WordCamp US 2016: The Official Recap

The WP Crowd
Published: December 6, 2016

The WordCamp to end all WordCamps took place in Philadelphia this past weekend as approximately 2,000 WordPressers convened at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. This was my season finale in a year replete with visits to WordCamps across Canada and the US. While I wasn’t speaking at this one, I was excited to meet up with fellow enthusiasts who I’d met at WordPress events throughout the year.

Overall and as expected, the event was a tremendous success.

I had a great time and have yet to hear anyone say otherwise. It’s wonderful to see people from so many walks of life come together for an event like this. If you’re involved in the WordPress community like I am, especially beyond just the monetization aspect of it, such as through traveling to WordCamps, creativity, inspiration, education, and socializing, then congrats, you’re part of The WordPress Lifestyle (#wplife)! WordCamps are a hub of these activities and I encourage you to keep it up!

Here’s a recap of what went down at this year’s event.

The Talks

The conference sessions consisted of three main tracks. There was a general lack of development-related talks this year, leading to several discussions about opening up a fourth track. Admittedly, it did seem a little odd that such a massive conference (by WordPress community standards) would limit itself. Nonetheless, here are the highlights from a few talks I attended.

matt-mullenweg

WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg giving the State of the Word address.

State of the Word by Matt Mullenweg

This was the third time I met Matt and saw him take the stage. Once again, he did not disappoint. In an almost two-hour address and question/answer session, he covered a lot. Here are just a few of the highlights.

  • WordCamp Central has become a public-benefit corporation. WordCamps will be easier to run with the new organizational structure.
  • The organization will promote more hackathons.
  • There were 1.48 billion plugin downloads due to internalization. Thanks to an increase in the translation of documentation, WordPress products are reaching more people around the world. The translation aspect is decoupled from a plugin itself so people around the world can work on it.
  • Discussion of design.blog.
  • WordPress used to get by via happenstance and grow organically but now there’s funding to promote it.
  • Some new features that are being released will only be available for HTTPS sites.
  • WordPress 4.7 contains REST API content endpoints.
joost-de-valk-yoast-seo

Joost de Valk talking about SEO.

WordPress & SEO in 2016 by Joost de Valk

Joost de Valk is the guy behind the Yoast SEO plugin. He discussed taking on a new mission of making the same search engine optimization (SEO) capabilities available for everyone. Whether you’re the little guy or Disney, he suggested that everyone should be using the same approach. Additional points included:

  • The plugin has made changes to the robots.txt file to get Google to see Ajax, as well as made improvements on title tags.
  • Only 72% of sites are mobile friendly which must be addressed.
  • Everyone needs a Google search console. For one, it helps ensure that Google sees a page as a user sees it.
  • Joost wants to improve XML site maps and thinks it should be in core.
  • In 2017, themes must be mobile friendly.
  • Getting caching through your host is suggested.
  • Rather than working hard at coming up with new ideas for blog posts, he suggested updating an old post (and changing the date).
  • AMP is gearing up to be awesome and he thinks that devs will be building purely in AMP in 2-3 years. He acknowledged that this is actually scary because Google runs AMP.

 

Nancy Thanki discussing Let's Encrypt.

Nancy Thanki discussing Let’s Encrypt.

Let’s Encrypt! Wait. Why? How? by Nancy Thanki

Launched about a year ago, Let’s Encrypt is a free SSL certificate that is supported by several major sponsors including Automattic. Among Happiness Engineer Nancy‘s key points were:

  • The SSL protocol keeps evolving to keep up with hackers.
  • You are not protected from all hacks just because you have an SSL certificate. You can still get hacked (e.g., phishing)
  • The NSA is tracking everything.
  • Discussion of theoretical ideas: Do you have a right to privacy for what you’re looking at online? Freedom of software idea. Freedom of privacy issue: Are you free to be private?.
  • Behind Let’s Encrypt is a great community like the one behind WordPress so people are willing to help you out in the same way.
  • One popular benefit is that it’s free so you don’t have to worry about financial issues.
  • Many hosts actually make it easy for shared hosting plans to have Let’s Encrypt.
  • Let’s Encrypt is easy to set up, free, and good for single server setups.
  • You must renew it every 90 days which is a significant downside.
  • There is no technical difference between Let’s Encrypt and paid options.
  • More expensive SSL certificates provide insurance and are better for sites with a lot of traffic.
  • SSL certificates are great for data that is in transit only.

 

topher-derosia

Topher DeRosia of HeroPress.

HeroPress: The People of WordPress by Topher Derosia

Topher is the individual behind HeroPress, a website dedicated to WordPress users on the fringe. I attended this talk because I wanted to learn more about this unique take on the community. I actually mention HeroPress in my talk on The WordPress Lifestyle as an inspirational aspect of the WordPress community.

