The WordPress Growth Council: An Experiment in Open Source Marketing

Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress and CEO of Automattic, just posted a call for contributors to form a WordPress Growth Council. As a long-time WordPress user and marketing executive, the project interests me for a few reasons.

The first is the challenge itself. To paraphrase Matt’s blog post, WordPress and the open web are under threat. The likes of Medium, Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to promote what are essentially proprietary, walled-off gardens. These systems diminish the freedom of the user and put the notion of an open web under jeopardy. I’ve already resigned to the fact that my Internet life is mostly dictated by closed systems like Facebook, Twitter, and Apple, and while many enterprises are beginning to invest more in open source projects, there’s an imbalance in the force. The fact that an open source platform like WordPress powers 27% of the web makes it the greatest agent in defending Internet freedom.

As a marketer, the WordPress Growth Council is an incredible experiment in pushing marketers to think more like developers and adopt open source principles. Since I started working at Stack Overflow, I’ve become immersed in the working world of developers and often found myself jealous because of how they operate. Marketers believe in control and polish where as most developers are public by default and make iterative changes to their work. It’s so much easier for developers to collaborate on projects in distributed ways where as brand managers are too often constrained by proprietary business information or rigid hierarchy and specialist roles within an organization. It comes as no surprise to me that after 10+ years of architecting Automattic and WordPress to be distributed and open that Matt would by a catalyst in what I’d deem “open source marketing”.  I think about how marketers can be more collaborative and generous with their knowledge so I welcome the opportunity to experiment and test my theories in this arena.

Lastly, I’m motivated as an end-user to help improve the overall consumer experience. I’ve been tinkering with self-hosted WordPress sites since 2007 and I’ve helped probably 100+ individuals and organizations explore the merits of the .com and .org experience. Let’s get real – the relationship is confusing, the admin panel is intimidating, and the learning curve is steep. The product marketer in me is itching to help streamline the value proposition across these funnels to help make it easier to educate and on-board new users.

My day job keeps me pretty busy so it’s somewhat scary to sign up for something like this, but the initial time commitment of 3-4 hours/month seems reasonable. If you’re as intrigued by the challenge and learning opportunity as I am, I hope you’ll join me in the cause.

 

 

The Beatrice Inn – A Meat Lover’s Paradise

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I’ve had too many wonderful meals to recount in New York, but tonight’s Beatrice Inn dinner just might be one of my favorites. It’s certainly one of the few meals in recent history that I actually feel inspired to write about.

What did I love so much about the experience? Just about everything. 

It’s a meat lover’s paradise. In all seriousness, if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or not a fan of delicious proteins, don’t even bother. Once you step foot into this basement-level den of indulgence, you will lose all ability to self-regulate.

The restaurant has a storied history as a speak easy, celebrity hangout spot, and in recent years, a somewhat lackluster chophouse. When I heard Angie Mar, former sous-chef at the Spotted Pig, was taking over, I had high hopes for what she’d do. Take a look at her Instagram.

Forever midnight meat snacking. #GotBeef #BeefLoversOnly ✌🏼️❤️🐮

A photo posted by Angie Mar (@angiekmar) on

The woman is a mistress of meat and my new favorite lady boss (she’s Executive Chef AND owner).

The space is basement level and everything you’d expect out of a West Village dining experience – fireplaces, low lighting, and a New Yorker’s definition of the word cozy, a narrow bar in the entrance where late twenty somethings accidentally dry hump each other over post-work drinks.

When you read through the menu, the chef’s voice comes through loud and clear. “I’m a raging carnivore who loves dead animals and by the end of this meal you will too.” As a foodie who usually eyes the 2-3 “must-haves” almost instantaneously, I was dazed and confused. Do I order the 60 day dry-aged cote de boeuf with prawn butter, the braised oxtail, game pie, milk braised pork shoulder, duck flambe, 45 day dry aged burger, or perhaps lose my mind and go for the 127 DAY WHISKY AGED TOMAHAWK RIBEYE?!  The menu is audacious, the most indulgent in your face menu I’ve looked at in a long time.

We actually did go crazy and attempted to order the ribeye and then the waitress said, “Tonight’s market price is $679”. LOL. Here’s the deal. I’m actually one of those people who would order this, but I have to mentally prep myself first. I’ve spent obscene amounts of money on food and drink, but it always feels like this internal battle with myself to rationalize the decision. You can book a direct nonstop flight to Hawaii for $679! You could also go to McDonald’s and get a delicious box of 20 chicken nuggets with the most perfect sweet and sour sauce ever created for $5!  One whiskey aged tomahawk ribeye = 2,716 chicken nuggets!

