WordCamp San Francisco 2014 Recap
There’s many reasons I like developing with WordPress. It’s adaptable and extensible. You can do simple things with it, but you can also do very complex things with it as well. It’s well supported. It’s continually being improved and upgraded, all the while staying backwards compatible. This means even the oldest sites running WordPress won’t falter.
But one of the best aspect about WordPress is the community. Instead of hoarding information, other WordPress developers tend share their knowledge, teaching each other so the platform as a whole can grow.
Many major cities have WordPress festivals called WordCamps. Recently, I attended the WordCamp San Francisco 2014. I met many people I had previously only talked to online. I met many people I had never talked to at all before. I listened to presentations from many great speakers, and took away new insights that I could use on future projects.
WordCamps are usually two-day weekend events. This particular WordCamp has been hosted in the Mission Bay for the past seven years. The first day featured speaker tracks on two floors of the convention center. The second day featured a speaker track upstairs, and a code contribution session downstairs. Further core contributions would be made by developers Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Here are the highlights the talks I attended on Day One.
Unlock The Web
The opening talk by Cody Brown entitled Unlock The Web. Cody asked how long each of us had been on the web before publishing something. He admitted the fear of public speaking never goes away, even if you’ve done it before. People hesitate to publish because they feel the stakes are so high. Lowering the internal pressure allows you to start publishing.
Cody showed how powerful products can start as toys. He cited Twitter as an example of something that worked because it sounded ludicrous. His presentation showed how products should give users a superpower, following a formula of part placebo and part innovation. He shared some lessons he learned from founding ScrollKit and being absorbed by Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com.
Lightning Talks: Design and Business
Next up were Lightning talks from Taylor Aldridge, and Tracy Levesque.
Taylor’s presentation was on The Business of Design. Specifically, time tracking is a problem, as the faster you get, the less you earn. Professional design is made up of tasks that fall in the categories of discovery, problem solving, production, and administration. When designers start out, they focus on being fast, and most of the project time goes towards production. As the designer evolves to be Creative, and then Strategic, discovery and problem solving move closer to equality with production.
His suggestions for moving towards strategic design were to track days and weeks in chunks, plan them by percentage and follow that plan. For administration, he encouraged us to show our work and invite clients to our project management process. For discovery: we should start with a questionnaire, then wireframe accordingly. In the ideation stage: sketching, mood, and client collaboration are important. Show how we think throughout the entire process. A useful production tip is to deliver not only comps, but style guides as deliverables. The overall objective is to make production time goes down, as strategy time goes up.
Tracy Levesque was next to take the mic with her talk, Teaching People To WordPress. I didn’t know this before, but apparently Tracy teaches classes on WordPress. Here were some of her insights.
Don’t let the install process derail class. Have sandbox sites ready to go. Be prepared. Troubleshoot common delays. Email everyone in class links to the software they will need a few days ahead of time. Have several backup plans in case the wi-fi is down, or any other technological failure takes place.
Be enthusiastic and entertain the class. Stay on track, keep pace, and don’t get derailed by more detailed questions. Address those later in a one-on-one format.
Break big ideas into digestible chunks and explain procedures well. Refer back to previous concepts, and build on prior teachings. Have good support people. Teachers assistant’s are incredibly important.
From the Front Lines of Multi-Device Web Design
Multi-device design expert Luke Wroblewski took a break from An Event Apart to give his presentation. To my delight, he was true to his gimmick, wearing a green button up shirt.
Luke showed us some charts of the device landscape in a historical context. Desktop PC sales boomed up all the way up to 2009, with a downturn in 2000, around the time of the first tech bubble. PC sales in 2010 were flat, and in 2012 the PC sales downturn was worse than the 2K bubble. Mobile and tablet sales from 2009 onward actually went off the previous chart. As in, zoom out to macro view off the charts. Today, there are more mobile devices than humans on the earth.
The devices we use to access the web range from micro-sized wearables like smart watches and Google Glass all the way to wall sized TVs. This is what responsive design means less than five years after the term appeared.
How we interact is determined by how big the devices are. Extensive user studies were taken to observe and tabulate. Smart phones are operated by one thumb or finger. In fact, 75% of smart phone use is with one thumb on the same hand. With tablets, users hold it with two thumbs in landscape mode (65% of use cases); in portrait mode (35% of use cases) the non-dominant hand holds the tablet and one finger on the dominant hand navigates.
Website designers have to support both touch and mouse on laptop size. Browsers are still evolving their means of touch detection. Device and window size are the best clues available right now to determine touch capabilities.
Luke showed us how he used these insights when designing Polar Polls. Designers and users were confused when the middle of the screen was empty on tablet resolution — until they started using it. You see, because users have their thumbs and fingers on the outer edge, that’s where the content was placed.
Responsive design by screen width and height alone gets very confusing, because a 50 inch HDTV and Galaxy smartphone both use 1920px by 1080px. (The HDTV is retina, and it equates to 1920 * 1080). Netflix has put a lot of time into studying usage, and does not design for device width, but for how far away the screen is from your face.
Google Glass is an interesting dilemma. The screen is equivalent to 640 x 360 equivalent, and sits above your field of vision. On Glass, most elements are removed and extremely simplified. Information is distilled down to the very basics.
CSS 4 media queries will include some very interesting criteria. You will be able to change rules based on outside light-level (phones) and voice capabilities.
Luke urged us to consider the output to the screen, the input (the device), and posture (human interaction). For example, Microsoft TV strips are inverted to reverse colors because their users are usually in a low light environment. A white background wouldn’t make sense, it would be too jarring. Some navigation apps on your phone already change from light to dark at night through external light sensors.
