WordPress, Communities, Web & stuff

by Juan Hernando

When it wasn’t all about personal branding

Alexander the Great Alexander the Great. Photo by Dennis Jarvis and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Often when writing about the past, I am afraid of falling into nostalgic clichés, of “everything was better before”, or of telling grandfather’s little stories. I know that it wasn’t really better before, but different. And that what I am happy about is to have lived what I have lived and to see how everything – including myself – has been transformed.

When I started using the Internet, apart from being very expensive and very slow, there was something that now seems unthinkable for most people: a lot of anonymity.

Not to hide anything or protect yourself from anything, but because we didn’t think it was that relevant to go around telling all the details of your life in public and, let’s face it, because uploading a photograph somewhere on the Internet wasn’t exactly a simple process as it is now. Let’s not even talk about video.

I remember when IRC was all the rage. A chat server with many channels where you logged in… with your nickname.

And that nickname was all you had. What a decision you had to make!

Today’s Bloganuary prompt is “Has a book changed your life?” and you’ll wonder what I’ve told you so far has to do with literature. Now we’re here.

Coinciding with those years – I was about 15 or 16 – I got my hands on Valerio Massimo Manfredi’s Alexandros trilogy, in which he recounts the life of Alexander the Great, and I was fascinated by it. If at that time, I had been invited to go to Egypt to find the tomb where he was supposedly buried, I would have gone for it. I read and reread them until I learnt a lot of details -which of course, I have now forgotten-.

When it was time to register on IRC, and I needed a nickname, I only had to look at the side of the mouse where that yellow tome was the first one: Alexandros.

Error: Your nickname can only have a maximum of 9 characters.

The story of my life (another time I’ll tell you why ciudadanob). Well… let’s delete a letter… And that’s how I went by alexandrs for a long time in my life.

Does this mean that these books are the ones that I liked the most or that changed my life? I wouldn’t go so far. But they indeed marked me because, at a time when all we had was our nickname, that was mine. Now this habit has been lost… and the truth is that it’s much less funny. At least before you could start the conversation by asking… where does your name come from? Now it almost always comes from your parents’ creativity.

Two gifts I will never forget

Basket and T-shirts We were smaller in the nineties but not this small

The Bloganuary prompt asks me today: What is the most memorable gift you have received? And it doesn’t have an easy answer. Firstly, because I’ve been lucky enough to have received many gifts. Secondly, because my memory is quite absurd and forgets most things (which is good for continually surprising me).

But I have two very high up if I have to make a list.

The first one was brought to me by the Three Wise Men many, many years ago. I don’t know how old I was, somewhere between 4 and 10. It was a basket. For playing basketball. With its ball, backboard, rim, net, and plastic base filled with water so that it wouldn’t tip over. I always wanted to have lived in a big house with a basket above the garage (I did for eight years, but that’s another story). But in a flat, this was the most I could aspire to. And it was the most. It was.

I remember at the time, my older brother was fit and playing for the village team. We also watched all the games they showed on TV (he and my father were Real Madrid fans, I became a Joventut Badalona fan because I was against them and because they wore green). Some mornings we even watched the NBA game of the week on TVE2.

And the following day, as well as being very sleepy, I would try to emulate what I had seen in my toy basket. I remember those games of my Bulls against the Pistons and the Lakers -the teams my brother would ask for. Sweats and a lot of noise until my mother scolded us, laughing and shouting: Basket! Cheat! Block!

It was an incredible gift that lasted for many years and was always waiting for me in the corner behind the door to shoot from the bed, from the chair or from next to the window a three-pointer. It was the root of a passion for basketball that lasts to this day.

The other gift on the list is much more personal, and I will only go into a few details.

It was 2009, and it was for my birthday. It was the only present I ever got, and it was from the person I least expected it from. It arrived just in time from far away and put a happy note on a sad day (because I had no other presents!).

That T-shirt gave me the courage to change my life, and now more than thirteen years later, I can only be glad I received it. Thank you, M ❤️.

Living on an almost-island

Santoña Sunset in Santoña. Photo by olatz and licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Today’s Bloganuary prompt is a straightforward question: How far back in your family tree can you go? And the answer is almost as small as yesterday’s short story about the rain. Not very far.

