WordCamp Portland 2013

Welcome to WordCamp Portland 2013! It’s being run a little different this year in that there are only two sets of unconference slots, the rest is actual speakers. There is also a theme to the event this year (a first, at least for the Portland WordCamp), discussing permanence.

A few event announcements:

  • A lot of us are introverts here, or shy. Please try to be welcoming and encourage talking to new people. Just join in the conversation if you hear something interesting.
  • Code of Conduct is up on the website! Please follow it.
  • If you’re just on your computer/tablet/smartdevice for non-participatory reasons, try putting it away — if you’re taking notes, sure, fine, but still, be present if you can.

Continue reading “WordCamp Portland 2013”

Thoughts on XOXO

XOXO Festival LogoIt’s been a few months since the XOXO Festival happened, and it’s been written about to great effect in a number of places. The recordings of the talks are now up and available to the public, even. All of this means that it’s probably time I sit down and share my own thoughts about it, as well.

A little background: the XOXO Festival was a conference conceived of and planned by Andy Baio and Andy McMillan, funded through a Kickstarter drive, targeting creators and makers. The goal wasn’t technical discussions of How to create, so much as exploring Why we create, the process we take to make it work in our lives and our culture. It was held at the YU Contemporary in Portland, Oregon, in mid-September, 2012 (a great time to be in Portland). The event was a rousing success, and there are a number of factors why:

Crowdfunding

By funding the event through Kickstarter, they were able to keep the focus of the event where they wanted it, rather than needing to kowtow to corporate sponsors. That’s not to say there weren’t corporate sponsors — there were three — but there was never a point where it turned into shilling a product or service (they were thanked on the website, in the program, and at the opening and closing. That’s about it). It felt refreshing, and allowed the focus of the event to stay where it belonged.

Establishing the Social Contract

In the opening talk, Andy Baio made a point of calling out that everyone there was a peer, and that all should feel welcome to come talk to anyone else. By doing so, he established a social contract among the attendees and staff. It explicitly demolished the social inhibition of joining what appears to be an established group or discussion, and it felt like the attendees took it to heart — there were no cliques that I could see, and the amount of commingling and interaction was fantastic. I’ve been to a fair number of conferences, un-conferences, conventions, meetings, and other events, and I cannot think of any other occasion that was so committed to openness and communication. It felt great. I’m not alone on feeling like this — it was a recurring observation while chatting with people during the after-party.

Including Portland

A lot of events could basically be held anywhere. XOXO, however, had a distinctly “Portland” flavor, and attendees were encouraged to get out and enjoy their time in the city. The opening party was Thursday night, but the talks didn’t get started until Saturday — Friday was used to host social events for the attendees around town. Panic graciously opened their offices for an ice cream social, while Wieden+Kennedy held a rooftop cocktail party, and Ground Kontrol opened their doors for an attendee-only “free play” afternoon. As the day rolled into the evening, this was all followed by the “Fringe” portion of the festival, with music and an indie arcade set up within walking distance of each other. To top it off, half a dozen food carts were invited to set up directly outside the event, providing a wide range of incredibly delicious food. They even brought in Stumptown Coffee to provide fresh coffee (as a volunteer, I particularly appreciated that the baristas decided to hook staff up with coffee for free).

Also? The talks didn’t start until 10-10:30am. People had time to go have a good breakfast, or sleep in a little, so no one felt rushed or harried. It’s amazing how much giving people a bit of morning time can help set the pace and mood of an event.

Keeping it Focused

It’s easy to try and ratchet on a bunch of extra topics and themes to an event like this. Instead, the talks were targeted to creatives (and more specifically, creatives who were involving in Doing something, the folks who took something they were passionate about and made it work), and the surrounding events were likewise very specific. It even applied to the schedule itself — there was only one track, so speakers didn’t have to feel like they were competing with others for attendance, and attendees didn’t have to weigh which talk to go to next.

