Matt

Founder at Write.as

It's promising that Apple is focusing so much of their marketing efforts on the “privacy” of their products. Though it doesn't make someone like me want to buy an iPhone, it at least shows that people are growing concerned enough with the issue for a large company like Apple to address it. Still, we shouldn't rest all our hopes for digital privacy on a marketing campaign.

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Since spring, I've been back and forth between my home of the last few years, northern Florida, and my home as a kid, northern Virginia. After a few more years in the South than I'd initially planned to stay, I finally started working on returning north to the comforting cold, falling leaves, and, well, seasons.

There's much to say about what I'm leaving behind (or not) in Florida, but today I'm thinking about the Publix grocery store I shopped at for basically my entire time there.

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As I social-media'd on my social media this morning:

I don't think the ultimate replacement for social media will be called “social media” at all.

A project that frames itself this way declares itself a failure from the start. (That is, unless it launches with a billion users.) Look at countless past examples of attempts to go for the social media throne, like Google+. As a project, you call yourself a competitor, and the world hears about you as a competitor, but they also hear that you'll never make it — you're actually a “ghost town.”

As soon as it's uttered, you'll never become more than that. This title becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy no matter how large you grow, because people assume you aren't large (or manipulative) enough to retain users like Facebook, and everyone on your service is ready to jump ship at any moment. Even the people that take another look at you down the line remember that initial judgement: ghost town.

Calling yourself a “Facebook replacement” isn't going to manifest such a destiny. It's really an unfinished thought — the right idea, yes, but still unfinished. It doesn't actually answer the question of how you replace the incumbents.

It's not enough to simply wish it all away, and it's not enough to throw a ton of money at the problem. It's not enough to put better people behind the tech, and it's not enough to put cool new tech behind the same interface. It's not enough to write think pieces (try as I might) and it's not enough to have a better business model.

We all know Facebook is terrible. This is common knowledge in 2019. But if we're ever going to replace it, we can't frame new solutions in terms of social media. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and on and on are social media. They won that title. Any new entrant to the space that calls themselves that loses by default. So let's not use that title.

Let's forget “social media.” The next thing won't be called that — and can't, at least if we care about it succeeding.

So what will we call it? Maybe that answer will fill in the rest, after all.


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I've worked exclusively at small software companies over my 13-year career, and the biggest lesson I've learned — especially applied to running my own company — is that your style of governance matters.

There's something to be said about a bit of anarchy within a company, in this regard. You're more nimble; you can move quickly, do good, do bad, learn from your mistakes, and quickly implement fixes. For example, if you deploy badly broken code to production, you can fix it and quickly implement safeguards that'll prevent it in the future. But in my experience, this is a key ingredient for any organization that you want to succeed in the long-term: learning, and moving from chaos to order as soon as possible.

Plenty of people in the startup world see organizational process and order as more buttoned-up, bureaucratic, and “corporate”; as something that stifles “disruption” or whatever bullshit they're selling. But after a few years in the business, on both sides of the managerial coin, I'm sold on process and order, in whatever form it can take.

I've seen this work before at a 4-person startup, where I really first cut my teeth on professional software development. There was an employee manual I read once and then never referenced again — from my memory, I learned most of that company's process pragmatically, on the job. For example, the scope of responsibilities for each of us was clearly defined. We had good, consistent version control and code review habits. I learned these things once and kept them throughout my time at the company — and then brought them to positions at other companies that lacked much structure.

I've often thought back to compare this with other startups that had no collaborative review process in place, or no solid plan for getting new employees up to speed, or no stated process for handling user issues. Through this lens, it's easy to see which style was more successful — both for me as an employee and the organization as a whole.

Since Write.as started transitioning from a one-man show (just me) to a full team six months ago, I've tried to standardize and communicate as much as possible about how the team should work together and get things done. It's actually harder than I'd initially thought, getting my own personal processes put into language that the team can follow. You can never anticipate how deep and intricate years of organizational knowledge can be when it's only in your head. So documentation has generally happened on an as-needed basis:

How do we handle bug reports? Let's write up a process for that. What's our refund policy? Let's outline that now. How should we write commit messages, etc.? Let's get into the details now.

Doing it this way has kept the process light and efficient — I'm not spending my days writing up procedures we'll never need, but the important questions are getting answered for the team, both present and future.

To share this information across our team as we create it, we actually use the same product we're developing every day, Write.as. In particular, we're using our own Teams service, based on WriteFreely, which gives us a private space to spread this longer-form information internally. It's been especially important for me as CEO, because I need to be able to get our distributed team on the same page in a lightweight way that doesn't waste my time. It turns out we built something pretty good for that.

For one, our Teams site gives everyone multiple blogs / sections. So I have one section where I share company strategy, monthly updates (anything from customer developments to metrics), and rationale behind various decisions we make. Then I have a “daily objectives” space where I share more frequent status updates (especially while I'm more remote, as I am now, in Japan). I have another section for the various processes we establish, one for marketing inspiration, and yet another where I'm slowly documenting the history of our company before anyone else came on board — essentially, the parts that only I know, but want the team to know, too.

