WP Tech is “breaking up with WordCamp,” according to co-organizer Willy Bahuaud. The developer-centric event, previously called WordCamp Nantes WP Tech, is set to be held at the end of November and was welcomed as France’s second official WordCamp.
During the course of working with WordCamp Central, the organizers decided to opt out of keeping WP Tech under the WordCamp umbrella due to a number of conflicts.
“WordCamp Central gave us too many constraints, and we would not have been able to create a great technical event about WordPress,” co-organizer Daniel Roch told the Tavern. “It will be an independent WordPress tech event, like other great events such as Pressnomics, WPSessions, WordSesh or WordUps.”
The organizing team found that some of the WC Central rules would have forced them to change the core concept of WP Tech. “In our case, we wanted to hold WP Tech as a national event, inviting speakers from France to a provincial town (Nantes),” said Bahuaud. However, this poses a problem, as WordCamps are meant to be local events and the majority of speakers have to be from the city where the event takes place.
The second critical conflict they encountered was regarding speaker expenses. “We want to cover speakers’s travel cost. WordCamp central was very firm with this point: we can’t. The WP Tech team was told that the only people’s expenses that can be covered are those who appear on the sidebar of WordPress’ about page.
“WC Central’s position is that traveling to speak at a conference is a legitimate business expense,” Bahuaud said. “But we think it’s not. We believe that if people spent time to prepare a conference, it’s normal to cover their $200 (on average) travel and accommodation costs.”
Additionally, Bahuaud reports that the requirement to use the WordCamp platform for the event’s website was problematic, since it doesn’t allow for extensive customization. The event branding requirements were also an issue. Organizers changed the event name to “WordCamp Nantes WP Tech” but WC Central required further changes to make it compatible with guidelines.
“Four months before the event, rules were still changing and we had to be accountable on each step. It was very frustrating, so we decided to break up with WordCamp, and make our event separate,” Bahuaud explained.
Cultural and Economic Differences Regarding Speaker Travel Guidelines
Jenny Beaumont, a WordPress developer and an active member of the French WordPress community, commented on the conflict with insight on the economic differences experienced by non-US event organizers:
In France, a majority of people in the WordPress community are freelancers, and as such, many of us have a legal status that’s called an ‘auto-entrepreneur’. It’s part of what is known as a micro-regime that gives us a tax break on social contributions, which are very imposing here (45% for regular business owners).
The flip side to this is two-fold: 1) We have a ceiling on earnings, 2) We can’t deduct expenses. It’s this last fact that also influences the desire on the part of WordCamp organizers in France to want to reimburse speakers for their travels costs. WordCamp Paris has been doing it for years, though in light of recent events, may be prohibited from doing so in the future.
Whereas Americans are free to deduct work-related travel expenses as a business expense from their taxes, French speakers do not share that same privilege. At this point in time, WC Central guidelines don’t currently allow for flexibility on the issue of speaker travel, but the guidelines are not written in stone. WordCamp Central is open to further discussion on the matter.
Andrea Middleton clarified the issue of speaker travel expenses today on the make.wordpress.org Community blog. She highlighted the importance of WordCamps as local events and how paying for speaker travel costs doesn’t mesh well with that guideline:
WordCamps are locally-focused, so there’s an inherent disconnect between paying for people from out of town to speak at a WordCamp and that emphasis on local community. Local experts are assets to their communities all year round, whereas visiting speakers don’t typically serve as ongoing resources once they have returned to their home cities.
Middleton suggests the more cost-effective option of utilizing Skype or Google hangouts to pull in out-of-town speakers who are unable to cover their own travel expenses. The idea is that the WordCamp budget can be better used to serve the local community.
“A WordCamp’s primary focus is on connecting local community and lifting up local experts, rather than blowing our budgets on flying people around the world when technology can get them there so much faster,” she explained.
Community members who want to advocate a different opinion on the guidelines have the opportunity to do so. Middleton invites discussion in the comments of her post. She also plans to discuss the issue with contributors at the WordPress Community Summit in October, which will include WordCamp and meetup organizers from around the world. Data from WordCamp San Francisco’s new travel assistance program may also factor into the discussion.
Not every WordPress event has to be a WordCamp. It’s not a failure on the part of the organizers or WC Central if there are irreconcilable differences. If an event finds the WordCamp guidelines to be too problematic, organizers can host it as an independent event. WC Central exists to nurture local pockets of WordPress enthusiasm, but not every event will share that mission. There’s no mandate that all WordPress events have to be WordCamps and many successful events run outside of that umbrella.
Do you think the economic differences in other countries are an influencing factor regarding the creation of new WordCamps? Should cultural and economic differences come into play when it comes to officially-sanctioned WordCamp events?