Highlights from WordCamp 2007

Posted by Andrew Mager on Thursday, July 26th, 2007. Filed under: eHub Features

Unconferencing is one of the reasons I moved to San Francisco. They are free, geek-infested, and very enlightening. The open source software community is probably my favorite group of folks to hang out with here.

I spent my whole day at WordCamp 2007, hosted at the Swedish American Hall in downtown SF.

Swedish American Hall

The event was well organized, and the venue was perfect: a 100-year-old cultural landmark in downtown San Francisco.

Geeks @ WordCamp 2007

I believe that WordPress is the most valuable blogging platform around. Their tagline, "Code is Poetry" says it all. You can control every element of your blog, and barely spend a penny.

Matt Mullenweg is only a few months older than me, and it was a thrill to meet him. I was impressed with every speaker, and I learned so much about blogging and its future.

“Never make new mistakes.” -Matt Mullenweg

Sepia of WordCamp 2007

Every new implementation of WordPress corrects a laundry list of problems. The beauty of an open source development community is the variety of minds working together to foster solutions.

HyperDB and High Performance in WordPress

Mullenweg and Barry Abrahamson spoke about HyperDB, an advanced database class that supports replication, failover, and federation. Basically, it makes your website speedy.

They helped me to better understand the digg effect. When your server’s resources are exhausted, Apache hogs memory and the OS is forced to kill processes. Sometimes, it kills MySQL and your home page is a WordPress error page. Always install wp-cache, and disable plugins to make your site run smoother during a digg.

Teaching journalists how to blog

Jeremy Zilar from nytimes.com/blogs spoke about how a big media company handles blogging on a grand scale. He emphasized that half the challenge is educating old media veterans about how the web operates.

City Room is one of the most elegant blogs I have ever seen, and their new “Comment of the Moment” feature is fresh and intuitive.

Iterative Design in Agile Environments

CEO of slideshare.net Rashmi Sinha, PhD, spoke about her startup which enables users to share Powerpoint slides on the web.

Rashmi

She spoke about designing for popularity (Most commented on, Most Downloaded, Top Rated, etc). The first generation of social networks invited users to "connect" with each other, but the second generation is object-based. People are interacting differently with the addition of rich user-based experiences instead of the old "web surfing" mentality. There are three basic models of sociality that sites model these days:

1. Google

They have absolutely no social navigation. All you have is that one search box, and a few options to better define your query. Rashmi calls it the “Anti-Facebook” model. They are trying to get at the user’s metadata without letting people form connections. Google Image Labeler is a perfect example.

2. Digg

She described Digg as a laser beam. When you goto their front door, you look for the highest rated stories, and it redirects you to the linked web page. It’s more focused on time, tech topics, and a mob-like mentality to social media. Digg has evolved so much that users can easily understand how comething becomes popular. Many users posit “Oh, 1000 people dugg this, maybe I should too”.

3. YouTube

These guys delve into promiscuous popularity analysis. There is so much content, that’s its almost impossible to design for popularity. In other words, what is popular to one audience, maybe be offensive and boring to another audience.

She also mentions nine principles for designing social systems:

  • Make your system personally useful – It’s very useful to share a Powerpoint. Thrive on people’s selfishness.
  • Symbiotic relationship between personal and social.
  • Porous boundary between public and private.
  • Understanding levels of participation – Everyone does not need to create content on your site. You will always have those people who create and account, comment on a few things, and never upload anything.
  • Let people feel the presence of others.
  • And yet, moments of independence…
  • Add in serendipitySlideshow Karaoke has a fun interface, and allows users to randomly select a slideshow.
  • Add in a dash of experts. Have a contest that entices users to create something special. Take advantage of open source. Facebook understands this.
  • Finally, allow for play. People like random, weird, and fun content. Spice things up from time to time.

I really enjoyed her speech. Here is a link to her slideshow, or you can watch it right here.

Past, Present, and Future of Web Publishing

Dave Winer was next up to speak about the evolution of the web as a publishing medium. He has been handling large audiences on the Internet for over ten years, and provided excellent insight on how user behavior has changed so much in only a few years.

“A blog is one person. If somebody wants to contradict you, they have to do it in their own space” -Dave Winer

He also simplified blogging into two categories. The title, link, description model is most common today, and WordPress has this model essentially mastered. The link-blogging model is even simpler: just a few words and a hyperlink is all you need. This form of micro-blogging is just now starting to explode, as sites like Twitter and Pownce begin to gain popularity. This new form of social human aggregation is most exciting to me, and I now see a clear seperation between these two flavors of blogging.

Winer also spoke about “future-safe archives”. Why shouldn’t your blog be valuable in 50 or 100 years? How can we preserve this data? The group discussed the pros and cons of websites like archive.org and the flexibility of the RSS 2.0 specification.

Usability Analysis of wp-admin

One main advantage of WordPress is ease of use. Liz Danzico from Happy Cog has done hours of research and usability testing on the backend of WordPress. By release 2.4, they hope to roll out the new layout for wp-admin. One of the most exciting improvements is the new Dashboard page. Danzico and Mullenweg have looked at other backend designs like Tumblr which use different media content types as a way to classify posts, but it looks like they will stick with a verb-based navigation like "Write" and "Manage". They identified different user personas and designed to complement needs of solo bloggers, power users, pro admins and consultants.

The new WordPress Admin section will have better support for publishing "states" too. A lot of the time, drafts aren’t really drafts. Sometimes a post can be in-progress, or unpublished, but it gets lost as a draft. Comments will also be easier to monitor.

Matt Mullenweg @ WordCamp 2007

State of the Word Address

Mullenweg wrapped up the conference with a one-hour talk about the state of WordPress in mid 2007.

Since last year’s WordCamp, the following milestones have been reached:

713 new ideas

36,676 votes on the idea board

2,849,349 downloads from wordpress.org

1,041,846 blogs on wordpress.com

20,212,994 posts

1,648,046,157 page views

To be successful in the open source software world, Mullenweg explains that your platform must be stable, fast, secure, but most importantly flexible. His team is working on projects like BackPress (extraction with wp-apps), WPCP (caching proxy), and a plugin update notification system. They will also be rolling out the tags feature, which will hopefully replace the “Categories” vocabulary.

He mentioned a few websites that both help and hurt his product. welovewp.com showcases WordPress-powered sites, but sites like easywordpress.com scheme on the whole idea of WordPress.

Bloggers and developers have something wonderful to look forward to in the upcoming releases of WordPress. According to Matt, it can only get better. See some photos of the event at Flickr.