Topher opened his talk with “technologically, it’s just a blog” but clearly there’s much more to this website. He curates unique stories from around the world. A couple of interesting stories that he presented include:

  • 95% of Samer Bechara’s town in Lebanon is comprised of his family. It’s a family that grew into a town. There are no other web devs in his city. He can’t go to WordCamps but uses slack to communicate.
  • Robert Cheleuka from Malawi (the poorest nation in the world) supports his family with WordPress. He didn’t speak to any other WordPresser for two years and worked independently. In his country, you can’t use credit cards because the bank doesn’t issue one. He also cannot use PayPal, meaning that even $10 for a plugin or paid tutorial is out of the question.

 

ines-van-essen

Ines van Essen discussing WordPress products becoming successful.

So You’ve Released a WordPress Product… Now What? By Ines Van Essen

This was a very short talk by Happiness Engineer Ines van Essen. Highlights included:

  • Consider tone of voice in your communications with customers.
  • Think about a formal versus informal way to talk to users (for example, users of your plugin).
  • Remain consistent with the same tone of voice across communications.
  • She recommended voiceandtone.com as a guide.
  • As your client base grows, consider communication platforms that she’s tried such as Slack, Helpscout, Kayako, and Zendesk.
  • Be ready to provide a lot customer support.
  • You will get angry and upset in communications with customers. Don’t get aggressive.

The Hall Track

My favorite part of any WordCamp (when I’m not speaking or on a panel) is the social aspect. During the day, it’s the “hall track” that is the most fun. The hall track consists of people roaming the areas outside of the main sessions. Whether meeting new people, gaining new insights, learning about WordPress community happenings, finding out what the vendors have to offer, or general schmoozing, I’m down.

Setka Editor's Silvia Christmann giving a product demo.

Setka Editor’s Silvia Christmann giving a product demo.

On the first day, it took me about four hours to get through chatting with friends and acquaintances before actually getting to my first session. I heard similar stories from others, proving once again that WordPress is all about community.

wordcamp-friends

There were tons of reunions in the “Hall Track.”

Lunch with Carrie Dils

I had the privilege of being invited to a lunch with ever-popular WordPresser Carrie Dils. During this networking lunch, we discussed WordPress business issues and shared ideas about running a web company.

Carrie Dils hosting a WordPress business lunch.

Carrie Dils hosting a WordPress business lunch.

Parties… A Lot of Them!

It’s no secret that a big part of WordCamp is to meet people and party with them! There was no shortage of parties at WordCamp US.

The WordPress community has been like a family to me for years. The more people I meet, no matter what city I’m in, I gain an extended family. A lot of people feel that way and it’s so great to see us all come together with three nights of reveling.

On Thursday night, we went from Ashton Cigar Bar to duelling piano and dance bar Howl at the Moon. We closed out the city with late night eats at Wawa.

Friday was reserved for the official WordCamp US sponsor after parties. I attended the Give / Media Temple party at Jamonera, followed by the WP Engine / Torque party at Brü Craft & Wurst, and ended the night at the Envato party at Tir na nOg. All were packed with WordPressers creating glorious memories.

The official after party took place on Saturday night at The Academy of Natural Sciences with a “night at the museum” theme. It had the requisite photobooth which was ideal because I’m a photobooth addict (LOL!)!

wordcamp-us-afterparty-photobooth

The requisite WordCamp After Party photobooth.

Matt Mullenweg was there to chat with everyone. I mean, seriously, does Zuckerberg party with his community at Facebook events the way Matt does? I doubt it. Gotta love that!

 

wordcamp-afterparty-museum

The official after party took place at The Academy of Natural Sciences museum.

There was a ton of karaoke at both this and the after-after-party. The after-after-party was basically an apartment party with everyone singing group karaoke and dancing. A truly unique experience. A final group of us closed out Philadelphia that night with a trip to Voyeur Nightclub then David’s Mai Lai Wah in Chinatown at 4:30am. Yeah, it was like that.

From Thursday’s pre-party to Saturday’s after-after-after-party it was all #greattimes!

Should you go next year?

YES!

See you at WordCamps in 2017!

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3 Comments on "WordCamp US 2016: The Official Recap"

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Bridget Willard
Guest

Thanks for coming to the Give / Media Temple party, Brian. And I enjoyed our photo booth!

Marjorie Ray
Guest

Loved Wordcamp US! We met briefly at Carrie Dils lunch get-together. Great write-up and I love your photos.

Maxime Jobin
Admin

Wow! Awesome recap Brian! I really enjoyed your post and it makes me want to be there next year.