by Veronica Louis
This past weekend, I participated in my first ever WordCamp. Because I write, one can easily assume that I attended a writer’s camp, where we all sat around in a circle telling each other compelling stories.
However, WordCamp is all things WordPress or WordPress related. But what is WordPress? Simply put, WordPress is an open source (free) content management system used to build and publish websites and blogs. In other words, it is a web-publishing platform. As a matter of fact, this website runs on the WordPress platform.
My history with WordPress began a few years ago when clients of mine had a new WordPress website and I had to quickly learn how to use the tool. I received a few hours of training from a WordPress expert, Kirk Wight, (who incidentally now works for Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com). From then on, I used WordPress every single day to manage websites and WordPress became essential to my work.
My First WordCamp Experience
While I just love the idea of camp (I was a leadership camp enthusiast back in the days), I was especially excited at the idea of attending two full days of workshops, seminars and panels with committed people who have built a welcoming community. WordCamp Montreal launched in 2009 with 170 participants. This year, over 400 attended the two days of activities that took place on June 29th and 30th.
While it might be easy to feed into the misconception that programmers, web developers, and computer people at large are geeky introverted nerds, that couldn’t be further from the truth about those who attended WordCamp Montreal 2013. From the beginning, I met great people with great energy. There was a great diversity of people, guys and gals, the young and the young at heart, beginners and pros. I met many different people with distinct personalities, some outgoing and friendly, some more reserved, but they all had interesting backgrounds and interesting stories to share.
It’s somewhat weird to think that a website building tool could play a role in building a community. But then maybe it’s not so odd. There is no doubt, that the Internet connects us. That is why we call it the web. There is a virtual line linking one object, subject and being to the next, in a non-linear, ordo ab chao way. WordCamp is a great example of a physical manifestation of the virtual. Where, instead of being connected through fiber optic cables people get together and connect in real life. Like a web forum, people get together to share and exchange ideas, tips, tricks and stories, the difference being they now share the same physical space… an online community metamorphosing into a burgeoning offline community.
And the sense of community embodies WordPress’ spirit. In WordPress’ 10th anniversary notebook (which I won for being the first in the audience to ask co-founder Matt Mullenweg a question) there was a note in the book that ended as such:
“Share what you love about WordPress, contribute to the open source project to make the software better for everyone, and create meaningful content and beautiful websites. If you’re using WordPress, you’re a part of the WordPress community! Join us.”
And that is what many have done, including me.
Matt Mullenweg at Town Hall
Before the closing remarks on the second day, a town hall meeting was held where WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg answered questions from WordCamp participants. I had the first question: How and why did he start WordPress?
The gist of it was that at the age of 18, in 2002, he started using the open source blogging software B2 that highly simplified ways of publishing blogs. Along with partner Mike Little, and then with the original developer of B2, Michel Valdrighi, he kept on improving and refining the software platform that transformed into WordPress in 2003. The goal was to really streamline the process of publishing content on the Internet. As he put it, he was simply trying to “democratize the web.” 10 years later, WordPress powers more than 18% of the top websites in the world.
Mullenweg almost embodies his ideals of democratization. For example, during the town hall meeting, he was very aware of who was speaking and sought to hear everybody out equally. He would say, “Alright, we need to take questions from the back of the room now, they’ve been neglected.” The questions were answered in all modesty, and he never feigned to know all the answers. As a matter of fact, he reinforced the community spirit ideal when he encouraged participants to also help find solutions to problems, or to help educate others on certain aspects such as the importance of web accessibility (making websites accessible to those of varied abilities and disabilities).
There is no doubt that the 29-year-old’s curriculum vitae is quite impressive, yet there is such a selfless humbleness and sincerity about him that one can’t help but want to join the WordPress community.
WordPress and Writing
WordPress encourages the creation of meaningful content just like I strive to provide meaningful content through writing. There is a direct symbiotic relationship between the two. I produce the content and WordPress allows me to publish it and in turn share that content with the world.
There was a time when it was very difficult to have your own site without knowing how to code, and even then you needed to know how to code to change anything on the site. But now tools like WordPress and blogging platforms like Blogger, Tumblr and Weebly make it easier for anyone who wants to publish and share information to do so.
Being able to write is a gift. Being able to share my writing is a greater gift. Because I know that as much as I write for myself, I also write for others.
So in the end, WordCamp was more than just about WordPress, but rather the community around it that keeps the spirit of democratizing the web alive and helps people like me continue to create and share meaningful content.