The platitude is gratitude is all about attitude

I’m a big fan of reflection. It’s a way for me to either understand new situations or to feel gratitude. Let’s admit the platitude, gratitude is a good feeling to have. So, as I  come up on my 6 months with LexBlog, I thought it would be beneficial to reflect back on my time. Here are some quick facts:

  • Designed a membership tracking sheet
  • Emailed nearly 300 law bloggers, most of which are lawyers
  • Helped update our CRM
  • Helped transcribe a webcast
  • Help migrate blogs from one platform to another
  • Added, removed, and edited RSS feeds
  • Started a comprehensive search strategy for finding law blogs
  • Researched the qualities of good blogging and applied results to a white paper
  • Written 10 donuts posts, this one is #11
  • Hundreds of more smaller detailed tasks

When I started, there was a small dance in understanding between my supervisors here and myself. Most places do not hire someone with graduate education into an internship level position. On the flip side, we don’t usually go after low-level positions. There was an expectation of 3-6 months and I have been counting down the days. Now they have come-and-gone. Back then, I wasn’t looking for LexBlog for a paycheck or security, though both are nice. No, I wanted, and continue to want, to explore my skill-set.

It is nice to work at a company that firmly states, “I don’t care what you do. Whatever you do, do it well”. While I don’t commit myself to any project without checking up the ladder first, it is nice to be able to jump into tasks I enjoy without feeling over managed or set unreasonable expectations. I can continue to explore without fear. On the flip side, I make myself available. If someone expresses a need for help, I listen and brainstorm ways to help. Paying attention and active listening strategies make it easier to find projects to test my skills. I like the challenge and they like the help.

In my time at LexBlog, I have met exceedingly interesting persons. I think of the retired professor from Florida that has taught law for 30 years or the man from Belgium that has been blogging law for nearly 20. I have been introduced into a community of law news. I have also been shown how to find community and, more importantly, how to make one. I have joined social media and have begun blogging into my main interest base: Rhetoric and Tech Comm. While that community is primarily academics, I believe that practicing rhetors have a place in the world. We are definitely jack-of-all-trades types of people contributing almost anywhere. Walking into the room of the world has been scary, but I have assistance from my colleagues and supervisors.

So, if I have not done so, let me do so now. Thank you to all my co-workers that take time out of their day to show me something neat or to teach me something new. I hope that I have been able to do the same for all of you. If we don’t work directly with each other, know I see your work and think it’s great. Each person at LexBlog is someone special. Any company should be overjoyed to have any of you. Lucky enough for LexBlog, they have all of you.

Best,

CG


Frenchman Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a writer, WWII pilot, and general designer-of-things.  Perhaps you’re familiar with his quote, “‘Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  I think about this quote a lot in my work, and it informs our product decisions at LexBlog.  In fact, I’d estimate that about 10% of my working time is spent removing things, and I enjoy this process.

An affinity for removing things is called minimalism, so therefore here at LexBlog we are minimalists.  If left to my own devices, I might even veer off into brutalism.

Like any modern technology company, much of our work is an exercise in managing third-party tooling.  Of course our primary platform is WordPress, and we also make judicious use of a handful of third-party plugins, such as WordPress SEO.  Being that WordPress powers one-third of all domains, it’s no surprise that LexBlog uses only a subset of its functionality.  I believe that if you don’t need to use it, then you don’t need to see it, so I go to great lengths to remove unused/unusable UI components.  Common examples are admin menu items, admin columns, and even the occasional pop-up or “badge”.

Even better than removing things is just not adding them in the first place.  Fortunately, the majority of our codebase is completely custom; we write and maintain most of the code we serve.  That means we frequently get to enjoy not adding things.  In our world, adding a single checkbox to a single widget is considered a grave step toward complexity.  It’s easier to add code than it is to remove it.  I recall reading recently on the jQuery blog that the future of jQuery is in removing code rather than adding it.  I feel similarly about our flagship products, and I like it.

