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.

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 Philly: Facebook & WordPress

Sean Blanda, founder of Technically Philly, packed the room for his after­noon pre­sen­ta­tion about WordPress and Facebook. He cov­ered tips and tricks for super­charg­ing the social inter­ac­tions with your blog.

He started off lay­ing the ground rules: The talk wasn’t going to be about the Like but­ton. He wasn’t to going to dis­cuss whether Facebook is evil or not. Finally, he wasn’t going to set up a Facebook page for your business.

Technically Philly, a tech pub­li­ca­tion cov­er­ing the tech scene in Philadelphia, started in 2009 and cared lit­tle about Facebook. They got a few hun­dred likes on their Facebook page but really didn’t care. By now they’re at 1000 page likes and get 7–10 a day; now they care about Facebook a whole bunch. They’re nearly dou­bling their daily reach by hav­ing 1000 peo­ple fol­low­ing the site on Facebook.

Sean’s talk focused on the 5 things you can do: engage with Facebook com­ments, mea­sure the work you do with Insights, con­nect your site to your Facebook page, stream­line shar­ing for read­ers, and make your Facebook page con­tent count. To get set up you need to do some very min­i­mal tem­plate edit­ing of your WordPress theme. This adds in the nec­es­sary meta keys for Facebook to rec­og­nize your site as an app.

The open graph data that Sean cov­ered adds meta infor­ma­tion to the header. It lets you define an email address, phone num­ber, local­ity, con­tent type, and many more real world val­ues for your dig­i­tal con­tent. All this helps con­tex­tu­al­ize the infor­ma­tion peo­ple see in their news­feed. Once you have it set up Facebook offers built-in debug­ging tools for mak­ing sure you’ve set up the meta infor­ma­tion properly.

Technically Philly only runs Facebook com­ments on their site. Since they imple­mented this they’ve seen com­ment par­tic­i­pa­tion triple. By mov­ing to Facebook com­ments they get all sorts of demo­graphic infor­ma­tion as to who com­ments on the site. It’s great for adver­tis­ing and for learn­ing who’s inter­act­ing with your site.

The down­side to this is that the com­ments are not stored in your WordPress data­base. However, there is a plu­gin called Facebook Comments to WordPress that moves your com­ments to your WordPress data­base every day.

When shar­ing con­tent on Facebook a pref­er­ence is given to con­tent shared man­u­ally on the site. Content shared through an auto­mated ser­vice ranks lower in their algo­rithm. With many aspects of shar­ing con­tent on Facebook there’s an echo effect. As peo­ple like your page or your arti­cle their friends see it and it spreads through the network.

All this data about your app and what works with shar­ing con­tent are piped through Facebook Insights. Insights give you lots of graph­i­cal break­downs of how you’re doing on Facebook.

WordCamp Philly: Adding a social ‘stache

Doug Stewart wrapped things up before lunch at WordCamp Philly talk­ing about bbPress, BuddyPress, and more. He also wins the award for first WordCamp talk to pass out hand­outs with mus­tache sten­cils on them while simul­ta­ne­ously play­ing some techno on the speak­ers. :)

As Doug put it, “Like a good mus­tache, bbPress and BuddyPress can add that social ele­ment to your site.” Social tools like bbPress and BuddyPress can increase user engage­ment, encour­age con­tri­bu­tion, and lower the bar­rier to entry for cre­at­ing con­tent. Most of all, they add a com­mu­nity around your site and your content.

bbPress is WordPress-native forum soft­ware. With ver­sion 2.0 it’s now a plu­gin that, once acti­vated, adds forums to your site. Best of all, it’s dead-simple to install. bbPress is the soft­ware that pow­ers the WordPress.org, WordPress.com, Dropbox, and Stephen Fry’s forums. There’s lots of ways to extend it and cre­ate sup­port forums, selec­tively use it in lieu of com­ments, send email noti­fi­ca­tions, and more.

BuddyPress gives you social net­work­ing in a box. Through friends, pri­vate mes­sag­ing, activ­ity streams, groups, and forums you can really set up any­thing you need. It’s fan­tas­tic for inter­nal cor­po­rate net­works where you want some of the social fea­tures with­out all of the risk inher­ent in more pub­lic net­works. One thing you want to do with BuddyPress is install the theme com­pat­i­bil­ity check plugin.

With all the power that BuddyPress offers you may want to pro­gres­sively intro­duce fea­tures to the com­mu­nity. You may not want to intro­duce them to all the fea­tures at once, it can be a bit overwhelming.

For those behind-the-firewall sit­u­a­tions BuddyPress allows for things like doc­u­ment col­lab­o­ra­tion, clas­si­fied ads, and course­ware. These can improve greatly upon more tra­di­tional tools for com­pany intranets.

Doug’s going to post all of his slides on Slideshare later so there’s lots of links in those worth check­ing out.