We bailed on the ribeye and opted for the roast duck flambe instead.

New life goal: become a badass in the kitchen like @angiekmar and host dinner parties with duck flambé 🔥

A video posted by Alexa Scordato (@alexascordato) on

You can go through all the photos below where I captured every magical mouthful.

I’m full. I’m inspired. I’m in love with Angie Mar’s West Village meat den and I can’t wait to go back with a group and devour that ribeye.

Cocktail Classes with Fluent City

A few months ago, I had lunch with an old friend, James Rohrbach. We’re both liberal arts nerds and love connecting the dots between different disciplines. He told me about his new venture, Fluent City, which offers language and culture classes for insatiably curious individuals like me.

He and his team were nice enough to let me be a guest at their “All Shook Up” class, which teaches you  all about foundational cocktails skills – how to read a menu, stock a home bar, and even make some cocktails of your own.

Working on Dipsology, I learned a ton about cocktails simply by going out to hundreds of bars and befriending some of the world’s best bartenders. It’s taken me years of imbibing to learn that I love negronis, gin martinis, and drinking whiskey neat. Fluent City has successfully taken what I spent years learning and compressed it into a 4-week fast track.

Their approach to teaching you cocktail basics is fun, practical, and social:

  • Learn from the experts. My class was led by Robby Nelson who works at Long Island Bar and Prime Meats along with Channing Centeno from Momofuku Ko. They belong to a class of bartenders who are committed to the craft of cocktails and really put in the time to train and hone their skills.
  • Learn by tasting. You show up to class and you’re greeted with a smile and a cocktail. We kicked things off with a tasty daiquiri. If you haven’t had a *real daiquiri* (not a frozen one you get on Bourbon Street or a sour mix one from TGIFridays), you haven’t lived!
  • Learn by doing. After a quick demonstration, Robby gave us an overview of some basic ingredients and tools – a Boston shaker, jigger, simple syrup, etc. We then headed to our own cocktail stations, which were fully stocked with everything we needed to start makin’ and shakin’.
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  • Make new friends.  I don’t have the data to back this up, but if I had to classify cocktail drinkers, they’re more curious and open-minded than the average person. The entire vibe of the class was judgement free. Everyone I met was there to learn and have fun.
  • Practice at home. We were all sent home with a tote bag containing our very own cocktail shaker! I’ll admit I rarely make my own cocktails at home, but I’m inspired to practice more after tonight’s session. I think everyone should start with the classics, specifically a good old fashioned.

img_5657If you’re looking to learn something new that will enhance the way you eat, drink, or experience the world, I highly recommend you check out Fluent City’s classes. And if you’re in New York City on Saturday, December 10 and want a taste of intellectual imbibing, they’re hosting a Bloody Mary pop-up class at the Django.  Cheers and happy cocktailing! 
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An Afternoon at Onsen San Francisco

I wanted to hike Mount Tamalpais the other week when visiting San Francisco, but my plans were foiled with heavy rain on both Saturday and Sunday. Bummer.

When I suggested scoping out a spa or bathhouse, my girlfriends suggested Onsen, which opened earlier this month. I don’t typically associate the words clean and awesome with the Tenderloin, but if you can suspend your disbelief like I did, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Onsen is a wonderful slice of Japan located on Eddy St. about 5 blocks from the Civic Center BART station. It’s by no means large or scenic like the onsens you’ll find in Japan, but it’s a welcome respite from the daily grind.

I’m looking forward to going back on my next trip and trying out their dinner service.

Recommendations for Rome and Florence

A few friends recently asked me about recommendations for traveling in Italy. Although there are so many wonderful places to explore throughout the country, I highly recommend Rome, Florence, and surrounding Tuscany for first-timers. Whether you’re going as a family, solo traveler, or for a romantic getaway, there’s really something magical for everyone to enjoy.

I’ve done this trip twice, once with my friend Nick, and the other with my cousin Nick. If you have a week, spend at least 3 days in Rome and 4 days in Florence. You can easily find direct flights to Rome (FCO) and then use Italy’s extensive railway system to explore Florence and surrounding areas (Pisa, Lucca, etc.). Renting a car is always an option, but I wouldn’t do that until you get to Florence.