We’re lucky to have a designer who makes his mark with subtle choices around white-space and typography, rather than vast header images.  It’s interesting to note how much of my CSS work is spent managing white-space.  It’s become something of a professional obsession for me.

I’m looking forward to the next few development cycles at LexBlog because it looks like we’ll be churning out some lovely bits of minimalism.  Our AMP offering is nearing completion (here’s a preview of our AMP look); AMP exemplifies minimalism if anything ever has.  We have some exciting changes on the horizon regarding our Typekit implementation which looks to be a beautiful exercise in deleting code. 

It’s fitting that when de Saint-Exupéry died in combat in 1944, he vanished without a trace — the ultimate french exit.   There’s probably no such thing as WordPress perfection, but if there is, I believe it’s attained when there are no more bloated plugins, no more unused widgets, and no more useless menu items to take away.

“What’s in a feed?

That which we call a feed

By any other name should work the same…but not always. “

While attempting to add a new blog to our network last week, I encountered an interesting issue. As part of LexBlog’s efforts to build and advance the world’s largest community of legal bloggers, publishing team member Chris Grim reached out to a law professor who blogs passionately about the intersection of culture, leadership, and innovation on his blog and is a vocal critic about outdated practices in contemporary education. 

The legal community needs critical, imaginative thinkers like this professor who are strategically planning the future of legal education and nurturing aspiring legal professionals. These are the people who LexBlog loves to support, see succeed, and highlight. I was thrilled when he accepted the invitation to syndicate his blog to LexBlog for free. 

One problem, though–his feed did not validate.

For the uninitiated, a little background: LexBlog can present on our platform the content of any blog as long as it has a valid RSS feed (LexBlog’s feed, as an example). RSS is simple internet technology that allows people to receive new content automatically and has transformed how people get their news and stay connected. Feedly is one example, and is easily the most recognizable RSS reader used today.

To make sure a feed is ‘valid,’ or that a blog’s content successfully appears and updates to LexBlog.com, we use this feed validator service. A feed might not validate for any number of reasons, including an incompatible CMS.

We ran the URL through the service and it did not validate. Upon further inspection of the feed, we found many URLs that did not belong there–several of them linking to an escort service. 

Yikes. 

The insidious URLs–likely placed there as a gross scheme to elevate those URLs’ search engine rankings–appeared in not only the blog’s feed, but also hid in all pages of the blog. It was unclear whether the blog was hacked or if the URLs came from a malicious plugin.

As people who understand the hard work and personal investment that goes into creating and maintaining a blog, it was incredibly upsetting for our team to see a fellow blogger’s work attacked in this way. A blog is an integral facet of one’s professional and personal identity and to alter another’s identity without consent is, simply put, disgusting.

We informed this blogger of the issue, he was able to clean up his feed manually, and his blog now has another avenue for discovery on LexBlog. More importantly, the integrity of a legal blogger’s work was saved. Moments when we can help bloggers, give advice, and protect their content fill me with pride. And even more exciting, this blogger has re-invigorated his blog in response to LexBlog’s invitation. 

Some takeaways from this story: Change your passwords regularly. Don’t neglect software updates. Make informed choices about which web software and plug-ins to use. LexBlog founder, Kevin O’Keefe made a great argument recently for WordPress as the best content management solution available.

LexBlog is here to support legal bloggers, whether using our platform or not, within our network or not. Even if this, or any other blogger, eventually decides he doesn’t want his feed in our network, we will still be here to help. 

The first half of my life was spent in rural Idaho. At one point, my family lived down the street from a slaughter-house and my father worked for one of the biggest farms in the state. I would sometimes go with him to work. I can still remember the smell of mint fields, the taste of a fresh picked onion on my tongue, and hear the sound of leaves rustling in an apple orchard. Back then,I was privileged enough to see the full production process in action. The lesson was always take the opportunity for the best action, not the simplest. Oddly enough, this goes against most forms of process theory, but that’s what this post is about.

