Today, our Director of Product, Jared Sulzdorf, announced in our Slack channel that the Gutenberg editor plugin was installed on our Donuts blog so I thought I would take this opportunity to try out the new editor and write something!

I’m not the type of person that’s afraid of trying new things or taking a risk, especially if I think the risk is worth the reward. For example, one of my favorite hobbies is fire dancing, which is inherently full of risk (yes I burn myself sometimes). But when the news of this new WordPress editor came out there was a lot of controversy and backlash in the WordPress community. The unknown(s) of this new editor seemed scary – will it still work with my plugins?? Will the bugs be resolved? Will my blog implode??

I looked at the Gutenberg test editor a few months ago and was surprised with just how different it looked. What happened to the familiar post editor that I knew and loved?? I’m ashamed to say that instead of trying it, I closed the browser tab and didn’t look back, rejecting the coming change instead of embracing it.

I’m not surprised that the new editor is a very different writing experience, the “blocks” feature is pretty cool and interactive. I like how I can move individual blocks of text and even apply custom background and text colors to my blocks! Apparently you can even format and save blocks for future posts. Adding media in a block is a breeze! I also like how Publishing tools, Categories, Tags, Featured Image and Excerpt fields have moved to one location in the “Document” tab:

Sometime in the near future, I read this post in WP Tavern that offered an explanation for why its time for WordPress to make a big change. It reminded me that change is sometimes hard, sometimes scary, but its necessary for us to learn and grow.

Now I’m using the Gutenberg editor to figure out my thoughts and share them just like I always have, and its not so scary.

I’ve been writing WordPress themes and plugins for about a decade and recently I’ve been putting more effort into curating a personal “boilerplate” folder for new themes and plugins. In reading through it, I can see what concepts and components have become habitual for me, regardless of the subject matter of the project.

  • Some `Constant` Companions

    I declare the following constants:

    The purpose of this block is to introduce some basic data about our project, into the global scope, in a concise convenient way, that cannot be altered.

  • Include Font Awesome

    It’s pretty much a given that any project will involve icons, and I prefer FontAwesome:

  • The State of States

    A huge part of my boilerplate is just providing a wide platform for presenting and handling form inputs. It seems a little odd, but I’ve not come up with a better strategy than to just include this in every project:

    God help me if a state ever secedes!

  • Very Classy

    I set up (php) classes to add (css) classes to both the body tag, and each post:

    This fits in well with my high regard for SMACSS.

  • Staying Up To Date with Updates

    I dislike the normal hook system for performing action on theme and plugin activation, so I instead have some code that executes everytime the version number increases (which it does upon first install):

    Because this adds an extra query, I only have this running for projects that register things in the database such as roles, or other various high-value routines like rewrites.

  • Agoification

    Human time diffs can be annoying, especially if you care about time zones. I don’t regret having this available in every project:

There are quite a few other things common to all of my new projects, but this is a good cross-section. I wish I was better about really capturing every lesson from every new project, but in reality I’m happy if I remember to curate just one. Over time it’s become a valuable library and it also inspires me to push the quality of my code on each project, in the hope that something does emerge as boilerplate worthy.

The longer LexBlog has maintained a product discipline, the more disciplined I’ve tried to become in evaluating new ideas and business. This often puts me in the place of saying “No”, which, contrary to some popular beliefs, is not a word that I personally enjoy saying. I find it unlikely that anyone enjoys telling someone else that their idea is not worthy of working on immediately (or ever), but it’s a necessary part of running a product.

A product is (hopefully) not a compilation of random ideas. It is the final result of days, months, or years of hard work. It is rarely the thing you thought it would be when you first started building. While many beautiful products started as offshoots of a larger product and eventually became the product (think Instagram), even these are carefully defined as the team behind the product learns and responds to it’s users.

Products are unsuccessful for reasons that are often far outside of the control of the team engaged in building the product. I can not understate the value of marketing and sales. However, when the product team allows their systems to grow unruly in scope and size, it’s nearly impossible for the product to succeed. This process of maintaining focus and delivering the largest value to the widest group of people is just that, a process, and it requires intense focus.

It feels a bit trite, as a product manager, to quote Steve Jobs, but this quote from the co-founder of Apple rings especially true as I think about the process of working on a product:

You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen.

And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.

Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

And it’s that process that is the magic.

It has recently come to my attention that law bloggers can be a somewhat cautious lot. Though perhaps cautious isn’t the right word…measured, maybe? If you read through any of the blog posts on LexBlog’s front page it’s clear that a tremendous amount of thought and consideration has gone into the writing, on everything from Idaho’s marijuana laws to ICO breach notifications.

