By the time WordPress 3.0 came out in 2010, 107 WordCamps had been held across the world, in countries as diverse as Thailand, Germany, the Philippines, Canada, Israel, and Chile. WordCamps create spaces in which WordPress users, developers, and designers converge to listen to presentations and talk about WordPress. Participants meet project leaders, socialize, and get to know one another. WordCamps attract new contributors, and developers meet with users to learn about problems they experience with WordPress.
WordCamps have always been informal, and through the early events, the organization was just as informal as the events themselves. In the beginning, interested community members simply decided to organize a WordCamp. They contacted Automattic for stickers, buttons, and other swag. A blog for WordCamp organizers was set up in 2009, so that organizers could communicate with one another.
In May 2010, Jen took over as central WordCamp liaison, instituting changes in WordCamp organization. Jen said that “WordCamps are meant to promote the philosophies behind WordPress itself.” Without any real structure and oversight, things happened contrary to WordPress’ core philosophies. For example, WordCamps accepted sponsorship from people and companies in violation of WordPress’ license — the GPL. While non-GPL compliant developers and companies are welcome to attend WordCamps, they’re not able to organize, sponsor, speak, or volunteer. This is because WordCamps are official platforms of the WordPress project, and the project doesn’t want to endorse or publicize products contrary to its own ethos.
Without central oversight, issues arose at WordCamps. Many WordCamps ran without budgets. Some organizers took money for themselves. One WordCamp accepted sponsorship money, the WordCamp folded, and the sponsorship never returned. Another opened for registration just so that the organizer could compile a mailing list to which they could send marketing emails.
WordCamps needed better oversight, including clear guidelines. From May 2010 onward, that started to happen. Jen published the first set of WordCamp guidelines.
WordCamps should be:
- about WordPress.
- open to all, easy to access, and shared with the community.
- locally organized and focused.
- open to lots of volunteers.
- stand-alone events.
- promote WordPress’ philosophy.
- not be about making money.
In some quarters, the changes went down badly. Others were more relaxed about the changes, but they, too, asked why people who promoted non-GPL products would be banned from speaking. While many WordPress theme shops were 100% GPL, those that weren’t 100% GPL were indignant that they would have to be GPL-compliant just to speak at a WordCamp.
There were frustrations about the way in which the guidelines emerged. They were published without consultation with WordCamp organizers and appeared to be an edict from above. Brad Williams (williamsba1) says: “I think it probably would have been more beneficial across the board for some more open conversations between the Foundation and the organizers to make sure, one, that these guidelines make sense and that we’re all on the same page and if there was any concerns get those out in the open.” As with previous decisions, the guidelines weren’t part of a conversation between the Foundation and the WordCamp community. When they appeared, they seemed unilateral and the rationale was poorly communicated.
Some guidelines responded to community problems. It is important that WordCamps focus on the software. At least 80% of the content should be about WordPress. Presentations about social media, SEO, and broader technology issues should not be the event’s main focus. Other guidelines were more about ensuring that events about WordPress mirror the project’s organization and ethos. Like the project, WordCamps ought to be volunteer-driven, from the organizers, to the speakers, to the volunteers who help out during the day. The WordPress project was built by volunteers and WordPress events run on volunteer power. WordCamps should also be accessible to anyone who chooses to attend. This means keeping ticket prices intentionally low.
The guidelines have evolved over the years, with community feedback. While not everyone is happy with them, WordCamps continue to flourish around the world.