Once, I was asked, “What do you think is the best low hanging fruit is?”. In other words, what fruit did I think was the easiest to pick with the smallest amount of effort. I thought long and hard about my answer. Most tree fruit requires ladders. Bushes can be prickly. Melons were heavy. I was stumped. The answer wasn’t some life lesson like, “the one you pick yourself” or some other greeting-card line. Nope, the answer was “potatoes”.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Potatoes are a root vegetable, not a fruit. They are even one of the few vegetables that require cooking before eating next to parsnips, rutabagas, and turnips. They are however coveted by nearly everyone. Who doesn’t love a good chip, french fry, au gratin, hash-browns, pancakes, mashed, stewed, baked, souped, salad, whatever. They are a staple. The answer was simple, “You can’t pick a bad potato and you can’t mess it up too much”.

At LexBlog, I’ve been attempting to map the process of our Membership Campaign. I’ve looked at how we pick potatoes, i.e. law sites, sort them, cook them, and eat them. Mostly, I’m the guy that gets all the potatoes and goes after the “small pah-tate-ughs”, (smaller firms, personal blogs, and independent). I personally email 10-20 law blogs on any given day. However, I can categorize and sort several hundred. I’m looking for very specific blogs, specific potatoes for the dish I plan on making.

These “small potatoes” reflect a major part of who I am, a person who is attempting to break into a community. I recently started my rhetoric/technical communication blog using LexBlog. It’s going great, but I understand how difficult it can be to try and make a name for yourself, especially working 50+ hours a week on various jobs and projects. These blogs represent my effort to give a chance to a lawyer/student/instructor that no other company would. So, if you get an email from me, know I’ve read your blog and I like it.

Answers to questions I constantly receive:

-Yes, free.

-No, I won’t push offers.

-You can quit whenever you want and I’ll remove your content personally.

-Yes, I’m a real human.

-Yes, I dislike cold-calling salesman. That’s why I’m not one.

-All I need is the form filled out. Nothing “tricky” or underhanded, we just understand what it’s like.

-I will take time to help you with your blog. Writing, filling out your company/profile page on LexBlog, really quite a bit.

For the blogs I don’t reach out, know that the process is finding a place for you. Some potatoes might have to be shaped a bit differently or cooked differently. The only law website I have yet to figure out are ones that have nothing to do with law. I know, it’s odd, but some directories will occasionally index a non-law site. These are the random rocks in the field. In any case, we’ll find the right potato for the right dish.

Yes, that is a picture of doughnuts made out of potatoes.

If you’ve ever seen a rocket pre-launch cycle for NASA shuttles, then you’re in for a surprising treat. The energy, the anticipation, is overwhelming to anyone watching. Really, the multitude of technicians running last minute diagnostics are just listing off every detail that needs approval before the launch. “Power, check. Systems, check. Fuel, check”. All the different systems and sub-systems get a last good look through before we hear the glorious words, “Ready for liftoff”. This week I am feeling that energy for my new blog. Last week, I blogged about LexBlog handing me the keys to my very own blog. Just like a teenager with a new car, I was ready to take my new blog for a spin. However, while I was ready to jump in and go, I was surprised to find that I needed to go through a pre-launch cycle of my own.

I was given the same product as any basic customer and offered the same materials. The website comes a bit “pre-built” meaning, the website has a few pages waiting to be filled in with my original content. While I’ve used other blog builders before, what I liked was how LexBlog approached the blank pages. Instead of blank, each page had how-to guides for changing, removing, and adding content. They had links to process documents and contact info for more help if needed. I spent a few hours quickly reading through the steps and changing things as I went. In an afternoon, I had a full functional website with logos, images, content, and even a comprehensive disclaimer (nice to have). I even was able to pick a domain name of my own. Instead of having my website name with “wordpress” or “blogger” in the middle of the URL, I was able to have my own! 

