Bigger is not Better; the problems with WordCamp Europe 2016
WordPress is 13 years old, and I am relatively new in the WordPress space. As of this writing, I have only been involved with using WordPress for about 18 months. I’m a newbie. I’m eager to earn. And I want to be involved in the community.
I was excited for WordCamp Europe in Vienna
So I attended WordCamp Europe, which was held in Vienna, Austria in June 2016. It was going to be the biggest WordCamp ever and I had high hopes.
“Bigger is not Better. Not when it comes to WordCamp” #WCEU.
Many of the problems that surfaced on the first day of the event were unfortunately not solvable during the three day event. Too much time went into planning everything and the schedule was already fixed. Therefore it was not feasible to steer the ship away from the lighthouse.
My post here is not just to complain for the sake of complaining.
I am writing this simply because I want to journal my experience at WordCamp Europe. Also, because I hope there is the small off chance that a planning member of the WordCamp community would see it and make some small changes that could make the event better for all attendees.
I looked on Twitter to see if others were complaining about the event, but could not find anybody else using the #WCEU hashtag to be vocal. It makes sense; nobody wants to rock the boat. At least not publicly.
The WordPress community is a true community. It’s is all about helping others and sharing.
Complaining Out Loud
Nobody wants to be “that guy” who vocally spouts off about the problems.
Well…Maybe I do. And maybe I did complain during the event. I was late for one of the talk and rushed to a building where Track 3 was held.
I came to the entrance of a room where I thought the talk was held and the room was empty. The talk I wanted to attend was in a nearby room. But “Sorry, you cannot go in there. The room is already filled”.
“Crap!” I really wanted to view the talk. I was already about 10 minutes late to view it and now I couldn’t get in. I complained out loud to the only people who were nearby, who looked to be part of the organizing team.
The woman (Sara?) said it was an inexpensive event coordinated by volunteer. I was quite annoyed and said, “Even if they are volunteers, it doesn’t mean it they have to do a shitty job.”
“I don’t think they’re doing a bad job at all.”
Ok, she’s right. The volunteers themselves weren’t doing a bad job. But she’s seeing the event as a coordinator. Not as a first time participant.
The structure of the event was terrible. I hated it. I spoke to many others at the event who said the same thing.
Here is what was wrong with the event and what should be changed in order to make future events better.
On a side note, I look at solving problems by putting systems in place. I love SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). I use them to run my business. I rely on them. SOPs can be used help solve future problem and streamline repeatable steps.
SOPs could streamline future WordCamps.
Things Lacking at WordCamp Europe Vienna
All problems are solvable. In no order of importance, here is the list.
Venue Was Too Hot — Air Conditioning Needed to be On
Mother Nature had plans to make people sweat. It was an unusually hot and humid weekend. When 2000 people come together in a hall there is a lot of heat generated.
The A/C was not turned on early enough to cool down the room before the event started. Everybody was sweating like a pig on the porch on a hot summer day.
There Was No Job Board
As a first time attendee at the big European WordCamp, I wanted to use my time there to meet and greet with others in the community. One way to do that was to connect with people who are looking for jobs.
I run a business. The business is build partially on WordPress. What a great way for me to do informal interviews with people who are active in the community and to perhaps work with them.
I am sure many attendees are also new to the community who would love to have an internship or to join a small team in order to get their feet wet on working with WordPress in a more professional capacity. There is nothing wrong with getting exposed to WordPress by building a website for your church or for your mom’s friend’s dog kennel business. But for people who want to step up their game a bit a WordCamp would be great way to connect people.
WordCamp London 2016 got it right. They solved this problem with a simple whiteboard sitting in the hallway. (See image below)
What is the Speed Dating Thing?
This was something in the schedule, but I didn’t quite understand what it was. Something about networking (I think).
It was mentioned in the morning early session, but it didn’t make sense. This could be better mentioned.
Something Tribe — What’s a Tribe?
I saw something about a tribe, but didn’t understand what it was. It felt as though it was for people already “in the know” and since I wasn’t part of it, the tribe stuff wasn’t for me.