But it seems as though, at times, that careful consideration results in a delay in the publication of posts on topical news. We rarely see breaking news posts on LexBlog, which is why our editorial team waives the 200 word preferential limit for Featured Posts if said post is covering breaking news. That’s your LexBlog Insider Tip of the Day: if you want your post featured on the front page, shared across our social media platforms, and in the running for our weekly Top 10 in Law Blogs, write about something in the news today.

Take, for instance, all the recent news on Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, including the Senate Judiciary Committee’s recent announcement that both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, will publicly testify on Monday about the alleged assault. It’s a hot-button topic, rife with political and social controversy but, if you’re hesitant to make your own writing political, there are a number of other angles that could be taken when writing on this news. You could, for instance, blog about the Anita Hill hearings, when Hill accused Justice Clarence Thomas, then-President George H.W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominee, of sexual harassment. You could also blog about the potential outcomes of the Monday testimony, or perhaps there was a similarly controversial nomination within your district court. Heck, you could even write about the concept of Supreme Court nominations overall, and simply use Judge Kavanaugh as a means of contextualizing your blog post.

Breaking/current news posts needn’t be long, drawn-out treatises, nor do they need to force you to air your own opinions (if you are hesitant to do so). Instead, think of them as an opportunity to add your voice to a current conversation, and to help shape the discourse of a moment in history.

An odd duo, aren’t they? The football quarterback turned activist, who was recently the face of Nike’s ultra-viral ad campaign, and the world’s most famous painting. But the Mona Lisa wasn’t always regarded that way…

In August of 1911 three men from Italy snuck into the Louvre, and stole Leonardo da Vinci’s smallest masterpiece, which, at the time, was not even the most well-known painting in the museum – in fact, rumor has it that it took Louvre staff 28 hours to realize the painting was missing. What ensued was a viral event the likes of which modern marketing departments could only dream of – the Mona Lisa was splashed across the front page of every national newspaper, police questioned everyone from JP Morgan to Pablo Picasso, and, as tensions between France and Germany escalated before World War I, there were even rumors that Kaiser Wilhelm was to blame. Eventually the police found and returned Mona Lisa to her rightful place, but she would never again be anything less than the most famous painting in the world.

Before cell phones, before the internet, the Mona Lisa went viral, much as Nike and Colin Kaepernick did earlier this week.

One of the (many) benefits of working in WeWork is that they will often host lunch and learn events, put on by other members. Today, Brian Hallett, a Professor at IE University, gave a presentation on “When Brands Go Viral.” We covered a lot during the presentation, from finding the balance between surprise and familiarity, to discussing the role of gatekeepers aka peoples, influencers, companies, etc. that can either promote or suppress the spread of information from one network to the other.

What stood out the most to me was an exercise he had us do early on. I’d encourage you to give it a try yourself!

First, go to the social media page that you use most often. From there, look at the most recent thing that you have shared, and answer the following questions:

  1. Who did it come from? Did you see it outside of your network, or within your network?
  2. Did you share it with your own network or with another network?
  3. What does it say about you?

In my case, I had most recently shared an article from Bleacher Report about a former MLB catcher who recently retired to work with the National Eating Disorder Association. It came from a writer I follow, so it was seen within my network, and I then shared it in my own network. It says a few things about me: that I value the contributions of athletes off the field, that I care (or want people to see that I care) about mental illness and raising awareness of eating disorders, etc. The author is also someone I admire, but who doesn’t follow me back, so it was interesting to reflect on how my sharing of his piece was done, in part, to draw his attention.

Now, I’m no Caroline Metsker (LexBlog’s Marketing Lead), but as our Social Media and Editorial Coordinator I’m rather involved in the world of digital marketing. I certainly learned a lot from Brian’s presentation, and there are a few things I’ll be looking to implement with our social media strategy, but I’m not so sure that viral marketing should be our goal.

LexBlog forges new paths in the legal tech industry, so why should our marketing be the same as any other company? Often, viral marketing campaigns can feel forced – they’re designed to generate buzz for the company, to prey on the consumers’ emotions and appeal to what makes them feel good. Meanwhile, LexBlog is about building relationships and building trust – in our bloggers, in our platform, in us – and any marketing we do should be focused on developing those elements. The access we offer to the thoughts and opinions of some of the brightest legal minds in the world is unparalleled: reading LexBlog can be life-changing; writing for us can be, too.

If a LexBlog post goes viral, that’s great! Not because of all the clicks, or likes, or retweets we would get, but because that would mean that we’ve facilitated greater access to the incredible base of legal knowledge and news that our network provides.

We’ve relaunched LexBlog.com!

