The New York Times, the Rolling Stones, Forbes, Best Buy, TechCrunch and Mashable have at least this in common: Each organization uses WordPress, the content management system that powers around a quarter of the top 10 million sites on the Web.
And some of the best and brightest people who build and maintain those sites — around 2,000 of them, users and developers from all over the world — are converging in Philadelphia this weekend for the first-ever WordCamp US conference.
What is WordPress?
Now WordPress.com is very limited in scope — it’s pretty much only useful for blogging and small websites. An administrator of a WordPress.com blog can choose from only a select number of themes and plugins, where themes primarily affect the visual frontend design of the site and plugins primarily add or change functionality.
But, at its core, the WordPress.com service runs off the libre (free as in freedom) open source software WordPress.org. This can be hosted by anyone, customized by any plugins or themes they can download or build themselves.
Here at Billy Penn, we’re familiar with WordPress. Every day, our editors and writers log in to post our articles, links, and events, and to send out our daily newsletter and more. Full disclosure: I’m the developer who makes sure our instance of WordPress does what we need it to do, thanks to the fact that we’re a self-hosted site.
A brief history of WordCamp US
The WordCamp conference is nothing new, but this is the first time there’s been an officially-designated national conference. Up until now, WordCamp San Francisco served as the de facto magnet conference. There are many local WordCamp chapters all over the world, including WordCamp Philly.
At the ninth-annual WordCamp San Francisco in 2014, WordPress and Automattic co-founder Matt Mullenweg (the “Matt” in Automattic, get it?) initially proposed the idea of a national conference in his keynote address. In June 2015, Mullenweg put out a call for host city applications for the first WordCamp US. In July, Mullenweg announced that Philadelphia was selected as the host city; we’ll be hosting it next year too.
What to expect
WordCamp US will be held from Friday, Dec. 4 through Sunday, Dec. 6 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Some 79 speakers will touch on security, accessibility, user experience, design, performance, education, the new WordPress API and developer tools. All of these sessions will be broken up into tracts geared for users of all skillsets, including sessions geared toward developers, designers, and editors.
While none of the speakers are quite household names (unless you happen to be a WordPress developer), you may have heard of some of the organizations they’re associated with: The New York Times, WIRED, Girl Develop It, and ESPN’s (and Nate Silver’s) FiveThirtyEight.
The list of speakers also includes people from Bluecadet, the Fishtown-based design firm responsible for the websites of Tyler School of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, The Franklin Institute; 10up, the development firm responsible for the websites of TechCrunch, FiveThirtyEight, and the World Economic Forum; and Automattic, the development firm responsible for maintaining WordPress.com, Gravatar, and numerous other components of the WordPress ecosystem.
While the conference itself is of course the big attraction, the Community Summit that begins today is perhaps the part of the conference that will have the biggest long-term effect on that 25% of the Web running WordPress. The Summit is a limited-access work-focused mini-conference between many of the people most involved in making the open source WordPress software. It’s one of the few times that the WordPress core contributors meet physically in one place.
“[WordCamp US] really helps position Philadelphia as even more of a great tech city,” said Jodie Riccelli, Sales and Marketing Director at Fishtown-based web development firm Yikes and member of the WordCamp US organizing committee. “I mean, we already are, but when we start bringing in these national conferences, it really starts to support that even more.”