Differentiating authors and users in WordPress

I wrote a plugin called Byline that lets a WordPress content manager assign multiple authors to a post without having to give them a username/password and modifying the theme to allow for an advanced co-author function.

Ideally, WordPress would have native co-author and guest-contributor functionality built-in, especially if it is intended to be a platform for community and collaboration.

For now, what my plugin proposes is that the User who creates a post entry and ensures it appears on the site is a distinct taxonomy from who wrote or contributed to the content. The notion of “author” in the WordPress admin is suited for blogs, but not a CMS that might handle a 1,000 different one-time contributors, like a community newspaper or student-run publication.

Life’s a tricky business

Nobody sets out on a strategy to fail. But they make many, many small decisions along the way for short-term gain that end up in overall failure. It’s true in business and in life. We’ve known this for generations, haven’t we? And yet we all succumb to it at one point or another.

Clayton Christensen struck a nerve with me in this BBC interview. The man behind the “innovator’s dilemma” — explaining why big companies like GM fail when disrupted by a newcomer or why newspapers struggle to survive in the digital age — makes the case for how people drastically underestimate the effect that day-to-day decisions have on a fulfilling life. His full argument is laid out in “How Will You Measure Your Life?”

It’s also an argument about integrity — sticking to your guns, avoiding compromises.

It also churns up thoughts about faith.

I suppose the argument is there that religion exists to reinforce a message of long-term thinking throughout our lives — saving your soul is as long-term as it gets. I’m not super religious, but I have to acknowledge its utility. What other institutions are compelling us to do this, to willingly sacrifice for potential reward later on? I suppose educational systems and fitness centers do this for different aspects of our health.

Anyway, the book is on my reading list, and it’s only $4 for the Kindle. Check out the interview; it’s worth pondering.

Should Facebook users expect more ads? You betcha.

With Facebook stock continuing to underwhelm ($31 at the time of this writing), one of the key worries among investors is whether the social media giant has a viable advertising revenue model to make it a longstanding company. According to its S-1 filing, ads made up 85 percent of its revenue in 2011.

Here are a few ways Facebook is pivoting (or could) to get more revenue their way.

  1. Moving to a single stream. Whereas the desktop browser version of Facebook gives you a news feed and a sidebar with ads, a better approach would be to consolidate these into a single feed. This is already happening with “Sponsored Stories.” That has proved effective, and it’s likely that more ads will be offered in this way. Done in a gradual way with a focus on the user experience will ensure most users don’t jump ship. Twitter users are already getting accustomed to “Promoted Tweets.”  Adopting a “single stream” from a design standpoint could also eliminate a lot of the clutter that has overtaken the desktop version of the Facebook site.
  2. Monetize business pages. According to Mark Zuckerberg’s letter in the S-1 filing, Facebook hosts pages for more than 4 million businesses. And yet not a single one of them is monetized (unless they buy ads to promote them). While offering free business pages is a smart open-door strategy, there is an opportunity to add on premium services. This could mean more location-based services, such as push notifications to people within the vicinity of a store, especially if you can get users to accept this kind of intrusion. Perhaps the Gowalla acquisition will help here.
  3. Create an ecosystem of services. While Zynga has definitely helped Facebook become the #1 provider of distractions, other application services could be deployed to make it a more helpful platform. Say Facebook partners with Evernote, putting all of your notes and collections in a single spot and allowing you to scrape Facebook posts into a virtual, private scrapbook. There’s also a huge opportunity for collaborative tools to compete with Google Docs. These could be developed by third parties but tightly integrated into the FB experience.
  4. Create an advertising network. Take Facebook ads out of Facebook. With revenue sharing, Facebook could compete with AdSense and leverage its existing network of sites that already use FB integration for in-page “Likes,” comments and recommendations. Instead of contextual ads, data-driven ads could follow you as you browse the web. The same demographic targeting features that allow marketers to pinpoint Facebook users could be deployed on the network, provided that users are persistently logged-in (or some other cookie mechanism is used).

I’m sure I’m not the first person to suggest or imagine these things. It just seems that now that Facebook has to make revenue to keep investors happy, you’re going to see them get more aggressive about doing just that.


Poetry is code

WordPress’ tagline preaches, “Code is poetry.” Therefore, poetry is code.

Writers need to take written language as seriously as a programmer takes code. English (and any other language, written or otherwise) is a programming language. It encodes meaning. Language has rules of syntax, grammar and logic; then there are matters of style. All are features of programming as well.

A poorly formed expression won’t function, whether it’s PHP or English. An errant comma or misspelled word can destroy a well intentioned sentence. Trouble is, most readers already know how to debug on the fly: we can instantly turn “their” into “there” if the conditions are right. A proofreader must turn off this feature and compile meaning word by word, clause by clause.

Learning to code, and observing good code, has deepened my appreciation for writing well and reading good writing.

Write on.