcher, Edge, and Office as Microsoft’s strongest efforts on Android. But that isn’t all of them. Your Phone, which he mentions later in his post, is also a big piece. Not to mention OneDrive, Skype, and a myriad of apps. They are all very good experiences on Android already.

Bowden says…

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people internally at Microsoft thinking about this very idea right now, weighing up whether it’s worth trying. Does Microsoft want to put money into researching and developing a new smartphone, while also maintaining its own Android ROM, updates, and paying Google for a Play Store license?

This is a given. They have already been doing this for years. Microsoft R&D is one of the largest, most expensive R&D departments in the world. Has been for decades. They shed off billions of dollars per year in R&D. And they aren’t slowing down.

Also, do you think Panos Panay hasn’t already prototyped 10 or 20 or 50 different designs of Surface Phone by now? Of course he has!

One other area I will disagree with Bowden. He writes:

This isn’t a bad thing, but an Android smartphone wouldn’t be the worst idea Microsoft has ever had, especially if it keeps expectations low and doesn’t make any huge bets on it.

Microsoft was recently valued as the most valuable company to ever exist on planet earth. (Alongside Amazon and Apple.) Keep expectations low? Don’t make a huge bet?

Steve Jobs passed away 10 years ago. Jony Ive is leaving Apple. Huawei has regulatory issues I can’t even dream of. Samsung’s devices are months behind on Android updates and one of their recent models exploded in people’s hands. And Google’s Pixel has yet to have a foothold.

I say Microsoft should swing for the fences. They should come out with Windows Phone again, base it on Android, call it a Surface Phone and set expectations at Panos Panay levels. That is; pumped.

React is an ecosystem

Jonathan Snook, on his learning curve when joining a new organization that uses React:

When people talk about learning React, I think that React, in and of itself, is relatively easy to understand. At least, I felt it was. I have components. I have JSX. I hit some hiccups with required keys or making sure I was wrapping child elements properly. But overall, I felt like I grasped it well enough.

Throw in everything else at the same time, though, and things get confusing because it’s hard at first to recognize what belongs to what. “Oh, this is Redux. That is React. That other thing is lodash. Got it.”

Most of the time React is merely a piece of an app’s overall puzzle. There are so many other pieces that make up the entire thing it can be an overwhelming experience.

I’m not new to building apps. In fact, the vast majority of my life I’ve been building apps. But learning React this year has been one of the more haphazard experiences of my career. It is not straightforward.

It isn’t that I think React itself is poorly made or documented. In fact, out of the box you can spin up a simple Hello World React app about as quickly as any other technology. But, as my boy Snook points out, it never ends there. Any somewhat mature app built on React has many, many other parts to learn.

He points most of them out in his blog post but I’ll reiterate here some of the things I personally see that could be overwhelming to people jumping in…

  • Build routines
  • Servers
  • State managers
  • Component hierarchies
  • JavaScript specifications
  • Myriad JavaScript packages (such as design libraries)
  • JavaScript style guides (naming and positioning of things)
  • CSS pre-processors (like SASS)

Any one or all of these things could potentially be new to a web developer coming into React. And, equally so, an app developer.

The only way to avoid being overwhelmed would be to take one bit at a time. Understand that what you’re looking at isn’t a single thing but a collection of many new things and that each of them will become natural to you over time. If your team is large enough, perhaps there are pieces you won’t need to worry too much about. But if not, you’re essentially diving into the “full stack” and will eventually become familiar with that entire thing.

I will say, lastly, that it has been very fun. React sort of combines the things I like about building apps with, say, Swift (typing, “stricter” rules, reusable bits) and the things I like about building things for the web (HTML, CSS, app runs on literally everything).

Libra (the new cryptocurrency) must-reads

So Facebook, among others, announced a new cryptocurrency and blockchain called Libra. You’ve likely already seen the headlines. But perhaps you’re wondering what it means, what makes Libra any different than, say, Bitcoin, or perhaps you have other questions.

I did too. So I’ve rounded up a few links that helped me gain some perspective on this announcement. As with all things crypto, it is fascinating to see all of this play out.

Libra White Paper:

We believe that collaborating and innovating with the financial sector, including regulators and experts across a variety of industries, is the only way to ensure that a sustainable, secure and trusted framework underpins this new system. And this approach can deliver a giant leap forward toward a lower-cost, more accessible, more connected global financial system.

This white paper lays out the problem, the proposed solution, and even a roadmap for the future of the currency/payments system. It reads well-enough and it a good place to start.

Wired’s article on this announcement:

The Libra Association will consist at first of up to 100 founding members including Facebook, each of which will invest at least $10 million to fund the association’s operations, and receive interest earned off the reserve. (Libra’s NGO members are exempted from the investment requirement.) Each member will be empowered to operate a node on the blockchain, and have a voice in determining changes to its code and managing the reserve.

As reporters are good at, the Wired piece distills the main points of the effort as well as provides context around the crypto-market in general. Adds some flavor to the entire thing.

Ben Thompson’s excellent take:

The best way to understand Libra, then, is as a sort of distributed ledger that is a compromise between a fully public blockchain and an internal database […] This means that the overall system is much more efficient than Bitcoin, while the necessary level of trust is spread out to multiple entities, not one single company…

At this point, I’d call Libra a pseudo-distributed blockchain backed cryptocoin. Rather than network nodes being managed by anyone they are managed by “qualified” entities. And so is the underlying software.

This is yet-another-option in the crypto-market. Something sort of like other coins but different enough that it deserves to exist. Hardliner crypto peeps may take offense to any amount of oversight on something like a cryptocoin but it is bound to occur. This won’t be the last cryptocoin/payments system you see created that has institutional backing and oversight. In fact, it isn’t the first. See JPM Coin from JP Morgan.

Again, I’m fascinated by this space and I will continue to watch as the markets, coins, payment systems, blockchains, and companies spearheading this new territory evolve.