Design with Personas: A Lean Approach
Next up on stage was Davide “Fol” Casali, teaching us about Design With Personas.
There is a disconnection between products and users, that happens very subtly. A business st its core is one person helping another person. We add a layer of software to make this scale to many customers. The software casts a shadow that hides the users, and we are no longer one person helping another. Eventually, we see the software as the goal, not the user.
We must design for humans, not functions. In personas. the classic user is clear, the second user is not as clear. When we add even more users it is less clear. We can move from implicit users to explicit users. The best way to do this is tightly define the user and needs you are designing for.
Users don’t know what they want, you must dig to find out. Part of personas is finding their tightly defined why. This determines how they think and behave. Personas are different from demographics. The three key elements to discover are their behavior, their goals,and their WHY?
Your life is a continuous pattern of decisions. What is the context behind your service? Your service enables the actual goal of your users. Personas themselves are not deliverables.
Personas are data synthesis, taken from a vast array of data points. Keep researching past the persona — keep refining your data.
The four stages of building a persona: Data collection, data clustering, persona shaping, persona weighting. What personas are most prevalent, or which ones are you targeting? Use personas to reference data points. Prioritize software requests by weight of customer base and target personas. Do support ticket triage by weight of persona.
Research tools do not have to be complicated. Poll Daddy for surveys and Google Docs for team collaboration are a good place to start. Use phrases from your actual interviews in your persona profiles. This will help you focus on the real needs being expressed by users.
Lightning Talks: WordPress In Context
John Eckman observed that WordPress powers 23% of the web, but this also means that 77% of the web is other platforms and solutions. This is a huge learning opportunity for the WordPress community. We should “get off the island”. Try other platforms. Talk to non-WP users. Just listen, don’t try to convert them. Learn from users and other conferences.
Eckman passed the mic to Rachel Baker. Rachel focused on ways that major corporations are using WordPress. Businesses use WP to share tips with their customers and publish news, policies and information. Some businesses are using WordPress to expand into global markets, build microsites an even their main corporate sites. Why? They want to own their data. WordPress core is backwards compatible. And because it is open source, they reduce costs from having to license proprietary software. In the future, there will be global language support and Multisite will improve. As we would learn later, there will be major improvements to the Core REST JSON API.
Jeremy Felt said “I got next” and dropped some knowledge about Public Universities and Open Source. First, a history lesson. In 1904, the social phase of agricultural education was introduced. In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act established extension services in land grant universities, advancing agricultural information and the democratization of truth. WordPress has a mission to democratize publishing.
Associate professors in land grant universities must focus on teaching, research and service to reach tenure. For other associate professors, the focus is on publishing research, distributing and citing research. The focus has shifted to the needs of academic institution instead of the needs of the populace. How do we encourage sharing make it easy to share? By following the four freedoms of open source. Distributing software, studying the software, sharing and modifying software, and distributing modified versions. Jeremy concluded by stating the most precious resource we have is the knowledge of world around us.
Code Is Poetry
Release lead for WordPress 4.0 Helen Hou-Sandí gave a talk showing the parallels between web development and classical music entitled Code is Poetry. As a high level classical musician, Helen noticed that music and code are similar. Both use structured languages. Both are encoded so they don’ resemble the end product unless you know what you’re looking at.
In code and music, mentoring is important. Technique is essential. Technique without music is pedantry. Music without technique is not music.
Helen encouraged us to look for joy in possibilities. Make informed decisions. Learn how to learn. Let data inform your development. The WP philosophy is decisions, not options. Trust your intuition. Design user interfaces that feel right. Improvisation can happen musically and in design, but it is built on practice.
Playing well with others is important in music and development. If you are going to be a musician or developer, be interested in new things all the time. As a musician, you learn to listen for subtle shifts in tempo, breath, spacing and energy. This is similar to developing with a team.
Software is simply overwhelming with new stuff debuting or changing constantly. The ability to practice after work is a gift. Self-motivation will make you a better developer and musician.
Difficult pieces need more work. Execution over time is what matters. Mentally envision the future. Read ahead.
Code is poetry, music is code.
Growing Up WordPress
Developer and overall kick-ass human being Jenn Schiffer was in the house to talk about Growing up WordPress. Jenn told us that love is a score of zero before telling us about her love of WordPress.
Actually, Jenn came to WordPress in 2004, when some guy named Matt branched it off of blogging software she was using called B2. Fast forward to 2008, she was involved in the hyperlocal blog movement, which was a very big thing at the time. She moved Baristanet from Moveable Type to WordPress, using Multisite and custom taxonomies.
In July 2011, she was teaching web development at Montclair State and moved her curriculum from BlackBoard software to the p2 theme. She was also involved in crowdsourcing medical procedure costs on ClearHealthCosts.com using WordPress with a backend API call through Rails.
In May 2013, she joined the National Basketball Association as a senior developer. Mostly working on the innovations on the stats subdomain, which does not use WordPress, but saw several examples of beautiful WP sites that teams were using. She reminded me that Xanga shifted their platform to WordPress around this time (It was a big deal at that time, as Xanga was their own platform).
For the last year, Jenn has been working with Bocoup, an open source development company. Her slides for this presentation were powered by SimpleSlides on WordPress. Her first WordCamp talk was a few months earlier in New York.
Lightning Talk: UX/UI
Joseph Karr O’Connor aka Accessible Joe gave a very moving presentation on how empowering publishing is for those with disabilities. He highlighted the importance of remote UX testing accessibility testing, stressing you must test with disabled people.
Knowbility.org will let you test with disabled folks, empower them to do paid work and have personal dignity. Over 70% of disabled Americans are unemployed, remote testing helps on both ends of this problem. You can also check out WebAim for more information on accessability.
