I spent last weekend at Wordcamp SF 2011, and I am really glad I went. I’m grateful to have this platform to write the blog on, that lets me focus more on content and less on technology, even though I am a geek. For those of you that don’t know, Wordcamp is the gathering of all things WordPress, bringing together bloggers and developers, a fine bunch of people.
I felt a little schizoid, as I was going in two roles, both for my web development work, and also as a blogger. I was focusing more on the development aspect, we were allowed to choose different tracks for different days, but I did attend some good content-related presentations. And from Mitcho, the developer of YARPP, there was the plea that developers should focus on content, which I whole-heartedly support.
But I’m getting away from myself here. I wanted to share some of the philosophies that really struck me last weekend. I took a little time off to do yoga, so I didn’t stay the whole time, but each day I left with some good food for thought.
Some of the highlights for me included:
The openness of the whole community, the way that you could talk so easily to someone who contributed to the design of your blog by designing themes or plugins.
The democracy and accessibility of wordpress itself. WordPress is open source software, and Matt Mullenweg talked about how he got started by answering comments in the forums, and encourages people to get involved in core development.
The fact that as WordPress gets more robust, so much attention is still being paid to what it’s like for those who are using it for the first time.
Some of my favorite presentations:
Building Custom CMS Applications on WordPress from the aforementioned Mitcho, a linguist as well as a coder, who is working on some pretty exciting stuff at MIT, including a global archive of Shakespeare performances.
Awesome Up Your Boring Theme, by Ian Stewart, “theme wrangler” for Automattic. This was all about custom post formats, which are pretty awesome.
For those of you who care, and are confused by the difference between custom post types and post formats, both relatively new to wordpress, here’s a post by another Automattic presenter, Mark Jaquith which explains the difference. And another one from Otto. More recently, he talks about some of the problems of using custom post types and says that in most cases, they’re unnecessary. This is going to be fun to follow. In any case, I love how WordPress is getting so much more powerful and versatile.
For food for thought, I really liked Jeff Veen’s How the Web Works. It looks like he’s presented this at various conferences, but it was my first time hearing it. This brought me back through the years of life on the web, and there was one quote he showed which I really need to take to heart:
“If you’re not embarrassed when you ship your product, you waited too long.”Reid Hoffman
Yikes! He showed some hilarious screenshots of the first home pages of companies that have achieved total web domination, like Amazon and Google. Here’s an in-depth description of his talk. I loved his story of how Marc Andreessen defined how images were added to html by shipping his browser first. Note to self: Need to become a little more sloppy and fearless.
On the content side, I was really impressed by “Taking WordPress to War” by Teru Kuwayama from basetrack.org, who was already in Afghanistan when he started this site. The USMC had lifted the ban on using social media last year, and the site became a lifesaver for family members of soldiers that they were following, the core audience of the site.
He talked about creating an information pipeline between soldiers and their families, and creating news feeds that would give the families context, make them Afghanistan experts. The team designed widgets that would show family members quick info that they would want to see, like how hot it was and how long they were going to be deployed in a certain location. All photos on the site were made with an iphone, outfitted with a special rugged casing.
The talk about censorship was fascinating. At first they had a contract with the military, and then the military asked if they could pull some particular information, so basetrack created a tool where they could actually black out some of the content themselves, but someone had to sign the request and justify the reason for it, and the image would be published with that information. He compared this to the traditional unspoken system among many mainstream journalists who self-censor. In this case they were saying “remove anything you want, but we’re not doing it for you.” This system didn’t last long, and they went back to the contract.
Basetrack’s facebook page became the interactive companion to the site, with an active community of family members. This became the most controversial part of the project, and finally resulted in getting everyone sent home. Teru talked about how the mothers of soldiers made amazing photojournalists with their welcome home photos.
Wow! What a cool project, and they’re making all their photos and code available. Truly open. Here is a NYTimes blog post about the site.
There was so much more great stuff, but my hand is going to fall off.
So here is “The State of the Word,” by Matt Mullenweg. I love how he used these old familiar album covers for his slides. Next week I’ll get back to the plants, which are being neglected.