Last month Austria’s capital saw a large influx of inhabitants. Thousands of people converged in the museum quarter of Vienna. The thing that brought them together: WordPress. WordCamp Europe 2016 drew in a crowd of more than 2,000 attendees.
I was also there for my second WordCamp ever and my first WordCamp Europe. My first experience with WordCamp Berlin 2015 had really turned me on to these events.
So, when the extra batch of tickets came on sale for WordCamp EU (after the event had already sold out), I did my darndest to be among the recipients.
Good thing that I did. WordCamp Europe 2016 turned out to be an amazing experience though for different reasons than my first time. So, if you are looking for some first-hand experience from the event, this is the article for you.
WordCamp Europe 2016 – The Facts
After Leiden 2013, Sofia 2014 and last year’s meeting in Seville, WordCamp Europe 2016 in Vienna was the fourth of its kind.
With more than 2,000 attendees from 68 countries, the event also made history as the largest WordCamp to date (which will probably be eclipsed by this year’s WordCamp US in Philadelphia).
As should be obvious from those numbers, WordCamp EU has long stopped being purely a European thing and is by now bringing the world together.
Tickets had sold out six months in advance and in addition to real-life attendants, the event was also streamed live by countless people.
For good reason. With over 70 speakers from all over the world sharing their knowledge, there was much to see.
As usual, the two days of presentation were followed by a contributor day where people can give back to the community. This time, 500 people took the opportunity — 200 of them for the first time.
Apart from that, side events like speed networking and tribe meetups made it easy to meet new people and offers like child care and a multi-faith room made sure that everyone felt welcome.
Yet, one of the biggest highlights was the venue itself. The Vienna museum quarter was simply breathtaking.
However, for me personally, the main attraction turned out to be something else.
“What Are You Afraid of? You’re Home.”
That thought came to her mind when, as she was running around the venue wrecked with the anxiety of having to speak in front of thousands of people, she stumbled upon a group of other volunteers who gave her “more hugs than she can remember.”
She also talked about how WordCamp Europe was always characterized by a spirit of friendship, love, and community.
While not aware of it at the time, these words would take on new significance for me as the event progressed. I, too, started feeling increasingly at home.
My WordCamp Europe experience this year was less influenced by the speakers I heard (though I also learned a ton from them, more on that below) but by the people I met.
At my first WordCamp, my focus was on seeing as many talks as possible. I wanted to learn as much as I could for my professional life and I don’t remember making a single connection.
This time, meeting people became much more important without being much of a conscious choice (though I did print up business cards just for this event). It just happened naturally.
Maybe Mike Little is to blame because he asked all attendees to make an effort to talk to one another and meet new people. Maybe it was just meant to be that way.
Whatever the reason, it paid off handsomely. I have never made so many amazing contacts (both personal and professional) in such a short time as I did at WordCamp Europe.
For example, Marie Dodson and I finally met in real life.
Marie is the editor here at Torque and in the three years of working together, we have written countless emails and collaborated on many articles, ebooks and white papers. Yet, the only thing I knew of her was the Avatar image in my Gmail account. This finally changed with WordCamp Europe and we had a great time connecting offline.
I had a similar experience with Kevin Muldoon, one of the most prolific WordPress bloggers out there. Over time, I have read many of his posts and knew his name but he was really only an author profile to me.
When I ran into him at WordCamp Europe, I just went over and we started talking. He turned out to be an overall swell guy who made a huge effort to stay in contact during and after the event (I still owe you an email Kevin, I’m on it!).
It was a chance encounter. I merely sat down on the bench next to their table in order to rest a little. We somehow struck up a conversation and not only ended up talking for more than three hours but also had dinner together with my wife and friends until late into the night.
Those are just the highlights. They do not mention the countless people I casually chatted with, hung out with for a while, interacted or joked with inside or outside of sessions.
Being around that many like-minded people made me feel like I am part of something bigger and a community where I belong and feel at home. It truly made my WordCamp experience special and I am super grateful for that.
Therefore, at this point I already want to say thanks to everyone who I talked to at WordCamp and to everyone who made it happen. I mean it. But now, on to the highlights of the WordCamp talks.
WordCamp Europe 2016 – The Highlights
Besides meeting people and giving out my entire stack of business cards, I also attended a number of talks. Below I will give a rundown of my highlights. You can also watch all sessions from the WordCamp on WordPress.tv.
WordPress: The Early Years. A Co-Founder’s View.
My first talk was this one given by Mike Little, one of the co-founders of WordPress. In it, he recounted his own career which morphed into the backstory of how WordPress got started.
He spoke of his first computer lessons, creating graphics on an 8-bit computer from code printed in a magazine (one of the first instances of Open Source!), teaching himself programming and getting into coding for the web and blogging.
Back in the days Mike used the precursor to WordPress to run his blog, was part of the community, the support forum and created smaller things for it. When the project was abandoned he stumbled upon Matt Mullenweg’s post that he wanted to fork B2 and decided to help. The rest is history.
