WordCamp UK is currently an annual “un-conference” held in various locations around Britain for users and developers of the WordPress software to get together. Sessions are held throughout the day where individuals share their ideas & knowledge, network and generally socialise. I had heard of the event before and was even the mailing list at one point; however I managed to find out about this year’s event only a couple of weeks back. Despite the late notice I happened to have some time available and it was actually being hosted within walking distance of where I live so it would have been rude not to make an appearance.
As this was only the second un-conference style event that I had attended and the first related to WordPress I hadn’t a clue about what to expect when I turned up early on the first day. On arrival at the venue I nearly managed to walk past the entrance even though I live in the area but luckily I caught sight of a couple of people walking in. Note to organizers: more prominent posters outside may be helpful in future.
After registering I slapped on a name badge ready and headed into the lion’s den. I was initially shocked to find only a few people there at the start however I got chatting to a few people and an ape and in the following hour things started to pick up until I’d completely forgotten any thoughts about the amount of people that may turn up and the sessions kicked off.
The weekend began with a round of introductions followed by a talk from @mkjones on WordPress themes. I was impressed to see that even though it was clear that the aerage person in the room didn’t approve of the theme; Thesis still got a mention even though there has been some recent controversy surrounding it’s licensing. With over 27,000 Thesis customers, many of whom will be WordPress developers, I am definitely happy that the theme wasn’t simply ignored as open discussion is the only way that developers and businesses can make informed decisions relating to their business.
The day continued with many more interesting sessions including, what I believe to be, the first public demonstration of a forthcoming open source and fully GPL licensed framework called Wonderflux. This looked to be a very interesting project and as an attendee to this years WordCamp I’ve been given beta access so I will definitely be taking a look at this over the coming weeks and months.
The quality, or perhaps rather more accurately, the personal relevance of the sessions varied greatly but the one constant was the great opportunity to connect with talented individuals living and working in and around the WordPress world. There were some inspired discussions over lunch and in the halls where people’s passions shined through and rather than fade away, the depth of conversation picked up and evolved throughout the day and well into the evening.
Fac 251 was the choice of venue for the evening and whilst I’m sure it was something special for those who had travelled from out of town and were interested in the Manchester music scene of days gone by; I found the dance lights and loud music from 6.30pm a little incongruent with the rest of the event. Nothing that time, some good conversation and a few beers can’t fix but it was definitely not the smoothest transition from the conference rooms.
The second day of the event was where I felt I got the most practical information from the sessions with some great presentations on BuddyPress from @pgibbs. For those that are unaware BuddyPress is a social networking project that has recently been transitioned into a plugin that can be integrated with WordPress. Other notable sessions from the day were based around E-Commerce, Enterprise and an interesting analyisis on a recent project by WordPress co-founder, Mike Little, where shared his unique solutions for a highly tailored WordPress installation at imascientist.org.
Whilst the weekend as a whole was overwhelmingly positive and I met many people I have no doubt that I will be contacting again soon, it did end on a slightly bitter note. The last session was intended to generate feedback which could be used to improve next year’s event however Jane Wells stepped in with an amazingly bad timed and probably misrepresented announcement that we could not have another WordCamp UK.
The problem as I see it with the announcement was that the WordCamp UK brand has now been growing over three years and for the individuals in the room we had spent an amazing weekend associating and identifying with the #WordCampUK title through various channels. After a weekend of becoming completely immersed in the WordCamp community spirit Jane essentially stated that the brand could no longer be used and we would have to separate into rural entities. Whilst I am sure it wasn’t her intention it basically had the effect over the weekend of building an amazing community spirit and and then being told that you are not actually allowed to associate with these people. I want to reiterate, this was almost definitely not her intention, but beyond the actual logistics of local vs national events, I would hazard a guess that this is what has added the most fuel to the fire within this discussion.
So what is the future of WordCamp UK? Removing the semantics from the equation; I think that there wouldn’t be a single person in that room who would object to individual towns running thier own WordCamp events if they were able to sustain it and it would more than likely add a valuable assest to WordPress.org, WordPress.com and the communities that have evolved around them both.
My personal opinion is that I really do prefer the umbrella annual events that bring in people from across the country. There is already in fact a local group within Manchester where I live and whilst this event has made me more likely to attend it at some point the national nature of this event is what attracts me to it in the first place. It is a single gathering of some of the best minds that we have working on and around WordPress within this country.
National events mean that you get people coming from all of the subcultures that we have based around different areas of the UK and bringing their own unique qualities to the table. Of course this happens at smaller events but the fact remains that a national event amplifies the possibilities and throws you in with a group of people that you are less likely to make that first connection with on a day to day basis should you remain in your geographical area. By all means host local events if they are requested and in demand but don’t remove the collective UK community events as the value they offer is immense.
In closing I’d like to thank everyone who made this possible and I can say categorically that if the national events continue I will be back!