WordCamp UK 2009: seriously good

My session at WordCamp UK 2009

I can’t underline enough how enjoyable, educational and thought-provoking this weekend’s second WordCampUK was: over 100 people, including a large local contingent, gathering in Cardiff Bay for two packed days of WordPress talk, a bit of food, quite a lot to drink, and nowhere near enough sleep.

Last year in Birmingham, it felt amateur – and I mean that in both the positive and negative senses of the word. It was a bit like a first date. Fun and exciting, with some unforgettable moments, and clearly the start of something special – but acutely embarrassing in places. (Oh, and an incredibly vicious Twitter backchannel.)

All so different this year. Bigger and better presenters with bigger and better stories to tell, and a definite sense that we’re shifting up the gears, really quite quickly. And the Twitter chat was much nicer too.

The highlight, inevitably, was the appearance of Mr WordPress himself, Matt Mullenweg. Charming, charismatic, cool and – I’m not ashamed to admit this – cute. Rather than give his almost traditional ‘State of the Word’ lecture, he took questions from the floor… and it was inspirational stuff.

I’ll take away a few specific things from what he said. His description of WordPress as a platform comparable to Windows or MacOS, given the number of plugin ‘programs’ written for it. His perfect ease at calling WordPress a CMS. His unexpectedly complimentary tone regarding Drupal. But most of all, the purity of his philosophy, and the strength of his commitment to it. I expected to detect a sharp business edge to his remarks (cf Zuckerberg); in the end, I was relieved not to.

We had many references, particularly through day one, to government use – and indeed, Matt confirmed that the UK and Brazil are the two countries where government buy-in is highest. So no pressure on me, then, for my Sunday lunchtime slot on the government picture – lessons learned from the number10.gov.uk launch, and the many ripples spreading out from that (which I’ll write up separately). I was my usual bouncy, passionate self, and it seemed to go down well: somebody described me as the WordPress community’s Jamie Oliver, which I’ll take as a compliment. Pukka!

Whereas last year saw a lot of people presenting their hobby sites, this year seemed to be entirely professional examples. But it didn’t stop speaker after speaker handing over their tips and advice – to put it another way, their trade secrets. So whilst WordPress is unquestionably becoming a serious product, and a serious business, it remains a supportive community. It’s Us versus Them – with Them being different things or people at different times. (I should have made a list.)

I’ll admit, I went to WordCamp looking for an answer to a difficult question. I’m making my living from WordPress, and I can see a proper industry starting to take shape around it: so what should I be doing about it?

One answer was Matt Mullenweg’s hippy philosophy, without which we wouldn’t be here in the first place, of course. Betfair’s Nick Garner, meanwhile, framed it all as a commercial opportunity, with the proposal for a ‘WordCon’ spinoff event pitching WordPress (and us as WordPress experts) to corporate clients. It led to some, ahem, heated debate.

Maybe Matt needs to grow up. Maybe Nick totally misses the point. Maybe they’re both right in different ways. My question remains unanswered, but I’m all the more convinced that it’s the right question to be asking, and the right moment to be asking it.

Pic by Mark, @cMadMan: that’s me at the front, waving a can of Red Bull Cola at the good people of WordCamp.

9 thoughts on “WordCamp UK 2009: seriously good”

  1. Excellent summery Simon, it was great to meet you and learn how the Government is using WP – hopefully with this movement will impact on the work I am doing in the NHS.

    The whole ‘WordCon’ thing was an interesting discussion and it did bring out the worst of some people in the room. I can only assume that an event like this will happen one day but it will be entirely different from the WordCamp format.

    Thanks again for the input you contributed during the event. I can’t put into words just how much I’m looking forward to next year so here is an emoticon instead 🙂

  2. Excellent summary – tho I wasn’t as transfixed by Matt’s beauty as others (you weren’t the only one!)

    ‘WordCon’ has its place and, if we don’t do it, someone with a lot less empathy most probably will! But Wordcamps was, like all the other barcamps I’ve attended before, truly inspirational, packed with great ideas and advice and a singularly brilliant way to expand your personal network.

  3. Thanks for the summary Simon, gave me some things to reflect on over the course of the two days. There were quite a few debates that sprung up throughout the ‘un-conference’ which were certainly very interesting. The debate on community and what makes a community certainly became a very passionate discussion and one that I was very interested in.

    WordCon didn’t really peak my interest but thats purely because I’m not currently using WordPress as a business solution. It does have its place but it certainly needs some well organised planning.

    And so on to next year!

  4. Great wrap-up of the whole event, it was a great time over the weekend and it was good to stick a face to names I’ve been talking to over Twitter for quite a while.

    As for the WordCon discussion, I sincerely hope that whatever comes of the idea, it is kept as separate as possible to WordCamp itself – they are two completely different markets and ultimately two different communities, and there is a significant risk of alienating the community in favour of enterprise customers who, in most cases, couldn’t really be that bothered with what CMS they are using for their website.

    Just my two cents. Thanks to all for a great weekend 🙂

  5. A great summary, far more succinct than I could manage. It was indeed a great event: and I’ve no doubt that next year’s will be even better.

    Thanks to everyone who attended and contributed. It was an invaluable experience.

    V.

  6. Many thanks for your contribution to WordCamp UK 2009.

    Agreed: “we’re shifting up the gears” – the only direction is upwards and onwards between now and next year’s WordCamp UK!

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