I was born and grew up in Santoña, a fishing village of just over ten thousand inhabitants surrounded by a nature reserve: the marshes of Santoña, Victoria and Joyel. We have our Buciero mountain, our Santoña’s bay, our Berria beach and our marshes where every year, thousands of migratory birds rest on their way from north to south to escape the cold winters.

All this nature turns the town into a peninsula, almost an island, and, I suppose, the people of Santoña into a peculiar people. Or maybe it has nothing to do with it. But it is something that has always caught my attention: the passion for being there and coming back when you are far away.

My parents are from Santoña. And so are my parents’ parents. Of my eight great-grandparents, if I remember correctly, seven are from the town and one from the village on the other side of the bay. I don’t have any information about my great-great-grandparents, but if I had to bet on anything, you know…

Just as birds always end up (climate change notwithstanding) coming back here, generation after generation, I think the families in my village are similar. So I wonder if I come from seafaring roots, from land workers, from humble people or from great personalities. I have no land, no compound surnames, and no great inheritance. But I have my village to which I will always return.


Rain Write a short story abour Rain is the prompt today. Photo by Robert Couse-Baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I lived for about eight years in Santander (yes, it’s a lovely city in northern Spain, not just a bank) while I was at university.

The city is full of hills. Now it’s full of escalators to go up them, but it wasn’t like that when I was there.

It is also a city where it rained a lot.

It was almost all downhill to get from my house to the centre (and to the party area, ahem). Getting from the centre (from the party area, ahem) to my house was almost all uphill. Not only literally.

On rainy days it was a challenge: a sea of water flowing against you, a sea of water pouring down on you from above, wind so that there was no umbrella to cover you, and well, it was usually four in the morning.

I often wore my Converse trainers with their rubber soles instead of wellies. I’d rather die than not be an indie.

Many times instead of arriving wet just because of the rain, I would arrive wet because I had slipped and taken a bath in a puddle. I have great memories of those moments (why do I always remember the bumps?).

I would always like to have seen myself from above as if a drone was following me – even if there were no drones like now – to see me fall. I love to laugh at myself.

What is this blog about, and why do I write?

Field Notes notebook Field Notes or Moleskine, I never stop writing and making lists in them

Rereading the first few posts of this Bloganuary, I asked myself: what the hell is this blog about? There are some very personal articles, others about the web… and who knows what I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks! And right now, the prompt for day 6 is: Why do you write?

I’ve always liked to write so that my future self can go back and see what I was worried about at the time, what I was doing, and what I was interested in… It’s a shame that many of the things I wrote in my twenties are in some lost or hard to access hard drive (because I must have a copy of my Fotolog somewhere), but thanks to WordPress, I’ve always been able to export and import everything I’ve been writing since 2008 in my personal blog in Spanish. It’s a little -not even 300 entries- but it’s a lot more than nothing.

And why do I now have two personal blogs? Because this one fulfils three main functions:

I have to practise my English

What you don’t use, you forget. And although I write in English almost every day in the global WordPress Community team or in the WordCamp Europe organising team, they are usually short conversations, direct messages or similar. I know I’m going to have to use this language more and more, and although I always have Deepl, Wordreference and Grammarly at hand, there is a certain fluency that I need to work on more.

I want to connect with more people

Related to the above, I am meeting more and more people from the world’s farthest corners. And I’m sure that with more than one person, I have things in common that can make us have a beer (virtual or not), chat about something and have a good time. I think the best way to get to know someone… is by what they write! It gives you that closeness or that feeling of getting to know someone better that you can’t get any other way.

I need to get back into the habit

I write because I’ve always written a lot, but I’ve been losing it in recent years. For lack of time, lack of desire or all together. And I wouldn’t say I like it. It’s not that I’m a successful novelist or that the world is waiting for my four paragraphs. But, as I said at the beginning, it is something I love to do for my future self. So writing in this blog, or participating in Bloganuary, are part of my good resolutions for this year.

And you, why do you write, or why do you read this and not leave me a comment below saying: Hello, I read you!?

Gold, frankincense, myrrh

The three wise men The Three Wise Playmobils. By tomylees is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

On the night of the 5th of January every year, thousands of Spanish children take to the streets to watch the Three Wise Men parade. Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar will leave presents for them at night next to their shoes if they have behaved well throughout the year, if they go to bed early and if they leave them a glass of milk or water for their camels.