In no particular order, here are more detailed tips that you might not necessarily find elsewhere:

ROME

I don’t think I could ever live in Rome, but it’s one of my favorite cities I’ve traveled to. It oozes with culture and history and transforms into one of the most romantic and enchanting places at night.

1. Tour the Colosseum with a guide

Save yourself the trouble of waiting in line and purchase these tickets in advance. This is for entrance to the Colosseum along with access to the gladiator pits and third ring. You’ll be with a guide, which is the only way to access these areas. If you don’t do this, you’ll still appreciate the site, but you’ll have serious FOMO looking down at the tour groups that are standing in the center arena doing their best Russell Crowe impersonations (download Gladiator on your
iPad or laptop to watch on the plane. It will make your visit 10x more fun).

On a quest to get cheesy, touristy jumping photos in front of all 7 wonders of the world. 3/7 complete.

A photo posted by Alexa Scordato (@alexascordato) on

 

2. Buy Vatican Museum Tickets in advance

You will want to punch yourself in the face if you don’t do this. Did you know that Italy gets more tourists than any other country in the world?! Even during off-peak times, tourist destinations like the Vatican are packed. The line extends several blocks so you’ll be saving yourself at least 45 minutes of wait-time if you buy your tickets in advance. Go to the website and look at the different options available (I haven’t done it, but I hear the night tours give you special access to galleries closed during the day).

It’s worth noting that you can spend at least half a day in the museum. If you’re pressed for time, prioritize the Sistine Chapel, which is one of the most breathtaking works of art ever created. Don’t miss it, even though you’ll be tempted to when you’re crammed like a sardine in the hallways. Suck it up and deal. The photos don’t do it justice!

Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel is breathtaking (top), but Raphael's work wasn't too shabby either (bottom). Where's the love, peeps? #underhyped

A photo posted by Alexa Scordato (@alexascordato) on

2) Climb St. Peter’s Basilica

If you’re in decent shape, not pressed for time, and not claustrophobic, do this! You’ll get an up close and personal view of the frescos that line the ceilings of the Vatican and a surreal panorama of Rome at the top. If you can time it so that you do this on a clear day in the late afternoon, you just might catch one of the most epic sunset views of your life.

Unlike the United States, the tourist signage in Italy is void of legal jargon and disclaimers. There’s a sign that says you can take an elevator up the dome, but what it fails to explicitly say is that it only takes you up 1/3 of the way. For 7 euros, you can take the elevator 320 steps, but you’ll still have to climb 551 (!!!) steps to the top with each flight getting drastically narrower. It’s not a bad climb, but if you’re expecting a leisurely walk in the park or you think the elevator is going to take you to the top, you’ve been warned!

Bonus: The inside of the Vatican is so ornate it will be easy to get caught up in the splendor of it all. Look out for the very tiny sign pointing to the crypt, which houses the ruins of St. Peter and Popes throughout the ages. This might feel creepy to some, but as someone who was raised a Catholic, I appreciated this experience.

A photo posted by Alexa Scordato (@alexascordato) on

 

3. See the Trevi foundtain, but linger at Piazza Navona 

Everyone goes to see the Trevi Fountain. You have to see it, but it feels like the Times Square of Rome – too crowded and full of tourists. Grab dinner at Campo de Fiore and walk to Piazza Navona, a large square with two giant fountains designed by Bernini. I’ve spent hours here sipping on negronis, savoring gelato, and people watching.

Made a big wish at the Trevi fountain. If it comes true, 2014 is going to be amazing 🙂

A photo posted by Alexa Scordato (@alexascordato) on

 

4. Eat Spaghetti Carbonara at Salumeria Roscioli 

There’s something therapeutic about twirling your fork in a mound of spaghetti laced with freshly grated parmigianno and pancetta. I’ve never been a big fan of spaghetti carbonara, but it’s a must eat in Rome. You’ll get one of the best bowls of it here. The restaurant is tiny and also doubles as a deli where you can find some of the best salumi and cheese in town.

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Craved this bite of spaghetti carbonara for a whole year. Confession: it wasn't nearly as good without you, @nickperold.

A photo posted by Alexa Scordato (@alexascordato) on

 

5. Stop for lunch at Pizzarium before hitting the Vatican Museum 

If you love pizza or focaccia, Pizzarium is a real gem. It’s a few blocks away from the entrance to the Vatican Museum and easily the type of place you would pass by if you weren’t looking for it. The only reason you might take notice is that it does get crowded at lunch and you’ll often find patrons lingering on the sidewalk gorging on their slices. There are dozens of toppings and you order by the pound, not the slice. My strategy is to ask for small slices so I can try as many different variations as I can. I’ve never been disappointed by any of them.

