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John T. Unger

About TypePad Hacks

John T. Unger April 6, 2008

This blog has been around long enough for its focus to shift a few times… The core mission of making TypePad rock hasn't really changed, but the methods have shifted a bit. The original manifesto can be found here, but it seemed like time for an update.

Stage One: Consumer Advocacy, Guerrilla Criticism

I founded typepadhacks.org in 2006 to suggest features and changes I felt would significantly improve the TypePad platform. The initial focus of the site was:

  • User Design: Collecting useful hacks for extending the capabilities of TypePad blogs.
  • User Forum: Providing a forum for issues, news and user concerns about SixApart products and service.
  • User Power: Organizing users into a unified voice to lobby SixApart for the features, fixes and changes to TypePad most important to us.

As it turned out, Michael Sippey (then GM at TypePad) got in touch almost immediately to let me know that a lot of what I had suggested was useful to the development team and that they would be implementing many of my suggestions. The general response from the company is exemplified by the following quote from the TypePad Featured Blog article about TypePad Hacks:

You might think that Six Apart, as a company, would be embarrassed by Unger's focus on explaining tricks to extend TypePad's functionality, or chagrined that he polls his readers about what features we should implement next, but the truth is: We're thrilled. Not only is TypePad Hacks a tremendous benefit to all TypePad customers, especially those who want to ask unique questions or try to "push the envelope," but it's also incredibly useful for us to look over Unger's shoulder and absorb the feedback his readers are giving. And we can assure you, we are most certainly looking. Finally, we think it's an amazing testament to blogging and to TypePad that Unger thought the best solution for his effort was to start a blog and to use TypePad. We couldn't agree more. While no formal relationship exists between TypePad Hacks and TypePad, we have talked with Unger and consider him a wonderful asset to the community.

That was awesome, and they've been rolling out great new features, improvements and fixes at a breakneck pace ever since. I put a lot of effort into those first posts to make sure that the tone was uniformly positive and I think that has paid off so many ways… I've almost never had a negative comment directed at TypePad since the blog began (though plenty of constructive criticism) and often the readers will answer each other's questions in the comments. There's a community here that I truly value, and I think that by providing a space for that here, both TypePad and the user base have gotten a chance to interact and learn from each other. A great deal of growth and understanding came out of that.

Stage two: Developing new Hacks and Writing Tutorials

But, I'm impatient (massively ADHD, actually) and so I started writing hacks for some of the features that could be added without having to change the back-end application code. It turned out I was pretty good at it. It turned out that I have a special knack for looking at what things are and what they do, not what they're supposed to be or intended to do… In other words, every time I see a new snip of code, my brain immediately starts thinking about what else it could be used for beyond the intended purpose. This is the perfect mindset for finding new ways to use things, and for finding solutions to difficult problems. Coming up with hacks and writing tutorials was the second stage of TypePad Hacks, although it followed pretty quickly on the heels of the activism stage. I also did a ton of free tech support for other bloggers during this period… I still like to help out when I can, but unless it's a quick answer, I often don't get to it as soon as I would like. In some cases, if it's a very long answer, I'll suggest that the person hire us.

Stage three: Hacks for Hire

It turns out that not everyone wants to do their own hacks… Some are too busy, some are uncomfortable messing with templates, some just would rather job it out. About a year into writing the blog, I started getting a lot of inquiries about whether I was for hire. I kept saying "no, actually, I already have a full time gig as an artist and this site is my recreational outlet." I was kid of proud of being maybe the only guy out there who did art for a day job and tech support as a hobby. And the art still pays better, believe it or not.

Finally someone came up with a really interesting project that caught my imagination and I said okay. And in the process I realized the following: Hacks for hire is a service in the same way as free tutorials are a service… it's a way to help people out, which I like to do. The reason I charge for it isn't that I need the money but because that's how I schedule. There are only so many hours in the day and I need about 48 of them to accomplish what I want to do. So, yes, I do blog work for people and I charge for it to justify taking time away from the other things I also want to do… like writing my blogs ;-).

As the business side grows, I've taken on some help with coding and will also be seeking guest authors for posts. There will still be new tutorials and reviews as often as possible. I prefer to post less frequently in order to research deeply, test hacks thoroughly and polish the tutorials to maximum clarity and simplicity… so the posts here will never be overwhelmingly frequent.

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Comments

Darrin & Josy says:

I am so glad we found your site so we can learn more about making our Typepad blog better. Just subscribed and thrilled to look around your blog and see what can help us with the new blog we are trying to build from scratch. We are not code experts and might have to hire you for help. :)
That's so awesome how Michael Sippey spoke about your blog and great ideas. It's not everyday a GM will admit that someonelse's ideas are better then their own. Kuddos on that one.

Mitzi Curi says:

I am completely exhausted after spending the last week trying to improve my blog, learn how to resize pictures, and learning how to edit photos in Photoshop Elements and Picnik. I am wondering if I make a list of specific things I need tweaking on my blog, if you would be interested doing some work for me? Or, if you know of someone else that might be?
Many Thanks,
Mitzi

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