Automattic Cretive Director Dave Martin gave a succint and focused talk on Good Design. The mantra-like refrain of Dave’s talk was Ego and Pride hinder good design.
Good design hinges on process and feedback, iterating in a continuous loop. Begin with insights and scenarios. Move to lo-fi mockups. Next, an interactive prototype. Be sure to observe how users interact with the prototype, get feedback. Lastly, produce the high fidelity version of the project.
What are the roadblocks to good design? Designers tend to abandon process as time goes on. Pride correlates to not desiring feedback. Get feedback at every turn. Process and feedback give clarity. When gathering data, list all possible scenarios the user might encounter. Be thorough.
During the ideation process, Dave does what he calls 6-ups. These are quickly spit out ideas. Six squares on a piece of paper. Using a timer, he generates whatever comes to mind. Then, he simply uses the best one.
Make sure this concept covers all possible scenarios. When presenting the lo-fi version to the client/user — ask what they see. When designing the prototype, watch what they do. Make adjustments. Then, the final code.
UX Redux: Taking a Look at Contact Form 7
This would the first time Jen Mylo took the stage this weekend. When I choose to watch this talk instead of the alternate track, I thought it would be about creative CSS and Contact Form 7, but it was more interesting than that. I soon realized this talk was describing the conversations Jen had with CF7 creator Takayuki Miyoshi, regarding possible User Interface improvements.
I knew CF7 was popular, but was slightly surprised to learn it is actually the second most popular plugin in the WordPress repository (Askimet is #1). Time will tell if these suggestions make it into the plugin, here are the more interesting ones being discussed.
Using Dashicons for better icons, since they already come with WP. Changing the labels to better reflect how users think of tasks. Adding a scrollbar back on certain browsers. Eliminating (#)hashtags in the messages section — these mean different things to developers and users.
Mail (2) is something that confuses users (and myself!) Core language packs are being updated for right-to-left users. Could generated tags show a preview of what they will look like? When copying and pasting inputs, it should indicate they should be included below the Submit button, or the information will not be submitted. Error messages should appear where the errors appear, so site users know what to fix.
It was interesting to hear what changes Miyoshi agreed with, and which he did not. Some things he did not believe needed changing, since the target users for this plugin are developers, not regular folks. A visual editor is something else that was suggested. Adding a “add a contact form” button to pages and posts is something that was suggested but probably will not transpire. Some controls are meant to be granular, and some are not.
This was originally scheduled to be the last talk of the day, but around 10am, a fire alarm went off, and Sara Cannon’s talk ended up being the closer. I was very excited to hear this talk by Adobe and Typekit VP Jeff Veen entitled Momentum.
Jeff’s talk was all about working as a team. He is a bike racing enthusiast, and he noticed how Tour de France leaders always say:
The team was very strong.
People talk about creative tension. But tension is not a good creative tool. Culture needs to amplify what is compelling, not controlling. Keep things relaxed, but focused.
This is the creative environment: Shared values, trust and safety. These are competitive advantages that allow your team to go faster and work better.
There are times to go fast, and there are times to go slow. A well-functioning team needs tons of communication. Communication is very hard to do. No communication = no trust = no happiness.
Something that is non-intuitive: to have more meetings, not less. But don’t meetings break up the day’s workflow?
So when do you hold a meeting?
There are a different levels of meetings. Meeting 0 is the chat room. Tools for this can be Slack, HipChat or Google Hangouts. Act like a distributed company, even if you aren’t. This is good communication hygiene.
Chat is more intuitive than email. Chat is communication compression that doesn’t feel weird. It creates ambient accountability. Instead of wondering what people were doing, you could see where stuff was getting done when everything needed to do your job was located in the chat room. (Jeff gave interactive examples of this during the presentation.)
Meeting 1 is the standup meeting. This is a once a day mandatory meeting where everyone shows up. Scheduling it at 10:05am seemed to work at Typekit and Adobe. One person talks, and designates other people to give status reports via email. No laptops or phones are allowed. No problem solving during this standup meeting. Each day it is 20 minutes, in and out, because it is constrained. During this meeting, there is a daily status call by the sales rep, no longer seventy seconds. This meeting is quick and everyone is together.
Meeting 2 is the weekly roundup meeting. Stats are the focus. Did we hit our goals? How did A/B testing fare?What issues have been closed? What shipped? What’s new? There are “Mini TED talks” which alternate during this half hour meeting.
Meeting 3 is the weekly product review. The Rules: optional attendance, mandatory participation. This is an hour of work. No opinions are allowed, only open ended questions. This is a working session for convergent and divergent problem solving.
Jeff explained the difference to make sure there was no misunderstanding. Divergence = get all the ideas out on the table. Convergence = all the ideas boiled down to one, and then everyone works together on it. This is a systematic process of brainstorming, eliminating ideas until the best one remains, and then everyone rallying behind it to make it successful.
The more exposure we have to users, the better design instincts we will have. The more exposure to good design we have, the better design vocabulary we will obtain. At Typekit, they compete on good taste, for that is what forms your language. (Note: Ira Glass said something very similar not that long ago, about pursuing good taste and chasing that until you were good enough to produce it yourself.) Taste leads to instincts leads to vocabulary.
Don’t mistake circumstances for character when mistakes happen. Use the Five Whys to discover how a problem circumstance occurred. Be rational, not emotional.
So there are these four types of communication going on continually: real time, daily, weekly and yearly.
“I’m interested in what is timeless.” – Jeff Veen
Identify your purpose. What is your raison d’être? You see this philosophical concept in all beliefs and cultures. Jeff thinks out loud, “I wonder what exciting’s going to happen today?”
