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WordCamp UK 2010

I’m just back from WordCamp UK 2010 in Manchester. Another inspiring gathering of WordPress people, from the curious to the obsessed, with a fantastic, vibrant city as the backdrop.

I’m too exhausted now for a detailed write-up, but I want to jot some things down while they’re fresh. Here’s the main things that stick in my mind…

Themes

There was a lot about themes. Much discussion of the debate about the Thesis premium theme’s apparent flaunting of the WP GPL license (check Mark Jaquith’s post for the best overview of this heated debate).

WP stalwarts Michael Kimb Jones and Jonny Allbut took us around the world of premium themes, free themes, theme frameworks… and on that last note, introduced the beta of their new WP theme framework, Wonderflux.

I’m still agnostic about theme frameworks. Myself, I have a basic “theme foundation”, which I keep improving and tweaking, and is my lightweight starting point for all my custom themes.

There’s been a great discussion on theme frameworks at digwp.com, and I was interested to see how many people concur with my approach (don’t we all like loads of people agreeing with us? ;-). That said, there were some good arguments for frameworks. Most framework advocates seemed to favour Justin Tadlock’s Hybrid, which is definitely something I’m looking at. Justin’s code and attitude are usually impeccable, and everyone says his premium support rocks.

Wonderflux seems like another possible contender to check out—Jonny Allbut likewise is a fully-fledged WP believer with a great attitude and a good head for code. If I start doing larger projects more regularly for clients who are keen on easily upgrading their theme to support the latest WP features, I’ll start building with one of these frameworks. There’s a bit of a learning curve involved, but really there’s only one way to find out if it’s worth it…

One thing for my own stripped-down theme foundation, though. Jonny stressed that even if you’re not using frameworks, you should definitely be using child themes (the mechanism at the root of most theme frameworks). I suspect he’s right. I’ll be looking into this soon.

Plugins

Michael Kimb Jones’ session on good plugins was very informative, although it was a shame there wasn’t time for the audience to chip their suggestions in. The best summary is a list of the ones I thought stood out:

  • Import HTML Pages. A nifty way to quickly convert a flat HTML site to WordPress.
  • WP Table Reloaded. Apparently imperfect (of course) but much-needed improvement on the hideous table editing with TinyMCE.
  • Mingle. Seems like “BuddyPress Lite”—social networking features for a single-site installation of WP.
  • White Label CMS. Allows some client-friendly mods to the WP admin area (logos, hiding unused menus, etc.).
  • WP CMS Post Control. More control over the WP admin area, configuring what boxes appear for different users.
  • Gravity Forms. You pay for it, but there was a lot of positive feeling for this powerful but very user-friendly forms plugin.

BackPress

I missed lead WP developer Peter Westwood’s session on BackPress, but it sounds like a great project. It’s seems to be a library of functionality for web applications, based on WP, but stripped-down. The beauty of this is that you can now build your own apps making use of your knowledge of mega-useful WP stuff like the wpdb class, user management, taxonomies, etc.

WordCamp UK?

Unfortunately things ended on a bit of a sour note during the final discussion.

Last year in Cardiff there was a discussion about whether there should be a more “corporate” element to the gathering, with paid training sessions and seminars. WordCamp regulars rightly objected strongly, while stressing that they had nothing against this kind of thing happening—just not under the “WordCamp” banner. There was talk of splitting off some sort of “WordCon”, but I’ve not heard anything more of this.

This year, the heated debate came when we started discussing WordCamp UK 2011. Jane Wells, who’s been doing some amazing user interface work on WordPress at Automattic over the past few years, chimed in to remind us that the ethos of WordCamps is about being local and decentralized, and that a WordCamp UK is going against this. There was the strong suggestion that they (the WordPress Foundation I guess, who own the WordCamp trademark) might crack down and stop such a national gathering using the WordCamp name. There was, to put it mildly, a lot of resistance, from the eminently reasonable to the rather annoyed (thankfully the arguments never actually got ugly, just pointless).

Now, I think everyone’s intentions here are good, and I think it should all work out in the end, despite that thing about the road to Hell. Jane genuinely wants to keep a local flavour to WordCamps, a philosophy which has a tremendous amount going for it. However, I think there’s an element here of the sociogeography of America being applied in a very different country with inappropriate rigour.

WordCamp USA would indeed be a humungous thing, which would tend towards becoming depersonalized, and alienate a lot of people purely through the vast distances involved. City-based WordCamps are the obvious, natural format. Jane mentioned—to stress that this wasn’t just being down on the UK—that they have similar situations in India, China and Australia. Again, I can’t see how these countries’ geographic dynamics can be applied on this little island.

