Why I’ve resigned from WPUK

WPUK adieu

Last night I resigned from WPUK, the coordinating body which emerged from the organisation of the first few UK WordCamps.

In 2008, I felt genuine excitement at the thought that the UK WordPress community had grown big enough to justify its own WordCamp; and I think it was right to focus the community’s collective efforts on a single national event through those first few years.

I put my money where my mouth was, too: initially as Puffbox Ltd, then as Code For The People, I have been a corporate sponsor of every WordCamp UK.

However, things move on. A number of city-based meetup groups were formed, and began to flourish: Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Brighton, London, Scotland, my own Whitehall-centric affair even. Any one of them could easily have ‘graduated’ to operating a WordCamp. (None did, for whatever reason, until this autumn.)

I continued to defend the ‘one national WordCamp’ position, in the face of opposition from some of my best friends in this business. It was the right thing to do, I argued, until somebody proved it was wrong – by successfully organising another UK event.

In November 2013, I was one of the group which proved it was wrong, by successfully organising WordCamp London.

It came as quite a surprise last week when, out of the blue, I received an email notification of a vote being called among the members of the WPUK ‘core group’ – a 10-strong, effectively self-selected bunch. We were asked:

Do you agree that WPUK continues as a naturally evolving organisation, and that WPUK instigates as soon as possible the organisation of the follow up to WordCamp Lancaster UK 2013, to take place on 12-13 July 2014 at a venue to be decided?

For a year or more, I’d been trying to get the group to reconsider its purpose. Numerous times I’d tried – and failed – to start a constructive debate about the group’s purpose. More often than not, the debate turned startlingly hostile and viciously personal. I couldn’t wait to get out; but I hoped the successful running of a London WordCamp would prove that WPUK had run its course.

The calling of this vote forced my hand somewhat. It wasn’t especially well worded – but it did get to the heart of the matter. Did WPUK exist to designate a single event as being the one officially sanctioned WP event for the UK in 2014? To run an Olympic-style bidding process among candidate cities, as it had done in previous years (with, to be blunt, variable levels of success)?

Calling the vote came as a surprise. The fact that the group voted 6-4 in favour, even after the success of WordCamp London, was a genuine shock.

The group has decided that a bidding process, in which one event ‘wins’ and the others – no matter how viable in their own right – ‘lose’, is still the right way to go. I could not disagree more strongly.

I believe that it’s now actively harmful to the development of sustainable ecosystems around the country. And I believe that it flies in the face of all available evidence.

So I did the only honourable thing, and resigned my position immediately.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 18.49.59

And as I’ve been writing this post, Siobhan McKeown has followed suit. I believe at least one other will be doing likewise, if he hasn’t already done so. Those with the closest ties to the WordPress project are leaving the group. Make of that what you will.

I really hope things don’t now turn nasty. Past evidence suggests they might.

WordPress comes ‘home’: France holds its first WordCamp

It seemed like fun. A quick jaunt over to Paris, to attend their first WordCamp proper. A chance to put my French to its toughest test in 17 years. A chance to attend a WordCamp as an ordinary punter, rather than as an organiser. And a good opportunity to check up on the neighbours.

The venue: the cinema-esque Studio Raspail

Paris has a well-established barcamp-style event each year, and will continue to do so, but was (according to host Amaury Balmer) the only country in the world not to have a formal WordCamp. And as if to underline the increasing professionalisation of WordPress, they decided to hold it on a Friday, starting at 9:00am. Or effectively, if your brain has only just got off the Eurostar, 08:00am. Thankfully, black coffee was provided.

First speaker of the day, appropriately enough, was Michel Valdrighi – you’ve probably never heard of him, but he’s the Frenchman who ultimately gave WordPress to the world.

Michel Valdrighi, the absent father of WordPress

Michel was an early convert to the joys of blogging, but couldn’t find a platform which ticked all his boxes. A month after he wrote his first lines of PHP code, to create a dictionary of the Corsican language, he started on his own blogging platform – Blogger 2, or b2. A version 1.0 release was written, but never released; then came unemployment and a bout of depression, and he walked away from it all. Which led to a conversation between this guy and this guy, which led to… well, you can probably pick the story up from here yourself.

And then – ironically – having set the day’s wheels in motion, Michel more or less disappeared. A shame, as I was dying to hear more. (I believe he returned for the social side later, but I’d gone by then.)

'I stammered, forgot half what I wanted to say, improvised the rest. Stress.'

Francis Chouquet was up next: a web designer who also has a premium themes business (Peaxl), and has written a book on WordPress development. He talked about the market for premium themes, where apparently 2/3 of purchases are by resellers; and why he had ultimately opted to build a team to create premium themes, and a custom platform from which to sell them.

