2017 was the year of my foray into non-Camp WordPress conferences. They’ve changed my perspective on the WordPress conference landscape. Years ago when Pressnomics was first announced, I questioned the need for a non-camp focused conference. Couldn’t we discuss business topics at a WordCamp? Is this a way to get around the rules put in place by the foundation? Does WordPress really need independent conferences outside of WordCamps?
While many of my WordPress friends attend more WordCamps in a year than I have in my career, I have witnessed an evolution of camps since my first attendance of WordCamp Detroit in 2010. Seven years ago the community was in its infancy, and the platform was much less capable. Since then, the landscape has evolved in a multi-dimensional way. Capabilities, audience, ecosystem, and everything in between has become more sophisticated.
WordCamps, by design, are inclusive of everyone at any level. The idea being you should be able to get something out of a WordCamp regardless if you’ve just discovered WordPress the day prior or you’re a multi-skilled WordPress veteran. This accessibility is a large part of what’s made WordPress so successful. The WordPress economy is thriving directly because of the platforms reach. As a two-time organizer of a WordCamp myself, I don’t question how invaluable WordCamps (and local meet-ups) are. That said, I’ve had more than one discussion with my peers about how little we (WordPress old timers) personally benefit from a WordCamp. Many I know spend their entire time out in the hallway never attending a single session.
By trying to cater to everyone it becomes hard to cater to any one individual group. A running joke among many WordCamp organizers is that you can always expect feedback that asks for more beginner talks… and more intermediate talks… and more advanced talks. By trying to provide content for everyone you inevitably end up with people who feel overlooked regardless of level.
WordPress has given a lot to me, my team members, my family, and my friends. I want to give back as much as I’m able, but in order to give I need to take care of myself as well. I wish I was like Kyle Maurer who, unlike me, appears to be completely fulfilled by helping other people. I, on the other hand, need to balance giving back with what excites me the most — learning and being creative. For me, WordCamps have become more giving back than learning and being creative. I want to give back, but I’m seeking the opportunity to learn and create.
This is where non-camps come in. Because they can be more specific, more tailored, and more niche, I’ve found I’m able to get out of non-camps what I wish I could get from WordCamps. I meet more people doing similar, inspiring things. I learn from the smartest people in the space who share knowledge that’s too specific for most WordCamps. They also offer opportunities to explore completely new formats, like the more casual, discussion-style approach that I loved about Post Status Publish.
I’d like to see more “NonCamps” – especially ones not targeted at me. Why not an implementer conference geared toward the ingenious WordPress users who can develop sophisticated WordPress websites without writing a single line of code? Or maybe a “.COM” conference for those who don’t want to deal with managed hosting but still want all the benefits a WordPress site has to offer? I’m sure there are people who’d enjoy learning about the capabilities and limitations of the .COM platform.
WordCamps are great. They shouldn’t change dramatically nor should they go away, but maybe they could get smaller? Perhaps they could fragment into more frequent and smaller events? Just this past weekend at WordCamp Grand Rapids I had a brief discussion with Topher DeRosia who said they considered having several small WordCamps spread out during the year each focusing on a more specific subject.
I hope to see over the coming years a realignment of WordPress related conferences. WordCamps can always be a backbone, but I’d like to see more specific conferences branch out from them rather than camps being the dominate player in the space.