The whole event was like this. The vendor area was curated — it wasn’t just anyone who wanted a table, it was groups that the organizers felt made something genuinely interesting and crafted with care and intent. The food carts outside were all explicitly invited and carefully chosen as some of the best Portland had to offer. The Fringe portion of the festival highlighted specific independent games and musical artists — again, curated with an eye towards craftsmanship and the quality of the experience.

When there is that sort of clear attention to quality and aesthetic taste applied, people pick up on it. They are more likely to try something new, because they feel they can trust the taste of the curators. That all leads to an event where everyone is interested in trying everything, and makes for an amazing participatory experience.

I’m really glad I was able to participate in the XOXO Festival, and I sincerely hope I’m in a position to participate again whenever the next event happens. It’s had a pretty lasting effect on me, causing me to seriously pause and consider what I’m doing with my life, and what direction I want to go now.

Other Links:

BarCamp Portland 2012

Welcome to another session of BarCamp Portland conference notes! BarCamp Portland 2012 is now underway, and the session board is currently filling up. For those who want to follow along, the Twitter hashtag to search for is #bcp6. The schedule will be up at 2012.barcampportland.org.

Is There Room for a “Renaissance Man” in Today’s Specialized Age

The question at hand is that with the breadth and depth of knowledge necessary in so many fields. Answer: things used to be handled in a more holistic fashion, and now it’s so much harder.

“Renaissance Man” is a loaded term, where we expect a savant in every topic, when really, if you are solid with a handful of different fields, you’re arguably a renaissance man. The 1-2 man startup is the space for the modern day renaissance man — when a project is that small, everyone needs to be able to juggle multiple skill sets.

There is room for renaissance people, but the key is to educate others, and to find ways to have multidisciplinary education, bringing holistics and heuristics to school.

Working in the PDX Tech Community

Audrey (the host) created a wiki to start documenting the tech scene here in Portland. Everything from average wages, to lists of companies, warning signs to avoid. Workinginpdxtech.com. Aside: network is being pretty flaky, so apologies if updates flake out.

Biggest benefit to finding the job you want is knowing people. Leveraging user groups is pretty key (and companies that are hiring tend to get more active in user groups when they’re hiring). Also, finding ways to make sure that job postings get noticed (they get posted all over the place, companies sites, mailing lists, craigslist, tech job sites, et cetera).

Getting good wage data is important and requested. The wiki collects some data from surveys and Bureau of Labor, but more data is always useful.

As an employee here in Portland, it’s important to develop a support network of people inside and outside of your organization (and not just your spouse/partner, but others within your industry, possibly found through user groups). In particular when dealing with dysfunctional organizations, they will often isolate you, so that you start to accept bad behavior/wages/etc as “normal”.

But how do we create that support network, how do we break in and get to know people? User groups are good, but can get clique-y, it’s good to try both large user groups and smaller ones. Also, “gifting circles” (people go around and say what they need, and what they have to offer). Also, having facilitators whose job at user groups is to notice new people and bring them into the social setting. (Not necessarily bring them under your wing, but find out why they are there, help put them at ease, and then introduce them to others who are interested in similar topics.)

What can employers here do to help engage the community. There’s a disconnect between what employees and employers are seeing — employees are saying “where are the companies?” and employers are saying “where are the people?” Recruiters aren’t necessarily a good idea — it’s better to incentivize your current employees to go participate in the tech community. It raises direct awareness, and gives potential hires someone to talk to who is directly involved and can give an honest assessment.

Would it be useful to evaluate recruiters, to help identify those who are useful and those who just repost public postings and have no internal awareness of the company. (Yes, it would be.) Also, train HR in at least some basic technical knowledge, so that job postings can be more relevant.

How to find jobs? Silicon Florist is useful, and (less so) Craigslist, but most people got their current jobs by direct referral/friends. To find companies, ePDX.org can be good to get a list of companies, and then you can go direct to the company sites for job listings. Participate in user groups and listen to where people are working. How to find events? Calagator is good, though things get missed.

Teaching Coding: What Works and What Doesn’t

Roundtable on how to teach programming better — what things have worked for others, and what hasn’t. A lot of folks are self-taught, and so it’s hard to think about how to teach others.