So far, I have yet to come across any deal breaking issues. I did want to add a custom font of my own, but was unable to embed it. Granted, I have never had a SaaS (software as a service) let me; that wasn’t anything new. I also found that I had to google definitions for many things. I’m not new to SaaS website builders having done primary research and my thesis on them, but I am definitely new to this level of control. Most SaaS won’t let you change as much as LexBlog lets me. It made me feel like this was my first time around the block, but really, you get more than most when it comes to LexBlog.

I decided that I would take this week and really polish the website. I also just started twitter this last week and wanted to make sure that the website could easily add social media buttons. (It can). I really wanted the blog to be able to shine on LinkedIn and again, it can. I am just about ready to start blogging and building my network of knowledge professionals. Before I jump in, I’ll need to make sure I have my pre-check in order. I’ll need to make sure I have checked for random unwanted content, correct contact info, and all the little widgets in place. Normally, I can hear these conversations in the office. The Success Team does a ridiculous amount of work getting blogs ready for launch.

If anything, I really hope to add value to the cannon of Rhetoric, but also, to help those who may not be aware of the daily implications. I’m not quite sure what a blog will do for my career, but I have met with several attorneys that claim that their career is built by owning a blog. For them, they need to show that they are a real knowledgeable human being with something to offer. Instead of “fake it until you make it”, they are more in-line with “make it, until you make it”. In other words, make valuable content and they will come. I’m excited to see what attention my blog will bring.

So here’s the plug. My new blog is scheduled to launch next Monday, February 25th, 2019 with my first post covering pseudotransactionality in the work place. Each Monday, I hope to cover a piece of Rhetoric theory and, each Friday, I plan on writing about the practical implications. You can find the blog at everydayrhetoric.com or just email me at cgrim@lexblog.com. 

Thank you to the wonderful people at LexBlog that have helped me to start my blog. I would have never imagined to have something so cool and energizing. I am very grateful for the opportunity.

For the past couple of months, we have been working on making our platform compatible with Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) format.  If you’re not familiar with AMP, I think it’s fair to summarize it thusly:  The practice of offering your website in a special format that Google invented, so that your Google SERP’s (search engine result page) have a small gray lightning bolt next to them, which leads the viewer to the AMP-formatted version of your page, which is hosted by google, and is definitely faster and more user-friendly than the default version of your page.

An AMP-enabled page in a SERP.

AMP carries a fair amount of controversy.  Many thought leaders worry about the rabbit hole of proprietary formats, and also the eyebrow-raising prospect of allowing google to serve your website. It’s worth getting acquainted with both sides of this argument if you are interested in AMP.  This podcast between web pioneer Jeffrey Zeldman and WordPress co-creator Matt Mullenweg is by far the best discussion I have found on the debate.

For me there is one simple fact that cuts through the entire argument like a laser beam: If a Google search result has a little gray lightning bolt next to it, I’m far more likely to click on it because I know it’s going to be much faster, and I know the next page I see will be content-focused, simple, and legible. In that suspenseful moment where thumbs are hovering over search results, I want LexBlog to fall among the have’s, rather than the have-nots.

How, Generally?

Several years ago I met with former LexBlog CTO, current LexBlog Fairy GodFather, and google employee Robert McFrazier.  I was delighted to pester him with questions as usual, and when I asked him an open-ended question about the best thing we could do for our platform, he told it would be to introduce AMP.  Furthermore, he noted that in the WordPress space, developers were handling AMP as a plugin concept, rather than a theme concept, which he felt was a shortcut not always worth taking.  Although taking a plugin approach allows for faster adoption, it’s very heavy-handed and leaves the AMP page with very little of the design and branding that appears on the non-AMP version.  Given the time and ability, he believed it would be much better to adopt AMP from within a theme, so as to more easily carry the theme concepts (color scheme, layout, logos, fonts, icons) into the AMP version.