Again, this is something that could have been described in more detail for people who were not familiar with it. Also, I doubt many people who do not speak English as a native language would even know.
Way Too Many People in Attendance!
This is was one of the biggest problems. There were massive amounts of people who attended. Traffic was jammed up at the talks. The line was outrageously long during the lunch time.
Too many people in too small of space made it difficult to mingle with vendors. It made it impossible to network with others in the hallway. There was no opportunity for the “water cooler effect” to take place because there was no room.
No Signs Pointing Where Things Are! aka “Don’t make me think”
With too many people spread across two different buildings, it made it hard to know where to go. Even if you were in the right building, it was not obvious where to go.
What is weird is that WordCamp should be filled with UI and UX experts. The lack of signs is a clear UX that can be improved for next time.
I was late for a Track 3 talk and this is the sign that I was greeted with upon entering. First of all, after four years of learning German in collage, I didn’t know what “Ebene” meant. Google translate tells me it means “Floor”.
Why oh why, does an event that is catered toward all of Europe not include the translation for this single word in other languages. Perhaps put the translated word in French, Spanish, Italian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Slovakian, Danish, Dutch. Heck! How about even English!? All the talks were in English.
There was enough white space on this sign to include translations. Why nobody did it is a mystery to me.
Talks Were Too Short — Only 25 Minutes?
For me and for other that I spoke with, the short length of the talks were a WTF moment.
Who thought it was a good idea to pack in 3x as many talks in a venue in like the MuseumsQuartier? This meant that the talks were only an inch deep and a mile wide.
There was no substance. No time for learning much. We only scratched the surface.
Other events I had attended would have more valuable talks that were at least 40–5o minutes in length. This allows enough time for a good quality talk. We needed time to get to know the speaker, what they are talking about, and time to get some questions answered.
Having talks that were scheduled so short meant that as soon as one talk ended, we had to leave to get to the next talk. This could be improved for the next WordCamp by finding fewer higher-quality talks that can be around 40–50 minutes in length.
No Time for Question and Answers
Since the talks were in 30 minute slots there was no time for any Q & A. As a matter of fact, there was only time for one question and one short answer at the talks I attended.
This defeats the purpose of going to an in-person event. I could have gotten the same value by simply listening to a series of 30 minute podcast episodes of WordCamp Europe.
No Time to Transfer from One Talk to the Next
The venue was too large at MuseumsQuartier. It took more than the 3–5 minutes that was allocated to go from one talk to the other.
This meant that people needed to rush if they wanted to cash the next talk on time and to get a good seat. Not having time in between the talks meant that there was no hallway traffic/talk. There was no “water cooler effect” of having people discuss stuff in between the talks.
Descriptions were Bland
The booklet that was printed was helpful but the descriptions for the talks were not included.
It would have been helpful to have more detailed info about the speakers and a short bio.
We had to look online to see what the talk was about. Which leads me to the next point:
Internet was miserable and unusable.
Because there were 2,000 people packed into one space with one free wifi signal, the internet was unusable almost all of the time! How inconvenient!
Couldn’t Sign Into Slack
I tried asking questions on Twitter using the #WCEU hashtag, but only one questions was answered. I wanted to use Slack, but never figured out how to sign into it.
I tried everything from doing the Gravatar thing, to resetting my password, but was never successful. So even to this day, I’m not involved in the WordPress Slack group. Maybe I’m missing out on something. If I am, I do not know it.
Fixing WordCamps — Will it Ever Happen?
I hope that the big WordCamps can be fixed with proper planning and using some SOPs to better plan everything.
If there is an 80:20 rule to make it better, it would be to do just the following two things:
More time for talks
- Increase the length of the talks to 45 minutes.
- Have 15 minutes for Q&A.
- Allow 15 minutes to switch from one room to another room
Limit the Number of Attendees
- Bigger does not equal better
- Limit the number of attendees so that the venue is not at full capacity
- If the talks are broadcast for free, then nobody is left out.