Yes, I'm breaking all the rules by posting a non-question. Since we don't yet have a separate WPSE blog, this seemed the most appropriate venue for a post-WordCamp discussion.
This past weekend, I left the frozen, drizzling weather that is my hometown of Portland and made the trek to the sunny desert that is Phoenix. WordCamp Phoenix is a 3-day event, featuring classes on Friday, 3 separate tracks of presentations on Saturday, WordCamp for Kids Sunday morning, and a dev/hack session with presentations and unconferences Sunday afternoon.
It was a busy weekend.
I was only able to justify taking one day off work, so I spent the majority of Friday bouncing around airports. First PDX, then Denver, and finally Phoenix. All the while, I was able to stay in-touch with WordCamp via Twitter and the live Google Doc notes shared by a few attendees.
I was also able to use Friday to collaborate with some other developers and release an urgent security update for the popular Absolute Privacy plugin. Being able to submit a patch from the airport - then follow up with security exports who reported the patch in person was invaluable.
Friday evening saw me touching down in Phoenix, meeting up with the developer who offered to put me up for the weekend, and catching a quick bite before turning in after a long day of travel.
I focused my morning on the "Think Tank" track - several sessions aimed at more advanced techniques and topics dealing with WordPress.
The first session was presented by Jake Goldman, owner of 10up (a fantastic company that focuses on WordPress VIP clients). He covered various techniques and concepts related to HTML5, CSS3, and other emerging web technologies. My key takeaway - the web is evolving quickly and, though many of us are struggling to keep up, WordPress is well-poised to keep us ahead of the curve.
Session number 2 was presented by Erick Hitter and WP Engine's Chris Lauzon. They tried to crunch two hour-long sessions into one, 45-minute period. So, while everything they had to say about scaling WordPress was important, it as a bit like drinking from a firehose. They discussed performance issues related to custom taxonomies, server technology that can be optimized (use Nginix over Apache for dynamic content), and hosting options for people who don't want to do it alone.
Andrew Norcross took the stage next, covering the massive flexibility built in to WordPress. Custom post types, custom taxonomies, custom meta fields. A lot of these tools can be used to build truly mold-breaking WordPress websites. He nailed the point home with a handful of examples from his own portfolio - the mind blowing example was the fact that his presentation was a WordPress site ... not Keynote or PowerPoint.
I managed to meet a handful of people over lunch. A few people I know exclusively from Twitter, a few people who knew me exclusively from this site (and found me thanks to the WPSE stickers I was giving out), and a few new friends as well. After eating, I took some time to help a few newcomers to WordPress navigate the landscape.
It was sobering to be reminded of how techy our descriptions of WordPress can be. We get comfortable with the terms, acronyms, and geeky technology and forget that many end users don't understand what we're talking about.
I already have Office 365. Can I just add WordPress inside that?
Remember, 90% of our users never need to learn the difference between Apache and Cherokee, or which Linux distro they're on, or which version of PHP is installed ... this was a huge wake-up call for me.
My first after-lunch session was lead by Sean Herron from NASA. He explained in a nutshell how government organizations and non-profits can benefit from open source and working with the community. He drove home the fact that organizations should also contribute back to the projects that power their business in a way that few insiders could have articulated. It might be that he had a unique hold of our attention:
How many of you also write software that launches missiles? Oh, just me?
Next was Ryan Imel from WP Candy talking about WordPress, blogging, and Journalism. There were a lot of journalists in the room, so we had several deep discussion on how to appropriately use technology to reach an audience. The key point: "Disclose conflicts of interest. You want to have readers that trust you." I tweeted this sentiment and had several follow questions (unfortunately all came through too late to direct to Ryan during his presentation).
I took the next block of sessions off. The day was a bit overwhelming, and I needed a break. So instead, I got into a low-level development chat with the representatives from WP Engine. We talked about scaling, cloud hosting, PHP improvements, WordPress VIP customers, WPMU.org, data security.
You name it, we probably grilled it during that hour. We were lucky enough to grab the attention of Robert Rowley, who was giving the WP Security 101 presentation shortly afterwards. Even though I couldn't attend his presentation, we managed to cover a lot of his content regardless.
The final presentation I attended was on e-commerce, a hot topic in the WP community. We covered PayPal, real merchant accounts, and the exhaustive security measures you need to establish on a site if you ever touch customers' account information. The entire conversation has me more excited than ever about some of my side projects - integrating with Stripe in particular. Unfortunately, the presenter wasn't familiar with Stripe ... so I wasn't able to follow up with the few questions I did have.
Saturday night also featured a stellar after party at Chandler City Hall. There was dancing, casino games, an open bar. And a great networking opportunity. I spoke with several designers during the party, then broke off and went to dinner with a handful of other developers (so we could get away from the deafening dance music). We talked shop for a few hours (yes, hours) then parted ways to sleep before Sunday's sessions.
As I don't have children of my own, I elected to go for a run Sunday morning instead of WordCamp for Kids. Another developer joined me, so we hashed out some lingering details from Saturday. How to integrate WP's XML-RPC system with a specific external API. How to set up callbacks for Stripe so it could be used as a payment gateway. What frameworks were available for building a mobile-first responsive theme.
Sunday afternoon started the dev/hack day. The first presentation was given my Joshua Strebel of Page.ly. He talked about his own entrepreneurship endeavors and reiterated the importance of gaining traction from your first customer. Since you are your first customer, you should also be your first user. If you don't use your own product, why would anyone else?
My session was up next. I covered different ways WordPress can be made to interact with external systems. Twitter was my first example - I showed how WP can pull in remote content using the
WP_Http API and slurped down the Twitter feed for
#wcphx. Then, I showed how to add a custom XML-RPC method to WP and used my phone to change the search query my Twitter sample was using. Several people seemed to like it, and I know of at least 3 who will be using these methods in the very near future. If you want to follow up, I've posted both my slides and a ZIP of the code from my demo online.
I ducked through a handful of unconference sessions afterwards. The most exciting one was hashing out the different tools available to developers. I might have been the only PC in the room (outnumbered by 9 Macs), but there was still a lot of great information. A list of the tools that came out of this chat is posted online, too.
Sadly, that was all I had time for. I caught my late afternoon flight and made it back to Portland Sunday night. Luckily, yesterday was our monthly WordPress Portland Users Group meeting, so I was able to catch up with some local developers as well. I passed around a copy of the new WP Candy Quarterly that Ryan Imel gave me on Sunday. I also talked up many of the other sessions from WordCamp, and introduced a few new members to the WordPress Answers site.
Overall, it was a long weekend. I met several people I know online and several people I'd never heard of. I learned some new development techniques, and managed to teach a few of my own.
I passed out a huge stack of WPSE stickers and a handful of t-shirts. Everyone loved them, and was a little upset when I ran out.
It was a great weekend, and a stellar WordCamp. One of the best I've been to, actually. I look forward to going to many more.
For anyone who wants to watch the video of my presentation, I've posted it here: http://eam.me/b-