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 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.