FIRST OFF, many thanks to those Connect readers who voted me Best Local Blogger in our last issue.
Eightish years ago, when my youngest child still had all the heft of a kitten and I was spending most of my time changing diapers and wiping yogurt out of my hair, a small start-up company asked me to write some content for their website in the form of a blog.
I told them I didn’t know what a “glob” was, but if they furnished a computer, I’d be happy to kick out some snark during naptime and 23–minute episodes of Blue’s Clues.
The company and the motherboard of that old MacBook have fallen by the wayside, but Yo, Yenta! lives on. Eight years is practically dinosaur status on the interwebs, and because of the blog’s longevity, some have the mistaken notion that I am somehow a blogging “expert.” They want to know what widgets I use and ask terrifying questions about Askimet spam, which I’m pretty sure is a delicacy in Hawaii.
The truth is, I think of my blog the same way I do about my minivan: I’m not exactly sure how it works, but when I put the key in and start ‘er up, she goes. I, like 70 million others, use the free platform WordPress, which makes blogging so simple that my dog could do it if she was still allowed near the computer (she kept shedding in the keyboard when trolling LOL cat sites.)
Which means when it breaks down, I’m as helpless as when the minivan starts roiling smoke out of the AC vents: When I sat down to write a new blog post last Monday night and found that a gremlin had gnawed through the firewalls and left a salmagundi of HTML code in its wake, I was stranded like a toothless hooker in the gutter of the information highway.
Panic, panic, frantic Facebook updates, panic, compulsive donut eating, more panic ... until someone tweeted that one of WordPress’ top people lives on Tybee Island. Of all the islands in all the world, one of the principal geeks of blogging software lives on mine?
Let it be known, Jane Wells does not make housecalls. She nicely referred me to a local blog mechanic, WordPress nerd Adam Singer of AJ Singer Studios, who helped me transfer most of my 2000ish posts over to a new site and get it live by the next day. But Wells also agreed to let me pick her big brain for a bit if I drove out to Tybee, where she’s busy painting shelves and rewiring outlets for her new wi–fi café, the Jitterbug Bakery.
Basically, WordPress’ UX designer (that’s “user experience,” yes, I had to ask) and community guru makes it all look easy. A former baker, project manager and massage therapist who ambled from Oregon to Vermont and back to San Francisco, this Jane–of–all–trades met WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg in 2003, “when he was just a scrawny little teenager.” From there, she put her mad web developing skills to work and put Mullenweg’s open source project in the hands of the people.
“The mission was, and still is, to democratize publishing,” she tells me as we lounge with our laptops on Jitterbug’s comfy red couches. “Anyone can put something out there, and it’s free—free as in liberty, and in cost.”
From the Arab Spring to a Scottish schoolgirl’s school lunch rants that recently went viral, there’s no doubt that blog freeware is changing the world. It’s also mucked up our consciousness with celebrity–obsessed navelgazers and boring business blogs, but democracy is messy, yo.
(FYI, Wells says it isn’t worth it to pay someone to do search engine optimization for your site. Or, in her words: “SEO is bullshit. You want to come up in searches? Write better content.”)
When I confess that I’m kind of dumb about the inner workings of my own blog, she encourages me to cowgirl up and start tweaking it.
“It’s just code. If you screw it up, you’re not going to kill anyone.”
To learn more, I vow to attend one of the next WordPress meetups, casual hangout sessions at ThincSavannah where bloggers can ask questions and tweak without fear. Wells began organizing them when she first rolled into the Savannah area last year after taking charge of her teenage nieces from Middle Georgia. She considers herself “mostly coastal” (one of the perks of being a big–time geek is you can work anywhere with an internet connection), and though Tybee is hardly a bastion of advanced cyberpower, it was the closest beach from the girls’ hometown. The easy livin’ fit the bill, but the island was missing an essential ingredient to a seasoned blogger’s perfect world: A nice café with good coffee and kickass wi–fi.
Necessity being the mother of invention, Wells has birthed Jitterbug, slated to open next month in the former Charly’s restaurant next to the post office. The green bungalow will offer locally–roasted PERC coffee, blended teas, baked treats (made by her own hand, natch) and faster broadband than you’ll ever get at home.
I was already in awe of Jane Wells for her techie savvy and the whole global free publishing thing, but finding out that she named her caf after Tom Robbins’ epic novel Jitterbug Perfume has made me an official groupie. She plans to begin hosting WordPress meetups at Jitterbug soon, which means I’ll be blogging at the beach this summer.
Though sand is probably even harder to get out of the space bar than dog hair.