Francis Chouquet

His key point was that a theme shop needed distinct skills: creative, technical, marketing and support. You had to have a fighting spirit to make it work, he explained; but it was important not to lose the pleasure which made you do it in the first place.

Julio Potier

He was followed by Julio Potier, who gave a very assured talk on theme and plugin vulnerabilities, and how not to get caught by them. He listed the various well-known plugins he’d found issues in, even certain security plugins! – and described the various levels of interest shown by the original developers. Some were grateful for the tipoff, some were hostile, some simply weren’t bothered. Cautionary tales a-plenty.

With each slot lasting a full hour – not something I’m planning to recommend for future UK events, we were already nearing lunchtime. Next up was the youthful Aurélien Denis, who runs French-language tutorial site wpchannel.com, talking about recent WordPress enhancements which made it more of a CMS. People were wrong to say WordPress was a system conceived for managing blogs, he concluded; in fact, it was much more than that.

Aurélien Denis

I very nearly spoke up at that point; personally, I think the fact that it was conceived for blogs is precisely what makes WordPress what it is, and we should be embracing that fact, rather than trying to argue it away. A normal CMS is designed to be managed by a trained sysadmin, and built by experienced developers. (cf Drupal) WordPress assumes you’re on your own, and you just want to get on with writing something. Which is almost always the case, even in large organisations like government departments.

We broke a little early for lunch, and given the (frankly unforgivable) lack of wifi at the venue, I went in search of free connectivity and good food. I couldn’t find anywhere visibly offering both in the immediate vicinity; probably just as well, as I really fancied a moules-frites, and it wouldn’t have gone well with my iPad.

Benjamin Lupu

First after the restart was Benjamin Lupu, who runs the WordPress-based digital operations of a publishing company targeting the public sector. In his excellent talk, he reviewed their work to integrate WordPress with their various other systems: subscriptions, email marketing and so on. There was initial reluctance at the thought of using a blogging platform, but the work came in under budget, handled the huge traffic levels, did everything they wanted, and provided a much more journalist-friendly experience than what had gone before. His only complaint was the lack of a built-in search engine in WordPress core; but it’s not as if there aren’t better, more focused open source solutions which could be easily bolted on.

And so to our gold sponsor for the day: Microsoft. Yes, yet another WordCamp sponsored by Microsoft. Things didn’t start well, with Pierre Couzy failing to get his PowerPoint slides to project properly, unlike earlier Mac and Google Docs-based presentations. (Sorry, a cheap shot, I know.) And although he had a lot to say about Microsoft’s efforts to engage with the product and the community, you just knew he would get a hard time when it came to questions.

Pierre Couzy

I’ve heard the ‘we love open source really’ speech from numerous Microsoft people over the past couple of years. (Usually followed by ‘And we hate IE6 as much as you.’) I’m not as hostile to it as I once was. They now have numerous free downloads and services to help make WordPress work on Windows; and whilst you mightn’t choose to use Microsoft’s products in your WordPress project, sometimes it’s forced upon you. At least they’re helping… although you sense it’s with at least half an eye of monetisation in future, probably based on cloud hosting services.

Benjamin and Nicolas from beAPI

Final presentation of the day was a double header: Nicolas and Benjamin from WordPress specialists beAPI (Amaury’s consultancy), talking about ways to improve WordPress performance. I thought I’d have heard it all before, but they came it at from unexpected angles, and I still picked up a few new tips.

The day finished with a ’round table’ Q&A, featuring all the day’s speakers (apart from Michel). The questions seemed rather negative, fearful, suspicious. Was the growth of Tumblr a cause for concern? Did the panel think ‘they’ would ever make WordPress paid-for? Why do ‘they’ bundle a paid-for plugin like Akismet with the free core product? It rather confirmed a feeling I’d had throughout the day, that the community in France felt distant from the core WordPress effort, in a way which we in the UK just don’t. Perhaps it’s the common language; perhaps we’re just that little bit longer-established, and more confident as a result.

It proved to be a fascinating day, not least for the cultural differences. With so much of the jargon being in English, the presentations sometimes felt like they were being delivered simultaneously bilingually: and it took me a little while to tune into the Frenchified pronunciation of English terms. (It took me ages to work out what ‘Apash’ was.) And then there are the English terms which don’t match the terms we use: le back-office, for one.

Félicitations to Amaury and Xavier for such a well-run event; and merci for the steady supply of coffee and cakes. Here’s hoping the event inspires an even stronger, more confident WordPress community on the other side of la Manche.

Paris go! Off to France’s first WordCamp

France’s first ‘proper’ WordCamp takes place in Paris in a couple of weeks: and I’ve just bought my ticket.

