WordPress’ Community Team hailed a new era of WordCamps in its recent announcement outlining a significant shift in the purpose for the events.
In the past, WordCamps have had a mostly predictable format of presenting inspirational talks on exciting things people are doing with WordPress, business topics, and the latest trends, with short networking opportunities and a contributor day appended to the event.
“Connection, inspiration, and contribution are undeniably important to WordPressers,” Automattic-sponsored WordPress community organizer Angela Jin said. “However, as events have returned, communities see that people are much more selective about what events they attend and want to know what they will gain by participating.”
After the pandemic, the number of WordCamps dwindled to a fraction of what they had been, as different areas of the world grappled with their own unique public health situations. The Community Team had loosened some of the requirements for WordCamps in order to foster a more welcoming environment for people to want to host in-person events.
In an effort to modernize these gatherings moving forward, the team has proposed the following update to the purpose of WordPress events:
WordPress events spark innovation and adoption by way of accessible training and networking for users, builders, designers, and extenders. We celebrate community by accelerating 21st-century skills, professional opportunities, and partnerships for WordPressers of today and tomorrow.
Jin said she hopes a “period of innovation and experimentation will follow this critical shift in the purpose of our events” where events will be curated for more narrow audiences and have a focus on a specific type of content or topic.
This shift also opens the door for more varied event formats, such as workshops, unconferences, job fairs, and pure networking events – which would have definitively been outside the traditional WordCamps of old and not officially supported by the project.
Jin emphasized that WordPress will continue encouraging local meetups. Currently planned WordCamps (there are currently 14 on the schedule for 2023) can continue as before but new WordCamp applicants will be encouraged to experiment with new formats.
“Flagships (WordCamp US, WordCamp Europe, WordCamp Asia): These will remain our largest, broadest event that fully capitalizes on the energy of a large crowd,” Jin said. “They will be the place to highlight the latest, greatest, and coolest in WordPress and where we are going.”
Reactions to the change in the purpose of WordCamp have been mostly positive but the community has some questions about how it will work. David Bisset, who helped run WordCamp Miami for over a decade, asks how this will impact smaller communities:
I certainly would love to see more formats being tried, more standout content, etc. However, I’m trying to view this from a local and smaller WordCamp organizer mindset – what if I have a varied community and therefore a varied audience? Will having a particular audience in mind in setting content and promoting local WordCamps unknowingly not attract a more diverse audience? Many people come to conferences and WordCamps for certain talks and speakers and stay around for the rest.
WordPress plugin developer David McCan commented that the new purpose statement reads more like educating and preparing a workforce in contrast to how WordCamps previously leaned towards empowering volunteers.
Participants in the discussion are heavily in favor of giving more freedom to event organizers, but many have had irreplaceable experiences at WordCamps in their current format that they are reluctant to see it go. WordPress developer and contributor Ross Wintle commented that he hoped the change in purpose would not diminish the diversity at WordCamps.
“While I think there’s some value in focussing on an audience, please don’t throw out the current WordCamps,” Wintle said. “I genuinely believe that one of the best things about these events is that I get to experience the diversity of the WordPress community and see the many, many different ways that WordPress is used, extended and developed for, and I get to meet the many, many talented people from across the spectrum of contribution who possess ideas, skills and experiences that I do not.
“I’ve met so many amazing people who have different roles in WordPress, and I think the value of this is far higher than sitting in my bubble with the people that do the same things as me.”
Marketing contributor Sé Reed asked Jin what team meeting, GitHub issue, or other documented discussion was available to follow the decision-making process for this major change to WordCamps, as no discussions were linked in the announcement.
“To my mind, this kind of change (affecting the entire WordPress community and apparently effective immediately) is something that would make sense to discuss at the Community Summit,” Reed said. “As that ship has sailed, I’d like to at least see the discussion that led to it.”
Jin has not yet responded to these questions but said in the announcement that as event organizers experiment with different formats for WordCamps, “the community team can reevaluate our full events program and how events coexist happily.”
I’m somewhat concerned by the lack of transparency in both this decision and some decisions leading to the WP20 merch store as well. I’m getting the sense that some decisions are being made behind closed doors in an open source community and that’s naturally an Issue.