Saturday I spent the day with a couple hundred web developers, designers, publishers and blogging enthusiasts at an event called WordCamp OC. This the fourth annual WordCamp Orange County, and the eleventh WordCamp I’ve participated in.
What is WordCamp?
I shared my plans for WordCamp with one of my hiking friends, Paul. He reasoned, “Oh, that’s why you’re so good at Words With Friends!” No, WordCamp isn’t about word play or word games. WordCamp is about WordPress — the open source content management system that powers about 22% of all new web sites on the Internet. As far as conferences go, these are local events organized by volunteers with the support of the WordPress community at large. Often people travel across state lines or even the country to attend. The speakers are practitioners who use WordPress, build sites using WordPress, and speak from practical experience. And unlike most professional conferences where registration often can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, WordCamp OC was a mere $35, including two days of sessions, a t-shirt, coffee, lunch, snacks and beverages. That alone is worth much more, but the real value doesn’t show up on the conference schedule.
The challenge with WordCamp is serving the market. There’s a wide range of people interested in WordPress. Many are web developers, often specializing in building complex web applications using WordPress as a framework. Others are designers, trying to figure out how to create head-turning designs on a well-supported platform with a huge market. And still others own small businesses, or are aspiring entrepreneurs or bloggers looking to establish or just improve their own web presence.
I’ve been designing and developing web sites since 1995. I started building static web sites — as was the norm — but quickly moved to developing dynamic, database-driven sites. Such sites are easier to maintain and update, and quickly became the norm for most commercial sites. The challenge back in the 90’s was that the backend platform was the responsibility of the developer. Complex sites typically included a custom content management system on the backend. For me, that was built using Microsoft technologies: IIS, MS SQL Server databases and Active Server Pages (ASP).
In 2001, I began experimenting with emerging blogging platforms. At the time, Movable Type was at the forefront. I started this blog on it, and it served me well. in 2005, I made a decision to switch my development focus entirely from developing on ASP to PHP. Several of my sites were converted as well — a major task.
And in 2007, I began looking at PHP-based content management systems (CMS). I had done some development using Drupal, and was testing Joomla. But in August 2007, I made a trip to San Francisco for my first-ever WordCamp. What I saw and learned over that weekend convinced me that WordPress would become my development platform of choice. And I haven’t looked back.
The WordPress community is rich with resources — millions of smart people who willingly share their knowledge and own experience. And the WordCamp events around the world give them an opportunity to gather face-to-face for real interaction. This interaction happens all the time, in online communities, forums, in Facebook groups, on Twitter, via podcasts and through local WordPress Meetup groups. But the annual WordCamp has become a bit like the grown-up version of summer camp. It’s a chance to reconnect with your friends and colleagues. There are equal doses of learning, sharing, fun and frivolity. It strengthens the bonds of the community. WordCamp keeps the community vibrant, dynamic and growing.
I love that we live in an age where virtual communication and collaboration is so easy to achieve. But it will never replace the value of sitting around the table sharing a taco with colleagues and talking about our world travels. And sometimes we talk about WordPress, too.
What do you find most valuable about the conferences you attend?
Leave a comment and let me know where you find value in face to face conferences.