The application for WordCamp Netherlands 2017 has been denied. The camp, which held its sixth edition in Utrecht last year with more than 425 attendees, was one of the most well-established WordPress events in Europe. Yesterday lead organizer Marcel Bootsman published a post on the Dutch WordPress community site to explain why the camp has been cancelled.
Bootsman’s post is written in Dutch but includes correspondence in English between the WCNL team and WordPress Community Support (WCS), formerly WordCamp Central. WCS is now pushing for all WordCamps to be city-based with the exception of regional camps, such as WordCamp US and WordCamp Europe, where the cities already have their own camps and do not prevent or detract from local communities launching their own camps.
“WordCamp Netherlands has been held 6 times to date and…It has not inspired any local WordCamps (in fact, I think it’s probably fair to say that local camps have not been happening because people don’t see a need for them with the country-wide camp happening each year) and, with the exception of Nijmegen, which is still in the pre-planning phase, no cities in the Netherlands have their own WordCamps,” a WCS representative said. “With that in mind, we feel that the time has come for your community to move from the country-wide camp to running local camps. This has started happening with Nijmegen already and can easily start happening more with WordCamps in Utrecht, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and other cities.”
The Netherlands is roughly the size of Maryland, or twice the size of New Jersey, in terms of land space. One can drive across the country in two hours or less. The WCNL team contends that a country-wide WordCamp makes sense for geographical reasons and because of the locations of the organizers. The country already has an active meetup culture with 13 different meetups hosting an average of 100 attendees per event. Organizers do not see the need to have multiple smaller WordCamps fill the role that the local meetups are already doing.
In response to the reasons WCNL organizers’ outlined for not shutting down their event, the WCS representative replied, “I don’t think there’s really any benefit to responding to all of your points in the last email individually.” WCS reiterated its decision regarding the camp:
We will not be approving WordCamp The Netherlands 2017. We would like to see city-based WordCamps happening around the Netherlands – Nijmegen being a great start to that process.
We’re confident that with the space that WCNL filled being vacated, we will see some of the meetup organizers around the country stepping up to fill that space for their local communities. The local city camps may be smaller, but in many ways that can be a much better than a single large camp.
As I said before, we would be happy to look at doing WCNL again in a couple of years time once there are a few city-based camps around the country happening regularly. In that case, however, WCNL would be there to complement, and not replace, the city-based camps.
WordCamp Netherlands was the last remaining exception to this new rule that drops country-wide WordCamps in favor of city-based camps. The Dutch community and many of its supporters are now in an uproar over the decision and organizers are at a crossroads. They can choose to rebrand the event as WordCamp Utrecht, with significant drawbacks, or move forward with an independent country-wide event without the use of WordCamp tools, branding and trademarks, or funding from the Global Community Sponsorship Program.
WordCamp Netherlands Conflict Highlights Cultural Differences Between the U.S. and Europe
Marcel Bootsman, who heads up the 13-person WordCamp Netherlands organization team, said they have been working since late December 2016 on the upcoming event. The team had added eight new members after the event grew 68% from 2015 to 2016.
“Everybody was thrilled to start, and the news that we could not continue hit us hard,” Bootsman said. “We have officially stopped and I have thanked everyone for their enthusiasm and support, which was difficult because I wanted to let these people feel what it is to organize an event and see happy faces all over the place.”
WordPress developer and Dutch community member Juliette Reinders Folmer said she doesn’t believe that more than one or perhaps two city-based WordCamps will get started in the Netherlands. Organizing a WordCamp is not an easy endeavor with a small pool of local organizers and volunteers. Folmer notes that since the WordPress Foundation doesn’t allow for compensating speakers for their out-of-pocket costs, the speaker pool is further limited.
“A trend I’ve spotted over the last few years is that ‘local’ WCs will have a mix of local, national and international speakers,” Folmer said. “While national speakers might still be prepared to go out of pocket, the only international speakers who can afford to do this are the ones who are sponsored by big companies which pay their travel and time to speak at those WCs.
“Instead of creating a larger speaker group with new and interesting voices, we’re ending up with a corporate uniform message where the more innovative and sometimes dissident voices are few and far between. By forcing WCNL to break up into smaller more local groups, this trend will become even more persistent and insidious as the demands on the limited group of national speakers will increase unless they have corporate sponsoring. Even they will not able to afford the time and costs to attend and speak at the various local WCs.”
Remkus de Vries, WordCamp Netherlands lead-organizer from 2009 to 2015, said the team has worked for years to see the local communities come together, and have seen people get involved with translations, forum moderation, and local meetups after attending the WordCamps.
“Our idea from the get go for WordCamp Netherlands was to be as inclusive as possible, to unite the scattered Dutch WordPress community,” de Vries said. “The Dutch community consisted of little islands that didn’t really connect at all. We’ve been working very hard to unite our Dutch Community via WordCamp Netherlands and it was working perfectly.
“Because of our inclusive approach we started getting international visitors and speakers from the early start as well, but more importantly, the event, as a national event, pulled everyone in from all corners of the Netherlands. Our community started and flourished because we started as a central entity.”
Bootsman is not optimistic about the future of the Dutch WordPress community after receiving the decision from WCS. The conflict has highlighted a key difference between U.S. and European cultures when it comes to traveling. Whereas Americans might think a 4-5 hour drive to another city is a short road trip, Europe’s population is much more dense than the U.S. and traveling several hours to another city is not common.
“When there is no WordCamp Netherlands, my personal belief is that this will break up the community,” Bootsman said. “Of course we will have central tools like Slack, nl.w.org and other ways to communicate, but that is nothing compared to an event where all these people can meet. People are busy and can’t find time to visit multiple WordCamps in the Netherlands. Distances are not that large in NL, that is not an issue, but time is. When you have a central WordCamp The Netherlands once a year you plan, so you are available to go. In the new situation, when there is a WordCamp Rotterdam, why visit a WordCamp in another town? This maybe hard to understand, but this is how it works for Dutch people. We’re too practical sometimes, and in this situation, it will not help the community.”
WordCamp Netherlands Organizers are Considering Hosting an Independent Event
Both de Vries and Bootsman are said they do not believe rules that make sense for the U.S. should be applied universally. They would prefer them to be guidelines that communities can follow or depart from if they express their preference for a country-wide WordCamp. WordPress communities in other countries like Denmark, Croatia, and Switzerland have expressed similar frustrations with the U.S.-centric rules.
“WordCamp Netherlands was what started the local WordPress meetups and ended up being the glue between the WordPress Meetups,” de Vries said. “Forcing us to stop using WordCamp Netherlands is going to impact that as you could see by the outpouring of reactions yesterday on Twitter and Facebook. Renaming WordCamp Netherlands to WordCamp Utrecht, as suggested by many, could be a solution, but nobody of the organizing team lives in the city which means, per the WCS rules, we can’t do that. But more importantly, we would be losing ‘our glue.’ We feel that our efforts of the last years have just been flushed down the toilet with this ‘one-size-fits-all’ rule.”
Although WCNL organizers were told in no uncertain terms that their camp is cancelled, a recent post on the Community team blog indicates that representatives are considering feedback on the decision.
The first two WordCamp Netherlands were not under the umbrella of WordCamp Central, and de Vries said they will find a way to have the camp if it comes to that. Organizers are currently examining their options.
“It is too soon to announce things about this but let me say that we feel the Netherlands needs to have a countrywide WordPress event based on the experiences of the last years,” Bootsman said. “We are not going to let the Netherlands WordPress community down.”