It was super interesting to hear an insider report of how WordPress developed in the early days and Mike delivered it in a very relaxed and humble way.
At the end, he urged the community to see the bigger picture and use WordPress not only as a tool to build websites but also a platform to make the world a better place.
To do so he stressed implementing accessibility guidelines in WordPress and other issues and urged the community to build connections with each other against the divisive politics currently happening in the world. You can watch the talk in its entirety in the video above.
Moving Forward With A Mature Platform
Mike was followed by John Blackbourn who is a WordPress core developer and has been involved with WordPress for nine years.
His topic was how a mature platform like WordPress that is well-established, proven, stable, and backwards compatible can move forward and stay competitive in the future.
First, he gave a short overview over things that are already happening in this regard such as:
- The recent integration of responsive images
- The coming REST API (which will probably become the largest API on the web)
- Efforts to push forward localization, internationalization, and accessibility (all new or updated code in core and themes must now conform with WCAG at level AA)
However, at the same time, he noted that one of the biggest threats to the WordPress platform is the project’s lack of direction. He talked about how WordPress is running the danger to be jack of all trades and mentioned the migration feature as an example of mediocre functionality with no direction.
In order to compete in the future, John stressed that WordPress needs long-term goals, active planning, and leadership. The project needs someone who will say “this is what we will do” instead of pursuing iterations of what has happened in the past.
At the same time, John also mentioned that he doesn’t think the prominent role of Matt Mullenweg and Automattic poses a problem as there are enough individuals and companies involved in WordPress who are independent to make decisions. He attributed the perceived power of Matt to a skewed outside perspective.
Empathy And Acceptance In Design & Community
The next session I attended was the talk given by Morten Rand-Henriksen, who is a key contributor on all things WordPress on Lynda.com. It revolved around using empathy to create products (like WordPress) and websites that can be used by anyone and difficulties in doing so.
The idea came to him through his online teaching where he saw people struggle with a supposedly easy content management system. It caused him to ask how these two things go together.
This brought him to the importance of empathy and trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. His tips to do so:
- Reframe — Try to imagine a similar situation, think about analogs and associations
- Relive — Create situations that allow you to relive someone’s experience through immersion
- Remind — Try something difficult and document your successes and failures for later
- Accept — Seek out the reality of others and accept them as true, seek common ground
This also tied nicely into John Blackbourn’s point as Morten stressed the importance of understanding what WordPress is really used for in the real world and developing the platform in that direction.
Matt Mullenweg: Interview And Q&A
What followed was the almost hour long talk with Matt Mullenweg who was interviewed by Brian Krogsgard. The two covered a large number of topics:
- Matt’s day-to-day life as CEO of Automattic
- His thoughts on Medium and whether the platform poses a threat to WordPress (for more on the topic we have our own comparison between WordPress and Medium)
- Challenges for the open web
- Automattic’s products and their future
- His vision for WordPress in general and the question of leadership
Matt stressed his view of WordPress as a tool to see good in the world and to include more and more people (a prevalent topic at this WordCamp).
We have already summarized the main points of the Q&A in this article but I also highly recommend you watch the thing from beginning to end.
Beyond SEO – Copywriting For Professionals
After Konstantin Obenland’s presentation on the WordPress plugin directory, it was time for my first personal highlight. Joost de Valk and his wife Marieke van de Rakt from Team Yoast gave their talk on web copywriting.
As any reader of Torque knows, I am big fan of Yoast’s SEO plugin and have written about it frequently (for example here and here) so I was pretty excited.
The presentation was a fusion of Joost and Marieke’s areas of expertise — SEO and writing respectively. It was also the result of their holistic approach to SEO that concentrates not only on technical optimization but all aspects of website optimization.
Their goal is to be the best result, not trick Google into thinking you are. Therefore, according to them SEO consists of the following:
- Technical excellence
- Flawless security
- Good UX & UI (incl. mobile friendliness)
- Awesome PR and social
- Quality content
Since Google can understand key-phrases, topics, queries, and content much better by now, content has become much more important (though it was already important to begin with).
As a consequence, Team Yoast poured a lot of resources into researching how to write quality content and what makes a text readable. Here’s what they came up with:
- Focus on the structure of your text (what do you want to tell and in what order?)
- Clear paragraphs, one idea per paragraph
- One core sentence
- Not too long
- Never randomly add white space within the paragraph
- Use transition words so readers know what is coming
- Use clear headings
- Make sure your text is easy to read
- No longer than 20 words per sentence
- Use simple words, up to three syllables
- Keep your audience’s knowledge in mind
- Make sure your text is nice to read
- Avoid passive voice
- Use synonyms
- Mix sentence and paragraph length
How important do they consider this for SEO? Well, important enough that they made it part of their SEO plugin which will now also check for the above rules.
The talk, which you can find above, also wrapped up the first day of WordCamp Europe 2016 and I was happy to go out exploring the city.
You Are Too Cheap
The next day I attended a lot fewer presentations for the aforementioned reasons.
