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…
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.
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.
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.
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.