I’m writing from Sofia Airport, overlooking the snow tipped Vitosha mountain. I’m on my way home. I’ve had an amazing time at WordCamp Europe and I’ve learnt a lot.

An international crowd descended on the Bulgarian capital this weekend for their annual pilgrimage. What an awesome community to be part of. Walking from room to room you could hear a dozen different languages. I’ve met people from all corners of the globe (- big congrats to those I met from Australia and America!)

There is a real sense of camaraderie amongst WordPressers. I haven’t seen it this strong at any other conference. There is also an ethos that by improving others we can improve ourselves and improve WordPress.

Chris Lema mentioned an IBM study in his talk. It concluded that it was only better to delegate a task if it would take ten times longer to do so. In other words, the process of sharing and teaching benefits you, as much as the other person. This business logic certainly applies to the WordPress community.

WordPress occupies 23.1% of the web. This is an exciting time for WordPress and everyone is looking up. The question being asked is how can we increase that share of the web through collaborative endeavour.

The Philosophy of WordPress

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Marx back in town

On Day One we had a fantastic talk about the raison d’être of WordPress. Automattic’s Siobhan McKeown spoke on the philosophical foundation of WordPress. I did not expect Marx and Hegel to feature in a talk at this Soviet era Palace of National Culture.

It was a great talk and it’s important to remember that the WordPress family includes all disciplines – not just coders.

We heard about the four freedoms of open source and the reasons to cherish, celebrate and, most importantly, to implement these moral abstractions into practical action.

It’s great to see the community to discuss these ideas and ideals. It’s inspiring to see how business can succeed with them.

Finally Siobhan should get an award for some beautiful slides which you can look at here. Talk about setting the bar for presentation slides!

Open source Business

These ideas were explored by Simon from Code For The People who have built their business by embracing open source. So much so that CFTP’s developer John Blackbourn is going to be the lead developer for WordPress 4.1. Congrats!

CFTP is a small team. Contributing John Blackbourn to WP Core won’t make our lives easy. But it’s important to us. We’ll find a way. (Simon Dickson)

Find out more about John here. It is hard for any company to share precious resources, especially for such a large project. Good on you!

Simon talked about how the open source model challenges the traditional business models. Previously scarcity was created and a gate-keeper provided access. The GPL license removes the scarcity. Everything can be shared and modified.

Value is created by providing expertise, updates and support. The community of users and developers grows from this collective shared work and business can flourish if it positions itself as a source of expertise.

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We all benefit from growing WordPress

This mirrors the experience of Brighton based Drupal commerce company iKOS. At The Business of Web Design talks earlier in the year Richard Jones discussed how their company grew by contributing to the community. It was through giving that they gained their reputation and demonstrated their experience. It was this contribution that was a major catalyst for business growth by attracting Enterprise clients.

At Raison we have taken note. This year we shared our development plugin and boilerplate child theme on GitHub.

We hope others in the community use this. We are also adding snippets of code to our blog in order to give back to the community.

Having the right shoes to dance in

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Ballerinas on their Tippy Toes

Day Two started with a rapturous talk by Chris Lema about being professional. Chris is a master story teller and weaved an inspiring tale about ballet shoes, preparation and expectations.

He talked about what behaving professionally involved. The emphasis was on putting in the preparation so that when the time comes to get in front of the lime-light, you can dance.

One aspect of the talk that hit home to me was about managing client expectations. We’ve recently written a guide about expectations and misconceptions on our blog and I will continually update this. It’s important to clarify to clients where their responsibility, and where your responsibility, begins and ends. Having this in place allows you to work professionally.

Chris gave the example of the emergency phone call from a client. How should you manage it? If a client rings up with a bit of work they require immediately how should you respond? He explained that if you drop your current work load you risk pushing projects back and messing up your schedule. Both of these elements undoubtedly lead to interrupted cash flow and additional admin work. More importantly you risk upsetting the new clients attached to those projects, the projects that you are pushing back or temporarily halting. If you explain to the client that they would not like to have their project deadline shifted because of an emergency job then perhaps they will begin to understand.

Moreover, answering client calls in the wee hours of the morning or during weekends also sets up a relationship that is not ‘wholesome’. The client begins to expect a level of commitment that is neither professional nor feasible for you as a business or freelancer. Naturally, every case is different and it is crucial to be someone a client feels they can depend on. It is just useful, as with any relationship, to set up these boundaries and expectations early on so that you can continue to grow your business effectively.