Robert was right.  Even today, years after our talk, the WordPress community is approaching AMP almost entirely via the “official” WordPress AMP plugin, with virtually no theme frameworks doing anything interesting with AMP.  I’m very proud to say that at LexBlog we’ve broken that trend!  We have developed a one-click solution to enable an AMP version on any site using our modern platform, and that version carries all of the important design and branding concepts included in the non-AMP version.  As this project has matured, I’ve often had trouble telling the difference between our normal front-end and our AMP front-end.

How, Specifically?

There were three categories of things that we needed to import to our AMP version: Design, layout, and content.

Design

Because we approached this from within our theme, rather than taking the shortcut of approaching via a plugin, it was very convenient to grab design elements such as:

  • Typekit fonts.
  • FontAwesome icons.
  • Firm logos and blog logos.
  • Color schemes.

Layout

Layout was more difficult.  By layout, I mean things like white space, alignment, and a grid system.  Unfortunately, I was not able to simply load our normal CSS in its entirety, because it would have exceeded AMP’s size limit of 55kb.  I could potentially have just imported only the elements I needed, but I didn’t design that system to be served a la carte and I didn’t want to increase our bug surface area by forcing the issue.

What I did instead, was grab a subset of the Bootstrap front end framework — just their grid and white space stuff — and then modify it to be compatible with AMP’s formatting rules.  I like this solution, largely because I really like Bootstrap, and also because it was fast to implement and left me with many thousands of kb left over for adding custom styles on top of it.

Content

By content I mean the act of converting html into the format that AMP requires.  A simple example is instead of the normal <img> tag, AMP uses an <amp-img> tag.  It gets far more complex from there, as everything from animated gifs to twitter embeds require special massage therapy.  This is where I was happy enough to stand on the shoulders of giants and grab some formatting code from the official WordPress AMP plugin, noted above.  It was fun to reverse engineer all the code into a state that was maintainable for our project, and I’m happy enough to avoid re-inventing that wheel.

What Next?

At the moment we are deploying AMP on internal blogs and employee blogs, and the results have been fantastic.  We’re in the process of generating automated test results against all of the blogs on our entire network, which we’ll use to further refine the product, before eventually opening it up for widespread use in some form later this year.

I have no doubt that this product will be a massive success on a technical level.  More interesting will be the debate of, is AMP good for websites; is it good for the web?  My prediction is that the current stated fears about centralization will take on the look of John Henry’s hammer or William Jennings Bryan’s soapbox — it’s time to let the machines win something they’re going to win anyways.  If I’m being completely honest, I hope AMP eats the web.  I hope that in five years from now, we’re all making a single AMP-compatible website, rather than bolting on an AMP-compatible version.  Will that happen?  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that in order for it to happen, websites will need to preserve design and branding in their AMP offering, which is what our project is really about.

Every job has its benefits. I don’t mean 401k or paid sick leave. No, I’m talking about the unforeseen side effects of working in various industries. I remember getting free pizza at my first job as a dishwasher and I felt exceedingly blessed. I also remember getting free books from my time working at Eastern Washington Univ., but again I digress. So the question, what is the side benefits for working at a company filled with successful bloggers? Since I started working for LexBlog, I’ve wanted to try my hand at a serious blog.

At LexBlog, I will be attempting to use the LexBlog platform to launch my new blog. Unlike my failed attempt at a food blog years ago on google blogger: Grim’s Gratitudes, or my “never-was” blog Tech Comm Corner last year, my hope with this blog is to gain access to a community of scholars. Currently, I have two blogs on WordPress, my nerdy friendship club Currently Undecided and my courtship with my significant other, Intentional Vulnerability. I also write from time to time here on donuts. While blogger was meh and I haven’t had any issues with WordPress, when offered to use LexBlog to launch my new blog, I couldn’t help but think of all that I could learn.

