What’s in a name? Organizing WordCamps and developing the Finnish community

A month ago, Helsinki hosted its first WordCamp Helsinki but its second WordCamp. This is a description of why there was a WordCamp Finland in the first place and an account of our experience with the name change.

A few years ago it was easier to meet fellow Finnish WordPress enthusiasts at WordCamp Europe than in our cities. In 2015, Tampere organized the first Finnish WordCamp. The event was sold out and more than 180 people attended. The two-day event, a conference day and workshop day, was successful and received positive reviews from the participants.

Two reasons influenced the team into calling it WordCamp Finland instead of WordCamp Tampere. The main reason was because this was the first WordCamp in the country. The concept of a WordCamp was unknown to many people in Finland using WordPress, so the organizing team felt that a national event would be more appealing. The secondary reason was that the event was not located in the capital region, and calling it WordCamp Finland delivered a stronger message to attract more people from outside of Tampere. Moreover, at that time, Tampere was the only city in Finland with a local meetup, so the organizing team was certain that during 2015 this would be the sole WordCamp in Finland.

Tampere became the blueprint of the community. Under the scorching sun of Seville at WordCamp Europe 2015, a few people from Helsinki decided to start a local meetup, whose first event took place two months later. Soon after that, two other meetups started in Turku and Jyväskylä.

Last year, in 2016 WordCamp Finland moved to Helsinki. The event was larger than the previous year’s; we increased the number of tickets by thirty percent, and we added Finland’s first contributor day with Core, Polyglots, and Community teams. It was during this contributor’s day that the meetup in Oulu was created.

Why did we decide to keep WordCamp Finland as the name of the event? Honestly, it was not a conscious decision, but these were our thoughts:

  1. Firstly, we were not aware of any country-level restrictions.
  2. Secondly, WordCamp Finland had been established already the previous year, so we felt that we were carrying on the “tradition”.
  3. Lastly, we were sure that in 2016 no other WordCamp would take place in the country.

Nowadays, Finland has a vibrant and healthy WordPress community. We have had monthly meetups in five cities – Tampere, Helsinki, Turku, Jyväskylä, and Oulu – for at least a year and our Slack team is really active.

This year WordCamp Finland changed its name to WordCamp Helsinki. In the beginning, the organising team had some concerns regarding this change:

  • Fear that there would be confusion with the new name because the old name was already established in the community.
  • The city name seemed to target a narrower audience.
  • Some team members didn’t like the strictness of the rule.Feeling that we should all push together as a whole community under WordCamp Finland because this is a small country.
  • Worry that the name change would seem like this event was exclusive to the Helsinki community, and consequently the number of attendees from around the country would diminish.
  • Fewer applications from international speakers.

To avoid the confusion with the name and communicate that people from everywhere were welcome, we used the country map in our design and we made sure to mention clearly that people from everywhere were welcome to the event.

To encourage and help other cities to organize local WordCamps  the organizing team included two persons from other local communities, Turku and Jyväskylä. This way they could gather experience and afterwards lead their own local events.

Other than the change in the naming, WordCamp Helsinki 2017 was identical to last year’s event.

Two members of the organizing team changed.
The event venue was the same.
The number of attendees was the same.
Same contributor day venue and contributor teams.
… And even the same lunch menu.

This time, the tickets sold out in two hours. The number of international speaker applications was roughly the same as in 2016. People still travelled from other cities to attend the event and the general feedback so far has been strongly positive. Also, a new meetup is sprouting in Seinäjoki.

Some team members still think that national WordCamps can be useful in the beginning to get the community together, and dislike strict rules of this kind. However, based on the gathered feedback and attendance, the whole team realized that our earlier concerns either were unfounded or could be worked out. The fact that all the Finnish WordCamps were sold out quickly and that many participants came from other cities is a plausible sign that there is room for other events. WordCamp Helsinki could have been larger, but the team decided not to. Finding a larger venue and managing a bigger event required time the team did not have, particularly because the planning started quite late. Keeping the event at the same size allowed the team to feel comfortable organizing the event. On top of that, this was an example to other cities that were reluctant to organise a WordCamp because they thought that every event had to be larger than the previous one.

In the end, changing the name didn’t make a difference in the event itself, and if anything it encouraged other cities to organize their own events. At the moment, both Turku and Jyväskylä are planning to have a local WordCamp next year.

This was our experience with changing from a national to a city named WordCamp event. If you have done the same, what was your experience?

Meetups in Finland: Helsinki, Jyväskyla, Oulu, Tampere, and Turku.

#wordcamps

#wcnaming