Today I’m travelling home from my third WordCamp since March. As I write, the other WP Realmers are having transportation troubles. Noel Tock is stranded at Heathrow Airport, while Tammie Lister and BuddyPress Core Developer Paul Gibbs are stuck on a broken-down train between Edinburgh and London. The British transportation system is its usual reliable self. The weather is grey, it’s threatening to rain; I, and no doubt all of us, are suffering from post-WordCamp blues.
Sitting on a rattling train, I became aware that it’s my week to write an editorial for WP Realm. No doubt Zé, who is my own personal editor, will be grumbling about this, but it’s my prerogative to tell the
wise grumpy old man to stfu (love you! 🙂 ). I thought I’d use my slot to reflect not only on WordCamp Edinburgh, but the series of WordCamps I’ve visited over the past four months and on WordCamps more generally.
Utrecht, New York, Edinburgh; entirely different cities, with entirely different WordPress communities. Something that has struck me, having attended so many so close together, is that every WordCamp has its own feel. Utrecht was intimate. The venue and the city were small. The delegates stayed walking distance from each other – we ate together Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Lunch was provided at the venue so we were all there together all day. Soft bean bags filled a small corner of the room so that when I was feeling tired (and hung over) I could curl up for a little break in comfort.
New York was huge – 800 delegates, mostly from the east coast of America, but some (like myself) from farther afield. A conference like WordCamp Netherlands gives you the opportunity to spend a lot of time with a small group of people, a huge conference like New York gives you the chance to meet a large amount of people over a short period of time. There’s no shortage of people from diverse backgrounds to talk to; design, development, security, customization, core contributors, small business owners, hosting companies, bloggers, entrepreneurs. It’s a fantastic place to make new connections, to generate ideas and to experience the vibrancy of the WordPress community.
Edinburgh is all about the party. The UK WordPress community works hard and plays even harder. I didn’t arrive home before 2am any night, and other delegates partied much longer. As much discussion of WordPress, of ways that we can work together, went on in the pub as went on at the conference venue. That said, the presentations themselves were passionate, thoughtful and engaging. There was a lot of discussion of how we can contribute to WordPress, to help to make it better. In the UK, we’re proud that WordPress is “Made in Stockport”, and it’s something of a badge of honour that WordPress co-founder, Mike Little, is so heavily involved.
For me, WordCamps are about relationships and it works in two ways:
First of all, I get to meet people that I work with, both clients and colleagues. I love working remotely, I love hanging out with my cats all day, I love Skype and Google Chat, but nothing beats face-to-face time with people. Nuances of interpersonal communication are lost when you communicate just by chat; there’s no body language, no facial expression, no tone of voice, no eye contact. Since so many facets of communication are non-verbal we’re all missing out on a whole lot of what each other are saying. After meeting someone it’s easier to understand who they are, why they do what they do, what drives them. The cutting remarks that someone makes on Twitter suddenly become hilarious with the right tone of voice and cheeky grin; an outspoken person that pissed you off one morning goes from being obnoxious to passionate. No doubt much of the politics and bickering that emerges again and again in the WordPress community comes from people having never met. WordCamps are an antidote to this. I have never met a WordPress person that I didn’t like.
As well as strengthening relationships, WordCamps create new ones. Many of the people I work with, and for, are a direct result of having visited a WordCamp. There’s no better example of this than WP Realm, which was a result of meeting Remkus and Noel in Portsmouth last year, and Zé, Luc and Daan in Utrecht in March. I’ve not yet met the other guys in person, but am sure we’ll hook up at a WordCamp or WP on Tour in the future. I’ve come away with new clients, and having made connections with professionals who I can recommend my clients to for work outside of my area. I’ve put faces to the names (and avatars) of people who I follow on Twitter, whose blogs I comment on and who I email. I’ve made friends.
