I’ve joined Automattic

Some “personal” news…

Last week, I started work at Automattic, the private company that grew out of the open-source, content management system WordPress. Specifically, I’m joining WordPress VIP, their Enterprise WordPress division, where I will be their first Relationship Manager located in the UK & continental Europe.
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WordPress VIP provide consulting, support, hosting, training, and other services to some of the biggest and best WordPress sites for clients like Time Inc., Facebook, TechCrunch and The New York Times.

I’m looking forward to working with many clients in or near my timezone, which currently includes names like Capgemini, News UK and more. Other global brands whose content marketing is powered by WordPress VIP include Microsoft, Airbnb and Capital One.

More widely, Automattic’s products include WordPress.com, Jetpack, WooCommerce and more. Most recently, they acquired the popular social media platform Tumblr.

Automattic is famous for being a completely distributed organisation – there are no offices – and everyone works from home, or another productive location. That also means my application and interview process was conducted completely by video call and Slack chat; I met my first Automatticians last week when they happened to be meeting clients in London.
Dropping in at Capgemini with WordPress VIP colleagues.
I now work alone at my desk at home in Manchester, accompanied occasionally by my cat. I do somewhat miss the coffee chats I used to have at my old workplaces, but I’ve found a rhythm that works for me. Via tools like Zoom, Slack and Automattic’s internal blogging platform “P2”, I’ve already had productive conversations with colleagues. And with the choice of almost 6,000 chat emojis, there is literally one for almost every occasion and reaction. I’ve already begun to understand the various memes that define a distributed working culture :lovemustard:

Right now, I’m undertaking a rite-of-passage that is common to every single employee of Automattic: the support rotation. This first three weeks of employment are a structured programme of learning, including how to effectively communicate with over 900 staff around the world and, most crucially, how WordPress VIP handles customer support. Now in my second week of three, I’m actively reading, answering and completing tickets raised by customers of VIP. This will give me both an empathy for, and an insight into how clients use our services and how we support them — which is a critical underpinning for an effective relationship.

Link to map of Automatticians
Unsurprisingly for a company rooted in blogging, there’s a great deal that’s been written about what it’s like to work at Automattic, how it recruits and the benefits so I won’t repeat those here.

Suffice to say, this is a huge step forward for me and I’m very, very excited about it. I want to thank everyone in my personal and professional life who has helped me get to this point. WordPress VIP is growing and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in with clients. There’s a great deal of experience that I can bring to the role as the Relationship Management team continues to develop.

I’m also really proud to be working at a company that’s so intrinsically linked with the fabric of the web: over 34% of all sites on the web use WordPress. Of sites that use a content management system at all, the market share is over 60%.

Finally, I’d love to talk to you if you have a WordPress project that you’re working on, or if you think you might need the support of VIP. I expect to be travelling frequently between Manchester, London and the continent too, so please do get in touch for a coffee and chat wherever you are.

I hope to connect with you all again very soon.

Housing associations: this post could help protect your rental income

With the inevitable challenge of Universal Credit, housing associations must find new and more reliable ways to protect their rental income. A “good” website is often cited as one way of doing this – but what makes a housing association website truly effective in helping protect rental income?

Originally posted on the Reason Digital blog

I’ve been working on some research for housing associations on how effective they are digitally. Almost all housing associations do have websites. But when it comes to those websites playing an active role in helping protect rental income, many housing associations still lag behind: online payments are non-existent, or difficult to achieve, the sites don’t work on a smartphone and some even have outdated payment details.

When considering what makes an effective website, there’s definitely a lead that we can take from the consumer sector. Websites like Amazon, Tesco and Just Eat are designed to help their users buy products quickly and with as few barriers as possible between the demand being identified and the payment being taken. Amazon even invented the ‘one-click’ method of buying something online and they’ve recently extended this concept to a physical object with the Amazon Dash Button.

And in the age of cuts and Universal Credit, when social housing tenants must make active choices about how to use their money, housing association websites must adopt the same tactics to persuade their tenants to pay their rent online instead of ringing their call centre or visiting a service desk.

Let’s take a step back. Why is this important? After all, tenants in social housing often have special requirements or in some particular need. Do they even use smartphones or shop online?

Around 46% of social renters already have access to a smartphone.

The answer is a resounding yes: ASRA, a housing association focusing on London and the south east has found that almost half of their website traffic (47%) comes from smartphones and around three-quarters of this traffic are repeat visitors. As long ago as 2014 other social housing associations were reporting that up to 35% of their web traffic was from smartphones.