Having a Security Posture

These ideas were enforced by Tony Perez who is CEO of Securi who specialise in WordPress security. This was another passionate talk. Anyone who had a hangover from the Day One after party was definitely awake after Chris and Tony’s talks. It’s awesome to hear someone knowledgable about their field get fired up!

It was also an eye-opener to the risks WordPress sites are exposed to. He explains that the reason WordPress has been so successful (open source and the community) is also it’s largest challenge.

We didn’t hear anything about a magic bullet solution. Instead we got practical advice about having a security posture, about putting processes in place so you can mitigate and manage risk.

Protection, Detection and Response. These are the three pillars of your security posture.

One question at the end asked about how developers can be responsible for sites if their clients add plugins on their own accord. The answer was blunt – if the client is adding extensions and plugins then they are the site manager and they should manage the risk. Contracts should clearly state where responsibility lies. This can be a grey area and I intend to relook at how exactly we manage this in our maintenance package so that we have a much more robust posture.

Matt and Om take the stage

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Matt and Om discuss whether Emoti’s are appearing in 4.1

On the second day of WCEU we had a Q&A session with Matt Mullenweg and Om Malik. It was a real privilege to hear about the impulses which drive WordPress and where that will take WordPress into the future. Again we heard lots about how we can increase 23.1% and how we can improve, weaknesses and strengths.

It was interesting to hear about Automattic’s business strategy; how they have always seen themselves as complementary to the community, growing alongside it. Matt compared this to Acquia which has an equvilent position to Drupal and how their business model has put them at odds with the community. This is something which Automattic would not do and helps the WordPress community at large.

We also heard about the benefits of a distributed team of 200. I saw in a follow up tweet from Matt that he intends to keep the team de-centralised. The distributed office is taking hold and it’s exciting to see Automattic take the lead.

We heard about how companies are sharing resources and committed to developing core. Other than Automattic, WP Engine and CFTP both come to mind. When Matt was asked to put a number on how much resource he would like to see companies share, he put this at 5%.

It was interesting to hear Matt’s thoughts about touch interfaces and how WordPress needs to improve its mobile offering. But the most exciting development on the horizon is the introduction of the WordPress REST API. Matt said this was going to change WordPress – that it would have a similar effect as introducing plugins did.

There are going to be some mega opportunities for integration and development. The future of WordPress is bright, it’s growing and next year it is going to be more than 23.1%!

Beautiful view of Sofia from the top of the conference building
Beautiful view of Sofia from the top of the conference building

Thank you’s

Everyone I spoke to was impressed by how incredibly slick the whole event was. An army of red tee’d volunteers made this happen. Thanks so much. There were eight hundred of us and we were looked after impeccably. Very slick.

It is also important to recognise the sponsors who made the conference happen. It was great to speak to you all. We currently use ManageWP (thanks for the tee-shirt!) and WooThemes. It was great to meet in person and great that WooThemes had a strong presence in Europe when they must be firing on all cyclinders to get the first WooConference underway (and not to mention the launch of WooCommerce 2.2 Prowling Pangolin only weeks ago).

It was great to see two new WP hosting options: GoDaddy who are well established and a new-comer called Pressidium. I had a good chat with both and we will give them both a go.

The speakers were awesome and inspiring. Thanks for sharing. There were many more talks I saw that I have not mentioned, for example Yoast gave a refreshingly honest take on how the WordPress SEO plugin could be better, Rocio Valdivia talked about freelancing and Stefan Kanev helped inspire us coders with his functional Programming talk. There were many more and I couldn’t see them all.

We all learnt a huge amount from it. I have set myself a challenge to speak next year. I have no idea how the speakers were so calm, collected and lucid giving their talks. Everyone nailed it.

The next WordCamp

Who knows where the next WordCamp Europe will be. A bunch of us on the flight back were keen to start a rumour it would be in Lisbon, Portugal. I like the idea of some sea and sunshine. I met two awesome guys from Portugal – no pressure guys! Where ever the next #WCEU is, one thing is for certain, the bar has been set high!

The next WordCamp for me will be in London in March 2015. I was on the flight back with organiser Dan Maby and it sounds exciting. I’m also fired up to grow the Brighton WP community and perhaps will do some talks there.

Till next time, don’t forget to wash those apples!