Degrees of Openness: Communication in the WordPress Community

Communication issues have affected WordPress throughout its history; it’s something that we’re constantly trying to figure out. We have to adapt to changes in development strategy, changes in technology, or changes in project members. Over the past few weeks I’ve been focusing my research for the WordPress book on designing in an open source environment. Redesigning the UI has always been a challenge, particularly managing the relationship between those carrying out the design and the rest of the community. Often the break points come around communication and it has been interesting to track the evolution of how design has been carried out in the project. Helen’s post yesterday made me reflect on these things in relation to the project today. Continue reading →

Why I Resigned from WPUK

This afternoon I resigned from WPUK. This has been on the cards for a while but events have come to a head and I felt that I could no longer support the organisation. Much of WPUK is behind closed doors and it seems pointless to post my reasons for leaving the group on the internal blog. Instead, it makes sense to write about it here, for the rest of the UK WordPress community. But first..

WordCamp London

Last month was WordCamp London, the very first WordCamp in the UK’s capital, the biggest WordCamp in the UK, the second biggest in Europe. I’ve met a lot of the organisers of big WordCamps – Miami, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo – all say “London doesn’t have a WordCamp yet?” Some of us got together earlier this year and decided to do something about it.

23rd of November was the very first WordCamp London, and we did a pretty good job (if I do say so myself ). As with many WordCamps across the world, we did a survey of attendees, and there were some interesting results:

  • 51% of attendees had never attended a WordCamp before
  • 71% of those who hadn’t been to a WordCamp before were from the UK

This is despite the fact that there is a regular WordCamp in the UK.

WordCamp London has demonstrated that there is a desire for a regular WordCamp in the capital. Not only did it sell out, but it sold out weeks before the actual event and our email account was bombarded with requests for tickets. We ended up with 306 attendees – our biggest problem? Not enough space.

There are things that can be improved on next year, but overall the feedback for WordCamp London was overwhelmingly positive and we’re excited to start planning again. I’m also pleased that WordCamp Brighton is in the early planning stages and Kimb is talking about organising WordCamp Sheffield.

More and more local communities want to set up their own WordCamps, and that’s a good thing. The WordPress community in the UK is one of the biggest communities in the world – it can easily sustain multiple WordCamps every year.

What about WPUK?

WPUK is a group of people that organises an annual WordCamp in different parts of the country every year. It has a bidding process and a vote is held to decide where the conference will take place. The WordCamp is then largely organised by the “core group”. WordCamp Lancaster was the fifth WordCamp held in this way.

With the advent of WordCamp London, and interest from a number of local groups in organising their own WordCamp, some of us feel that WPUK is no longer necessary. It served the purpose of organising an annual WordCamp in the UK, but now individual communities are mature enough to organise their own events and so it isn’t needed anymore.

An alternative proposal was that WPUK should no longer organise its own event, but should mentor and support local communities who want to organise their own WordCamp by providing expertise and financial services (WPUK has a bank account that can be used to make payments).

I felt that either of these two alternatives would be in the best interest of the UK WordPress community. This is why:

  • the formal bidding process, mailing list, website etc, of WPUK gives it the appearance of being the representative of WordPress in the UK. WPUK is not.
  • local communities are put off from organising their own WordCamp because there is already an official UK one.
  • The name WPUK gives the impression that the event that they organise is the official WordCamp for the UK – an impression that is false.
  • the roving WordCamp model doesn’t work except for the few people who are willing to travel from place to place every year. In what sense is it good that the local community in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Portsmouth, etc get one WordCamp, an anomaly, and then it disappears? A small group of people may like the opportunity to visit a new place every year but a disservice is done to the local community.
  • WPUK is made up of a self-selecting group of people who make decisions about the UK’s only WordCamp (until recently). They aren’t elected by the community in the UK, there’s no nomination process and no elections. There’s no opportunity for anyone else to get involved unless someone else who’s already a member asks them to join and the group approves.

Also, my experience of working with WPUK has not been a good one. There have been times when members of the group have been outright antagonistic, towards me, towards others, and towards WordCamp Central. There is a conspiratorial attitude about WordCamp Central and the WordPress Foundation. I understand that this is related to the index event that happened in Manchester a few years back but it’s immensely frustrating to be part of an organisation that can’t get beyond this.

On top of this, there was no support from WPUK around WC London. We didn’t ask for any, but (other than those directly involved with organising or speaking) no one showed any interest in the event at all. We weren’t asked how it went, or if we would like any help, nothing at all. For an event that purports to be supportive of UK WordPress activities, it seemed remiss.