These are words that I’ve (and others) have said at LexBlog probably a hair over a half-dozen times in the past two years; a point that Conner alluded to when he took a look at the history of LexBlog’s many and various websites. This time, however, things feel very different. After an eight month battle with Co-Authors Plus, the WordPress REST API, caching, and a few handfuls of our own plugins the new LexBlog.com was soft-launched in August (just before my wedding!).

If you look back on some of my recent posts here (We’re Redoing LexBlog.com…… Again. and How We’re QA’ing The New Aggregation Engine of LexBlog.com) and some of Kevin and Bob’s older posts (What if LexBlog were a publication? and As We Open Our Network, Should We Reject Some Blogs?) you’ll see that this latest version was a long time in the works both technically and philosophically.

On the technical side, we had to battle (and continue to wrangle with) keeping posts and authors in synch on LexBlog.com with their original counterparts using the WordPress REST API to communicate between sites. When you’re talking about over 1000 sites, nearly 400,000 posts, and just under 20,000 authors/co-authors this is no easy task.

Philosophically, we’ve had to prepare for the shift in what LexBlog.com means to the company and the larger legal publishing community. For years, LexBlog has focused on publishing platform technology to help lawyers get online and engage in the larger discussion online. We believe, and continue to believe, that the fastest way to join this conversation is to listen, share, and add your two cents.

Blogs are our chosen vehicle for helping our clients do that. However, it’s not easy to start blogging when your digital network is one – just you. LexBlog.com is many things to many people inside and outside of LexBlog, but for me it’s a place to see the vibrant digital publishing community in the legal industry. Hopefully, it’s a spot for other authors and legal professionals to find that for themselves. Somewhere to maybe see a similar publication to the one you have, find an author that you enjoy, or follow along with an emerging topic in your industry.

There are hundreds of publications focusing on a plethora of topics, and as LexBlog grows, so will these topics and contributing publications and so will the site itself. What we currently have is a foundation to finally launch all of the things we’ve wanted for so long:

  • Enhanced search functionality
  • Better subscription options for email and RSS
  • Social integrations for sharing content and interacting with publishers
  • and the list goes on

I’ve worked full-time at LexBlog for nearly 6 years and watched as the digital hosting, development, and content production sphere have evolved and seen us adapt alongside these many changes. In that time, this version of LexBlog.com is the one that kept me moving forward toward a larger vision of how digital publishing fits into the legal industry of today and its future.

Here’s to that future 🙂

Last week all LexBloggers received a mysterious Google Calendar invite titled, simply “Blogging Hour.” In the detail of the event, our COO Garry wrote that “Blogging is key to LexBlog. It is often difficult to find the time to write or talk with people about blogging. So I am setting aside this hour every week to blog and I invite everyone to join me.”

Five days later and I’m sitting in a conference room in the WeWork Holyoke penthouse*, typing at a table just a little more elevated than I’d like, surrounded by my blogging co-workers, real and remote. What a novel concept, a company that practices what it preaches!

So much of good blogging is about consistency – it’s one of the things we always encourage from new bloggers on the network – and it’s especially key if you’re hoping to build up a following for your blog. People have to trust that you won’t just leave them hanging after a post or two. But blogging consistency is also about you, the blogger. Much like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the next thing you know you’ve got a blogging habit.**

This Blogging Hour will help us hone our blogging habits, but it also allows us to prioritize writing and contemplation in a way that, let’s be honest, doesn’t always happen in a typical workday. It’s a structured hour, in that we’re here to blog, but we can blog about anything, from Member’s Only jackets to Gonzaga basketball. The freedom is almost overwhelming – which is, perhaps, why I’m here blogging about blogging – but I can already feel my Inner Editor retreating to the foreground. There’s a certain mental exhalation that occurs when you banish that Inner Editor. You’re not worried about typos, or grammatical errors, or the dreaded passive voice, you’re simply writing for the sake of writing. Blogging isn’t about perfection, it’s about opening up a discussion, prompting a conversation, sometimes it can simply be a tool to help you work through your thoughts on a matter.

In college I’d often write drafts of my papers by hand, then type them up later on. My thoughts flowed more easily, I scribbled more freely, and it let me avoid the many procrastination temptations that lurked on my laptop. Nowadays I only pick up a pen to attempt the daily NYT crossword – perhaps in our next blogging hour I’ll bring a pen and some paper. There’s a modern day tree-falling-in-the-forest conundrum for you: if you write a blog post by hand, does it still count as blogging?

*not a penthouse, just at the top of the building and high enough that I had to catch my breath before commencing the blogging

**this is a good thing, despite what your significant other may insist

I have worked at a lot of companies where the frequency of team members reviews are measured in months. While this might be convenient for team leaders, it is not frequent enough to give valuable feedback for team members who NEED guidance on what they should or want to be doing.

