Whirlwind WordCamp Weekend Wrapup

Warning: Long Post Ahead!

As I'm sitting on the plane heading back home, it's hard to sort out all the great parts of the past 3 days. I started out on Friday by flying to Phoenix for WordCamp and then hopping right back on a plane to head to New York to be part of another WordCamp. These marked my 8th and 9th WordCamp events this year, and as far as I can tell, these are the last ones of 2009 for me.

WordCamp Phoenix blew me away. I had no idea how big the WordPress community was in Arizona. When I arrived at the venue, I was amazed to walk in to a room and see upwards of 500 people sitting and listening intently. Come to find out that WordCamp was only one of the tech events going on that week. WordCamp was being followed by a 2-day Podcasting event that I'm really bummed I wasn't able to attend. I'm hoping that next year my schedule works out a little better and I'm able to stay longer and connect with many more of the great people in what looks like a thriving tech scene.

I completely rewrote my plugin that I used for my presentation during the week leading up to Pheonix. I wasn't able to do a real run-through ahead of time to see how long it would take me to present it, so I was a bit nervous I wasn't going to be able to cram it all in to a 30 minute session. Turns out, it wasn't a problem. I finished with time to spare. I wasn't sure how well the presentation went over with the crowd, but after leaving the stage I checked twitter to find a very large number of positive messages. That made my day!

Thanks to some nice timing, I hitched a ride with Matt Mullenweg to the airport. We chatted about a ton of WordPress ideas. Not specifically 2.9 or 3.0 features, just thoughts on where things -might- go. That's probably a post of it's own.

Big thanks to Chuck Reynolds for inviting me to speak at your event. Also to GoDaddy for helping to put on one hell of an event!

All save you the bulk of the details, but let me just say that my trip from Phoenix to New York was a bit of an adventure thanks to a 5 hour delay in Charlotte, NC that caused me to arrive in NY at 5am, my hotel at about 5:45 and falling to sleep at about 6:30. None of this would have been a huge deal except I was scheduled to do my presentation at 9am. I tried to reschedule by swapping spots with a presenter going on later in the day, but since I was first up, we weren't able to make that happen. So Shayne woke me up by saying, “You have to go on at 9 or else your session is going to be canceled.”, “No problem. What time is it?” I asked. “8:30” -sigh-

I made it on time and got everything set up and gave my presentation to a crowd of about 50 people. I must have been talking a lot faster than I did in Phoenix, because I finished up in about 18 minutes. If somebody recorded it I fear it's going to sound like the video is sped up… But finishing early turned out to be a good thing. The crowd had a bunch of great questions and we were able to walk through a few examples. While I hope I don't have to do it again, presenting on only a couple hours of sleep was pretty entertaining.

After leaving my session I ran in to Jane Wells. She invited me to be part of a canonical plugin talk later in the day and she also asked if I had any plugins I wanted to demo during another session. I had to laugh at the timing because 3 days earlier we released a new plugin called LOLPress. On top of those two extra sessions, I was also taking part in the Genius Bar. This was going to be a busy day! We headed to the store and grabbed an energy drink. I started feeling human a short time later.

Since my partner Shayne was scheduled for a different time in the Genius Bar, I headed up there with him to check it out. The place was hopping! I was thrilled to see so many people taking advantage of being able to sit face-to-face with somebody who could answer their questions about their blog. Some people just wanted to get an outside opinion while others wanted help making changes to themes, upgrades, backups, etc, etc. I also loved that so many people volunteered to help out. Even when it wasn't their scheduled time to be helping out, it didn't matter. People needed help and the geniuses stepped up to provide it.

As I was heading to the plugin demo presentation, honestly, I wasn't expecting much. I was thinking, “Who wants to see somebody demo a plugin?” Turns out a TON of people wanted to see it. The room was PACKED. Every seat taken, people standing in the back, people sitting in the aisles and people laying on the floor in front of the projector. The session was only 45 minutes and I heard from several of the attendees that they would have loved for that session to go on for 2 hours. During this session I met Raphael from After the Deadline for the first time. Not only has he written an absolutely awesome plugin, he may very well be the nicest guy I've ever met. His passion for what he does is unmistakable.

