Charleston hosted South Carolina’s first ever WordCamp this past Saturday at the College of Charleston’s Stern Student Center. The sold out affair brought a surprisingly diverse crowd of 250 users—and potential users—to the daylong program. The event catered to people of all experience levels including consultants, small business owners, e-commerce companies, artists, designers, developers, writers, students, and many embracing second careers attended.
Focusing on clean, lean design and open source solutions has led to mainstream adoption of WordPress by both developers, as well as people less technically inclined. The diverse crowd was pleased at the many offerings of the event catering to their skill levels, giving something for everyone. A user track geared mostly toward beginners employed them with skills and, more importantly, confidence and a sense of community. This track displayed the “out of the box” philosophy that drives WordPress development. Presenters focused on basic set up for self-hosted WordPress sites, ensuring site security, and how forms function on a site.
For the techies in attendance—many of which contribute to the open source project and work for local tech companies—WordCamp offered a pro track to further develop their skills. Sessions for them focused on responsive design (what makes a site look good on mobile devices), PHP (the server-side language), and agile design for startups. Local developer, Mannie Schumpert, gave a practical breakdown of the range of WordPress roles and capabilities, and how developers can create their own.
For the business folks somewhere between novice and pro, a track devoted to content and business focused on an array of tips and tools for selling content and products alike. John Saddington, a longtime WordPress hacker, entrepreneur, and Chief Strategy Officer at The Iron Yard spoke candidly about his experience spanning many fields and years. He encouraged the crowd to keep blogging, fix problems, and to capitalize on the oddities of potential Internet niches. “I would love for you to leave feeling very encouraged and inspired that you can use WordPress as not just a small part of your income, but as all of it,” he said.
The WooThemes presentation became an impromptu workshop in which small-business owners and developers got together with Woo representative, Maria Scarpello, and solved real problems they were facing. We heard from local image consultant, Shauna Mackenzie, about how to package and repurpose content to promote your product or service. Mackenzie’s presentation was full of theme and plugin recommendations that will give your site a professional edge. To make the most of your content strategy she said, “You’ve got to be in the mindset of helping people, not making money.”
This mindset is foundational in open source projects, and WordCamp was full of people—presenters, attendees, and the organizers alike—who were more than happy to give away their time, ideas, and code. WordPress is a tool that allows an individual with an idea to avoid reinventing the wheel. And with more than 30,000 users who are employed full-time by means of their extensive platform, they’re on to something with their innovative concepts.
WordCamp proved that WordPress is more than just a blogging site by promoting its philosophy to promote education, sharing, and community. WordPress began as an effort to democratize publishing and has evolved since 2003 from a blogging site to a content management system making it a largely successful platform for business at large. It is one of the biggest open source projects in the world.
Andrew Nacin, the keynote speaker and a lead developer for WordPress, believes strongly in open source as a democratizing force. “It’s both philosophically, and on merit, better,” he said. With its diverse group of volunteer contributors, WordPress software runs more smoothly and securely than if it was just one stagnant team. When users get involved, they are helping create the product that they want to use. The saying goes that, “With enough eyes all bugs are shallow.”
Implicit in the open source philosophy is a rich sense of community. Charleston’s own community has been growing since 2011 through the WordPress User Group and its monthly meetups. There were many individuals at WordCamp who were joining the local conversation for the first time. Although more established WordCamps exist all over the world, the brand new ones are always Nacin’s favorite because, “They bring a lot of people out of the woodwork.” New community members lead to better software, and revolutionizing WordPress applications.
Jen Mylo, the WordPress Community Manager, was delighted to see Charleston get off to such a strong start. Despite all the WordPress guidelines for organizers, she said, “As long as the door is unlocked and the couple of hundred people who are here to just geek out over WordPress with other people like them… can get into a place and just do that, everything else will be fine,” Mylo said.
Karl Phillips, the Charleston WordPress User Group and WordCamp organizer, was likewise surprised on many accounts. Having no experience in event planning he couldn’t believe that upon applying to host a WordCamp he received a reply the next day. WordPress has a whole system with scores of documents advising organizers through every step of the process. Phillips was in contact with a WordPress employee nearly every week in the months prior to the event. This constant communication, along with his devoted team of volunteers, made the event not only possible but also a wild success.
As a first-time organizer, Phillips’ thoughts on the day were simple.
“I’m happy that people are happy… they seem a lot more excited than I expected,” he said. While there were no glaring mishaps, his humble goal for future WordCamps is to make the organizers less visible. “Ultimately people are coming because of the content, and they want to meet other people. It’s just a matter of not having them think about the event, but just come and relax and enjoy the day and get something from it,” he said.
Phillips was especially excited to see so many attendees taking notes and learning new things. This is the very thing that drives WordPress—people who keep learning, sharing and giving back to the community.
Check out the WordCamp Charleston Presentation Slides and Links
Photo Credits: Charlene Hubenthal