As the take-up of smartphones continues to increase in the UK, perhaps those traffic trends aren’t particularly surprising. Around 46% of social renters already have access to a smartphone, and this is likely to rise access to the internet becomes more essential and prices come down.

Tenants of social housing are just like anyone else when they buy goods or services online. The key difference is that they may be more reliant on mobile internet use. Their expectations are (or increasingly will be) the same when accessing housing services.

And even though most websites not designed for smartphones will still be viewable on a small screen, 61% of users said they were unlikely to return to a site if they had trouble viewing it on a phone (Nielsen, 2013).

So why do so many housing associations have such ineffective websites when that could lead directly to increased costs and even the loss of rental income?

From speaking to many of my clients, I know that getting a new website sorted out can feel like a headache: coming up with sensible requirements, the pain of tendering and then the eye-watering cost which leaves you with a site that’s never updated.

All this means that a ‘new website’ gets relegated to the back of your mind, becoming a nagging feeling that you just don’t want to address.

But the truth is stark: having a website that works well on a smartphone will help cut costs and protect your rental income.

And if there’s a way of making rent easy to pay online, is there a way of buying a website online that’s as simple as clicking a button?

Whilst “one click” websites aren’t quite on the horizons, the good news is that we do have a way to dramatically reduce the pain of commissioning a new website, whilst getting your digital presence sorted – and turning it into a channel for protecting your rental income.

We have produced successful websites for housing associations like Riverside, Halton Housing and Keniston; and what we’ve learned is that you don’t need to reinvent the web to have an effective website.

In fact, we think that it should be as easy as signing up to watch TV or listen to music online.

These days, you don’t pay tons up front to do those things: you buy a subscription. And when you don’t need that service anymore, you simply stop paying. Why should buying a website be any different?

If you’re interested, we’d love to chat. Two of our charity sector clients, Core and Lattitude have already seen the benefits and now, we want to bring the learnings from easy online donations to the social housing sector.

Ultimately, housing associations must treat customers like Amazon do. Persuading tenants to pay their rent online isn’t done by shutting down traditional services: it’s got to be an active choice by making it the easiest way to pay.

Let’s learn from ‘buy it now’ and start building websites that help tenants ‘pay it now’!

Can we harness the power of laziness for good?

We humans are lazy. And people who make apps know they can tap into our innate desire to preserve effort. If something can be made easy and doesn’t cost a ton more, humans will probably end up choosing the easier option.

Originally published on the Reason Digital blog

It’s why apps like Uber and Deliveroo are so successful. No more awkward call centres or cash to get a cab or delicious food sent to your door. Yes, the app makers are doing us a huge service but ultimately, they want us to spend more overall on something we might not have previously bothered with because it was too difficult.

So if we can tap into the laziness and make humans buy more stuff, can we use the same principle to make humans give more stuff?

That’s the idea behind Gone for Good – a smartphone app that makes giving as easy as getting. Gone for Good lets you donate your unwanted stuff to local charities with just a few taps of the app.

Take a photo of your items, give it a few words and pick your preferred charity. Once they’ve accepted the donation, a friendly volunteer will come round at a convenient time to pick it up.

 It’s charity giving for the Uber generation.

No more bagging things up to leave outside the charity shop or calling the council to arrange a collection. Gone For Good is the easy way to get rid of things you don’t want for a good cause: from cushions to sofas, charities will welcome it all. It’s perfect for busy people who don’t have time to get to a charity shop and also great for those who can’t get out and about to give.

Over the last couple of months, we’ve been trialling the app in Manchester with both local charity shops and those charities with a national high street presence. During the trial, Gone For Good helped users donate over £10,000 worth of goods to charities through the app, including sofas, bikes, mattresses and even a piano! In one instance, over 100 office chairs were donated.

That’s why we’re really pleased to say that Gone For Good is now available nationally, allowing anyone to give away virtually anything to charity, anywhere in the UK. To make this happen, Gone for Good has partnered with two major national charities – British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK – and more will join in the coming weeks.

Now you really can give away things to good cause as easily as ordering a cab online. It’s charity giving for the Uber generation.

Download Gone For Good now from the Apple App Store or Google Play for Android.

Help end LGBT youth homelessness

If you’d just like to donate, sponsor me here — but if you’d like to find out why, read on…

A couple of weeks ago, rainbow flags enveloped social media.