So far, I reach out to a multitude of bloggers to add them to LexBlog for free, but I don’t ask them to switch platforms or even use LexBlog in any capacity though many of them have started subscribing to different channels. However, I never thought to ask what the process looked like to make a blog on LexBlog. I’m curious to see the result. So far, there has been mention of a checklist and I’ll be reaching out to the Success Team for more info. In any case, I’m excited.

My day is filled with looking at blog after blog, some good and some, well, not-so-much. I even follow several law blogs now. My day is filled with people collectively thinking, writing, and sharing about experiences, thoughts, ideas, and innovations. They are doing this at no-cost. Sure, many of these people want to advance their careers, but otherwise, the motivation seems to be more valuable. They want to share and explore the world. I use to have a professor that talked about the “power of thirty people in the room all knowledgeable about a singular subject”. The room has now expanded to incorporate the entire world. Blogs, allow you to step into that room. I hope to take that first step.

Between process and motivation, I feel as though I’ve stacked the deck in my favor. In a few weeks I’ll write another donuts post about all the things I’ve learned. Maybe my motivation will take on a new form different from the “collective experience”, but we’ll see. Right now, I’m in the planning stages. I want to give the serious effort of 2 posts a week and have a good idea on the tone I would like the blog to take. I have images already set for the first several posts. I even have a logo. With all the ingredients for a good blog, I hope to bake me a delicious multi-layered blog. The process will be the most interesting.

In the meantime, I will continue to reach out and learn what good blogging looks like. I’ll sift and sort as many law blogs as I can learning what good blogging looks like. I won’t go into details about what my new blog will entail. I will only say that it involves something that lawyers know all too well. So, stay tuned. We’ll see what we learn.

Lately, I’ve been think a ton about lead theory and how it concerns all of our jobs. In manufacturing, lead time is the amount of time between initiation and action. For example, you press a button on your coffee maker and 10 minutes later you have a full pot of coffee. For a full moving process like making a car, there can be hundreds of initiations within one major one. Look at Rube Goldberg machines if you want to know what I am talking about. Lead theory, in my mind, is the missing “verb” in the sea of adjectives that make up gestalt design principles, but now I’m just diving into the nerdom of information design. What I’m terribly getting at is this: you change 1 small part of a process, it can change the whole process.

I recently changed my email process. Instead of treating attorneys like I’m Oliver Twist asking for scraps of attention, I cut-to-the-chase and just tell them, “I want your blog”. In my new process, of which I have cut down dramatically, I can get through more than 20 emails in an hour. In the past, my record was 18 in an entire day’s worth of work. Match this with sorting 100+ websites a day, I can get through a ton of blogs. Honestly, it makes me feel like I’m sorting legos sometimes and I really like sorting. This whole change was not just, “fix your email”, but a whole series of small changes. Now we can dive into nerdom together.

The process, in its entirety, is fairly complicated with many small moving parts. Here is only some of the major steps: I look at the master list of contacted blogs. I pick one that is blank. I look over the website. I try to find author, size of the firm, contact info, style, and about 15+ other small things. If I get the sense that the website is already on LexBlog, I look for our logo, search on our contributors list, check hubspot, and look in our blog dashboard. Most of the time, I don’t have to dive that deep, but only every so often. If a blog does not meet our standard, I click the “r” button that highlights the row red and click from a dropdown as to why I chose to mark it red. If the blog is from a larger firm, has 5+ authors, multiple blogs, etc., I mark the row yellow for “let’s come back to this”.  If the blog is not red or yellow, I mark it blue meaning, “I call dibs!”. The blue blogs are mine. I’m going to email them and they will be my responsibility. I then get to finally email them.

