As the world scrambles to invent and manufacture therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19, the World Health Organization has declared the pandemic “a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come.” Outbreaks vary in severity across the globe, making it impossible to host international conferences safely for many months (and possibly years) to come.
In consideration for the time and efforts of hundreds of volunteers who would be involved in planning in-person events, WordPress announced it will no longer accept any applications for flagship events in 2021:
Flagship events (i.e. large, regional WordCamps that attract an international audience) bring together people from all corners of the world, so until infection rates are effectively mitigated and/or a vaccine is widely available, these large scale events that typically host more than 1,000 individuals could become “super-spreader” events if a single infected person attends.
Applications for new flagship events (or regional events that cover multiple regions or countries) will not be accepted for all of 2021.
The announcement comes on the heels of WordCamp US canceling its virtual event due to overextended organizers and online event fatigue for attendees. Up until this point, organizing teams from the large regional camps have been making their own determinations regarding the suitability of hosting an event online. The change announced this week prevents new events from applying and then inevitably having to transition to a virtual format.
Existing flagship events that were already in the pipeline will be allowed to continue as online events. These include WordCamps Europe, US, Asia, and Centroamérica. Of these, WCEU has already announced an online event.
“As online events continue to evolve to reflect community needs, the Community Team strongly encourages these flagship organizing teams to be creative in their approach,” Hugh Lashbrooke said in the announcement. This challenge forces organizers to proceed only if they can knock it out of the park in terms of creativity. Otherwise, it’s simply hosting another online conference in the same tired format for the sake of tradition.
WordPress is at an interesting point in its history where it can no longer rely on in-person events to drive enthusiasm, education, and growth for the community. Flagship WordCamps are a necessary casualty in the fight to slow the spread of the virus, but this early decision provides a welcome peg of certainty for those who normally invest a significant amount of time in making these events a reality.