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FLORENCE 

There’s a special place in my heart for Florence because of my trip there in October 2012. I was feeling burnt out and the city completely revived me. I ate delicious things, drank too much wine, explored til my feet hurt, and found myself in a place where I could slow down and enjoy the finer things in life. I’ll always be grateful to Florence for that. 

1. Buy the Florence pass and reserve tickets to see Michaelangelo’s David

If you’re going to spend more than 3 days in Florence, I’d recommend buying the Florence pass because it gets you access to 30+ sites in town ranging from the Uffizi Gallery (must visit if you love Renaissance art) to smaller chapels and historic homes. I don’t typically find things like this to deliver on their value, but this one is an exception. They sell it at most tourist kiosks or you can find them at museum entrances.

Just like the Colosseum and Vatican Musuems, Michaelangelo’s David draws the crowds. Go online and buy tickets in advance or else you’ll be stuck online for at least an hour. If you’re on the fence about whether to see this or not, don’t be. I wasn’t expecting much and it completely blew me away. I didn’t realize how big it was and having seen the Sistine Chapel a few days earlier, this gave me so much more appreciation for Michaelangelo’s talent and range as an artist.

4 hrs in Florence: Michaelangelo's David ☑️ Duomo ☑️ Ponte Vecchio ☑️ Gelato ☑️ Truffles ☑️

A photo posted by Alexa Scordato (@alexascordato) on

 

2. Picnic at Piazza Michaelangelo at sunset

Go to one of the local markets (Mercato Centrale is the largest, but San Lorenzo is my favorite and also the oldest). Pick up a bottle of wine, some fresh meats and cheese, and take a cab up to Piazza Michaelangelo. If you go before sunset, you’ll get this view and it’ll make you cry.

Bonus: Most markets will vacuum seal food for you. That means you can stock up on your favorite salumi and stash it in your suitcase.

Sunset at Piazza Michaelangelo

A photo posted by Alexa Scordato (@alexascordato) on

 

Went to the Sant'ambrosio market today and was blown away. I never want to shop at a supermarket again. #eatlocal

A photo posted by Alexa Scordato (@alexascordato) on

 

3. Book a Day Trip to Pisa, Sienna, and San Gimignano

This was easily one of the best tours I booked. Nick and I allocated a whole day to this and it allowed us to see a Tuscan vineyard/farm, the town of Sienna (amazing), the walled city of San Gimignano, and the leaning tower of Pisa. It’s such an efficient way to see a lot of things in such a short amount of time.

One day I think I'd like to have a mid-October wedding at a villa in Tuscany. #justsayin

A photo posted by Alexa Scordato (@alexascordato) on

 

4. Visit the town of Panzano

One of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had traveling was a day trip from Florence to this tiny town of Panzano. I had to go because I’d read the book “Heat” which is about the author’s apprenticeship with Dario Cecchini, the world’s most famous butcher. Dario sings in a loud operatic voice at the top of his lungs, cites quotes from Dante’s inferno, and represents 8 generations of butchers dating all the way back to the Etruscans. When I read this book, I thought to myself, “I have to meet this man!” and so I did. His store is 200+ years old and you can book a meal at his restaurant for $25 w/ unlimited wine. This meat-centric extravaganza blew me away is one of my all-time favorite dining experiences.

The crescendo to my Italian culinary adventures: Visiting Dario Cecchini, the most famous butcher in the world. His 6 course tasting menu: an orchestral meat symphony.

A photo posted by Alexa Scordato (@alexascordato) on

BONUS: Just up the road is this wine shop called “Accademia del Buon Gusto” (school of good taste). Go in there and talk to the owner and he’ll walk you through a flight of the most delicious locally sourced Tuscan wines you can’t find anywhere. I spent 3 hours in that store and bought some of the best value Super Tuscans and dessert wines ever.

 

5. Eat Bisteca Fiorentina at Perseus

I went to Perseus twice in one week. One thing to know about Florence is it’s famous for its T-bone steaks that come from white cows specific to the region. They’re cut about one inch thick and are found at most trattorias. I always ask locals where they eat and they sent me here. It’s a carnivore’s paradise.

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I could wax poetic about how much I love Italy and these two cities. If you need other recommendations about where to stay, what wine to drink, how much to budget, etc. just holler. Happy answer questions in the comments or just email me.