WordCamp Portland speaker process redux

Yesterday we put up the call for speakers for this year’s WordCamp Portland. I’m excited to be helping organize the event this year. In part that’s because of what we’re doing differently with speaker applications.

In years past we’ve done speaker applications like most WordCamps: text-based descriptions of the proposed topic. This year we’re switching it up and asking for a 2 minute video pitch of what your talk would be about.

It’s not that the application process in the past has led to poor talks; far from it. We’ve had amazing speakers over the past 5 years. The experiment this year is to see if we can push that even higher. WordCamp Portland generally sees between 250 to 300 attendees. If you’d like the chance to speak to that audience I think it’s fair to ask you to speak for 2 minutes to the organizers. Ideally this will help us create the best lineup of speakers yet.

Additionally, speakers could make their videos public and share with the community. If the topic proves popular it’d give us organizers a better idea of how that talk would resonate with the Portland community.

The other thing we’re changing is how we’ve defined a theme for talks. With it being the 10th anniversary of WordPress we chose the theme of permanence. As Daniel writes in the announcement post:

WordPress has been around for over a decade now…What does permanence mean to you? Are you a developer who still has to deal with that API decision made three years ago? Are you a daily blogger who’s been writing since the days of b2?

Each WordCamp features dozens of talks that, particularly for newer community members, can be difficult to weave in to a consistent theme. By asking speakers to think of talks surrounding the idea of permanence we can craft an event that tells a story. A talk on BuddyPress development and a talk on social media may appear to be worlds apart but they don’t have to be. With a common theme we can show the relationship between various aspects of the WordPress community.

The deadline for speaker applications is Sunday, June 9th at 9 pm Pacific. Looking forward to seeing what people come up with.

the one with the amazing sense of community…

Cami wrote a really nice post about WordCamp Portland:

The past years there has always been some knowledge to glean. Some lesson to learn. Some new person to meet and relate to. And it has always been WordCamp. And it has always been special. But this year for some reason it was magical again, fresh and new and full of community and hope just as it was the first year Portland held a WordCamp.

Having been a part of the organizing team I was really proud of how yesterday went. We had about 250 attendees, lots of BBQ, beer, great conversation, and a keynote from Matt.

Matt Pearson got a really great shot of the swag too.

Everyone I talked with said they loved the event. WordCamps are certainly a lot of work; seeing everyone have a great day, learn new things, and meet new people was so rewarding, though.

Lessons from new user workshops

At August’s WordCamp San Francisco I helped organize and run a new user workshop on the Friday and Saturday of the 3-day conference. The next month I did the same thing for Portland’s WordCamp. There’s a lot that we can learn as creators of software by doing events like these. I think we need to do more of them.

New user workshops teach us so much about how users actually approach software. There’s not a more honest way to know how difficult or easy your software is to use than to try and walk a roomful of people through how to use it.

With a maturing project like WordPress this becomes even more true. It’s at a point where it can do so much that it is overwhelming to many people. They don’t know where to start. Somebody with no prior experience using your software is remarkably effective at finding the areas that are not easily understood. They are not shy about telling you what’s broken.

These workshops taught me that things need to be simpler. There are so many options to click on after loading the Dashboard. It’s too much. The first Dashboard load in these workshops was greeted, in many cases, with a look of overwhelmed confusion. Many people were lost and they hadn’t even started.

One thing that held true through the workshops was that the easiest features to explain were those most closely aligned to concrete actions on the site. Screens like the discussion settings and custom menus were almost impossible to comprehend. Others, like the Typekit font preview on WordPress.com, were immediately grokked and loved. Too many things in the Dashboard are abstracted from what they actually do on a site. Publishing shouldn’t be done in a control panel.

By gathering dozens of new users into one place you can also learn how people use software on various devices. We had people at the workshops using everything from a netbook, to MacBook Pros, iPads, and more. It was actually amazing how much of the workshop people could follow on nothing more than an iPad and an external keyboard.

Not only can we learn about the strengths and weaknesses of software, but we also learn how invigorating it is to have people using the tool we work on. At Automattic, I spend all of my day working on user support. Helping people publish on the web is what I do. To that end these workshops were refreshing. I had the opportunity to help everyone. From eleven-years old to a seventy they all walked away with a great looking blog.

I’m cleaning up the outline we used for each workshop into a curriculum of sorts that could be used by anyone to run their own new user workshop. The more events like these we can hold the better WordPress will become.

WordCamp Portland: All about post formats

Today I gave a talk at WordCamp Portland about post formats and how they make your site awesome. The slides are posted below and some handy links are included as well. Enjoy.

The WordPress Codex has some terrific information on what formats are and how they can be implemented in case you need more details after this talk. Ian Stewart also gave a great talk about this at WordCamp San Francisco which I wrote some notes about before.

WordCamp Portland: Educators and WordPress

Shannon Houghton led the first unconference session at WordCamp today. She’s a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher at an elementary school in Federal Way, Washington. She uses a WordPress site for her classroom.

The class blog is used to contact students as well as authors. Shannon also posts lesson plans on the site as well that are all available to download.

Access to sites can be a problem in school districts. Shannon’s district usually blocks access to blogs by restricting domain names. Having a custom domain name routes around this though and lets her students access the site from the school network.

Like many school districts they require all school data to be hosted on their own servers. Shannon’s site isn’t currently hosted there but the district as a whole is moving to WordPress from Dreamweaver sites so she’ll likely be able to move on to the school servers.

One issue mentioned with sites was controlling access and permissions to a site or a network. One plugin that can help do this is called Role Scoper. There are others like User Role Editor. They’ll give you a level of granular control over user roles and permission.

Someone in the session asked where the other teachers in the room got their tips and tricks from. Shannon mentioned Edutopia as a great resource that isn’t blocked on school networks. There’s also a large teacher community on Twitter that organize nightly chats relating to specific grade levels or topic areas.

Another person mentioned the biggest flaw in WordPress as its lack of event calendar support. School districts really need a good event calendar plugin. This district uses Schoolwires which has a granular calendar feature but was described as terrible otherwise.

For setting up a demo site for your work I highly recommend using a local installation on your computer. There are terrific instructions on the WordPress Codex that walk you through how to do this on a Mac or a PC.

For anyone who was in the session and has more questions feel free to get in touch. I’d love to talk more about how WordPress can help teachers and schools.

WordCamp Portland New User Workshop

This weekend is fast approaching and it’ll be filled with WordCamp Portland.

In addition to the WordCamp we’re running a new user workshop on Friday, September 16th from 9am to 4pm. We did this at WordCamp San Francisco and it was a blast. Over 60 people went from total newbies to knowing everything about publishing with WordPress. Now, you can join them.

If you’ve always wanted to start blogging but never knew how, now’s your chance. We’ll walk you through each step of the process and by the end of the day you’ll have a great looking site you can take with you.

Or, if you’re one of those people who is always the default “guy/gal who knows about computers” in your social circle you can use the workshop as a way to get all your friends set up with sites. We’ll do the work so you don’t have to. 🙂

By the end of the workshop you’ll not only know how to publish and customize your site but you’ll be prepared to get the most out of the two days of unconference sessions as well. You might even think of a session topic to pitch yourself.