The faces of all the children when they see them passing by, their nerves about whether they will receive the presents they had written in their letters and their smiles the next morning are pure joy. The satisfaction of the rest of society (parents, vendors, mail carriers, journalists…) for having been part of the secret of the Three Wise Men successfully, too.

Bloganuary’s fifth prompt asks us: What brings you joy in life? And to have such a recent experience of childhood joy that takes you back to your own memories and toys is a challenge.

I guess the most common answer is that joy is health and being with your loved ones: having dinner with your family, having a beer with your friends, and having a good time with your partner. The older you get, the more you adjust your priorities. And the material things that used to make you happy now make you less happy by comparison.

Even so, it is very easy to fall into the wheel of stress, work, and worries… and forget to enjoy the little things that make everything more bearable. That’s why my goals for this year. That’s why I’m trying to have lots of plans and to organise my priorities in life better.

Just as the Three Wise Men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Bethlehem portal, this year I hope they bring me all those little things that bring me joy: trips, beers, afternoons spent with blankets and series, that work doesn’t get complicated, that people are grateful for what you do to help them, or simply those random messages from people who remember you.

The holiday period is coming to an end in Spain, and now it’s time for the most challenging part: getting back to reality. May that reality be the one that brings us joy and fun.

Bring back the weird internet

Lego bricks You get the bricks, and your imagination comes next. By Kiama.Library licensed under CC BY 2.0

Today’s Bloganuary prompt asks: What is a treasure that’s been lost? And I can think of too many things that have fallen by the wayside. But as this blog is usually about the world of the web and my relationship with it, I’m going to talk about the “treasure” that I miss the most:

The curiosity to make your own space on the Internet.

The problem could be that in the old days, we didn’t have much to do with computers at the user level, and in the end, you ended up learning by touching all the buttons and options that existed. But I remember fondly that time when everyone started to tinker with basic HTML and CSS to get their personality or their tastes to their website, their blog, or even their social network.

Yes, I’m talking about websites like Geocities, the first Blogger, WordPress or LiveJournal, or even MySpace.

There were probably many other things happening on the web at that time that I wasn’t aware of. But in my ideal bubble, many people were slowly learning the basics of creating a website by trial and error, by reading the few tutorials you could find, or most of the time, by copying the source code of someone else who had done it before you. Can you imagine if the code of websites had not been open? If it had not been at the reach of a right click? It would have been a disaster!

Nowadays, everything is convenient; there are applications or platforms where everything comes ready-made, and even if you can change a few options, you don’t need to research or learn anything. Is it better? Yes. Is it ideal? Sure. But from the perspective of someone who found his way to make a living from that situation, I feel a bit sad that this treasure has been lost.

In a world where visuals, stories, short videos… everyone wants to be an influencer. In my day, you wanted to have the most customised MySpace (and with the best music played, of course!) or the most eye-catching personal website -on free hosting- where people could read your thoughts.

Matt Mullenweg – one of the creators of WordPress and now the owner of Tumblr – said in an interview in The Verge that we should go back to making the internet weirder. I totally support that. Whether it’s WordPress, Tumblr or whatever you can think of. But experimenting, letting your imagination run wild and going off the beaten track, the standard way of doing stuff, should be the norm again.

It’s a treasure that has been lost but that we can recover: long live the weird web!

A hit I won’t forget

"Columpios solitarios" by Lograi. License CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

This post is not about another important moment when I had to figuratively pick myself up from the ground to be reborn stronger. The title of the post refers to what it literally refers to. A smack on the forehead. When I was 3 or 4 years old, I don’t remember. But I know it’s the answer to today’s Bloganuary prompt that asks: What is the earliest memory you have?

There has always been a park with swings in front of my parents’ house. And I’ve seen it evolve at the pace of parents who began to stop considering it “normal” for their child to come home with a crack on the head, a scrape on the knees, pebbles in the back and all the other barbarities of children’s playgrounds in the 80s in Spain.

Now everything is safer, everything is regulated, and, at the risk of being nostalgic for times gone by… everything is less fun.

There was a kind of iron sphere that we called “the elephant”. It had several bars that made a spherical shape from top to bottom and then a horizontal bar in the centre as if it were the equator of the planet earth. It also had a vertical bar inside that you could climb up and end up going down the slide – which was the elephant’s trunk. I think it also had some ears.

We loved to race to get to any swing when we were kids. Let’s go on the big slide! Let’s go on the double swings! Let’s go on the elephant! Let’s go!

