WordCamp and journalism conferences

This week­end Alex and I drove up to WordCamp Seattle. It was the third WordCamp I’ve been to and while dri­ving home I started relat­ing those WordCamps to the jour­nal­ism con­fer­ences I’ve been to over the past few years.

WordCamps ground them­selves in soft­ware, so an iter­a­tive approach is a nat­ural fit. They are about answer­ing the ques­tion, what are you work­ing on right now to make things better?

That ques­tion is not lim­ited to code. The writ­ers in atten­dance focus on con­crete tips for mak­ing their writ­ing more engag­ing, their com­mu­ni­ties more active, and their pub­lish­ing busi­ness more suc­cess­ful. Aaron Hockley, for exam­ple, gave what sounded like a really great talk about the basics of mak­ing money with your blog.

The code-focused speak­ers were cov­er­ing every­thing from approaches to using AJAX in plu­g­ins to Swiss Army Knife-style theme options pages. Each talk gave you a tool you could take home with you and imple­ment in your next project to make it better.

The jour­nal­ism con­fer­ences I’ve been to have been decid­edly dif­fer­ent. In the past cou­ple years I’ve been to the Associated Collegiate Press Conference, a cou­ple of SPJ con­fer­ences at the University of Oregon, and other smaller con­fer­ences and pre­sen­ta­tions around Portland.

With the excep­tion of the talks Marshall Kirkpatrick gave at the SPJ con­fer­ences, these jour­nal­ism con­fer­ences are far less about doing things. They are filled with self-referential dis­cus­sions about news. I’ve come away with a strong sense of what’s bro­ken but not a good feel­ing about what is being done to fix it.

When you speak at a jour­nal­ism con­fer­ence I want to hear about what the top idea in your mind is. I want to hear about what exper­i­ments you are try­ing, how you are mea­sur­ing them, and how they are affect­ing your success.

At the end of the month I’m head­ing out to Philly for Bar Camp NewsInnovation. I’m excited, it should be a great WordCamp-style jour­nal­ism con­fer­ence. We need more of these dis­cus­sions to iter­ate and make the news infor­ma­tion busi­ness better.

Recapping WordCamp Philly and Hacks/Hackers

This week­end I trav­elled to WordCamp Philly and then headed down to Washington D.C. for a post-ONA Hacks/Hackers meetup. Both were an absolute blast.

WordCamp Philly had 4 simul­ta­ne­ous tracks of talks through­out the day so while I couldn’t see every­thing I did catch a lot of inter­est­ing sessions.

Taking over the world with cus­tom taxonomies

In the first ses­sion Sean Blanda talked about how to take over the world with cus­tom tax­onomies. Sean is a self-described non-coder and claims WordPress makes him look smarter than he actu­ally is. He talked about Technically Philly, his local tech news startup, and how they use cus­tom tax­onomies to cre­ate a direc­tory of terms sim­i­lar to TechCrunch’s Crunchbase.

Using cus­tom tax­onomies (and lots of ded­i­ca­tion to go back and tag more than 1000 ear­lier posts) Sean’s been able to cre­ate slick-looking land­ing pages for com­pa­nies, peo­ple, and loca­tions within Philadelphia. While cus­tom tax­onomies have been around since WordPress 2.3 recent updates have made things eas­ier to man­age. Sean cre­ated all of this with small pieces of code and the tax­on­omy term descrip­tions are all pow­ered through a WYSIWYG text edi­tor. It looks like a great way to cre­ate a direc­tory with­out a sig­nif­i­cant code investment.

Making WordPress work at work

Next up Doug Stewart dis­cussed how to make WordPress work at work. Doug has years of expe­ri­ence using WordPress in behind-the-firewall situations.

After run­ning into many com­pa­nies that rely upon GoLive, SharePoint, Microsoft Word, and home­grown CMSes Doug real­ized that, “most com­pa­nies don’t know how bad they have it.” This means Doug advo­cates an “install first, ask ques­tions later” approach to get­ting WordPress going at large organizations.

While WordPress can help lower the cost of tra­di­tion IT depart­ments it is far from a purely tech­ni­cal prob­lem. As Doug men­tioned, if you move to WordPress it inher­ently replaces another sys­tem that a co-worker now has a stake in. This means that Doug rec­om­mends focus­ing on the con­crete ben­e­fits of employ­ing WordPress. Things like easy upgrades, multi-site instal­la­tions, and a strong com­mu­nity of plu­gin devel­op­ers can help per­suade an IT department.

Hacks/Hackers

From Philly I headed down to Washington D.C. with Max Cutler and Andrew Nacin for the post-ONA Hacks/Hackers hackathon. Daylife was gen­er­ous enough to spon­sor the day and we were put up in NPR’s offices.

Max worked with Daniel Bachhuber, Lauren Rabaino, Mark Lavallee, and Greg Linch on cre­at­ing a Crunchbase-style direc­tory for news orga­ni­za­tions. Pulling data from the Daylife API and other sources they cre­ated a basic direc­tory for more than 17000 news orga­ni­za­tions. Ideally this direc­tory would be used as a base layer for other forms of data that could be over­layed to reveal rela­tion­ships and infor­ma­tion that would not oth­er­wise be apparent.

Another group used WordPress and the Daylife API to cre­ate a plu­gin that would rock the world of local pol­i­tics cov­er­age. It cre­ates a cus­tom short­code that pulls can­di­date infor­ma­tion into a side­bar to dis­play per­sonal, fund­ing, and news cov­er­age infor­ma­tion to pro­vide greater con­text for elec­tion coverage.

Nacin and I worked on reboot­ing the links fea­ture in WordPress. Leveraging APIs com­ing as part of WordPress 3.1 we aimed to cre­ate a book­marklet that allowed for low fric­tion link sav­ing. On top of this the plu­gin would cre­ate an inter­nal link wire of all the con­tent saved by site users. Links could be saved as pub­lic or pri­vate and every­thing could eas­ily be selected and send directly to the edi­tor for easy link roundup posts or as notes for longer essays. The recent and pre­vi­ously untested APIs com­bined with our com­bined 4 hours of sleep foiled us this time but you’ll see the plu­gin in a direc­tory near you soon enough.