In this episode, Josepha Haden Chomphosy talks about WordPress – In Person! The WordPress events that provide the dark matter of connection that helps sustain the open source project.
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Editor: Dustin Hartzler
Logo: Beatriz Fialho
Production: Chloé Bringmann
Song: Fearless First by Kevin MacLeod
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:11
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the WordPress Briefing, the podcast where you can catch quick explanations of the ideas behind the WordPress open source project, some insight into the community that supports it, and get a small list of big things coming up in the next two weeks. I’m your host, Josepha Haden Chomphosy. Here we go!
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:39
Today we’re talking about one of my favorite parts of the project – WordPress events. The in-person component of the project is the dark matter that helps us build resilience and thrive as a group. A lot of what I’m going to share applies to every WordPress event, whether it’s a meetup or workshop, a contributor day, any other sort of format. But I’ll be focused on WordCamps. It’s been a while since we had any in-person WordCamps. Our last two were WordCamp Malaga in Spain and WordCamp Greenville in the US. But that hasn’t stopped anyone from gathering people together online. Which honestly makes a lot of sense for WordPress. Because there are many reasons we gather, the main three reasons are connecting, inspiring, and contributing. It’s true. It says so right in our documentation, “paper rustling.” All WordPress events should connect WordPress users, inspire people to do more with WordPress, and contribute to the WordPress project. As an aside, I’ll tell you that some groups also get to collaborate and educate in there, but connect, inspire, contribute. Those are the big three. And that’s what I’m talking about today. And if you subscribe to this podcast for the back office deep cuts, I’ll also have a few of those for you.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 01:57
Alright, so first up, connect. WordCamps are generally annual-ish gatherings organized by local WordPress meetup groups. They’re not meant to be big or fancy. The definition of the minimum viable product for WordCamp is 50 people gathered all day to talk about WordPress. They are intentionally affordable to allow people from all walks of life to attend, meet, share and learn. This is made possible by donations and sponsorships from local businesses and larger businesses in the WordPress ecosystem. And this helps us get people connected to those in their community that works with or are sustained by WordPress. That connection feeds into the overall health of the global WordPress project.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 02:45
Next up is inspire. WordCamps do not discriminate. They are open to any WordPress users, developers, designers, or other enthusiasts, regardless of their level of experience. And because of this, sessions generally span a variety of formats. So presentations or live demos to workshops or panels, any other format you can think of. But that also means that there are a variety of skill levels represented. There’s always content about how to use WordPress. That’s a given. But you can also count on content that inspires people to do more with their own dreams and aspirations. When I was still organizing WordCamps, my favorite thing was seeing people who came back year after year, putting into practice something that they learned the year before. It is that Choose Your Own Adventure aspect to WordCamps that lets people see the edge of their ideas and then expand that just a little bit further.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 03:42
And finally, contribute. WordCamps often have a contribution component to them. Sometimes it’s just a talk telling you how you can get more involved in the WordPress project. But sometimes, it’s a whole contributor day. And those range in size from single focus, like everyone, will show up and learn how to review a theme or a focus from every team that we have, like at the big flagship events where we gather hundreds of people into a room just to contribute to WordPress and all of the teams that go with it. Getting started with contributing can be daunting, but it is also essential to avoid something called the Tragedy of the Commons, an economic concept. So I’ll share a link to that in the show notes below. But the most important thing, the most important thing to remember, is that WordPress is open source. And we asked people to help us keep this great tool running by giving back a little bit of their time if they have gotten any benefit from the WordPress project or CMS over the course of their careers.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 04:40
So that’s it. The three big things you can get from a WordCamp. I know that I can’t wait to get back to them myself because while a lot of these things can still happen online and do, it’s really hard to replace the dark matter of in-person connections for open source projects. And since we’re talking dark matter anyway, let’s dig into it a little.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 05:01
At the start of the section, I mentioned that WordCamps are local, locally organized, and people are encouraged to attend locally. But I am part of a group that ends up traveling to a lot of WordCamps. If you don’t know about the unseen work of WordPress, this raises eyebrows. So here is some clarification around the back office work that some of these traveling WordCampers often do. When I listed these out, there were about 20 different tasks, 20 different jobs, which was, frankly, a bit overwhelming when I listed them that way. So I’ve grouped them into kind of two genres, each with a group of current versus future types of work. So my two big buckets, big picture stuff, and then community stewardship.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 05:50