You can’t help but be buoyed by such optimism.
“You are working on the largest publishing platform in the history of the world…making the world better, faster.” – @veen
Typography and User Experience
So now Sara Cannon was in the main event spot. She more than crushed it, and I think it made even more sense than her original time slot, following Jeff Veen, who also specializes in bringing beautiful typography to the web.
Sara began by reminding us that design is 95% typography. I have flashbacks to the very article she is mentioning, and how one of the first web pages I ever built was a study of that very concept. Sara continues, typography helps us or hinders us from our goals. Even Craigslist is text as design. She shows the visual hierarchy of The New York Times — it is text is to be consumed, even without photos.
Bad typography is bad user experience. One of the main offenders is body copy too small to read. This makes the eyes hurt. Not enough white space is another UX villain. Line height is important.
Too much letter spacing sucks. Don’t letter space without a good reason. The
Don’t bloat sentences, it kills legibility. If I got one thing from this talk, it is legibility is everything.
Poor typeface choices are also a culprit. Not all fonts were made for the web, some are not kerned properly. Typography is hierarchy! Preach it.
Mono space is horrible body copy, sorry Ello.
Good typography honors content. Gather.ly is a good example. So is Medium.
Contrast is so important! (I am so glad someone said this. Low contrast type seems to be running rampant these days.) Headlines have a different contrast than subheaders than body text. Color contrast is a signifier of importance.
Typography is about conveying information, setting tone, and the format that the work takes. Type supports the brand and is a part of digital storytelling. Type + layout + Rich media = amazing storytelling. There is the second Snowfall reference of the day. Sara shows some other great examples, The New York Times was just the first to make waves with it.
Huge bold type + intricate details conveys tone. Navigation is a huge part of story evolution. Navigation type is teaching the world a visual language, bit by bit, year by year. Navigation and contrast stands out, make it obvious. Hierarchy can appear in mega menus (lighter or smaller type on submenus). The web is moving towards icons and visual vocabulary in navigation (witness the navicon aka hamburger icon, the gear icon as shorthand for Settings).
Tasks are indicated by type , contrast, boldness and font size. Now we are getting into style guides and visual language as it relates to type. Amazon uses color and font size to create a language. Square is the opposite. Lots of white space, images, elegant typefaces, and less noise. Each brand has different goals, and a different tone.
Measure results! Always A/B test. Work with type as early as possible in the design process.
Many fonts have ligature settings. Open Type fonts have this ability. Some font sets can do fractions, smallcaps, subscript, or even use a second set of alternate type faces.
Resources: Femmebot is a great open source project that helps you pair typefaces. Books you should check out: The Elements of Typographic Style and On Web Typography.
Video of Sara’s talk is up on WordPress.tv.
On Day Two of WordCamp San Francisco 2014, Matt Mullenweg dropped some bombshells concerning the future of WordPress and WCSF. I got to meet some of my web development heroes, and the speaker track was just as amazing as it was on Saturday.
How WordPress Saves Lives & Moves Governments.
First up was Paul Clark, Director of Recruiting at 10up. Paul began by reminding us the WordPress mission, to Democratize Publishing. Great ideas are heard because of perseverance and strength of character. You are not a nobody, your actions make a difference.
Paul told us the story a person who was considered a Nobody, who made a difference. When you are what is called an Internally Displaced Person, navigating life is difficult. You do not exist, no country wants you, your own country does not want you, and you have no access to health care or education. You are literally not a person.
But one Nobody took digital photos in the jungles of Burma, of the government bombing citizens. This Nobody marched out of the jungle and put these photos on a WordPress blog.
Then something amazing happened. The photos ended up in on BBC television, and eventually the United Nations got involved.
But the Burmese government was not happy. Villages were burned to the ground. The people posting to the site were putting their lives on line to help others.
The FreeBurmaRangers.org site was created. Why?
Human rights violations need evidence and proof. 10 years of notes and evidence was contained on pieces of paper, spreadsheets, and old hard drives. Keeping track of this information and cross-referencing was very confusing for people being forced to constantly move in the jungle. There were lots and lots of notes that needed to be tabulated and accounted for. A computer database was the solution.
Usability is more important than sophistication. Solutions must be usable. – Paul Clark
There was one major problem. This project had to be done in six months! There was one novice user doing data entry in a hut on a solar cell powered laptop. Each piece of information had to have complex one to many relationships in the database to be cross-referenced. This data had to become information.
The site reports were able to be constructed with Custom Post Types and the PODS framework.
It was imperative to document humans right abuses for international agencies and track video proof, medical reports, plan medical supplies for long journeys, and document and plan missions. Many pieces were built and maintained by a novice developer in Burma.
Since the Burmese government is none too pleased about the truth coming out, identities are anonymized for the protection of their well being. The site is also hosted in the United States. Anything hosted inside Burma could be taken down or hacked.
[Ed. Note: Because of dictatorships and civil war, there are still half a million internally displaced people in Burma. Only 4% of children attend school.]
We make microphones that amplify what is out there in the world.
What is the change you want to see?
Lightning Talks: Inspiring Stories
First up in this round of lightning talks was M. Asif Rahman, a serial entrepreneur, investor and developer from Bangladesh. When Asif was a kid, he wanted to be a physicist. Instead, he became an engineer and programmer. His first blog was hard to customize, but then he found WordPress, and went on to make hundreds of sites.
Asif’s first WordCamp was Melbourne, Australia; and for a while, he was attending 7 WordCamps per year. He found his niche in content distribution and social media. He has co-founded and invested in many startups in the USA. Travel is a big part of the job.