A screenshot of our Team site

CJ, our community manager, uses the site to share weekly “community heartbeats” — updates on what's happening with our users, what issues they're encountering, what features they're asking for, etc. He also uses it to draft up blog posts and other written content for the team to review before we publish it (naturally, to one of our Write.as-based blogs).

Developers on the team use the site to dive into the occasional difficult problem they solved, or to propose new features based on their own use of the product. And, of course, they can read what everyone else is publishing, so the whole team stays on the same page, in their own time.

In this way, all of our interactions actually form new company processes as they develop, because we can always go back to read what we've published and update our writing over time. Plus, the meta work of documenting our primary work reinforces the ways in which we work — implicitly forming process, without much unnecessary effort on top of it.

These are the problems I'm most interested in solving as we take our small company from its relatively chaotic early days into a more mature organization.

There is something to be said about free-flowing chaos, yes, but it's definitely not the only way — even as a young startup. The lightest bit of process and clear team communication, we're finding, is all you need to stay quick on your feet while keeping a solid ground beneath you.


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Uncertainty — pleasant tension. No words, only inklings. No maps, only footsteps.

#travel

I just updated my phone to Android 9 Pie, thanks to its endless notifying and nagging. Most of all, I'm thankful it didn't screw with the existing interface too much. But it came with this new “Digital Wellbeing” feature and, naturally, I have some thoughts.

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The last several months have zipped by for me. But Write.as is about to enter a new phase that I'm pretty excited about.

While our focus until now has mostly been on individual users, as a business, today Write.as is starting to look at how we can support a new set of customers: other businesses and organizations. I'm excited about this not just because of how easily our software works in that space, but because it gives us a solid plan for long-term sustainability.

The consumer-focused prices we built our business on have made our road to sustainability long and slow. Really, they tend to only work when you're building a side-project, are backed by venture capital, or don't need to pay the people working on the thing. But today we're no longer a side-project, we still refuse to take venture capital, and yes, we pay people.

The road has been long, but we're in a good place as a business. Now I want to get us to an even better one. Which brings me to this next stage.

The past several months have shown me the many ways WriteFreely, the software behind Write.as, is useful. Make something simple enough, and it will find uses in ways you never could've imagined.

After seeing all these uses, listening to feedback, and considering our four-year history, we're finally settling into a very interesting use case we'll be pursuing next: knowledge-sharing within businesses and organizations. It's called Write.as for Teams, and will run entirely on WriteFreely.

This will be a new service offered in addition to our existing hosting for individual writers. Really, it's a natural evolution from the WriteFreely.host service we launched late last year. But unlike that service, Teams has a very specific audience in mind, and will be priced for businesses. We've been using it internally at Write.as, and it's really working out nicely so far.

I'll have more to share when the service eventually launches. But I just wanted to explain what's going on behind the scenes so everyone knows why other promised features have been temporarily put on the back-burner. We haven't gone anywhere or forgotten about you — we're just preparing for this new world we're about to enter as a company.

Just as well, our progress on Teams will continue to circle back and improve Write.as for everyone. As one example, an early Teams customer has driven our decision to speed up development on the v2.0 command-line client release, which any Write.as user can use. It'll be soon followed by our first official WriteFreely client, also for the command-line.

Beyond that, the underlying WriteFreely software will continue to improve for everyone, while stubbornly sticking to its goals of ultimate simplicity. I can't wait to see the new uses it finds, and to hear what you think.

#writeas #WriteFreely #future

I took the train from Jacksonville, Florida to Portland, Oregon for the #AWP conference, where the Write.as team exhibited. This is the story of that journey.

Read everything up until this point: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

Day 4

I woke somewhere in North Dakota, the waning gibbous moon looking at me across patchy snow-covered plains. The sun was slowly turning the eastern sky behind us orange and yellow; I pulled some levers under the seats in my roomette to slide them up out of “bed mode” and back into seats, then looked out the window for a while. I'd tell you what was on my mind, if those thoughts happened to be in English — but they weren't, so all I can say is that it was a very pretty morning.

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I'm taking the train from Jacksonville, Florida to Portland, Oregon for the AWP conference, where the Write.as team will exhibit. This is the story of that journey.

Previous: Day 1, Day 2

It's 3 am and we're going through... some city. Cleveland, I guess. Yep — Cleveland. My left hip is killing me. Somehow the arrangement of my limbs isn't only affecting the muscles around my hips, but also around my knee. Is my leg asleep, just not at the pins-and-needles stage yet? No idea, but it's stiff in ways I've never felt, so I have no idea how to fix it. Anyway, next stop: Chicago.

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I'm taking the train from Jacksonville, Florida to Portland, Oregon for the AWP conference, where the Write.as team will exhibit. This is the story of that journey.

Previous: Day 1 Next: Day 3


Sleep last night was punctuated by a sore hip, a stiff knee, a quick lateral jerk by the entire train, seemingly going faster than usual, I guess to make up time (it was about 40 minutes late getting into Jacksonville). With my footrest down and my legrest up, I slept about as good as anyone can in that position — my only enemy was a giant, undimmed light hanging over the vestibule door, shining directly into my eyes at my slightly-reclined angle. So I covered my head with a hoodie and slept quite deeply, between the random jarring moments.

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