WordCamps are back! While one of the highlights for me personally is certainly seeing old friends what I’ve especially enjoyed are all the new faces!
I’ve had the privilege of talking with quite a folks new to the ecosystem both before, during, and after their WordCamp experience and I’ve noticed a recurring theme.
For folks who’ve never been to a WordCamp, especially those from the world of business used to “normal” events, a WordCamp can be a delightfully and occasionally disorienting experience.
WordCamps are part of the essential magic of WordPress. They connect community (including newcomers!) to each other, inspire attendees with what’s possible in WordPress, and encourage (and empower) people to contribute, which makes WordPress (and the ecosystem) better for us all.
WordCamps started off with a bang in 2006, just a few years after WordPress’ own origin. The first WordCamp was held in San Francisco and, with the exception of our pause during COVID, WordCamps have become a consistent part of the WordPress ecosystem.
When comparing WordCamps against more traditional business events, though, a few key characteristics stand out.
WordCamps are run by volunteers. While some of the organizers might be in full-time volunteer positions (“sponsored” by their respective employers), many contribute because they love to and take their involvement seriously. There are benefits and tradeoffs to working with volunteers. On the positive, you get incredible efforts that far surpass what you’d expect at a typical business event. On the negative, volunteers often have limited time and resources, resulting in frustrating gaps compared to what you’d expect at a typical business event. One team may be responsive and on schedule while another is severely under resourced and doing their best to get by.
WordCamps have consistent threads (e.g. an organizer handbook with codes of conduct templates and WordCamp Central) that provide layers continuity from one to the other. That said, individual organizers have high autonomy (which we love) and, as a result, your experience at one WordCamp can and often does vary widely from one to the next, especially when comparing local WordCamps to regional (e.g. WordCamp Europe, WordCamp Asia, and WordCamp US). While there are strong positives to this from an ecosystem perspective (see the benefits and tradeoffs of decentralization), it can be disconcerting for someone new to the ecosystem who forms an impression (positive or negative) based on one WordCamp without realizing that the next experience might be quite different.
We have a curious relationship with business at WordCamps. Sponsors are welcome and at the same time, superlatives on sponsor swag and in booths are not (see sponsorship rules for details and examples). Supporting events are welcome, as long as they don’t interfere with the official schedule. Tickets are typically $50 or less and, these days, often sell out within a day. Some of the world’s largest companies manage booths only a few feet away from passion projects run by volunteers. It’s fantastic and can also be daunting to navigate if you’re used to explicitly commercial events.
Want to dig a bit deeper? Here are a few additional resources on WordCamps:
- What to expect at WordCamps – A visitor’s guide published on WordCamp Central.
- Will What Got Us Here, Get Us There? WordPress Community at Scale – A talk given by Andrea Middleton unpacking the values of the WordPress community and sharing the history of WordCamps.
- My First WordCamp & Why It’s Different Than Other Trade Shows – A reflection written by Tom Fanelli after attending WordCamp US in 2019.
WordCamps for Business
As I see it, getting involved in WordCamps offer several unique benefits for businesses entering the WordPress ecosystem.
- Increasing Understanding – If you want to grow your business in the WordPress ecosystem there’s a lot to learn. WordCamps can be a great shortcut to learning the nuances of WordPress and the ecosystem we’ve built around it.
- Building Relationships – While I will always be a fan of building relationships over distance, there is something special about time in person. WordCamps are a great way to anchor the relationships you’ve been building and to give you an opportunity to meet new folks you weren’t expecting.
- Creating Awareness – Because of WordPress’ decentralized nature, introducing your business to the ecosystem can be quite difficult. WordCamps can be a great place to create awareness and begin bridging the gap between you and your potential customers, as long as you learn and respect the values of the WordPress community. (Watch Andrea’s talk for an explanation of the values)
Guidance for Newcomers
So if you want to increase your understanding of WordPress, if you want to build relationships within the community, and if you want to create awareness and grow your business within the WordPress ecosystem, here’s what I recommend you do:
- Attend – See what WordCamps are about for yourself. Attend local WordCamps and attend the regional ones.
- Volunteer – Attend Contributor Day and look for opportunities to volunteer before or during the event.
- Sponsor – Sponsor a WordCamp and embrace their non-commercial nature, thinking of your investment as a contribution to the community.
- Plan – Think about what you want to do before, during, and after the event to increase your understanding, build relationships, and promote positive awareness of your business. Ask for feedback on your plans from folks who know the community.
- Connect – We attend WordCamps because we love WordPress and the community we’ve built around it. As a newcomer, enjoy that. While there are always going to be negative exceptions, as a whole you can expect to feel an inclusivity and welcomeness that will be easy for you to connect to.
- Repeat – After you’ve experienced your first, do it again. For businesses serious about growing in the WordPress ecosystem, each WordCamp will give you more to work with.
Want more? Check out this thread on Twitter I started while writing this piece.
WordCamps are amazing and a foundational part of the WordPress ecosystem. While they will continue to grow and evolve, there are values and characteristics that we expect (and want) to remain. Embrace them and enjoy. Your business will benefit and our ecosystem (which you’re a part of) will too.
Got questions? I love talking about WordCamps. Contact me. Coming to WordCamp US? Be sure to find me and say hi!
Special thanks to my daughter Jensyn (9) for her illustration of me and a few friends at WordCamp!
Thanks to Adam Weeks, Ali Darwich, Angela Jin, Anna Maria Radu, Bob Dunn, David Mainayar, Kelley Muro, Sé Reed, Tammie Lister, and Tom Fanelli for their early feedback!