He is a leader of the local WordPress community in Bangladesh, the WordPressians. Right now, he is working with the WP JSON API. Dreaming big is important, and it is easy to start with WordPress.
iThemes founder Cory Miller told us “I’m here because I clicked Publish”. There were many cool quotes in the presentation, such as…
“The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives.” –
What keeps us from publishing (or putting stuff out into the world)? Cory had this figured out.
FEAR: your self talk stinks! Cory admitted that if you talked to him the way we are used to talking internally to ourselves, there might be a throwdown in the parking lot. More quotes!
“Failure is a bruise. Not a tattoo.”
– Jon Sinclair
“There has never been a statue erected to honor a critic.” – Zig Ziglar
PERFECTIONISM: It’s a thief and an excuse. Perfectionism is evil. Beware creating narcissistic art.
Push your work! Finish it and ship it — someone is waiting for it.
Time is currency. You only have so many days to spend. What are you waiting for? If everything you’ve done until now is just the beginning, what’s next?
“Alas for those that never sing, But die with all their treasure still in them!” – paraphrased from Oliver Wendell Holmes
Go now, and click Publish.
State of the Word 2014 with Matt Mullenweg
WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg traditionally gives a yearly account of where WordPress is, and where it’s going. The video of this presentation is up on WordPress.tv and is very much worth watching. My own notes are below.
The very first WordCamp was held in San Francisco in 2006. When we finally found a venue, it was small, and the A/C system was a portable fan. In 2014, there were 81 WordCamps all around the world.
This will be the last WordCamp in Mission Bay, “we’ve outgrown it”.
There will be a WordCamp US next year. Like the very first one, the name, date, and location are all To Be Determined. [Ed. Note: Possibly the beginning of larger national or continental WordCamps?]
Stats from the How Do You Use WP Survey: only 23% of responses were from the US. Non-english downloads surpassed English downloads for the first time this year. Using WordPress mainly as a CMS and blog numbers are declining. Using WP as an app platform is small, but steadily rising.
25% of all survey respondents make their full time living from WordPress. This was 7539 people, accounting for about a billion dollars of revenue. 91% of all sites, of all complexities took less than 200 hours to build.
WordPress had five major updates in 2014 with one more scheduled for December. 785 people made commits this year.
23.2% of all websites are powered by WordPress. One-third of all themes added to the WordPress.org repository were in the last 12 months.
Next year there will be 105 active Meetup Groups in 21 different countries. Language, date, and locale will become more personalized in future release versions. Language pack support is coming to more plugins and themes.
25% of WordPress installs are the current version, but this is actually much better than in the past. Many web hosts are introducing auto-upgrades to WordPress installs. The ultimate goal is to have a sort of nightly build, like browsers or sites like Facebook have. WordPress is working with web hosts to get PHP to current version as well.
WordPress now accepting pull requests on their GitHub account. Slack is available for every user of WordPress.org. The WordPress internal team is now using this for real-time collaboration (previously using IRC, and Automattic was using Slack).
Matt once again encouraged WordPress companies and even solopreneurs to give 5% for the future, and use that time and resource to contribute back to the platform. This could be open-source with 5% of their time towards WP Core, Meetups, accessibility contributions, WordCamps and community (to name a few areas).
The WP REST API is on track for v4.1. [There was a presentation on Day One concerning this that I didn’t see.] WordPress will continue towards becoming an app platform for other things. Responsive design is still incredibly important — perhaps WP can take the lead in this?
A final exhortation to Democratize Publishing, which really was the theme of Day Two, and then a break for lunch.
Lightning Talks: Unscary Tech
Clef co-founder Brennan Byrne is up to talk security in a talk called The Most Secure Platform.
A history lesson on computer security. In the old paradigm, big businesses were targeted. Evil hackers looked for a big payday by looking for an easy backdoor.
Now, regular computers are the target? These are enlisted as a zombie army. This tactic uses resources from smaller, unsecured sites to attack bigger sites. Crappy passwords give malicious hackers easy control over sites. Get a big army, point it towards big sites, and look for a big payday.
How do we protect the community? Community knowledge, issue discovery and correction, high baseline security.[Ed Note: Security is still a huge opportunity. This is the next area clients should really be educated in. The baseline for shipping and maintaining security on client sites still needs to be higher.]
We need to protect clients too lazy to care about security, abandoned blogs, and sites that aren’t being updated.
Three steps: Participate, Advocate, participate (Yes, he said participate twice on purpose). Teach others what you know about security, protect all sites, not just big ones. Use the best defaults possible. Use two-factor authentication whenever possible. Use Akismet to prevent comment spam, Group Protect (wasn’t sure what this was). Use tools used by the community.
Andrea Rennick next up, talking about Choosing the Right Theme. Andrea work for StudioPress in customer support. Here are the most common questions she hears.
What theme can I use I just want a blog?
Pretty much anything. Themes are clothing for your blog, but it’s still the same content.
How do I migrate to a new theme?
You can live preview under Appearance > Themes, it is super easy. People changed their themes 3.8 million times in Sept 2014 alone.
What theme can I use for [a particular industry]?
Analyze the basic layout. If you switch out photos, logo and color using the same theme you have two different sites for two different industries.
How do I narrow things down?
Look for the functionality you need. Brand colors are easy to switch. Did content get there with widgets? Look at the wireframes.
What if I need specific functionality?
What about SEO?
Use a SEO plugin. [Ed Note: I recommend WordPress SEO by Yoast.]
Where do I choose themes?
From the Admin Dashboard or WordPress.org theme repository.