“Not everyone can be great at everything, but everyone can be better at something than they are.” One person who has had been a successful tutor also says that it’s worth taking some time to figure out what metaphor or concept that works for that person.

Drupal set up a “ladder” leading towards people contributing to core modules. People would pair up and do learning sprints leading up to to code sprints of actual contributions. They’ve found this to be highly effective for improving core module submissions in both quality and number.

(Internet flaked out, other notes will be up elsewhere later.)

What Stumptown Syndicate Does

Stumptown Syndicate is a local non-profit dedicated to educating and aiding the tech industry in Portland. They put on courses and conferences, such as BarCamp, and Ignite Portland, and WhereCamp, and Open Source Bridge. The goal is to foster a sense of community among people involved in tech fields, and also educate and improve the body of knowledge of those in these fields.

Most events are free, paid for by sponsorships and volunteer time and donations, with the exception of Open Source Bridge.

Last year, they started experimenting with adding workshops, starting with a Beginning Ruby course targeted towards women and bringing more women into tech. They’d like to do more of this, but it takes a lot of work and resources, which means needing to expand the volunteer pool.

Stumptown is also trying to do more outreach to the community, helping make sure user groups happen. They’re also doing outreach about what they’ve learned about event planning, so the tips and tricks they’ve encountered can be forwarded on to others to make that process easier.

There are many volunteers, but the number of members of Stumptown Syndicate is fairly small — the core difference is that members tend to contribute financially to the organization. If you want to volunteer (strongly encouraged!), head to the Stumptown Syndicate website and fill out the volunteer form, so that they’ll have your contact information and can get you involved.

WordPress and You

(No notes.)

Applying Martial Arts Philosophies to Everyday Life

There are a few core takeaways from this session: 1) working in the tech industry, we’re often spending time behind a desk, and not taking care of our bodies. Being more mindful of our bodies can improve our overall health and even improve focus at work; 2) martial arts in particular can be useful in that you can learn to read the body language of those around you better, which can help you deal with frustrating bosses, clients, or co-workers.

It matters less which martial art you choose to pursue, though there are a few things to bear in mind when choosing a school — in general, you should try to find a school that teaches both the physical AND the mental/spiritual side of the form. Try and observe a class before officially joining — if the school doesn’t allow that, it’s probably not a school you’d want to go to in the first place.

And that wraps up the notes for another BarCamp Portland event! There are additional notes found at http://2012.barcampportland.org/sessions/. I suppose it goes without saying that I’m a fan of the unconference model, but I really would encourage anyone to try and attend your local BarCamp or similar if you get a chance. They can be incredibly rewarding, and offer a great cross-section of what interesting things people in your area are doing.

WordCamp Portland 2011 (part 2)

Day 2! To clarify on two items on the schedule: custom post types is for when you’re doing CMS-level work such as tracking items in a store. Post Formats is more towards end-users, a new feature that allows you to tell WordPress to format different types of posts (standard post, aside, image, etc) in different ways.

Also, there’s a local wordpress user group here in Portland that meets monthly.

Also, there’s a “happiness table” with WordPress experts offering to answer questions you have.

Also, there’s a job board for folks looking for blogging related work.

Also, thanks to the sponsors and volunteers!

Jane Wells @ Automattic: What’s Coming in WordPress 3.3 and Town Hall Q&A:

  • Jane is one of the UX folks working on WordPress core
  • A bit of background: Jane’s first wordcamp was Wordcamp Portland, where she showcased the changes in WordPress 2.7, and is now showing the changes in 3.3
  • wpdevel.wordpress.com is the officially wordpress developer blog.
  • New in 3.3: the sidebar navigation now has menus rather than having to click into sub-menus.
  • More work in the admin bar, making it useful to connect the front end and the back end.
  • Improving the help menus (more readable, more relevant).
  • Improving the widget screen for larger screens.
  • Improving tablet support for the backend (not targeting phones yet, that’s a whole other kettle of fish)
  • In general going for a more responsive design.
  • Take a cue from gmail and similar, there will be hinting calling out new features.
  • Image handling is MUCH IMPROVED, using a new uploader.
  • Media management revamp is still not done, though. Some minor changes, but not the big one.
  • Inline feature update log (not ready yet, but being worked on), so you can see the changes in the latest version of WP.
  • New User “Welcome” to help new users with a lot of the initial defaults — most users don’t really do an exhaustive search of the admin panel to learn how to change defaults.
  • A quick call-out: there is a setting theme developers can add to a theme to tell the editor to respect the settings of your theme (fonts, line width, etc.), if you want your editor to act more “WYSIWYG”
  • Question came up about styling per post from someone still using tables for layout: You need to learn CSS. At this point, if you don’t know CSS, your HTML is almost worthless. (Preach it!)
  • Development: they tend to test features as a plugin, then if that goes well, patch it into core.
  • Question about the file url setting in the media uploader: they’ve got “none”, but the point of the attachment url and post url is workflow (attachment url is basically to have a smaller shot that links to a larger image; post url is useful for when you want to keep images skinned to your blog, not just the image).
  • Request: better PDF uploading support? Agreed, it would be great, but it hasn’t been a priority since there are other ways to upload PDFs.
  • Random anecdote: one of the reasons for the UI refresh in 3.2: when they were at SXSW, they saw a preview of the new blogger UI, and the new blogger post screen looked just like the old UI for WordPress. This has/had been happening a lot, so they decided it was time to prioritize the planned refresh. (This is anecdotal, not some sort of official reasoning.)
  • Feature scope for a new version is generally decided communally on an IRC channel, and the public are welcome to chime in.
  • Request: that the wpdevel blog gets more usage (used to be more active).
  • Favorite feature .com has that .org does not: email subscriptions (even has jabber support)! Also, automatic twitter/social media broadcasting.

Oh no, Voodoo Doughnuts delayed again! Hopefully after the next session.

Blogging/Content Productivity: How do you write? Workflow? Tools? Discussion of EditFlow:

  • General discussion session, asking about productivity and any tips and tricks and tools people have.
  • Example workflow: text editor, keep a file of drafts sync’d on Dropbox, so you can write from anywhere, and uses markdown.
  • [Personally, I’m curious on Scrivener for this.]
  • Idea to Draft to Post: the amount of time can vary wildly. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s weeks or months (or it stalls and is years).
  • Pinboard: similar to Delicious but not slowly dying (oh snap!). Useful for collected link posts.
  • EditFlow demo: grew out of a desire to manage and track external workflows across multiple people and projects.
  • Able to bring in a lot of that workflow into WordPress.
  • Features like custom statuses (“waiting for feedback” etc, instead of just “posted” or “draft”)
  • [This sounds like a godsend for a group blog/e-magazine, though I’m not sure how useful it would be for single user blogs.]
  • Calendar tools for viewing a story queue for scheduled stories/posts.
  • Also story budget tracking.
  • Editorial metadata (due date, location, photographer, needs, contact info, et cetera)
  • Looking for feedback from people willing to road test this plugin.
  • (Now they’re explaining a bit about how this could be useful as a one or two person blog vs a large team.)
  • As a single user, one of the big useful features is tracking drafts more efficiently. Custom statuses, and queues.
  • This actually makes a lot of sense: custom status of “pitch” for a trackable one-line pitch of your idea. Then maybe you have 20 minutes later, so you outline it, and then save it as “outline”. A few weeks later you have time and energy for writing a long form post, you then filter for outlines, and can immediately get to what you want. (Nice.)
  • The calendar view is also useful as a single user because it provides a visual tool to view when you’re actually posting — as was pointed out in the keynote, steady, consistent posting is the key to growing a readership, and this makes it easier to see this.
  • Request: showing due dates on the calendar: Developer: Check back next week, next version! (Yay for responsive developers, we’ll see if he was tongue-in-cheek.)
  • Request: Color-coding statuses. It’s possible easily enough (each post is wrapped in a status-specific class on the post list page in WP, already), just hasn’t been worked out yet.
  • Request: usage statistics (so you can see how many words you wrote through all revisions, and time tracking).
  • Request: RSS feeds to track status updates on posts (pitch to outline, outline to draft, etc).
  • Recommendation: using the new fullscreen feature in WP is great for no-distractions.
  • A lot of folks still use offline text editors for various reasons (I use Scrivener for long-form for the research note-taking, others use Evernote).
  • One thing currently lacking in EditFlow is documentation, and they’re going to work on that.
  • For EditFlow: treat it as a supplement to project management tools, not a replacement.
  • There isn’t a clear answer as to how to keep motivated for blogging. There’s two camps: those that push a schedule for a rhythm; and those that push the notion that “people share your content because it’s awesome, not because it was posted on Wednesday”. [Personally, I feel like it’s a mixture of the two: if you aren’t posting regularly, you don’t get the audience. If you aren’t posting quality content, you don’t retain the audience and they don’t share your content.]
  • Suggestion: go read Caterina Fake’s post FOMO and Social Media
  • It’s easy to get caught up in the noise: follow the people who are important to you and are consistently rewarding: if it’s actually important, it’ll still come up on your radar. The result is more signal, less noise, and clearer topics for writing.