You  can imagine why I’m able to max out sorting at 100/hour. This is of course assuming that I don’t have anything else going on. That is only one small part to the whole system. Emailing is its own process, responding to calls/emails, adding the memberships (seriously takes the longest time), checking hubspot, double checking other’s sheet work, and the extra work that I add for myself is really a ton. I would like to get through the master list as soon as possible and that’s why I keep trying to improve the process. At the 1st of December, I was happy to get through 10-20 blogs a day with emailing 5 bloggers. I was happy to get anyone responding. Now, the process is still a bit of a clunky Volkswagen beetle, but is able to keep pace at the Indy 500. I know the process can be faster.

This whole thought of “lead theory” and the correlation to the LexBlog method, as I am coining it now, was spurred by a documentary I watched multiple times every year in high school. I was a runner and my coach was none other than Pat Tyson. If you’ve worn Nikes, he is one of the guys to thank. In cross country, Tyson would show documentaries and movies all the time. Billy Mills was one of my favorite. When Billy talked about going just “snap his fingers” faster, I would be filled with a drive to do better. By the way: Billy Mills interview can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfLLNksZmoY. If you watched it, you could understand why focusing on just one small instant can change the outcome of an entire race. It also makes sense why this interview reminded me of manufacturing theories. In the case of my work at LexBlog, small instances define everything that I do.

So, if you made it this far into the post, I hope that you glean one thing: change one small thing at a time. Find the small things that work. For the things that don’t, see if you can’t make them just a snap faster. The picture is the first bite of a well deserved donut.

Recently, I broke the passenger side mirror on my inherited luxury car. As frustrating as that is, I should have known better. Seattle loves to define their parking spaces. They love to put signs that say “Electric Cars Only”, “Expecting Mother’s Only”, “Compact”, “Reserved for customers of…”, “Reserved for monthly customers”, and of course “Handicap”. I’ve learned that my full-size sedan just doesn’t belong and I’m constantly aware of its size. So, after living here for almost a year, it was about time that I ran into something. That something was my garage door. My garage should have a sign that reads, “You’re seriously going to try and park that?”. The situation was more complicated than a simple oopsie-daisy, but whatever. The point I want to make with this post is simple. We love defining our parking spaces. Sometimes we try to fit cars into spaces where the car just doesn’t belong. Other times, our car seems to fit perfectly, but in reality that spot is reserved for someone else.

I have been going through blog after blog and website after website. For a while in this process I would quickly read a blog post or two and determine the quality. Now, I scan a website looking for certain markers. Are they already on LexBlog? Is this is larger law firm? Do they have multiple authors? Do they have an email somewhere? The entire time I am looking at the quality and rhetoric of the design. At this point, I can tell the difference between Squarespace, Justia, Wix, and LexBlog designs. These designs offer a nice little space for content to park. Just by the design, most of the time, I can determine the quality of a blog before I even start reading. It’s like looking at a compact parking sign and guessing that a compact car will park there.

I have seen a multitude of unnamed author posts, all with the same font, color schemes, no date, SEO scripted, and ends with “If you or a loved one needs (fill in type of law) then call (Law firm) for your Free Consultation and one of our expert attorneys will assist you.. Blah.. blah”. Side note, “Free Consultation” is a buzz term that most people have become wise to the real meaning. I digress. My point is that these posts were most likely written by someone other than an attorney to drive some form of traffic. These types of posts will almost certainly have the exact same design. In fact, last week I found exactly that. I found two websites by two different lawyers in the exact same design, same homepage image, and the same style of blog posts. I have considered emailing each of them to let them know they have a doppelganger. It’s like seeing two identical pickups with the same gun rack and camo cover at Cabela’s. No one is surprised to see them and no one cares to give them more attention than they deserve.

The process continues. I filter through the websites and have been holding a list off to the side of bloggers I intend to email. I don’t waste my time reading blogs that I can’t email and in return, the last hour of my day is stacked with great reads. If a pulled website turns out to be terrible, I throw it back. Otherwise, I email the ones I have. I enjoy it.