Go to WordCamp, talk to people you know online, talk to people you’ve never met before. Have lunch, go for coffee, talk between presentations, drink tequila, hang out in the bar. At both Edinburgh and New York I developed brand new client relationships by just having lunch with people who I didn’t know. Since launching Words for WP, I haven’t gone to a WordCamp in which I haven’t generated new business and new working relationships.
But, of course, it’s more than that….
Meeting people at a WordCamp and spending time with them takes our relationships from virtual communication to actual concrete events. We create shared memories, have shared experiences. It’s hard to retain lasting memories of events that happen online, in chat rooms, on Skype or on Twitter. They have no location or texture. They all happen virtually, in the homogenous space of work. They lack a sense of place. We all have memories that are evoked through scent; a perfume, the smell of a flower, baking bread, whiskey, cut grass. There are no smells online. There is nothing tactile, nothing that we can hold on to.
I’ve made lasting memories at my trips to WordCamps. Here are just some of them:
- meeting my favourite person in WordPress; former colleague, fellow plotter of businesses, and all-round awesome guy Mason James. Specifically, meeting him at Grand Central Station, New York City.
- drinking a random bottle of Port found in a bar in Portsmouth with Mike Little, Tony Scott and Michael Kimb Jones.
- Paul Gibbs becoming the drunkest person in BuddyPress….
- ….until that crown was stolen by Boone Gorges.
- getting to know the excellent Zé Fontainhas in a bar in Utrecht.
- Boone Gorges convincing WebDevStudios’s Chris Cochran that Bono is my cousin (and me letting him believe it).
- A collapsing chair in the middle of my presentation at WordCamp Netherlands.
- Taking part in a Tammie Lister-led panel discussion about contributing to WordPress, with Taryn Wallis, Paul Gibbs, Remkus de Vries, and Coen Jacobs.
- Meeting the voice of WordPress, Michael Pick, who’s probably the only other person in WordPress who knows who Thomas Ligotti is.
- Eating (I always remember the eating): truffle coated fries (NYC with JJJ, Tammie & Paul); liquid nitrogen fondue (Utrecht with Zé, Karim Osman, Daan, Nacin, Jon Cave).
- Sushi and documentation chat with Vid Luther.
- Giggling late into the night with Noel, Remkus and Bowe Frankema.
- Michael Kimb Jones continually dropping pints.
- Tom Willmot and I convincing each other to follow Kevinjohn Gallagher into a nightclub akin to the five layers of hell, in Edinburgh.
At every WordCamp I’ve met someone new and learned something new. Each one is so much fun and so different that travelling becomes addictive. What could happen at WordCamps in Oslo, Lisbon, Seville, Sydney, Portland, Montreal, Kenya, Cape Town, Philippines, San Francisco? Who might I meet? Of course, I can’t spend all my time travelling. I’d end up flat broke. I’ve got to stay at home and get some work done, but there are all sorts of community members in all these places strengthening both the local and global WordPress communities (and having fun while they’re at it).
Each WordCamp invigorates current relationships, and each WordCamp creates new ones. I can’t recommend enough that all community members take the time to spend a weekend with their peers. Also, try to encourage anyone who uses WordPress to visit a WordCamp. You don’t have to go abroad. Look for a WordCamp in your area and grab a ticket. They’re designed to be affordable events, they happen worldwide, so you should be able to find one that fits you.
I recall a conversation that I had with Zé and Daan outside a bar in Utrecht. It was Sunday night. Sunday nights at WordCamp are always filled with bleary-eyed people struggling to fit in one more drink at the bar. We stood in a cobble stoned square, opposite which the Occupy Utrecht group were sat on sofas, watching movies projected onto a giant screen (when the movie ran out we noticed that they were using Windows). We smoked and talked about the way WordPress brings people together. All of us are completely different, with completely different pasts, interests and lifestyles. We never would have met under normal circumstances.
The WordPress community consists of people ranging from atheist to deeply religious, people who are left wing and right wing, people politicised and those who don’t give a toss. There are strong personalities, and strong beliefs, but we put all of that aside for some lines of code. In a world that is too-frequently awful, I find something incredibly Utopian about that.