WordCamp UK has so far been held in Birmingham, Cardiff and Manchester. It’s kind of nice it not being in London. I live in London, but this is the other factor that, together with the island’s small size, changes things a bit. London dominates, often too much. Touring a nice little conference around other parts of the country seems to be a great way of bringing a good WordPress vibe to these places. And it really doesn’t feel like it’s some “central” authority bestowing itself upon the poor provinces. It feels like a localized event, infused with other parts of the country in the way that is possible in this dense, small country, and which makes it what it is.

Anyway, I don’t want to press this. I think the worst-case scenario is that what is now WordCamp UK gets “rebranded”. Hopefully if it has to break with the WordCamp trademark, it won’t break with the “semi-organized BarCamp” ethos. I actually think this is next to impossible, as the core organizers are so committed to this. If we have to “fork” WordCamp to create a touring national WordPress event, it would be entirely wrong to see it as a break with the open and informal attitude of WordCamp—they don’t have a trademark on that. There’s no reason why we can’t mix this attitude with a healthy cross-pollination of people from many different places. There were quite a few Scandinavians there this weekend, because the WordPress community there hasn’t kicked off any meetups or WordCamps yet. There’s room for this kind of thing in the UK, in Europe, because it’s good and it’s possible.

Jane seemed set in the idea that having a WordCamp UK was placing this event as “bigger” and “better” than any city-based WordCamp that was set up in the UK. I think this was her major mistake. I don’t think a soul in the room had ever even thought like this. I can immediately see what’s “better” about a completely localized meetup (which, strangely, we don’t have in London). I can also see what’s “better” about a national event. When two things are both “better”, neither’s better—they’re just different. Wouldn’t stopping one of them reduce diversity? I think it would, so it’ll probably carry on, by whatever name necessary.

15 comments

  1. Really well written, thanks very much. Regarding the whole controversial “name” thing, I think your last paragraph sums everything up perfectly.

  2. Steve Taylor avatar Steve Taylor

    Thanks for dropping in :) Glad you felt so welcome at the event!

  3. Interesting post Steve – particularly “I don’t think a soul in the room had ever even thought like this” – that’s my perception as well.

  4. Steve Taylor avatar Steve Taylor

    I’m assuming that was the sentiment of whoever said to Jane, “You’re trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”

  5. John Read avatar John Read

    Good post, I especially agree with you and Tony regarding “I don’t think a soul in the room had ever even thought like this”.

    On the trademark issue, WordPress Foundation have filed for the WordCamp trademark although this is still pending in the US (http://www.trademarkia.com/wordcamp-77902996.html) and Searching OHIM (http://oami.europa.eu/ows/rw/pages/QPLUS/databases/searchCTM.en.do) shows that there hasn’t been a corresponding European trademark filed.

    However this plays out I think that it is important that it keeps the BarCamp ethos and I look forward to the days we can have WordCamp Manningtree

  6. Steve Taylor avatar Steve Taylor

    Thanks for the details, John. To be fair to Jane, thinking about it I’m not sure she was implying that any of us thought of WordCamp UK as “better” than, say, WordCamp Manningtree. I guess she was trying to speak on behalf of the people who emailed Automattic, who seemed to think their possible local WordCamp had been sidelined or something by the lumbering, unapproachable behemoth that WordCamp UK has become. (Note to anyone who wasn’t there: this is sarcastic :-).

    I don’t want to be down on those people who emailed Automattic, either. Evidently for some reason they didn’t feel they could chip in to take part in WordCamp UK. Maybe we could have something, like an obvious little “call to action” type link, on the WordCamp UK site, to invite newbies, encourage them to take part?

    Or, if they’re not really newbies but are just objecting to there only being one UK WordCamp, which is maybe a little further than they want to travel (I’m assuming this is people from Scotland or Cornwall), making it absolutely clear to them that they should just go for it and do a WordCamp in their city, and that it’ll be great to see them if they do make a UK one. I don’t see a clash. If I lived in Edinburgh and definitely went along to the UK event for its unique aspects, I would be just as psyched to go to the local one, too.

    I envy Manchester—us backwater Londoners haven’t even got a WordPress meetup together yet!

  7. John Read avatar John Read

    It’s an argument that Jane has trotted out before (most notably in Australia) about a national one being seen as more authoritative then a city one. I don’t agree with her when you consider the tendency of London events to just take over but I can see her point when the community is big enough to support several reasonable wordcamps (New York’s had over 700 people at it — interesting post BTW here: http://2009.newyork.wordcamp.org/2010/01/28/wordcampnyc-finances-or-ode-to-wordcamp-organizers/ ) or the geography lends itself to this (e.g. Australia). But over the 3 years I wouldn’t have thought that 700 had been to WordCampUK and the UK is not that geographically large.