Every so often I get a surprise. I get a surprise so shocking, I feel that I need to email the blogger right there on the spot. Like seeing a Lamborghini and wanting to take your picture with it. I’m not that kind of guy by the way. However, when I come across a blog of that quality and calibre that I feel compelled to let them know, I feel genuine excitement. I came across a blog exactly like that last week. A DUI attorney in Arizona posted in December about the death of a pregnant woman and the pictures her widower took of her. The blogger was upset and rightly so, but the post added one thing that many posts seem to forget: humanity. The attorney, also known as the blogger, became real. Their content fit into the parking spot reserved for quality blogs even though their website used some parking spot reserved for terrible blogging.

I have felt exceedingly lucky since I read that post. That’s what good writing does, it moves the reader. Sometimes it moves the reader to feel, think, or act, but in any case, there is an effect on the reader. I feel lucky that it was only my mirror and not a life.

Before I publish this post I wanted to make one last point for the bloggers out there. Don’t park your content in a reserved space. Your great blog deserves to be on a great design. You might have to park it a way away from the front door, but trust me, more people will notice the Ferrari sitting out by itself than Geo at the front.

At LexBlog we manage over 1,000 sites across nearly 30 multisite installations of WordPress. Some of these sites have been publishing unique content for over a decade while some are in their first days of writing, slowly building an audience with each post. These sites share something in common, however, regardless of the subject matter, length of time on the web, or size of the publisher: Visitors are coming to their site on mobile devices at a rate that I’ve never seen before. 

When LexBlog gave me the opportunity to join the team in the summer of 2013 as an Account Manager, one of the first things I tried to understand was the audience of each site that was under my purview. It was my job to provide advice, guide, and suggest opportunities to the publishers and managers of these sites. At the time, LexBlog was just dipping its toes into the world of responsive design and was utilizing WP Touch to serve up a mobile version of our WordPress sites for those sites that weren’t responsively developed right out of the gate. 

Some of the first conversations I had with clients was around the subject of responsive redesigns of existing properties, or trying out a responsive design project on a new publication. At the time, it was a harder sell. Apple had released the iPhone 5 the year before, and was still moving at a relatively slow pace in pushing out new models, and the Android marketplace was relatively anemic. While it was clear there was a new game in town it wasn’t entirely clear what that game was to many internet neophytes.

To our development team, it was obvious that new game was responsive design. The flexibility of this approach was attractive, especially in a world where each pixel was highly scrutinized by marketing and business development teams. 

To our clients, the chief question was why would they spend an arm and a leg on a new technology when only 10-15% of their traffic was from mobile devices. 

Fast forward to today when I got it in my head that I would take a look at our network wide traffic to see what the current trends were. Some of the key stats for 2018 include:

  • Just over 1 in 3 people (34-35% of total traffic to be more exact with that number rising to 40% on some installations) visited a LexBlog managed site on a mobile device
  • Apple devices lead the way with about 60% of mobile device visits coming from an iPhone or iPad
  • Samsung is next in line with about 8-10% of the mobile device share on our network (the S7 through S9+ are the best represented Samsung devices)
  • Google’s devices are still lagging way behind much to the chagrin of our COO and CTO, the two Pixel advocates at LexBlog

Some of this ascent is no doubt due to our emphasis on responsive designs over the years. If a site looks good on a mobile device the first time you see it, you’re more apt to return on a phone or tablet when you’re not at your desk.

Beyond that, however, Google and other search engines continue to push usability as a component of their search results algorithms, and mobile friendliness is a key part of this. If your site does not render well on a phone or tablet, you’re likely to loose a key demographic, especially considering the rise of searches conducted on a mobile phone. 

Today, the conversation has changed from, “This is why you should consider a responsive design,” to “Here is your responsively designed site” without an option for anything else. Why would we suggest a subpar product and reading experience when we know the truth? The internet is expanding to more devices, more screens, more interfaces than we ever thought possible and consumers of content are keeping up with this breakneck pace; shouldn’t your site?