And that time, I learned a big lesson: you must start figuring out where you can and can’t fit.

In my eagerness to get there first, I didn’t realise that I had already grown big enough not to fit between the ground and the middle bar. It was right at the height of my forehead. And the hit made me fall backwards as if I had been punched in a movie. Seconds of shock. Crying.

That day the games were over for me, and my mother took me home to put ice on my forehead to prevent the bump from being huge. And, of course, I was reprimanded for not looking where I was going!

I know it’s not a great memory (it’s painful but not very painful), and I know that at the age of 3-4, I have other memories related to going to watch my brother play basketball or watching a game on TV at home. But if anyone asks me this question about my first memory, I will answer the same: the day I learned that I was going to grow up and maybe one day I wouldn’t fit where I did a couple of weeks ago.

Being brave or how to face some of your fears

My first WordCamp talk And there I was, in a palace in Santander giving my first talk

Today’s Bloganuary prompt asks: How are you brave? And honestly, I find it hard to imagine situations where a person is simply brave. I guess we are all brave to some extent, fearful to other, and reserved when previous experiences don’t encourage us to take that step into the abyss without knowing whether there is a net.

A few years ago, I was terrified of public speaking.

It wasn’t something that had always been with me because I loved being part of end-of-year functions when I was a child at school. As I was one of the kids with the longest memory, I was given the role of narrator. And there I was, in front of the parents of the whole school, narrating the play that my classmates were performing.

At some point, I suppose, with adolescence, this changed, and it became entrenched. So much so that there came a time when, if I had to make a professional presentation, I would literally get sick for days. Until I decided that it couldn’t go on like that.

Is it being brave? Unconscious? A functioning adult? I don’t know. But at one event, WordCamp Cantabria 2015, I had such a good time that when the lead organiser asked me if I would come back the following year, I answered: Yes, and I will give a talk. At that very moment, I saw my own neurons short-circuiting, wondering who had given that order to my vocal cords.

Meetups and WordCamps are WordPress events where the atmosphere is so relaxed and so welcoming that many of the fears that hold you back vanish. It’s OK to get confused, to draw a blank or to not know the answer to any question. You just go out there and tell your story, tell something you’ve learned, tell something that might be interesting to someone in the audience. And it has helped me infinitely on a thousand personal and professional levels. Still, above all, it has helped me to lose my fear of public speaking. The nerves are still there, but it’s different.

Maybe for you being brave is simply going to an event where you don’t know anyone for the first time. Giving a talk in front of ten people at a local meetup. Speaking in English when it’s not your native language. Maybe some of these things are in your resolutions for 2023… if so… I can only encourage you to do so. Be brave.

What is something you want to achieve this year?

The beach in Isla where I took a dip on the first day of the year 2023. The beach in Isla where I took a dip on the first day of the year 2023.

This is the first prompt of the Bloganuary challenge organised by the team. I had seen similar initiatives in the past, and I find them very interesting to dust off this blog and keep practising writing in English (sorry for the mistakes, I’m still improving).

Getting through this 30-day challenge would be something I’d like to do. Still, I’m not sure I will be able to (I’ll try to keep the posts small, so I don’t give up too much time), nor is it something I’m going to review when I look back in December this year.

I finally wrote my summary of 2022 on my blog in Spanish, a year that has been quite complicated on a personal level and will still take a lot of work to adapt to new realities. I didn’t want to set measurable goals (yes, I know what the gurus say), but in the final part, I did ask myself two things: to keep the new routines and to travel more.

And what are these new routines? They have to do with exercising, reading, dedicating time to myself, eating better and finding a good balance between work and the rest of my life. In other years I used to quantify these routines and that discouraged myself. I have learned from this mistake.

I can’t think that the 365 days of the year will be perfect. But I also can’t believe that if I fail for several days, I can’t pick up the effort from where I left off. It’s as if every time I stop reading a book when I pick it up again, I read it from the beginning. Absurd, isn’t it? Well, that’s the way my head worked so far, many times.

As for travelling… I’ve always loved it. I know the economy and the world situation may not favour my plans. Still, travelling long distances is not always necessary to enjoy good company, new sights, fun photos and memories for a long time.

We’ll see if, at the end of the year, I can come back here and say I’ve made it. We’ll also see how many Bloganuary posts I manage to write.