I was honored to be part of the inaugural WPCampus event this past weekend. WPCampus is a WordPress event, but not a WordCamp. Similar to a few conferences in the past like Pressnomics (which focuses on business) and LoopConf (which focuses on developers). WPCampus is focused on the higher education sector, and how WordPress can benefit that sector. Speakers (many of them working in the high-education area) share their case studies and stories about how they use WordPress in their colleges, schools, or their own development work.
The concept was born from Rachael Carden and (yadda yadda yadda) the first conference became a reality this past weekend in Sarasota Florida. Here are my observations.
Familiar, But Different
The conference had around 150 attendees. It’s been quite some time since I have been to a conference that size. If you plan things well, there are certain advantages to events of that number of people. One being is that you have the chance to get to know or at speak to the majority of that crowd if you so desired.
For WPCampus, there was also the fact that the attendees were all coming from the same group – higher education. But still everyone had a different story and a different reason for them coming to WPCampus (although i’m not personally involved in the education sector, I would imagine that this is because many universities have different IT setups, among other reasons). I certainly met a number of people that I probably wouldn’t have bumped into at a WordCamp.
Behind The Scenes
Although I wasn’t involved in everything, I can tell you as an organizer that there wasn’t really problems that came up at the conference. I got alot of feedback from attendees (once they saw the “organizer” label on my badge) and I’m proud to say that the top comment I heard was that the event was very organized. I’m sure we’ll hear more feedback as the post-event is sent.
If I had to point out things that didn’t go as smoothly, I would say the tech setup for speakers at the venue throw alot of speakers a curveball. I won’t go into specifics – simply some information would have been great to know ahead of time (I had my talk on Day 2, so I time to prepare) but nothing was in WPCampus control. The venue had technical people there and they were a pleasure to work with.
There were also some hicups with the livestream, but nothing really out of the ordinary (WordCamp Miami has had it’s share of livesteam issues and we’ve been doing it for a number of years).
The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus was a good first choice for WPCampus. Our attendance was around 150 but it seemed larger than that with way with the room layouts. There was no wasted space nor was anyone crowded. The size of the rooms and venue was perfect. Helpful staff. The catered food was excellent. This was my first time in Sarasota and I had the chance to dine at a few nice restaurants.
The sponsors deserve a round of applause for supporting a first-time event like this. I got some excellent feedback from some of the sponsors as well. Sucuri, Modern Tribe, CampusPress, Flexi DB, and Pantheon had booths at the event.
Since I was part of the organization team, I didn’t have the chance to go to as many talks as I usually do. The once I did attend, I enjoyed.
I did get the chance to hear from speakers that I wouldn’t normally get to see at a WordCamp, and I did learn alot about how many educational institutions used WordPress to solve their various problems or to feel a particular need. I was a speaker myself (talked about BuddyPress) and I was happy I got to try out a web app during my talk.
I’ll say it once, and I’ll say it again: if you go to WordCamps (and conferences in general) don’t just go to the talks from the people you know or the subjects you are already familar with. Yes, the “hallway track” at WPCampus was wonderful, if not even more intimate than most WordCamps… but especially with niche conferences I highly recommend expanding your knowledge and listening to speakers that you haven’t had the chance to hear before. Expand your world a little.
I’ve been to alot of “first years” (Pressnomics, LoopConf, a bunch of WordCamps) and WPCampus was one of the smoothest conferences I’ve been to. And yes i’m biased a little but as someone who was on the organization team, I would have seen things that attendees might not have noticed. The first year of a conference is just the warmup to the SECOND year… and I have no doubt that WPCampus will have a long and healthfully life.
If you are involved in higher education, watch for WPCampus in 2017. Even if you aren’t (like many in attendance this year), consider going anyway. You’ll definitely meet new people and expand your understanding of the overall WordPress community.