It was a reminder of how much attitudes towards equality have changed in a dramatically short period of time. Legal equality is now a lot closer than it was as little as ten years ago.

Social equality is another thing.

Laws can be passed. Role models can get paraded in glossy magazines. We can start talking about celebrations, not protest marches.

Attitudes can still be ugly.

And young people can still feel alone, can still be living terrified in hostile conditions, just for being who they are.

When they feel that way, the choices can often seem bleak. Sometimes, they might feel they don’t have a choice and they can’t just… keep going.

No-one should feel that way.

We’re hitting the season of summer celebrations across the country and the world. It’s going to be a big one, given the news from the US.

But I’m not quite in the spirit of things yet.

A couple of months ago, I declared myself “in training” for what will be my biggest cycling challenge to date.

On 2 August, I’m joining 20,000 other riders to cycle 100 miles between London and Surrey in the RideLondon 100 event. The annual closed road ride follows a similar route to the London 2012 Olympic Cycling road race, including the infamous Box Hill in Surrey.

Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 2015 Route Profile MapSetting off from the Olympic Park in Stratford, through central London to Hampton Court and out to Surrey for the most gruelling part of the ride. I’m hoping that the thought of a triumphant return and sprint finish down the Mall will keep me spinning slowly up the hills.

Given my generally poor fitness levels, I expect it to be struggle. Just to complete the full ride (and not get shuffled off roads that are about to re-open) I need to maintain a minimum ~13 mph average. For over 8 hours. Think of it like the London Marathon but for cyclists.

It’s now the last few weeks of training before the ride. And the biggest challenge to achieving this is the fight against myself.

For a long time, I didn’t think I was the kind of person who could train for a physical achievement.

Over the last 8 weeks, I’ve slowly begun to change that belief.

I’ve been following a cycle training plan that’s seen make wake up as early as 7am (!) or ride after work to ride 20-30 miles three times a week in whatever weather. At the weekends, I’ve been riding increasingly long single rides in order to build the stamina I’ll need to make it through the full 100 miles in August. Last weekend, I rode my longest ever single ride: 70 miles.

Finally, I believe that I can keep going and do the full 100 mile distance.

Albert Kennedy Trust logoNow, I’d love it if you’d help inspire other young people facing much more extreme crises to keep going too, by sponsoring me. I’m supporting the mission of the Albert Kennedy Trust to end LGBT youth homelessness and help other young people believe that they too can keep going, even when they live in hostile environments.

The Albert Kennedy Trust is named for a lad who ran away from a Salford children’s home. In 1989, he fell to his death from at the roof of the Chorlton Street car park.

His death moved Cath Hall, a local foster carer who knew Albert to found the trust in his memory. She was angry about the apparent epidemic of young LGBT people facing difficulty and crisis in foster care, of which Albert was a tragic victim.

Today, the Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT) provides essential support for young LGBT people between 16-25 who are made homeless, or are living in hostile environments. Still operating in Manchester, they’ve expanded to London and Newcastle — providing financial support, legal advice and the new Purple Door project of safe places to stay for homeless young LGBT people.

Even though they now count Ian McKellen and Julie Hesmondhalgh amongst their patrons, they’re not a widely-known charity brand. It’s been awesome to see the positive impact of their work and that’s why I’ve supported them personally for a couple of years now.

But in some ways, the crisis still goes on — perhaps more hidden now and certainly far less mainstream. AKT know that there are always more young people they could help support. More young people who need help to achieve their full potential and just… keep going, even when everything seems against them.

That’s why I’d love it if you’d consider supporting AKT’s mission to end LGBT youth homelessness by sponsoring me to ride 100 miles this August.

You can sponsor me right now here. It’s quick and simple so do it straight away.

Oh and, if you fancy supporting me on the early August bank holiday weekend, do come down to London. There’s a whole weekend of closed roads and cycling fun. And on the 2nd, you can sit in the pub, watching the TV coverage before lining up my pint after my final sprint^W struggle the down the Mall!

Thanks for reading and thanks for your awesome support to help end LGBT youth homelessness.

Google Chrome’s “Warn Before Quitting” preference doesn’t automatically sync

I recently set up my new work Mac and one of my first tasks was to download Google Chrome. Yes, Google is ‘evil’ and gives away my data to the NSA, but you can’t beat the convenience of having a synchronised browser experience across multiple computers.

Signing-in to Chrome with my Google account lets automatically install my preferred extensions, synchronises bookmarks and history (if I choose) and other browsing preferences.