Several years ago, multiple companies sprung up with solutions for dealing with the dreaded review. Some of my favorites use technology and combine it with the more frequent 1:1 meetings that occur weekly at companies. This approach shortens the feedback loop and allows for corrective measures and positive feedback to happen more frequently.

This is exactly the approach we have taken at LexBlog.

Every week, everyone is asked to go to an internal form and answer 5 short questions. These questions deal with:

  • What a person hopes to accomplish
  • What they actually accomplished
  • What impediments they might face
  • What changes they might want to see in the organization
  • Who on the team has helped them most

The results of this form are available to the team member, so that they can track their progress over time, as well as the person to whom they report. So now in any 1:1 meeting they have instant discussion points and a log of those discussions.

This has been a great tool at LexBlog and is simple to implement. You can use something as simple as a Word Doc or go our route and implement the solution using Google Forms.

I suggest you meet with your team to establish the questions you might find valuable, but that you keep the number at 5 or below. The idea is to be frequent, fast and provide the most amount of value to the people who help drive your company without adding an onerous amount of work to their day.

One measurement of how well we’re helping customers answer their questions is tracking our self-service score. It’s a simple ratio of users in our Support Center versus the number of users in support tickets. For example, a self-service score of 3:1 means that for every three people engaging with our documentation, one opens a support ticket.

This score becomes important as LexBlog opens more parts of our platform to more of our customers. We’re giving users more control over settings such as their sidebar widgets and design colors. We’re also rolling out a self-service website model where users can create, design, and launch their own sites.

As people use these new tools, however, they’re going to have questions. And research shows that most customers would rather find answers to their questions before contacting support channels. For example, American Express reports that “48% of customers prefer to speak with a customer service rep when dealing with complex issues, but only 16% prefer the same contact for simple issues.”

Ideally, as we grow, the number of users finding help through our documentation will increase faster than the number of users submitting support requests. Ideally.

 

Our self-service score over time

Chart showing LexBlog's self-service rate increasing over time.
This chart shows LexBlog’s self-service rate from June 2016 to July 2018. The dark blue line shows the rate for each month. The light blue line is the trendline.

 

The chart above tracks our self-service rate starting in July 2016. That’s when we finalized the transition from the old documentation platform, Reach, to Zendesk’s Guide software. The good news is our self-service rate is increasing over time.

 

How do we boost the self-service rate?

To be clear: self-service isn’t about discouraging customers from contacting us when they do have trouble. Sometimes when things go wrong you just need to hear a human voice. Our support team is dang good at answering questions and putting out fires.

For me, increasing our self-service score means fewer people get to the point where they can’t figure out something.

And while the increase in LexBlog’s self-service rate is good news, I think it can get better. Here are some ways I want to help our customers through better documentation:

  • Continue monitoring search query results reports to see what our users are searching for.
  • Deleting content that users don’t read. Unread articles clutter up search results and make it harder for customers to find what they really need.
  • Create a smoother onboarding process for new users. This includes guides written for brand-new bloggers.
  • Analyzing the path of users through help content. This will tell us where they’re getting stuck.
  • Let the robots help. We just implemented Answer Bot, an AI tool that suggests help articles when customers reach out to our support team.
  • Getting direct feedback from customers. Future projects may involve getting our customers to provide ideas for our support docs. In fact, if you have any feedback — good, bad, or ugly — on our Support Center, please leave a comment on this post!

As some may know, LexBlog is headquartered in Seattle, Washington, but we have a number of intrepid team members who work remotely (thanks to Scott’s recent move, though, we’re all at least in the contiguous United States now). Twice a year we sound the LexBeacon (picture a conch shell, with the LexBlog “L” ornately carved into it), and gather everyone at LexBlog HQ for a week of in-person meetings, conversations, and, yes, a little bit of fun.

Since this is our employee blog, I thought it’d be interesting to share some of our scheduled sessions and activities for the week…and also, maybe, possibly, this will encourage other LexBloggers to write about it, too. Perhaps they’ll come up with a catchier name than LexWeek?

We kick off the week today with a lunch and learn, which I imagine will also serve as Caroline’s introduction to the team. Caroline Metsker is our new Marketing Lead, and I’m certain you’ll be hearing more from her soon. Welcome, Caroline!

The week also features a number of breakout sessions, on topics such as Google AMP, supporting the success team, and the value of technical writing. I and, hopefully, others will share what we learn from these sessions here as the week progresses.

We’ll also be doing some less work-related activities, like cheering on the Mariners at Safeco Field on Wednesday afternoon (except Garry, Giants fan that he is), and running the draft for the LexBlog fantasy football league. Perhaps this will be the year someone finally unseats Scott?

Happy LexWeek!