    The fact that people went direct to Automattic/Jane doesn’t surprise me and highlights that we need to continually improve our communication methods, maybe a Forum would be worth having? It was the fact that Jane/Automattic didn’t appear to refer then back to the UK community. Although I have a feeling that as likely as not the half dozen in question were merely asking if they could run WordCamp Larkhall or similar, because I’m sure that had they asked for any help from the UK it would have been gladly given.

    On the note of Local meetups, yep envious of Manchester, I’m looking into if it would be worth having a quarterly meetup maybe WordUp Home Counties?

  8. For the record, anyone who contacted me about doing a WordCamp in the UK was pointed to the WordCamp UK wiki and specifically told that there was an existing event they could get involved with, and mentioned Tony and Peter’s names specifically.

    I apologize if I came across in some kind of imperialistic way (which is kind of funny if you think about it); Simon asked me to pop in to “a meeting about next year’s WC,” and I had no idea he meant it was the full attendee crowd at closing remarks, nor had I (as I said there) planned to make any kind of statements or rules about WordCamps in the UK at that time.

    The sentiment I was trying to communicate (clearly, not very well!) is that WordCamps are local in nature, and the UK WordPress community has grown bigger than one event, despite some people’s denials. People have gotten in touch from Brighton, Sheffield, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bristol, and a few other cities, asking about the possibilities of having a WordCamp in their cities. Note: they get in touch with wordcamp.org, not Automattic. I just happen to span both. As Simon Dickson said on Twitter, “If the UK can support multiple #wordcampuk events instead of just 1, it’s a sign of success. Framed that way it’s an uncontroversial point.

    Having one event that is branded the “national” event when there will be more an more people getting involved in organizing individual WordCamps is clearly setting up a hierarchy. I do not believe, nor did I mean to imply, that any of the current UK organizers intended this maliciously, officiously, or in any way self-promotingly. “WordCamp UK” as a label could still have a useful function, I was just trying to convey that wordcamp.org would be supporting additional events in the UK, so we should talk about the naming conventions to make sure no one gets confused about the nature of these events. As I stated at the time, I’d intended for it to be a casual conversation with Tony and his organizing crew leading to a mutually agreed-upon outcome once we had appropriate infrastructure in place for 2011, not a big public debate where it suddenly became open season on me. Seriously, you guys had me practically crying when I left. Which is a major bummer, because until that point, I’d thought the WordCamp UK crowd was awesome.

    Thank you to the people who approached me after the event at the Waldorf and said after thinking about it they understood and didn’t feel threatened. My job is to support the broadest definition of the WordPress community. I hate it that sometimes the “old guard” –whether it be WordCamp organizers or core developers — feel that moving forward to address the needs of all takes something away from them individually. It’s never my intention to hurt anyone, or to squash community development. Every community has growing pains and we are no different. I’ll post officially about the WordCamp guidelines sometime next week, if anyone is interested.

  9. Steve Taylor avatar Steve Taylor

    Jane, many thanks for stating your case. Sounds like there was some bad timing involved (and it’s understood this was no fault of your own). Under normal circumstances, maybe with everyone involved already briefed as to the issue being discussed, maybe it wouldn’t have been as polarized. There would still of course have been strong debate. But the wrapping-up, when everyone’s feeling very bonded around this particular gathering, clearly wasn’t the right time, and it rubbed some people up the wrong way.

    I have to say I wasn’t aware of the WordCamp “keep it local” policy until I checked wordcamp.org writing this. I back this attitude completely. As someone born in an English backwater, and having spent some of the best years of my life in Leeds, being a Londoner now for 10 years hasn’t blinded me to the damaging dominance that London often has in England. I think there’s been an unspoken(?) assumption among WordCamp UK people that the approach to the event, jumping from one non-London location to another, was in part to fight London’s vortex-like gravity.

    I agree with Simon Dickson, and I can’t imagine anyone at WordCamp UK would disagree: if the UK can genuinely support multiple WordCamps, that’s fantastic. I think we’re just worried about it not quite being time, and about WordCamp London becoming exactly the kind of hierarchy-creator that you’re concerned that WordCamp UK is.

    I hope you understand these concerns of ours are coming from exactly the same place in our hearts—where we’re so enthusiastic about WordPress and its friendly, progressive vibe—as your concern is. It seems there’s a bit of debate to be had about exactly how this concern can be properly applied to this strange island of ours :-)

  10. As a sidenote, this is the reason why we chose to name ours WordCamp Paris and not WordCamp France: we wanted people to understand they too could create their own WordCamp on their town.