The last session I was in for the day was the talk about canonical plugins. If you aren't familiar with the term, don't worry. Neither was I, by name. The idea is this, with so many plugins in the repository and so many that cover nearly the same functionality, how do you choose which to use. What if there was a process where one of the “best in breed” plugins became the suggested plugin in that genre? This plugin would have been reviewed by the WordPress braniacs to ensure it's security, and rather than being developed by only one or two people, it would be opened up to development by the community in much the same way that WordPress itself is. This idea is still in the fledgling stage, but I couldn't agree more with the idea behind it. While it wouldn't take away a users ability to sort through the dozens of plugins available, it would at least be a place for somebody to start where they could be comfortable that the plugin will play nice with their WordPress install. I'm going to write a separate post with several of the concepts thrown.

After we finished up at WordCamp we headed back to the hotel and freshened up before heading to the after party. We quickly had to escape the second floor bar and head to the roof where the open-air bar wasn't as crowded and hot. We were able to kick back and chat which would have been impossible inside due to the noise and heat. But outside was awesome. I was fairly certain I wasn't going to be out late thanks to the lack of sleep, and I was right. After a short time my body said it was time to crash. We made it back to the hotel and I was sound asleep by 9.

Jane didn't have a lot of sympathy for my lack of sleep since she had actually had ZERO sleep as she put together the final preparations for the day. Her hard work really showed! 8 tracks and 50+ sessions is a massive undertaking. The event went off without a hitch (nothing visible that I could tell, anyway.) Of all the WordCamp events I've been to this year I'd have to say that I personally got more information out of this event than any other I've been to. That probably has to do with being involved in 4 sessions, but still, it was a great event and I hope to make it back next year.

Oh wait, that was only day 1.

Shayne and Abbie were kind enough to let me crash in their hotel room. Since their flight was at 9, that meant an early morning wake up and exit from the hotel. The weather was cool but not cold and it made for an excellent time to walk around before day 2's events started up at 9. I walked several blocks in each direction snapping photos as I went. I'm sure the locals were pointing out the dorky tourist as I went by with my luggage and camera, but I could care less! One really funny thing that happened, as I walked through Madison Square Park, I got the “shake-down” by two squirrels. They ran right up the path directly at me and stopped and just stared at me as if to say, “Yo, gimme your food.” They weren't afraid of me at all. They let me off with a warning and headed in to a nearby tree. Phew, that was close…

After a quick breakfast I headed back to the college. The day 2 schedule was very flexible and was up for a vote. People threw out ideas for discussion topics and then rooms were assigned for each. I sat in on a great talk about WPMU that gave me some interesting ideas on how I could use one install of WPMU to run multiple unrelated blogs using domain mapping. I can't wait to dig in and sort that out! In the second group of sessions, there was a lot of interest in having another genius bar session. Brandon Dove and I volunteered to lead it. The session went really well and I had a great bit of personal satisfaction when a lady used my example plugin from my presentation to learn how to build a shortcode and was able to write a plugin using it to solve a need for her client in a matter of minutes. Not to be outdone, Brandon pulled out some magic to solve an issue a lady was having with her Thesis theme that nobody else had been able to solve.

After lunch the group moved across the street to Mason Hall. Jane invited me to be part of the presentations going on over there as well. I did a quick 5 minute (more like 3 minute) intro to the canonical plugin topic with the hopes that more people will take an interest in coming up with ideas on how to make it all work. I was also surprised to find out that I had been included as part of Brandon's team in the plugin competition. My involvement was strictly in a beta-testing and feature suggesting role, but I was glad to be included. I was very excited for Brandon when it was all over and his Conversation Starter plugin won the competition. His use of all the standard WordPress design elements in the admin section and some fancy menu action were the deciding factors to his victory. Hopefully he'll finish up a couple small edits and then release the plugin to the repository.

At that point I had to skip out to the airport and head on home! I was bummed to be missing Matt's speech, but was very excited to get back home and see my family.

One last shout out to Chuck and Jane. Thank you again for inviting me out. I had a great time in both places and look forward too seeing you guys again real soon!