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.

7 Comments

  1. I cannot endorse the above strongly enough.

    Reply

  2. Only one year ago I used to be highly sceptic about the role of WordCamp Central regarding WordCamp in other place than the US. Whether or not that scepticism might have been appropriate, and to whom and under what premises—things change, and people change, too.

    I’ve found it worth while to re-think, re-search (sic) and re-create my personal view on the WordPress Foundation and WordCamp Central, and I’d like to invite every sceptic to do so. Things start to make more sense when you start to actually talk to real people.

    Reply

    1. What I am curious about, what is your point of view now these days? Maybe you could share some more insight in that topic, no matter if here, on an English blog or on your German one… :)
      (Just was sooo hectic at WCEU and in Berlin this year to talk these topics deeply with you…)

      Thanks, Dave :)

      Reply

  3. some members felt it was okay to get aggressive

    I’m curious as to what that means.

    As for the reste of it, we have the feeling that WPFR projects the same thing to “outsiders” in France, and have been planning for many moons to change that. 2014 should be the year.

    Reply

  4. In the spirit of positivity, I’d like to say that I’ve enjoyed all WordCamps I’ve been to. My firm sponsored both WordCamp London and most WordCamp ‘UK’ events and things have always been well run and fun.

    From my own perspective I always took it that WPUK was about annually running one good, consistent and most importantly grass roots event for the UK WordPress community. I loved it. I loved the low cost venues, the occasionally non too slick approach, and the general idea of tight cost controls. As a sponsor they’ve always run cheap to support events.

    And WordCamp London, a more WordCamp Central-esque event, was ace too. Slicker, better organised, but also, it has to be said, much more expensive. But of course it would be – it was in London. So the cost to the company for three of the team to sponsor and attend the event was in the order of £3k, pretty evenly divided into sponsorship, accommodation, and the other smaller bits. £3k, in the overall scheme of things, wasn’t much, but it won’t have made us £3k to attend, either.

    WordCamp Lancaster, in contrast, cost us about £1k in total, helped a fair bit by being closer, but the on-campus thing really helped a lot.

    Personally I don’t see a problem with people leaving or joining WPUK – I doubt they’re a threat to your endeavours on projects like WordCamp London. If anything it’s the other way around – WordCamp London will quickly become the de-facto UK event and perhaps the WPUK team will create the de-facto grass roots roaming UK event by virtue of being much more affordable and ‘not London.’

    There’s space for both. I know there have been arguments. I get on well with people in both camps and take no sides other than to say… this isn’t a schism. It’s a family tiff. I think we all agree that we all still love each other and we should do our best to move on and forget whatever arguments cropped up.

    Can we have a group hug? Can we? Come on you. Yes, you two as well. Yes… get a little closer. There we go. Biiiig squeeze! Yeah. Are we good now? Great.

    I look forward to all future WordPress events in the UK – whether WordUps (generally grass roots or sector specific events that don’t really fit the WordCamp mould), WordCamp Siobhans, or WPUK events. I don’t care – you’re all ace and I’ll continue getting drunk with you all.

    Reply

  5. I shall come to take some pic while I am here. And I am going to help with WordCamp St. Petersburg, looks things are even worse than in London in that big city.

    Reply

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