Going to camp

I don’t like to leave the farm, especially on the weekends when I have a big list of things I want to do and time to just enjoy the property. However, when I heard that WordCamp was coming to my hometown for the first time, I decided that was too much of an opportunity to pass up. After all, I said that one of my blog goals for year two was to maybe participate in a conference or professional development event.

Word Camp name badge

According to the official web site, “WordCamp is a conference that focuses on everything WordPress.” The first WordCamp was organized in 2006 in San Francisco by Matt Mullenweg. Since then, there have been more than 200 WordCamps held in more than 100 cities around the world.

My first WordCamp lived up to the official description of “informal, community-organized events” for everyone from casual users, bloggers, programmers to core developers.

I learned something in every single session–even the more technical ones. Here are just some of my takeaways.

On overall blog philosophy:

  • Don’t be afraid to be human.
  • Write first, code second. Blogging is not about the platform or coding. It’s about conversation and thought.
  • It doesn’t have to be pretty. It needs to function

On blog content:

  • Consistency–of tone, topics, visuals
  • Frequency–you don’t have to post everyday, but have a regular schedule that works for you
  • Categories–make it clear who you are, what you write about and help people to navigate your blog. One presenter phrased it as “Categories are great for external search.  Tags are great for your internal site search.”
  • Personality–be yourself

Attendees at WordCamp

On mobile (a session that was a little bit over my head):

  • “Developers and designers broke the web” (I love this quote). Simple text sites became pixel perfect print-esque designs, and these pages don’t work on the small screens of mobile devices.
  • On mobile, the screen is smaller, and the pointer (finger) is bigger
  • Responsive design adjusts how your web site displays based on what devices users are on (ReSS is the next generation to responsive design)

On customized–or semi-custom–designs (something that I’ve been considering ever since I started blogging):

  • You can build a child theme that’s based on an established WordPress theme (the parent theme). You’ll still get all of the updates and features of the parent theme, but the design and some of the functions will be tweaked to your preferences. I didn’t know this was even possible. I thought a custom design was built completely from scratch. I’m quite excited by the possibilities of child themes.
  • When selecting a parent theme, choose one that has the functionality that you like. Look for ones with lots of widgets and flexibility. You can change the design easily through CSS.

On hosting:

  • From any hosting service, expect 99% uptime, 24/7 support, system health dashboard, off peak hours maintenance windows
  • Do backups as frequently as you post new content. Back up source code, plugins and themes as well as content.

Here’s a picture of the final panel featuring most of the speakers: (from left to right) Al Davis, Richard Rudy, Laurie Rauch, Joey Coleman, Kristin Archer, Todd Dow and Kevin Browne (missing Seema Narula). They were all great. If you want more details about what anyone said, Todd Dow posted a good summary.

Panelists at WordCamp

I have to give kudos to all of the organizers and volunteers too. They put a lot of effort into making the day as useful as it was.

Since I started blogging more than a year ago, I’ve been very impressed by how supportive other bloggers are to each other. WordCamp was another illustration of that community. The first presenter of the day said, “If you know something teach it,” and that’s exactly how everyone–presenters, organizers, attendees–approached the day.

The enthusiasm and generous advice from other people at WordCamp may have inspired me to try and learn CSS. My programming knowledge is limited to rudimentary HTML that is more than a dozen years old. I’m hoping that knowledge might give me a bit of an advantage, but I’m also still a bit daunted by how much technology has changed since I did any programming.

I’m also going to try and inject a little more personality into my posts. Sometimes I feel like my posts are a bit shallow. Renovations and gardening and farming are still going to be the bulk of my posts, but I’m going to try to share a bit more about who I am.

For anyone considering attending a WordCamp or another networking or blogging event, I say go for it. I was a little uncertain about whether I’d fit in with the other attendees.

I mean, I’m not a professional blogger. I don’t have any advertisers or sponsors. I have less than 100 readers a day.

I was surprised to find out that I actually had more experience than a lot of the attendees. There were absolutely some professional programmers in the room, but there were lots of new or wannabe bloggers there too.

One of the messages that a few of the presenters had for the audience was if you’re thinking about blogging, just do it. Give it a try and see if you like it. Start. The lesson also applies to conferences. If you have an opportunity to attend WordCamp or another event, don’t be intimidated. Do it.

How about you? What advice do you have for bloggers? Have you ever been to WordCamp or another conference?