A few weeks ago, the WordPress Foundation hosted their annual conference WordCamp San Francisco. Attending conferences is a great way to get practical tips, to keep up with emerging trends, and to meet other people doing amazing things. WordCamp San Francisco delivered in all three of these areas for me. It’s natural to think that the most valuable part of a conference is the official programming, but I have found after attending many conferences that the community and networking elements of conferences are far more lasting. I encourage you to attend conferences and to skip a few sessions to talk to people in the halls. A wide variety of people were at WordCamp. One woman launched a Facebook page that has grown into such a large community that she’s looking to move it to a site powered by WordPress. Another man runs a handful of sites including a travel blog; we talked about various techniques for using custom post types and custom taxonomies. I met a new WordPress core contributor (his first commit was in the latest release), and he shared with me his current plans for improving WordPress’s XML-RPC functionality. The official programming followed a new format for the talks this year. Each speaker had fifteen minutes to present, followed by five minutes for questions. Each session had two speakers present back to back, for a total of forty minutes, followed by a twenty minute break before the next session. The talks were definitely shorter than most conferences, but the brevity meant that I could see more talks than usual. I have found that conference programming is best at introducing new concepts or techniques that you can research more thoroughly afterwards, and this format suited that goal well. I had the privilege of giving a talk myself; as a presenter, I enjoyed the time constraint more than I anticipated. I presented on relating custom post types to each other, and I normally would have walked step-by-step through code. Instead, I discussed my overall approach and made the code available online for people to examine later. (Watch my talk.) I definitely heard some complaints about the format (that talks weren’t thorough enough and that speakers talked too fast), but I thought it worked really well. I expect to see more WordCamps adopt a similar format in the future. From all the talks, I took away two overall themes:
Working on the web keeps getting more complex and more exciting. Websites are getting more complicated and harder to build. Years ago, when I first started, one person could know everything there was to know about web development. Mobile phones and retina displays are giving website owners more platforms they need to support. Sara Cannon described the situation well and gave some good tools and techniques for handling that. Drew talked about the new default theme in WordPress, which addresses some of these challenges. The four talks on performance each showed different ways to make your sites perform faster: some like page caching could be done on any shared host, while others require sophisticated server setups and a team of system administrators. The WordPress community has built some great tools that make these complex techniques accessible to even the most novice website owners; check out WP Super Cache and WP Retina 2x as two great examples.
WordPress continues to get better and better. Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, shared some statistics in his keynote that show how the WordPress ecosystem continues to grow. The core team is working on some great improvements for the 3.5 release: I’m most excited about the overhaul of the Media features. (Matt showed some wireframes of the overhaul, which look good.) The new default WordPress theme, Twenty Twelve, looks lovely and showcases many modern techniques like CSS3 for buttons and gradients, responsive design, and retina display support. An increasing number of people are making their living building on WordPress, and people are doing some really exciting things with the platform. Matt has predicted for some time that the next stage of WordPress’s evolution will involve people building more interactive applications on top of WordPress as a platform, and he showcased a few sites doing just that: the University of Washington Campus Map is an impressive example.
All the talks were recorded, and some of them have been posted online at WordPress.tv: view videos. During the event, members of the community took very good notes in a Google Doc that @Krogsgard created: view notes.