Post Formats: Using Your Blog to Write About Anything:

  • Presented by Andrew Spittle (@andrewspittle), who works as a happiness engineer for Automattic.
  • Post Formats are a way in wordpress of designating a little bit of metadata about a post, so you can customize how different types of content is displayed.
  • Really simple, but requires your theme supports it (but is easy for a theme to add, and a lot are adding them). (Just add a easily cut-and-pasteable function into functions.php.)
  • Nine formats supported: aside, link, status, standard, gallery, image, video, chat, audio
  • Formats are not currently extendable (these 9 are what there are), because they wanted standardization on them so themes could more easily support the options.
  • [Personally, I’d love to see a twitter plugin that pulls and archives tweets as status-format posts.]
  • Post formats are easily re-skinnable.
  • The design can fit your content, without having to come up with one universal format. Different types of content have different needs.
  • Useful suggestion: tie post formats into categories, so users can quickly see all (for instance) images, or galleries, or quotes.
  • If you’re trying to convince your authors, show a site that is already using it, and then point out how easy it is to add by showing the “format” section within a “Create Post” page.
  • The big “shift” in using post formats is that blogging becomes more about what you want to share, rather than just “oh I need to write something now.”
  • One flaw to post formats is that it comes down to each theme as to what formats are supported. (The bright side is the content is still there, you just lose that custom formatting if you switch to a theme without that format support.)
  • Post format is a meta field in the database, so it’s persistent (if you set it to audio, then switch to another theme that doesn’t support audio, then switch to another theme that DOES have audio support, WP will still remember that it was set as an audio format before)
  • Changes to the “create post” page based on the post format is being discussed, but not implemented yet (and probably won’t be for a while, as it’s a BIG change, and they want to make sure they do it right). [This would be a great feature, imho. If I post a quote, I don’t need a title, I need a field for the quote, and a field for citation.]
  • You can’t currently filter your posts list (on the backend) by format, so also using them as categories seems like a good option (most useful if you’re not actively using categories for something else already).
  • A number of the themes in the Theme Showcase on wordpress already support post formats. (And all the free themes on wordpress.com are in a public repository in the SVN.) Just do a search with a filter for post formats.
  • [I’m pretty excited about post formats. It’s one of the things I like most about tumblr, and I’m glad to see that functionality in a self-hosted option.]

(Yay doughnuts!)

Adding Video/Audio/Animation to Your Blog:

  • Leader didn’t show up. Awwww.

And that wraps up WordCamp Portland 2011! (Since my last session aborted, I opted to skip out a little early and missed the wrap-up.) Thanks again to all the organizers and presenters, it was a lot of fun, and I was glad to be able to make it to the event.