Word Up Whitehall today

Big day today: it’s Word Up Whitehall, the mini-WordCamp for UK central government people, which I’ve been putting together over the last month or two. I thought it might generate some interest, but I never imagined it would ‘sell out’ in just over 24 hours… and I’m nervously hearing people already talking about ‘the next one’. Gulp.
Why hold such an event? Initially, my reasoning was that there was so much stuff in the 3.0 release of WordPress which wouldn’t be immediately obvious to those who weren’t already fairly deep into the code. Features like custom post types and taxonomies have amazing potential, but many people – even those who would consider themselves ‘power users’, comfortable with themes and plugins – simply wouldn’t see it. An event like this was a chance to demo this stuff, and spark some ideas.
It was also an opportunity to build some WordPress-based connections around government, and between civil servants and government-focussed suppliers. Community is at the heart of the WordPress ethos, and it felt natural to try and foster some of that same community spirit around Whitehall… even to the extent of inviting (notional) business rivals along.
Plus, if I’m honest, I fancied having a go at curating an event like this. I’ve never done it before, and I’ve actually really enjoyed the responsibility of drawing up my own dream running order. (No pressure, guys.)
Why now? Two reasons really. One is the government spending review: it’s no coincidence that we’re doing this a week before George Osborne wields his axe. We need departments to understand that they don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands, or millions, on websites – when the WordPress-based approach will deliver equally good sites, and arguabl better, for a fraction of the price, and in a fraction of the time. Departments need to find savings, and we’re raising our hand to help.
The other is the growing interest of established agencies and The Big Consultancies in WordPress. I’ve had too many bad experiences lately, with people claiming to have WordPress expertise – based on little more than ‘well, how hard can it be?’. The fact is, to get the best from WordPress, you need a thorough knowledge of how it works. Yes, the Famous Five-Minute Install will get your personal blog up and running… but it won’t be industry-strength. The professionals I’ve gathered for the event know this, and we know what to do about it. Frankly, this event is us marking our territory.
The running order features everyone I could have hoped to get along – including Peter Westwood, one of the five WordPress lead developers, and Mike Little, who basically started it all. If anything, I’m wondering if the schedule is too good: each speaker gets just half an hour each, although we’ve got the option for them to ‘get a room!’ if there’s enough interest to extend a particular discussion.
We should have enough bloggers and twitterers in the room to ensure the best bits get thoroughly reported, for those unable to come along, or too slow to bag a ticket. Watch out for tweets with the hashtag #WordUpWhitehall during the day; and I’ll try to collate a list of blog posts after the event.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to cue up some Finnish oompah music, and put my name on a donut.