Lynda.com staff author Morten Rand-Hendriksen giving a quick talk on the CSS Box Model. This one was all about Thinking Inside The Box.
Here’s a box. The box will help you build things. Morten had a problem with floating an image right and having text flow around it. First solution: use Photoshop to add white space and drop shadows.
This is unnecessary. Separate content from presentation. Do this for accessibility (also a big theme of the weekend). Types of accessibility challenges people face are: Visual, Auditory, Mobility and dexterity, Cognitive.
A quick rundown of the CSS Box Model: padding, margin, border. When to use inline or block element. Flex box is awesome; will make responsive layouts much easier when older broswers are gradually replaced. A reminder that “magic happens inside the box”.
Not a whole lot to this presentation, but less than five years ago this would have been mind-blowing to me. Good to have a few introductory concepts for people brand new to web development.
The next talk was by The Crafty Chica, Kathy Cano-Murillo. Every second of this talk was overflowing with great advie on content creation, marketing, branding, and authenticity.
Kathy was a news reporter in Arizona, who built her brand for 12 years on her blog. “Spreading the Gospel of glitter”. Some of the things she was doing got picked up by newspapers around 2001. Today, she has six licensing deals and several books.
Here are the tools Kathy used to build her brand:
#1: PASSION. Passion is the source, the nucleus, the foundation, the heartbeat. If you don’t have that strong passion for something, you shouldn’t be working on it.
#2: Have purpose and personality. Know why you are doing this. Make all your arrows point to that. Be yourself, and trust in that. Don’t try to be someone else! Let people know it is OK to go against the grain.
“Spread positivity through creativity” is her motto. Have everything you do fit your personality, have it fit your purpose. Her website utilizes a magazine format, which works for her site. Her content is not buried. Kathy’s homepage has collections of tutorials. Featuring these increased her traffic, once people read the crafty ideas, they get going, and need more.
#3 Brand Recipe. Create a visual representation that shows what your brand is! Kathy explains her brand to people as Hallmark + Oprah + glitter. Kathy’s profile photo is her with glitter background looking confident with glue gun. This communicates what her brand is visually.
#4: WOW Factor!
“I want my users to smile, sniffle, or say Oh My God!#8221; – @craftychica
“At least once a month, what is going to be my big WOW factor?” What are people searching for? If you can, buy the search term URL!
Kathy shares an example revolving around Dia de la Muertos crafts: 21 ways to make a craft shirt. If you can, involve other bloggers (cross-pollination).
#5: Diversify. Kathy says: I am more than crafts. She has several blog categories that also reflect her brand and personality: Chubby Girl Delights (food), Crafty Cinema (movies), Geeky Chica (technology), Reader Chica (books). These also interest her readers.
She studies other brands such as Hallmark, Tyra and Oprah. She exhorts us: If you’re a foodie, don’t be like other food bloggers. What can you do?
“Don’t reinvent the wheel, but find some new hubcaps to put on it.” – Kathy Cano-Murillo
She cites an article on skull empanadas that brought lots of traffic. Be newsworthy. She learned how important this is from 13 years in newsroom entertainment.
#6: BE NEWSWORTHY. Send in stuff, maybe you can get an article featured on a larger platform. Anything you can do to teach, readership will be interested. Don’t dismiss getting on the press release bandwagon, send those out.
#7: Find Your Lane. Research what works for you. Build your platform. Don’t force yourself into something that is just not working. Sprinkle the glitter on it in your own unique way. Strategize everything.
When you want to level up, the media will want to see social media platforms. If you have plenty of content there, and a following, that helps solidify your credibility.
#8: Level Up, Visual Destination. Shows example: I want to do a line of stamps based on this design. Now you have to set goals. Write out a timeline. Plot where you want to end up in a certain timeframe. Timebox and plan.
Kathy was able to make her own product line of labels. You can do magic by visualizing where you will end up.
“Never think it’s too big or you’re not ready.” – @craftychica
#10: BRAND EVERYTHING. This might be making your own font. Definitely make your own pictures. For Kathy this also means lots of glitter. “It fits my brand. It tells my story.”
#11: PREPARE FOR OPPORTUNITY. If you want to do a book, work on a book proposal. Get that stuff together now. Have a media kit that covers the highlights of your blog and brand. Be sure to have high-resolution photos for media kits. If you’re aiming for a TV series, start with a web series.
#12: Be Truthful in Everything. Keep your passion. Share information with readers, like good stories or article. Tweet your relevant stuff to big accounts, they sometimes respond. Don’t ever think anything’s out of reach. Do everything — take a risk.
Prepare for what you want to achieve before you get there. You have to visualize it before you attain it. Focus on the things you are good at. Recruit an army to help you.
Kathy took us to school with this presentation. Her positive energy is infectious.
Finding and Maintaining Your Blog’s Voice
Christine Harkin is here to give us insights on blog voice. She speaks with confidence, using cadence and spacing like a visual designer uses white space.
She breaks down each word in the title of the talk. Finding indicates a quest and journey. Maintaining means awareness and planning. Your equals something totally unique. Blog means web content that is continually updated. Voice.
“Blog voice does not have to be perfect or forever.” – Christine Harkin
Write the way you talk.
Share what you know.
Tell the truth as you know it.
BUT, these depend on who you’re talking to.
If you are trying to convince someone, you will cite what other people know.
“Voice is not about topic.”
Voice is not about what you’re discussing, it’s cadence, technique and more…
Voice is personality, perspective and experience.
Author voices contain clues. What is in your voice gives clues to who you are.
What you choose to say about what you do is your passion.
How you choose to convey your truth is your style.