I did French as part of my degree – although that was nearly two decades ago, and only a tiny part of it was ever computer-related. So I’m placing a lot of confidence in 1) my memory of the language, and 2) the likelihood of the most difficult words being derived from English anyway. 🙂

There’s a reassuring familiarity to the day’s provisional programme: the themes business, scale, security, optimisation, and so on.

But the star attraction, for me anyway, will be the appearance of Michel Valdrighi – the man who created the b2/cafelog blogging platform, and whose sudden disappearance led to a discussion between a kid from Texas and a bloke in Stockport, which ultimately led to… 😉

Also worth noting is the gold-level sponsorship offered by Microsoft. Yes, yet another one.

Alors… est-ce qu’il y en a parmi les lecteurs de ce blogue qui voudraient me rejoindre à Paris? Tickets are a very reasonable €25, and there are still plenty left. Come on, let’s help the neighbours build some momentum.

A ‘WordCamp’ for Whitehall

If you’re a civil servant working in UK central government, and you’re using WordPress (or seriously considering it), I’d like to invite you to an all-day event I’m coordinating for mid-October.

Each January, we have the UK government Barcamps, bringing together civil servants and external enthusiasts to talk about ‘web 2.0’, social media, or whatever it’s calling itself at the time. And for the past three summers, we’ve had WordCamp UK, a gathering of the UK’s WordPress developer community. Both have been excellent fora for idea sharing, and contact building.

In the meantime, we’ve seen steady growth in the use of WordPress within government – to the point now that it’s the natural choice for interactive applications, the expected solution for small-scale sites, and a serious option for larger-scale development.

And so, with WordPress maturing, departmental budgets tightening and Ministerial demands increasing, it feels like the right moment to mash the two together: an opportunity for those of us already using WordPress in government to show off our latest creations, float some new ideas, and share our experiences – good and bad.

With the generous support of the team at BIS, I’m organising a day-long WordCamp-style event for the extended family of government – civil servants and gov-centric consultants, plus a WordPress VIP or two.

It will take place on Wednesday 13 October, at a government office in the St James’s Park area, starting at 10.30am and finishing at 4pm – giving you enough time to clear your inboxes before and after. We’ll have room for around 30 civil servants – so please, a maximum of 3 attendees per department. There will be no charge for attending, and we’re hoping to provide a decent (off-site) lunch.

Like Barcamp, we’ll want the day’s programme to consist primarily of volunteers providing 20-25 minute presentations / demonstrations about projects they’ve been working on. So if you’re working with WordPress, please do take a slot to tell us all about it – even if it isn’t quite ready, even if it didn’t quite come off. Unlike Barcamp though, we’ll be doing our best to arrange the programme ahead of time.

In addition to the usual suspects on the consultancy side, we’ll also be joined by a few specially invited guests – including Peter Westwood, one of the core developers of WordPress (and soon to be working full-time for Automattic).

Book your place via Eventbrite – but please, do think about that three-per-dept limit. We’d like all interested departments to have the opportunity to send someone.

We’ll be coordinating the planning of the event using a group on the UKGovCamp.com site, built by Steph and Dave, and running on WordPress/BuddyPress 🙂 – so if you haven’t already registered for that site, please do so. Membership of the event group will be restricted to attendees (at least to begin with).

If you’re a supplier and you’d like to be involved, please contact me (with details of your WordPress and/or government experience). Be warned, strings are attached.

Any other questions, feel free to get in touch via the website, or leave a comment below.

Proud to be sponsoring WordCamp UK (again)

Puffbox is proud to confirm that we will again be sponsoring WordCamp UK, the annual gathering of the nation’s users and developers of WordPress. As things stand, we’re the only sponsor to have supported the event in each of its three years of existence.

This year’s event takes place on 17-18 July – yes, just a few weeks away; and we’re being hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University Business School – right in the heart of the nation’s computing capital (historically speaking at least!). As with last year, it’ll be a full two days, with sessions in two rooms simultaneously; and I’ll be doing a session on… er, something. Haven’t quite pinned it down yet.

‘Life-changing’ may be too dramatic a word; but certainly, good things have happened for me in the aftermath of both previous WordCamps that simply wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I’ve met new and interesting people; learned new things; pooled new ideas; developed working relationships; and formulated grand plans. And there’s every reason to believe that this year’s event will be similarly stimulating. That’s why Puffbox is continuing its sponsorship of the event: because, by throwing a few quid into the pot, we ensure it all happens again.

The running order (still in development) will include sessions led by leading lights of the UK WordPress community like Simon Wheatley, Mike Little and Dave Coveney; plus at least one person, possibly two, from WP’s parent company, Automattic; and Peter Westwood, one of the core development team behind WordPress. (Regular readers of this here blog might be interested to note quite a few speakers with public sector experience, too.)

If you’d like to join us – and you’d be most welcome, of course! – the tickets are a modest £20 each if you book now, rising to £30 after the weekend.