The big picture stuff, our first big genre here, when you’re looking at current topics, current issues kind of information, when we’re working on big picture stuff, you get the clarification of the mission or vision of WordPress, the sharing of open source methods or processes that we use in the WordPress project, and also sometimes those goal-setting conversations that you have to have both because we have a bunch of teams and team reps, that have a lot of really great ideas about what can be done in their teams to help WordPress succeed. But then also, because when you are working, when you’re contributing to a single team in the project, it can sometimes be hard to know how your work relates to the overall goals and visions of WordPress. And so that’s part of the work that gets done that I do there.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 06:43
And when you’re looking at future topics, future issues, the second part of this genre, that stuff like starting conversations or discussions around what the future holds for WordPress, and that’s the project as well as the technology or hearing from people about big things coming up for them. And any content that can support it, anything that I can provide to support those big things. It’s also a good time for me and others to identify trends based on what I see in presentations or what I hear from people at social functions. Really, it’s just a huge opportunity for information gathering to make sure that I know what everyone else in the project is trying to do and if they understand what the project is trying to do.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 07:32
And then the second big genre of things that happen in that dark matter kind of work at WordCamps is what I call community stewardship—so taking care of the community itself for the project itself. And a lot of that work is actually incident response kind of work. So conflict resolution, mediation often happens at in-person events, but also uncovering the shared foundations, the shared understanding for upcoming changes. So a lot of really, in the weeds kind of change management work. And for me, it’s certainly doing my best as a cultural liaison when I do see that there has been some miscommunication or gathering context for the latest disagreement that people are having with me so that I can clarify anything that was misunderstood from what I said. And also a little bit of policy clarification, just explaining why we do things and the way we do them. So for community stewardship, that’s kind of the current stuff that we look at. And that I do when I’m traveling for WordCamps.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 08:36
And then for the future tasks that we do with community stewardship in the project, that stuff like training, and that’s training team reps, community deputies, or new contributors like it’s, it’s not really one type of training, necessarily. But then also, all of the checking in with our organizers, team reps, volunteers, sponsors, everyone like that, to make sure that what we have in the project and what’s happening in the project, the tools that we have, the experience that contributors have while they are working here, and WordPress is good, and is what they need. We’ve got a lot of tools to get things done in WordPress, and we can always make them better. And so checking in with people to kind of see how those processes are, how the tools are making sure that I have an idea of where our holes are and what needs to be patched, and how we can patch them in the long run. So that’s all of the future planning kind of work and topic stuff, just you know, making sure that WordPress has what it needs to survive long into the future and long after I’m doing anything with it, and long after you’re doing anything with it either.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 09:56
So, lots and lots of unseen work being done at our in-person events. But folks who keep a keen eye on the online global work of WordPress will probably recognize that a lot of that work is also done routinely on make.wordpress.org and within the making WordPress Slack. There’s just, I don’t know, there’s just something different about receiving information from a human being with a face rather than an avatar with a photo. So I guess at the end of the day, that means the dark matter that keeps open source together is really an issue of communication. And you’ll get no arguments for me there.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 10:44
That brings us now to our small list of big things. And there’s really just one big thing. And that’s WordPress 5.8. We are about two weeks away from this big release; the community has been working tirelessly on it. And it’s shaping up to be one of the most tested releases that we’ve had in a long time. Myself, I’m grateful to see so much activity before the release. Since 5.8 and 5.9 releases represent such monumental shifts in our software, I’m incredibly grateful to see so much activity prior to the release, especially in the beta period. We’ve been testing everything for it feels like six or eight months, and we’re really starting to see the positive benefits of that. And I think that we, the WordPress community, should be really proud of everything that we’re going to ship in 2021. Okay, so that was less of a small list of big things and really like one big thing with a generous garnish of encouragement, but you deserve it. So thank you for tuning in today for the WordPress briefing. I’m your host, Josepha Haden Chomphosy, and I’ll see you again in a couple of weeks.