Christine gives examples of different statements by famous authors, showing how their voice differs. She shows some different blog copyright statements, and how they convey different styles, being true to their voices. Voice is an expression of the verbal and visual.
“The HOW and WHY of your blog has to be honest.
Really honest.” – Christine Harkin
Connecting people is the goal.
People come back for that.
Why will you blog?
What do you HAVE to say and how will you say it?
You can have two different voices if they have different purposes. But do not spread your energy too thin. Editing is a necessity. You have to edit, you don’t keep seeds and stems in a stew.
Edit to show the fire that is burning, show the fire through the smoke.
Blogs exit for two reasons: we want to move people or we want to connect. You can do both. Community = connection. There is no wrong reason to blog, to keep going, or to stop.
From the Q and A session: Have an about page that gets really clear. How to get around legalese and maintain your voice: include legal stuff, but set it to the side in some way (Ex: Here’s the part you knew was coming: cue the legalese.) Use your font and look in your contracts. This is part of your voice (branding) as well.
Two segments left in Day Two.
Lightning Talks: Blogger Basics
Josepha Haden starts the final lightning talk round with Talking to Robots: Writing For Dual Audiences. This is all about how to balance writing for humans and search engines. Haden Interactive utilizes what they call Five and Five for online SEO.
When writing for people:
- 1. Use keywords in a natural way.
- 2. Find out who you’re writing to. Build personas.
- 3. Install analytics and use them. Clients always want to look at analytics from a volume standpoint. Look at keywords, and see what is performing.
- 4. Write for understanding. Newspapers write at a fifth grade level. You should write at an eighth grade level.
- 5. Have an editorial calendar to schedule posts.
When writing for search robots:
- 1. Use varied keywords. Not just your target keyword, but 50+ synonyms and permutations.
- 2. Fresh content is better.
- 3. Inbound and Outbound links are important.
- 4. Don’t use deceptive keywords, people get pissed off when you trick them.
- 5. Insist on flawless grammar and punctuation. Your pages will be flagged as low quality content if these are not present. Don’t do a repeat of what you have already published with “search and replace”. Do not “spin” articles.
Pamela Bey takes the stage to teach us about Smarter Shopping Carts. People like e-commerce because it’s convenient to shop at home. There are no long lines, bad weather or parking issues.
When is shopping online not convenient? When undelightful experiences means the weight of lost sales. So, why are there abandoned carts?
One reason is customers are presented with unexpected costs. Four quick tips to keep them in the cart all the way to the BUY button:
- 1. No unexpected costs (shipping, overseas shipping, re-stocking fee for returns). Put shipping costs up front. You can make a universal message in WooCommerce.
- 2. Clean layout, clear buttons. Use white space, make the buy button different from all other button colors.
- 3. Use established trust signals (PayPal buttons, BBB, credit cards symbols).
- 4. Make purchasing easy for first time and returning buyers. Make the signup, account, and login processes painless.
Aaron Hockley is here to talk photography and WordPressin a talk called More Than 1,000 Words. You can embed photos without code with WordPress. Find the URL of the photo, paste on a blank line in the Post Editor area. This is possible through something called OEmbed.
Aaron encourages us to use our own photos for our sites. Flickr and 500px.com have Creative Commons licensed photos that allow use with an attribution text link. You can also find microstock photos from iStock or other stock photography sites.
A common problem is different themes often use different size images. When you switch themes, you can
Regenerate Thumbnails with the plugin of the same name. The Featured Image Reminder plugin will keep you from publishing post without a Featured Image.
Retina images are a concern. The WP Retina 2x plugin will swap out regular resolution images for high resolution on high dpi devices. Photos are cropped from the center by default in thumbnails. Often this is not the portion of the photo we want to highlight. Perhaps the best named plugin ever, My Eyes Are Up Here will let you crop to a specific position in the photo. Aaron tells us to check out WP-Photographers.com.
Some Random Thoughts Before The Last Presentation
I noticed that all but two of the attendees who normally dye their hair bright colors were all sporting pink hair for Breast Cancer Awareness month. The WCSF volunteer shirts were also pink, thought the giveaway shirts were various colors.
I also noticed the WordCamp San Francisco logo was orange and brown. When I bought my tickets, I thought that might have been a nod to the Golden Gate Bridge. Turns out, the Giants were playing less than a mile away in the World Series. I even asked one person, “Why did they pick the Giants colors and not the 49ers colors? And how did they know they would be in the World Series?”
An Interview With The Bloggess
Jen Mylo made her second appearance of the conference, this time interviewing Jenny Lawson, aka @thebloggess. At first, I didn’t think twice about why this was set up as an interview. Within minutes, I totally got it.
Jenny: I have always written. I was always shy. I have anxiety. I wrote forever. I was struggling to find my voice. There was a parenting blog. I contacted the publisher, I’ll do it for free! They hired me. I got in trouble constantly for saying things in a Texas newspaper that I shouldn’t. I started my own blog, The Bloggess. I had 2 readers. One was the girl who was in the cubicle next to me. I would get her to leave a comment on posts so they weren’t empty.
I started to grow and grow. Time Magazine listed The Bloggess as one of their Top 20 websites. I was up to tens of thousands of visitors per day. It started as a parenting blog — about my daughter. Then about my life and the funny weird things that would happen. I’m funny and weird, maybe you are too.
But I was creating a false history.
I had a deep depression where I couldn’t leave the bed. I had a backlog of ten articles set up for periods like this.
It was weird seeing people laugh when I was numb.
I started talking about when I depression and anxiety. I was shocked by the response. They did not run away.
I had thought it was just me. I thought I was the only one. Some were my even my idols.
All because of my blog.
