On Country Vs. City WordCamps
Background: This week in WordPress news, the organizing team of WordCamp Netherlands was told they can’t continue to brand themselves as the country wide “WordCamp Netherlands.” Rather, they will need to move forward with city specific camps. This is a rule given by the WordPress Community Support team that has been in place for a year now. WCNL says that because the entirety of the NL is only about two and a half hours by two and a half hours wide, it’s not necessary or practical to have city-specific camps. Further, since they’ve already been hosting their camp for several years as WCNL, they’d like to continue doing so. The Community Support team reiterated that is not an option.
Their options at this point are to break into city camps (for this particular organizing team, to rebrand their existing camp as a city specific one). Or, to continue to hold their event without the support of the Foundation. This would mean forfeiting the sponsorship money which is supplied by the Foundation. And, rebuilding their audience from scratch since they would not be allowed to use the current attendee lists to market the new, non-Foundation event.
I think that’s enough background for this post.
Oh – this is more of a brain dump than polished thesis.
I’ve been the lead organizer for WordCamp Columbus (Ohio) 2010-2015, and in 2016 was a co-organizer. WordCamp Columbus was held in 2008+2009 also, but I was not involved then. Our camp hosts about 250 guests and 30 speakers at our three day event each year.
About The WordPress community in Ohio:
When we first started, Columbus was the only WordCamp in Ohio. Now, there are meetups AND WordCamps in Dayton, Kent and Cincinnati. Additionally, Toledo recently started their own meetup, so I suspect they will soon have their own WordCamp, too. There are more WordCamps in Ohio than in any other state. Our four camps collectively have about 1000 guests each year. Even if you account for duplicates, I suspect we’re still looking at close to 850 unique guests.
You can get across the entire state of Ohio in about four hours. The state up north (immediately above Ohio), itself has several WordCamps. Some of those camps are actually closer for the WordPressers living in northern Ohio than the ones in central or southern Ohio are. Some of the camps in Kentucky are closer for those in Cincinnati than the ones in northern Ohio.
It’s not an understatement to say that any of these camps are within easy driving distance of anyone in Ohio. We don’t lack for WordCamps. You might have to suffer through a few hours of corn and soybeans to get there, but if you want to attend a WordCamp, there’s one near you.
Going into the 2017 WordCamp season, one of our camps (Kent) was made to rebrand under the same rules WCNL is being asked to follow. Kent was previously called WordCamp North East Ohio (WCNEO). As the name reflected the region and not the city, they’re now WordCamp Kent. I know that was not an easy decision to live with for the organizers, but they’re doing it and moving on.
I’m not the “leader” of this Ohio WordPress thing, or even the Columbus WordPress thing. I didn’t make these cities’ meetups or WordCamps happen. This is not me trying to speak for all Ohio, and the other Ohio WC orgs might have a different opinion.
I believe the decision to force camps to be city specific is wise, when applied to the US states, and when applied to a country like the Netherlands. I also think the Foundation’s newer option of regional camps in areas where multiple local camps are established will prove key to the stable growth of the WordPress community and project.
In another life, I was a pastor. At one of the churches where I worked, I was given the task of implementing an outreach campaign called 40 Days of Purpose. The primary goal of the campaign was to get ordinary church goers (not staff) to invite their neighbors to join then at their home to read through a book called the 40 Days of Purpose, over the course of… 40 days… in case you’re not seeing the theme here.
The church already had “small groups” (those are like casual Sunday school classes, held in someone’s home). They had about 20 small groups already when we started the campaign. Those small groups were in addition to the weekly gatherings on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. And while the large group gatherings on Sunday/Wednesday were great, the small groups were where shit got real. Because you could walk in and out of church on Sunday and hardly say a word to anyone if you really wanted to. But walk into a small group of 12-15 people and not say a word all night, and someone’s going to notice.
So during the 40 Days of Purpose, we asked regular members to host a small group. It wasn’t the same commitment as hosting a permanent small group, though. These 40 Days groups lasted for just over a month, and were done. We gave them the book, a few questions to ask to encourage discussion about it, and that was it. The requirements and responsibilities for these 40 Days groups were must less than the established, permanent groups.
And do you know what? We added 26 new small groups during the course of the campaign, and FILLED those 26 groups with new neighbors, work friends and families. We more than doubled the number of guests in small groups. That single campaign, led by volunteers with small, narrowly defined roles, helped the church explode its growth over the course of the next several years.
Church, schmurch. WordPress isn’t a church.
And yet, it kind of is.
There’s this thing that happens when you empower people to take ownership of their own little corner of the universe that is really powerful. It’s a multiplier of what would happen if you instead tried to accomplish the same thing for more people with fewer leaders. When people feel the burden of responsibility for their own piece of dirt, they generally carry that burden well, and care for it better than you could.
Each of the Ohio Meetup and Camp leaders know the needs of their own communities in ways the other city leaders don’t. Even though I’m only two and a half hours from Cleveland, I have no idea what their local community needs from one another. I don’t know what knowledge holes exist in their local developer community (both in WP and outside of it); I don’t know what their primary industries are to offer suggestions for how to grow WordPress into the community; I don’t know the history of what their community has been taught or is expected to know at this point; I don’t know who is hiring and who is looking for work. I don’t know these things because they’re not my people. My people are here in Columbus.
“But we’re all so close to each other. Only a few hours away.” And yes, we interact with one another on Twitter and Slack and at WordCamps, but our daily professional and personal lives are NOT lived together. I’m not grabbing coffee with a dev from Dayton very often. When our local analytics meetup needs a speaker to talk about WP, they’re not asking the Cincinnati meetup to send someone. When our WordCamp needed a speaker to talk about PHP, we didn’t ask someone from Toledo. We reached into our own, Columbus community, and we are stronger for it. Does that mean we can’t pull from the others when we need them? No, but it’s because those communities exist on their own that I even know who to call on in them for help. If we had tried to reach everyone in the state from here in Columbus, we would have failed, even though they’re just a few hours away.
I’ve also seen questions about why WordCamp US gets to exist while WCNL is asked to rebrand. That’s an interesting question, and at first glance, it seems hypocritical. But, I think if you look at it more closely, it’s actually entirely aligned with the City/Region rule from Central. It IS the regional camp that represents the states. It is the gathering of the region. They’re not actually DOING something different than they’re asking WCNL to do. Central is building out city camps, and gathering them once a year at the US camp. We can do the same – build out our City meetups and camps, then gather them in a state camp, or gather several states into a regional camp once they’re strong.
I can’t wait to see which states and regions grab on to this opportunity first here in the states. 😉
What do you think? How does changing the name of a WordCamp negatively affect the organizer’s ability to serve the needs of their local community?