Did you know that the UK Prime Minister’s official site was done with WordPress?
About a year ago, I moved some blogs to WordPress because I’d heard you could do more things at WP than where I was before.
I didn’t know the half of it. Actually, I didn’t know one ten thousandth of what you can do with WordPress. But after attending one of the WordCamp conferences organized by WP users last weekend, I’m getting a pretty good inkling. And I need to pay more attention to the discussions on this site, the FAQs, the Help topics, the plug-ins…oh, just everything.
The key thing I learned at WordCamp, that totally blew insular, inexperienced ol’ me away, is that WordPress is not “just a blog site,” and not “just blog software.” It has so many functions that there aren’t many things, or many types of website, that you can’t create with it.
WordCamp Toronto 2008was put together fairly quickly by Melissa Feeney and Mathieu Yuill, with the generous support of Centennial College, and sponsorship by Thornley Fallis, 76design, and FusedNetwork. Feeney and Yuill expressed gratification, and a little surprise, that they had garnered about 150 attendees, because everything happened so quickly they weren’t sure anyone would come.
But people did come. One person got up at 3:00 a.m. to drive in from Owen Sound, Ontario. Another came from Rochester, NY. Most brought laptops, and took advantage of the free wireless, so as speakers talked about websites built on WordPress, or sites that provided WP tools and plug-ins, listeners could immediately call up the sites and have a look. And they could twitter what was going on.
The topics were myriad, ranging from how to use features like the new Gallery, to taking advantage of plug-ins, to podcasting and video blogging, to running your blog like a professional. One of the highlights was a talk by Matt Mullenweg, the founding developer of WordPress, who gave an overview of where WP has been and where it’s going. I was impressed with how happy he is, to be involved in this fascinating and expanding project. You get the impression he enjoys this stuff so much that he’d keep doing it even if he wasn’t making a pile of money from it now.
Much of the benefit of the conference came in the “blank” times, between sessions or at lunch, when total strangers would chat about what they’d just heard, then find themselves making plans or deciding to exchange services. Even I, inexperienced as I am, talked to the gentleman from Rochester (here’s his site) about how we might do some work together.
And that’s the secret to the success of WordPress. It’s open source, meaning that although the bulk of it is designed by official WordPress developers, you can download it for free and use it on your site – and do anything you want to it. That’s where the plug-ins come in, in fact. Most are designed by non-WP people, but can be plugged in to the software to add features. It’s all cooperative, and everyone benefits.
Want a search function? Get a plug-in. Want to manage contacts? Track purchases and shipping? Set up a Help Desk? Plug-ins! As someone remarked, everyone using WordPress on their site is effectively using a different version, because plug-ins customize it to each user.
This conference didn’t always succeed at being everything to everybody: when a session targeted more general users like me, the code-oriented people were not satisfied, and when code came to the fore, generalists like me felt rather lost. One speaker, Brendan Sera-Shriar of Seneca College, hopes to address that when he takes the reins for WordCamp Toronto 2009: he’s thinking of separate programming “tracks,” one being code-heavy while another suits more general users, each group crossing over when it’s useful.
Because that’s what WordPress is about: a community working together to create a system that everyone can tweak and be happy with. I’ve been so inspired by this conference that I’m already making a few small changes (see the PayPal and AddThis buttons in my margin now?), and plan to do more. And I already can’t wait for the next Toronto WordCamp!
My short writeup of the conference at NowPublic.com is here.
For those who are interested, the official WordCamp Toronto 2008 site is here. The entire set of presentations was taped, and links will be posted on that site when the videos are available.
In the meantime, a Wiki has been created, with many links to video material.
David Peralty, the professional blogger and speaker whose presentation (“Running Your Blog Like a Pro”) had the most impact on me, presents his own notes for download, along with the images he used, at his site, BrandingDavid.com.
Rannie Turingan, the photographer who spoke on how to use the WordPress Gallery, can be found at PhotoJunkie.
Jamie Oastler is at Idealien Studios.
Charles Hodgson, who spoke on podcasting, created the Podictionary, delivering the history of one word a day to your ears.
Mark McKay, the video blogger who will now be seen on MTV Canada as well as YouTube, can be found at Happy Hour With Mark McKay.
Brendan Sera-Shriar, the applications expert who spoke about plug-ins, is at BackSpaceStudios.
The Flickr Group is WordCamp Toronto.
And my own photos of the event are also on Flickr: WordCamp Toronto 2008.