WordCamp 101

Posted on May 18, 2010


Image representing WordPress.com as depicted i...
Image via CrunchBase

This is just some quick notes on what to expect at a WordCamp, repurposed from a comment I made in the support forums here at WP.com. I’ve taught at a few WordCamps, and had to turn down a few because of that whole “border” thingy (where IS this New World Order when you need it eh?) and look forward (with trepidation) to organizing one this Autumn up in the Okanagan. Hey, Kelowna, got any sponsors for me???

WordCamps are terrific. They used to be free, but now the trend is to put them in the $30-$60 range, at least the ones in BC; that generally includes a lunch on the premises that’s not fancy. Sandwiches, wraps, salads, that sort of thing. Ask ahead of time, because they generally forget to put it on the website.

They are in the Un-Conference tradition, which means they tend to be un-fancy, in whatever premises they can get for free, and not have big, splashy events or sponsors. There are exceptions, like WordCamp Whistler, which basically happened because the organizers wanted to have an event up in Whistler, because it’s gorgeous. But usually it’s low-rent and the biggest event isn’t an event at all but the mingling in the social room and the hallway. They are VERY collaborative events. Wear whatever you wear when blogging, unless you prefer to blog skyclad. If a suit suits you, go for it; there will be a high concentration of young men in cargo manpris and gimme tees from software companies. Women seem to gravitate towards capris, for no reason I can comprehend; maybe this is the cultural evolution of high water pants in geeks of both sexes?

Raul Pacheco-Vega at WordCamp Victoria

Raul Pacheco-Vega at WordCamp Victoria by Miss604

The standard of teaching is quite high, which is not to say it’s techy at all. Most ones I’ve participated in have at least two tracks: blogger and tech. The blogger track is for people interested in, you know, BLOGGING. It tends to focus on content and social questions like the impact of political blogging or handling multiple identities online. The tech track is for people interested in SEO, plugins, theme hacking, code development, etc.

They are almost invariably, as a result, suitable for both beginners and highly experienced bloggers, although the more experienced you are the fewer talks you attend and the more “gosh, haven’t seen you since Gnomedex” chatting you engage in, as a general rule. Check the website for each particular event to see if it’s got what you want; because all the sites are by definition on WordPress, you should be able to find them easily just by typing in “WordCamp Wherever”.

Try to find a WordCamp that has more than one workshop going on at a time. Yes, you’ll have to make some hard choices when it comes to scheduling, but at least you won’t have to sit through “how to sign up a WordPress.com blog” OR “php for advanced hackers” if those don’t interest you.

If a WordCamp charges you more than $40 and doesn’t supply lunch, something is wrong somewhere, and somebody’s making too damn much money. That is not what these things are for.

I find out about these things because the organizers are friends of mine, or through Twitter, or sometimes being emailed out of the blue to speak at one. I’ve gotta get my passport tuned up, because I’ve had to turn down some cool opportunities just because of the damn border. There is also an official WordCamp site that lists the biggest WordCamps going on (I don’t think it lists all of them). It also has tips on how to host your own WordCamp, including how to get Automattic to send you swag like rub-on tattoos of the WP logo, buttons, etc (if you’re lucky, persuasive or important, they may even sponsor a beer night).

The cost of attendance is no indication of the quality of the experience. That depends entirely on the organizers. If you want to read scuttlebutt about how their last big event was, Facebook is a good place to start, as are other people’s blog posts; the official site of each event rarely allows critical fallout comments to stay up there. And you WANT to read the critical stuff. If the worst thing anyone has to say about them is “the chairs were uncomfortable” then you’ve got yourself a winner.

Speakers are not paid, although they may have their travel expenses covered in certain cases. I wouldn’t be able to speak anywhere I couldn’t walk to if this weren’t the case, quite frankly. And they’re expected not to pimp their own products and services out too heavily either; this is not a sales conference. It’s still well worth it to speak, because facetime simply cannot be replaced by anything else. Not only might you meet some outstanding people, but you are also introduced to the world with “OFFICIALLY APPROVED GURU” stamped on your forehead. In a world where the number of so-called social media gurus is approaching parity with the number of social media users, this is a critical distinction. You must then not fuck it up, quite frankly. Bring your A Game and then some.

Sometimes, if the organizers are really good, they can get phenomenal sponsors. I’m just back from spending two nights at one of the most famous hotels in the world, gratis, because I spoke at WordCamp Victoria and they were smart enough to get the Empress as a sponsor. And Victoria Gin, which I had slagged on Twitter, actually publicly volunteered to give me a bottle of their gin to try again, which I then used as an example of good social media strategy and brand evangelism in the blogger panel in front of 130 people. I’m still not entirely sold on the gin (too floral and volatile, even for me, the queen of volatility and florality), but as an example of courage under fire and proactive use of Twitter, I’ve gotta give it up for them, and WordCamp gave me an opportunity to do so in their home town, in front of an audience of suitably impressed people.

Which reminds me: the #1 most important thing to have at a WordCamp isn’t coffee, or shelter from wind and rain, or even attendees or speakers: the #1 most important thing to have at a WordCamp is reliable wifi. Let’s not forget who’s the REAL star of the show, okay?

By the way, I’m organizing WordCamp Okanagan in the fall. After many abortive attempts to set a date, we’re looking at early October, since it’s still pretty in the interior of BC then, not too cold, and the vintners are done the heavy lifting of September. If anyone knows a community centre or school who wouldn’t mind loaning out their site for a couple of days, I’d like to do Social Media Camp on the first day, and WordCamp on the second.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine