Once upon a time, when there weren’t as many people attending them, WordCamps had lots of different formats, and lengths, and styles. I remember a WordCamp in Australia about 5 years ago that had 75 people in one room and that was it, and it was amazing. These days, they tend to follow certain patterns based on expectations that organizers have based on the events they’ve attended, which have been getting bigger and more homogenous — these days many people don’t even consider 75 people a WordCamp, which is a terrible shame. It’s kind of a vicious circle.*
So now there seems to be a prevailing trend that folks think it’s not a WordCamp unless it has hundreds of people, multiple tracks of content to appeal to both bloggers/end-users and developers/industry professionals (plus other segments), elaborate catering, fancy name badges, brand name speakers, a high-end venue (this is often tied to the hundreds of people part), and any number of other trappings that have become the norm. Being responsible for a massive event like this can be fun and amazing, but it’s not what everyone wants to do. Those giant events also aren’t necessarily the ones that tend to enable the most personal connections and community growth (because they are so overwhelming), so how do we empower enthusiastic community members who want to organize more narrowly-focused events that fall somewhere between the 2-hour meetup and the full-on something-for-everyone WordCamp?
A couple of options:
- Call them all WordCamps, no matter the focus. Run WordCamps with more specific programs, and use modifiers on the WordCamp name, like they did at the Toronto Dev WC, or any of the WC Real Estate or WC Higher Ed events. Pros: One name to rule them all, and we don’t have to change any policies or infrastructure. Cons: The names are kind of clunky, there might be resentful people who aren’t getting “a WordCamp” in their city that matches their interests, and overcoming the existing perception the WCs must be all things to all people is hard.
- Call them different things within the WC program. “Hackathon Weekend: a WordCamp Event,” for example, where “A WordCamp Event” can get different visual treatment and placement as needed. Pros: Infinitely scalable, event names can be very descriptive, people can organize the exact kind of event they want, the “Upcoming WordCamps” page would be more interesting, and it gives a clear indication that something is an officially approved/sponsored event. Cons: Would anyone still do big something-for-everyone WordCamps, since the smaller/more focused events tend to be easier and more fun to put together?
- Add a few more specific event types to the roster. Keep WordCamps as they are, don’t slap the WordCamp label on anything else, just start facilitating more event types that have their own names/segments of the program.
Eventually, as more meetups open up to allow all members to create events, this may wind up being redundant, but in the meantime, let’s figure out how to support more events without forcing everyone to do the same kind of content. For example, the contributor day event that @siobhan posted about earlier today sounds very similar to the contributor-focused WordCamp that I’m talking to some people about doing in Portland. What’s the difference? Is it just a name?
I like the idea of being able to support more official events (not that every event has to be official; people can still do unofficial events whenever they like), and I like the idea of using WordCamp as a banner under which they can live to denote the official status rather than only the name of one event. So I am leaning toward #2 on the list above as a way to integrate more events into the program. What do you all think?
Here are some of the event types that have come up so far based on actual events, queries, and/or ideas:
WordCamp (all-purpose WP conference), unconference, hackathon, workshop/training, Q&A/help desk, workalong, charity build, brown bag lunch, potluck screening (wp tv videos, meetup presentations from afar, etc), lecture series (like many meetups now), social meetup, flash talks/ignite, contributor day/drive/weekend, retreat, coworking, developer conference, blogger conference, community summit, [your idea here].
What other event types can you think of that it would be good for us to support? And how do you think we can best deal with the issues identified above around the word “WordCamp” carrying so much baggage when it comes to more specific events? Your thoughts in the comments, and we can discuss at the team meeting on Thursday.
*For example, the one I organized in NYC in 2009 set a bar (look at this awesome-yet-ridiculous schedule) that a bunch of organizers in other cities (who’d attended NYC) tried to meet or even outdo, and then the people who attended those events (Boston, Phoenix, etc) tried to match them, and so on.