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.

Matt Mullenweg to attend UK WordCamp

wordcampuk-2009-graphicTickets have just gone on sale for this year’s second WordCamp UK. And if the promise of hearing me banging on about WordPress isn’t quite enough to tempt you to spend a July weekend in Cardiff, here’s some news that might swing it: Matt Mullenweg, basically ‘Mr WordPress’, is coming too.

I’m also proud to confirm that, although we haven’t finalised the details yet, Puffbox will again be sponsoring the event… and for the very same reasons as I described last year. Many good contacts were made in Birmingham: in my own case, some of this year’s more exciting and ambitious projects simply wouldn’t have happened, had I not met certain people last July. I’m better at what I do, as a direct result, and the company proposition is  lot stronger too. It’s a chance to say thank you… and to make sure that the event definitely happens, for my own potential benefit… and others’ too.

I’ll almost certainly be leading a session on the progress of WordPress in central government: I’ve got one or two interesting projects to talk about, and I’m sure I’ll touch on these, but it’s probably more interesting for more people if I give a cross-government overview. And I think I might have volunteered to take the opening ‘icebreaker’ session.

Tickets for the event are £25 until the end of May – and with Matt Mullenweg confirmed as attending, it might be wise to snap yours up swiftly. For those who want to give a little something back to the community, there’s also a ‘microsponsor’ option where you can choose to pay nearly three times face value, to attend exactly the same event. (It’s proving quite a popular option, for the record.)