Warn Before Quitting in Chrome

However, the most useful preference that I have enabled does not get sync’d. That’s “Warn Before Quitting” – an incredibly helpful feature for those with fat fingers like me, or if you’re just someone that types very fast. Tapping Command-Q on a Mac is the standard keyboard shortcut to close an app, but unfortunately it’s right next to Command-W – the command to just close a window or, say, a Chrome tab.

The Warn Before Quitting feature requires you to hold down Command-Q for more than a keystroke to quit Chrome. In fact, you have to hold it down for a few seconds while a visual prompt confirms you really do want to quit. And given how many tabs I usually have open at once, this is quite rare.

So while this is a great feature, the second-greatest feature – syncing – doesn’t actually enable it on other browsers! I suppose this is partly down to the cross-platform nature of Chrome – the equivalent key combination on Windows, Alt+F4 poses fewer issues.

Nonetheless, a pretty key preference for Chrome Mac users is not sync’d across devices. And I’ve been losing tabs for days!

Viral marketing is a marketing exercise

Originally posted over at Melbourne.co.uk.

We love sharing funny, moving and clever videos around the office at Melbourne. Recent ones that have done the rounds include a 999 call by a women reporting the theft of a snowman and the Cassette Boy remix of Dragons Den (possibly NSFW).

But my favourite one is an old classic from the early days of YouTube.

What makes all these videos shareable? Why do I forward them round to my colleagues over email, Twitter or instant messaging?

As Geth from Young said at last night’s Feed, the key to a making someone share a good piece of content is for it to elicit an emotional response. Whether it makes you laugh, cry or – in the case of the Picard video – simply feel bemused at the ultimate cultish geekyness, it has to do that to make someone even think about sharing it with their friends.

And that really is it. “Viral marketing” is not a panacea, nor is it something for which there’s a secret formula. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that they term “viral marketing” is an opportunistic branding of a natural phenomenon. Dan Carrol expands on this in his guest post for The Feed last week.

Content is key, always has been and always will. None of the videos I’ve linked above intrinsically sell a product – but they’re bloody funny. Anyone producing content that they want people to share is going to have to compete with these and more. Take a look at James Webb’s blog post (and inevitable associated infographic!) about the most watched and searched for terms on YouTube. With so much high-quality – and low-humour content – there’s no way that anyone can guarantee that something can “go viral”. However, latching onto the (trends of the day can definitely help users discover and subsequently share your content if it’s any good.

In short, the best way to harness the viral effect is to make something special that gets you thinking and make sure it gets found by users. Anyone that tries to sell you a “viral marketing campaign” is selling you snake oil.

Hello Manchester!

Update: this blog post was imported from my neglected attempt to create a bespoke cycling blog!

So yeah. This is the Northern Quarter Cycle Club blog.

We’re not a proper cycling club. Nor are we exclusive to Manchester’s Northern Quarter. But what we are is a place to “document and share the cycling culture” that is prevalent around Manchester and especially rooted in the creative and alternative hub of the Northern Quarter.

If this is going to work, we want you to get involved. Anyone’s welcome to write for this blog about anything that’s related to the overall topic. Photo contributions are especially welcomed and also cycle style. We love cycle chic, but also cycle geek. SPDs or glittery sandals, we want to hear about them.

We’re also going to try running a few organised rides in what’s left of summer and maybe even autumn. People who can help out with these would be especially welcome. Also, we’ll be sharing details of other rides organised by fellow groups.

Our hope is to join the rich culture of cycle blogging and be part of the grassroots cycling scene in Manchester and beyond. If you like this idea, then drop a comment below.

Happy cycling!

Describing Ancoats: the Manchester Zedders

The Manchester Zedders are a couple of intrepid individuals who have undertaken to explore the whole of Manchester on-foot. Armed with a copy of the A-Z, they tick off which squares they’ve walked and what they’ve found. Psychogeography or something, they call it (well, they don’t like to call it that). But their work is an invaluable modern historical record. A snapshot in time of wherever they’ve walked.

And in May 2008, they tackled our very own Ancoats:

Marie’s historical research has brought up loads of stuff about Ancoats. This is an area on the outskirts of the city centre which has seen heavy industry, slums, run-down estates and now a big regeneration project. It was apparently ‘the world’s first industrial suburb’. So we thought we’d go take a look.

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Check out their incredibly comprehensive walk around some of Ancoats main streets, including photos of the regeneration as it stood at the time.

Special thanks for licensing their set of Creative Commons licensed images, a few of which we’re using for our header image.