  11. Having now read your comment Jane, it completely puts everything into perspective and is completely clarified. I think unfortunately, it was just the timing and that caused people – myself included, admittedly – to be a little confused and then to jump to a more defensive stance over it. Let’s hope this can all get sorted now, as it seems we’re all in the same boat here. (Steve, you’ve said all this much more eloquently than I could put…so everyone can pass my comment back to his if you want!) :)

  12. When I tweeted that on Sunday night, the key word was ‘if’.

    If there are enough people in numerous localities to make such an event worthwhile… and if the organisers realise how much work is involved… and if they have the time… and if they can attract sufficient finance, in terms of ticket price and/or sponsorship… and if they’re prepared for the legal and financial hurdles which will come further down the line… then that’s great.

    In 2008, there certainly wasn’t enough interest to sustain more than one WordCamp in the UK. Is there enough now? Maybe. I’ve got no idea.

    But if other people do think the country is now ready for more, I’ll personally be delighted to see them give it a go… and delighted to see them succeed.

  13. John Read avatar John Read

    Hi Jane,

    Many thanks for getting involved in this discussion.

    I think it would be great to have 6 viable [by viable I mean at least 100 attendees] (none London) WordCamps around the UK, and I welcome the day when this happens. When it does WordCampUK would naturally cease to be appropriate as WordCamp Edinburgh would de facto be WordCamp Scotland and any in London would de facto be WordCamp England if not WordCamp UK. Unfortunately we’re not there yet. (BTW Manningtree is a town that is smaller then WCNYC was)

    On the Automattic / WordPress Foundation subject from my point of view whilst senior people in the Foundation are paid by Automattic and not the Foundation they can never be seen to be independent especially when the question about is this in WordPress’s best interest or that of Automattic’s is raised. Whilst Automattic’s generous funding is really appreciated and without it WordPress wouldn’t be where it is today the only real way I see to resolve this is for the upper echelons of the Foundation to be paid by the foundation and not to work for Auttomattic. This I see as a good sign as means WordPress is growing up. (BTW How could I go about joining the Foundation?).

    On a side note it was an impressive donation that New York managed to give the foundation. Maybe the various WordCamps should aim to give a Tithe (10%) of the ticket sales and sponsorship to the foundation?

    In my previous comment I did say apparently as it appeared to came across as news to the Core Group (a name I really don’t like). I apologise if I was wrong here and I really wasn’t trying to insinuate anything.

    The crowd at this years WordCamp are awesome, and without many of them there and some who couldn’t make it there probably wouldn’t have been one. Your comments at the wrap up meeting were really welcome by one and all. Unfortunately when you indicated to a group, who are volunteers and does this out of passion and not for gain, that you would be prepared to enforce the WordCamp trademark if we dissented (and let’s be honest Trade Marks can only be enforced through the courts) you are going to get a vehement response. I’m sure you didn’t mean it to be quite so dictatorial but in light of Matt’s comments to Chris Pearson and the apparent method by which the Capital_P_dangit function was added and reasoning behind it things need to be taken a little gingerly at the moment and I hope that this is only blip. As an aside there had been a smaller meeting of the organisers earlier in the day unfortunately you didn’t appear to be around at the time to join that discussion, which might have been a more appropriate venue.

    Now moving forward, you indicated that one of the programs of the foundation was to provided registration services for events which I think is a great idea and in light of this might I suggest that the Foundation applies to be part of the safe harbor program (http://www.export.gov/safeharbor/) to ensure that there aren’t any data privacy issues for EU and Swiss based WordCamps using the system.

    Thanks

    John

  14. Andrew avatar Andrew

    I think most people in the room will be delighted if/when there can many WordCamps in the UK. At £20-30 a time for that quality of material I’d happily attend several. In fact I went to WordCamp Ireland and nearly made it to the Netherlands WordCamp this year.

    As it stands we only have one active regional user group in the UK.

    My sense of when the mood in the room turned was when the trademark card was played.

    There also seemed to be a ‘rule’ that it has to be no more than an anuual event. Why?

  15. Andrew, I don’t think anyone disputes the fact that it’d be great to have multiple WordCamps in the UK, each as good as the WordCamp UK so far. The resistance, as far as I could see, is entirely down to the feeling that forcing a split now would result in a number of so-so events that would struggle logistically, and maybe one inevitable WordCamp London that would dominate in the way it’s imagined the UK event is dominating. This feeling might be wrong—and I think everyone who has it wants to be proved wrong.

    FWIW, the conversation on the WordCamp UK mailing list seems to have moved swiftly on to getting next year’s event going, with a very open attitude to the naming, and the general idea that facilitating regional WordPress meet-ups is the best way of testing the water for the viability of regional WordCamps.

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