Aside from my daughter, my biggest accomplishment, was being involved with a blog when people didn’t talk about mental illness. People would email that they were in the process of going to kill themselves but stopped. Not because of what I wrote, but because of people responding that they felt the same. The community kept people alive.
I had what I called the folder of 24. These were 24 people who were still alive after this. People who took a shower during their day were proud of themselves, and no one understood how much that took. There are people who are alive, strangers who are alive because they found this community.
I have made a lot of friends who I have never met in real life. It is not unusual to have a panic attack and talk to Twitter and keep afloat. The most interesting people are those I was able to meet because I was honest.
One was Neil Gaiman. I wrote and he read my blog, he wanted to meet, but knew I couldn’t handle more than 5 minutes [because of social anxiety]. I was supposed to meet Amanda Palmer (Neil Gaiman’s wife). She read me, and I read her stuff. She collects the same weird people I collect. She was on the hotel next to mine. I got right to the door of the hotel room, but I couldn’t leave. I went on Twitter, and said I’m sitting on the floor and don’t know what to do.
Amanda was very involved, she texted me, I will find place where you don’t need to be around people. So it was like, “Oh, there’s a tree, we’ll put you up here.” It was awkward but it worked. I would have never had that opportunity if I hadn’t been honest. The entire time I was thinking, I can’t do this.
A lot of people will say you missed so many opportunities. Knowing the levels of self care you need is important. Everyone has the same imposter syndrome. They are afraid that people will realize they shouldn’t care [about them] either.
For my Book Club. Felicia Day, it was the same thing, terrified to meet her, she helps me with my book trailer. “Can you make a video where it looks like I’m stabbing you?” She understood that I have this issue with coming out in real life. For her Vaginal Fantasy Book Club, you can read trashy novels, and be a guest star in your pajamas. It’s great, I’m getting opportunities that don’t push me too far. We’re all a little crazy.
Commenting on other blogs, how has it helped you find your tribe? As you continue to write, reading other people’s stuff [helps you grow]. Jenny gives an example of a writer she adored. Years and years ago, no one had ever heard of this tiny blog, and I’m like, this is adorable. I didn’t know this person, and she ended up being enormous. I would read her posts and get inspired by her non sequitur style. We would write each other, so odd that I was her idol, because she was mine. We pushed each other. She was also struggling with depression. It’s interesting to see where we’ve come from.
We’re there with our books across from each other, but it’s not about success, it’s about connections. They realize that they’re not alone. – @thebloggess
I read every single comment, I only respond if it’s a legit question. The commenters are much funnier than I am. They are so fantastic. I do struggle with the fact that there’s 100 comments on each page of my blog, Facebook, Fan page, Twitter. I would be grateful if someone could make a plugin to consolidate all of those [comments together].
On Trolls and negative comments: Most of time, they are just confused or angry about something else. If they seem legitimate hurt, I will reach out. Most will say, I’m sorry, I had some baggage.
With real trolls I will keep the same screen name, but I’ll replace their negative comments with [flattering comments like] “I love you”. If they write back again, saying “I never wrote that”, then I’ll change it to something like I want to turn your skin into a jacket; I wonder what your hair smells like.
“If you’re a troll entertain me, or I’m going to entertain me.” Thunderous applause for that statement. Jenny says no one has come back more than three times.
Jenny: I was shocked when my book debuted #1 on the New York Times best sellers list. The people who supported from the beginning made it happen. When it blew up, it wasn’t traffic from the New York Times, CNN or any of those other things, other blogs were all the traffic. WE are the media.
I got a lot of positive reviews, some negative, but you’re supposed to be polarizing. Weed out the people who won’t want it anyway.
I got a bad review from a big publishing house, they used a bunch of big words and I didn’t understand what they were even saying. When the audio book came out, they called it a tour de force. Always have someone you love read the comments. Have them filter the genuine criticism from the garbage.
Jenny tells a story about how her confidence and self-worth has grown over time. She received a pitch from a PR company that didn’t fit her brand at all, something involving the Kardashians and panty hose. After declining it, the executive emailed her back, calling her a “fucking bitch”, telling her she was lucky to be considered relevant enough to be pitched to. She pointed out to the executive that he had hit Reply All on the email, and prepare for a display of relevancy. Her Twitter following rained down hellfire on the exec’s account. She says it was awesome, yet terrifying to have that much power. “It’s a Peter Parker thing — with great power comes great responsibility.”
What’s the best advice you ever got? It was from Neil Gaiman, when I was recording the audiobook. The producers wanted a professional reader. My voice kept tearing. I texted Neil, any advice? He said, “Pretend to be someone who good at reading.” That was it. And it worked.
An emotional and inspiring ending to the last WordCamp in Mission Bay. After this, it was time to say goodbye to everyone and head back home.
Why You Should Attend A Local WordCamp
WordPress is still a pretty unique community, where people are pretty supportive of one another. I can’t think of another development community where you can meet anyone in the ecosystem so freely. WordCamps are a place where you can strengthen existing relationships or forge new ones.
If you make your living from WordPress, events like WordCamps can open your eyes to more possibilities. The techniques, skills and ideas you absorb during conferences like these can benefit both yourself and your clients. Web technologies change quickly. Events like conferences are an investment in your personal development, giving you a long term advantage over competitors that do not.
Entrepreneurs are known for doing bold things. But those stories all start with small, decisive actions. Sometimes a bold step doesn’t seem like it in the moment. But there are times you need to take a chance, and go to an event that you’ve wanted to attend. Say hi to someone in your industry you’d normally be shy around. Be fearless. In the words of WCSF14 presenter, Cory Miller, “your good is someone else’s awesome”. Push the publish button on your work, no matter what it is.