Unfortunately WPUK has descended into cronyism. I joined the organisation with huge enthusiasm, but that enthusiasm was quickly sucked out of me. Despite the fact that these are people who are supposed to care about WordPress, they show no interest in any WordPress-activity that is outside of their own group. This can only be damaging to the WordPress community in the UK.

The recent vote

Earlier this week, Tony asked us to vote on the following:

Do you agree that WPUK continues as a naturally evolving organisation, and that WPUK instigates as soon as possible the organisation of the follow up to WordCamp Lancaster UK 2013, to take place on 12-13 July 2014 at a venue to be decided?

6 supported the proposal, 4 were against. There were four people who I knew would support it, four clearly against, and two who could have gone either way. There’s clearly been a lot of back channelling going on as there has been no discussion on the internal P2 for months. In light of the results of the vote, myself and some others have decided to resign.

This comes off the back of a fairly acrimonious discussion that happened a few weeks before WordCamp Lancaster. We discussed the future of WPUK and some members felt it was okay to get aggressive. At that point I realised that arguing wasn’t going to get me anywhere and that the best thing for me to do was to put my energy into organising WordCamp London, to do something positive instead of engaging in arguments that weren’t going anywhere.

What now?

WPUK will continue to organise its annual WordCamp.

I have resigned from the organisation and am already planning WordCamp London 2014.

If you want to organise a WordCamp in the UK I’m available to provide any mentorship, advice, cheerleading, or support that you want. I can help you out with WordCamp Central, though I can’t stress enough how supportive and helpful Andrea Middleton is. My dealings with WordCamp Central have been much easier than any with WPUK.

Organising a WordCamp is a challenging, exciting, exhilarating, demanding, difficult, and ultimately rewarding thing to do. If you want to organise one just do it – no bidding process, no wikis, just the WordCamp that you want, your own way. I will do everything I can to help make that happen.


Which Siobhan is it anyway?

I was messaged yesterday on Skype by a friend who pointed to an exchange in the #wordpress irc chat room. The exchange went as follows:

Person 1: Need to ping siobahn !
Person 2: The hot chick or the other one
Person 1: The WP organizer for WCLND

Feel free to go back and read that again if you need to. In case you’re missing the problem – someone was looking for me, and the means for identifying me was not any of the things that I do, but my looks. And not just my looks (i.e. the red-headed one or the blonde one) but based on someone else’s opinion of whether they think I’m attractive or not. Continue reading →

WordCamp Europe Demographics and Selection Process

Some people have expressed interest in the overall demographics of the speakers at WordCamp Europe. Since all of the speakers are now confirmed it’s a great opportunity to share some of them with you. I’ve been coordinating the speaker submissions and selection process. I’ve also had a number of questions about the process which I’m happy to detail. Continue reading →

Found Photographs and a Homage to Chris Marker

Six years ago I bought D a box of photographs on ebay. It wasn’t a very good time in our life – lots of things were turning to shit and stayed that way for a long time. However, D got really into found photographs and so I bought him a job lot on ebay to cheer him up. I remember it arriving – a blue archive folder with the word “Clinical” written on the side. We tipped the hundreds of photographs onto the floor of our living room in Coventry and started to go through them.

Found photographs come imbued with a sense of nostalgia and loss, you can’t help but wonder who the people in the photographs are, feel the loss of a life lived and been and gone. As we went through them we realised that many of the photographs were from the same family, in Germany, during the Nazi period, the war, and afterwards. The same man appeared again and again – he is so distinctive, blonde hair with black-rimmed glasses and an ironic smile. We found so many photos of him that a story started to emerge from the photographs. There was a story to be told, even if it wasn’t the story of these actual people.

D decided to make a film with the photographs. It was to be a photo-roman, like Chris Marker’s La Jetéebut unlike Marker’s film the photographs aren’t staged. He worked on the final project in collaboration with Ben Rowley. I worked on the script (will save that post for another time). Here it is (best watched in a dark room on a big screen with the volume up loud:

Open Help: Janet Swisher: Docs Sprints, Book Sprints, & Liberathons

Janet Swisher works on developer documentation at Mozilla.

What is a docs sprint?

A short period of time that people come together to work on documentation. Book sprints are focused on creating a book. Doc sprints are a natural extension of code sprints, hackathons, hack fests. Book sprints were originally for accelerating the book writing process, but have been used successfully for entire books. See FLOSS manuals. Continue reading →