I did look into a few, such as Tom Nowell’s talk on how to handle anxiety, The Science of Happiness by Davor Altman and moving the design process to the browser by Lucijan Blagonić. Yet, the one that stood out was “You Are Too Cheap” by Tomaz Zaman.
Tomaz is the founder of CodeAble, which he lovingly describes as “the Tinder of WordPress services”. It connects WordPress service providers with those in need. I also hung out with his team for a while and they were an overall awesome bunch.
As is probably obvious the topic of his presentation was pricing, something many in the community have troubles with (me included).
One of the factors that exacerbates pricing is that online outsourcing services are a race to the bottom in which developers underbid each other in a competition that benefits nobody.
When Tomaz realized he couldn’t compete in this environment and support himself and his family, he decided to go the other direction and raised his prices as an experiment. What he learned in the process he shared in his talk.
The first barrier he and others often run to when attempting to raise their prices is fear:
- What if I’m not good enough? (For more on that topic check Sonja Leix’ talk on Impostor Syndrome)
- What if I don’t get any clients?
- What if the projects will be too hard for me?
Tomaz’ first antidote: changing your perspective.
For one, a large proportion of people in the WordPress community are self-taught. This is both an achievement that shouldn’t be played down as well as encourage everyone that they can rise to the occasion.
Apart from that, it’s important to keep in mind that there are developers out there who are already asking for higher prices and get paid, so why not you?
Plus, WordPressers are primarily problem solvers. There is no such thing as a problem that’s too hard, you can find solutions even if it means outsourcing to someone else.
As a second step, Tomaz urged attendees to learn the necessary skills to market themselves better and see coding or their product as a means to an end and only one part of their business.
Thirdly, he reminded everyone that we are no longer bound to our locale. There are more then three billion people online and with technology we have the opportunity to win them as our clients wherever they are.
Finally, Tomaz stressed the importance of continuous learning and education (for which higher prices will free up more time).
I highly recommend you watch his presentation as it is not only informative but also highly entertaining (superman jersey and all).
The Discover And Definition Approach To Project Planning
My final highlight of the conference was David Lockie’s presentation on project planning. He is the founder of a Pragmatic, a WordPress agency from London. In his talk he laid out their very systematic approach to successfully run projects and keep clients happy.
Problems in realizing projects often arise because client and agency expectations don’t align. Therefore, it’s important to get on the same page and create clear objectives, expectations and goals on both sides.
The basic formula of this technique is as follows:
- Discovery — Talking to the client and finding out what they want
- Definition — Translating that into technical requirements and objectives
- Playback — Getting back together with the client to agree on what that means
Below is what each phase consists of in detail.
The first phase is about finding out as detailed as possible what the project is about from the client side.
- Pre-discovery — Setting up project documents, choosing the team, reviewing the client brief etc.
- Meeting with stakeholders — Running a workshop with decision makers to get crystal clear on their current situation and vision
- Q&A interview — Asking questions about business goals, content, design, UX, technical requirements, timelines and more
- Challenge assumptions — Looking at the expectations that your client has for the website to see if they are really necessary
After that, it’s time to put those expectations into practical terms and examine them for feasibility.
- Research — Get to know the market your client is operating in, look at competitors and create customer profiles
- Prototyping/Feasibility — Test the project through a prototype site with key plugins, analyze what else is missing and how to provide it, create a sitemap, wireframes and user journey
- Tech specs — Compile technical specifications and make sure they are as complete as you can make them
Playback is about getting back into the room with the client to show them what you think the project is in practical terms. That way can get on the same page and reduce the risk of friction later on.
- Present wireframes — Present UX specifications for pages and devices with annotations
- Demonstrate key user journey — Assemble wireframes into a user journey to show what navigating the site is like
- Discuss risk register — Define the risks of the project and their potential impact in terms of delays, costs etc.
- Assemble full project proposal and brief — Compile a plan that will be the main document for the remainder of the project
Running through this process allows you to get the entire project specs on paper. It also helps you get to know the client and their approach to working together as well as build trust.
David advised to treat this work as consultancy and bill for it. Of course, the scale should always be appropriate to the scale of the project.
Personally, I found his approach very convincing and I am planning to implement more of it in my own client interaction. However, I also know that this is a lot of information take in and things will be a lot clearer is you watch the video yourself.
As should be obvious from the above, I had a real blast at WordCamp Europe. After meeting so many people, making so many connections and learning a lot, it should come as no surprise that I already have my ticket for WordCamp Europe 2017 in Paris (you should totally get yours too).
Again, if you couldn’t make it this year, you can find all talks on WordPress.tv. However, for next year I recommend the live experience for anyone working with WordPress. Rarely have I met so many interesting people, had so many inspiring talks and learned so much than on this June weekend.
Thus, while sitting in the Vienna airport with my wife watching Germany beat Slovakia at the European championship all I could think was “I can’t wait for next year”.
Were you at WordCamp Europe 2016? What was your highlight? Any interesting stories or thoughts to share? Let us know in the comment section below.