WordCamp Birmingham 2009 – Freedom of Speech

Over the weekend I attended WordCamp Birmingham 2009. For those of you who don’t know, WordCamp is a code camp for WordPress users and developers. WordPress is a very popular open source blogging engine. Users can download the WordPress engine from http://wordpress.org/, then customize it to their needs.

WordPress can do some pretty amazing things, many of the developers there specialize in customizing WordPress to individual corporate needs, and transforming WordPress to a full Content Management System (CMS).

In addition to being an open source engine, it’s sister sight, http://wordpress.com, is a hosting site. Through it you can create your own blog, for free. You can customize your blog from a variety of base templates, then add further custom tweaks through the various widgets and plug-ins offered by the WordPress.com folks. For minimal fees you can add a custom domain name, and extend the amount of space you have available.

That’s what I’ve done with this blog. Arcane Code is hosted on WordPress.com, and I pay the small fee (about 15 dollars US per year) to have the http://arcanecode.com URL. You may ask “gee Robert, you’re a smart guy, why let them host and not get the software from the .org site and host yourself?” You’re right, I am a smart guy! ;-) Seriously, I could host the engine myself, but to be honest I would rather spend my time writing blog posts than worrying about upgrading my blog software to the current version. I let the nice folks at wordpress.com take care of those headaches for me.

Of course there are a few restrictions with the .com site that I would not have with the .org software and self hosting. The biggest is no advertising, I can’t sell ads on the blog while it’s on the .com site. I’m also limited on templates and customizations, I have to use the built in .com templates, with the .org software the sky is the limit to what I want to do. For not having to deal with the headaches of managing my blog engine though, these are trade off’s I’m willing to make. One day in the future I may change my mind, but for now I’m quite happy.

But enough about the blogging software, let’s talk about WordCamp. For my .Net developer buddies or fellow SQL geeks, WordCamp is just like any code camp or SQL Saturday you’ve been to. Speakers are organized into one or more tracks. Most of the speakers are from the local community or surrounding region, with a few big wigs thrown in for good measure.

This year Innovation Depot hosted the Saturday tracks, one for developers and the other for bloggers. The blogger track was aimed at new users or folks who simply wanted to work with social media, and leave the technical considerations to others. The developer track was for the geeks who liked to customize and develop widgets and plug ins for use with WordPress. Lunch was some great BBQ, fitting for a true southern event.

The Sunday event took place at Shift Workspace, which is a facility where you can rent space to work in for under $50 US a month. Tables, comfortable chairs, coffee and soda, and all the wi-fi you can eat. It’s a nice place, and the format was very open. On the first floor small groups gathered to discuss and debate topics around the software. The second floor was the experts area, I saw many groups of two huddled around laptops, getting and giving advice on particular issues folks were having.

The highlight of the event was Matt Mullenweg’s lunchtime keynote on Saturday. Matt is the original creator of WordPress, it was his idea and his guidance that made it successful. In addition Matt also founded a company to host WordPress.com and provide extra services for advanced users. In addition to being a good businessman Matt is also a great speaker, his lunch time presentation was both informative and humorous.

Also in attendance was Dougal Campbell. Dougal was one of the original group of developers of WordPress. He and Matt have been working together on the open source software since 2003. Oddly enough this event was something of a historic occasion for them, even though they have been e-mailing and phone calling with each other since 2003, this weekend was the first time Matt and Dougal had actually met face to face! In the interest of full disclosure I should add that Dougal is my brother-in-law, he is married to my kid sister. But I won’t hold that against him.

The closing keynote on Saturday was from an Iranian Bahrainian blogger. In the interest of protecting their security I won’t say too much, but it was a very moving presentation that reminded us all of how great a privilege freedom of speech is. One Iranian blogger has already died in jail, and another Egyptian blogger is currently in jail right now for doing nothing more than speaking his opinions through his blog. 

I have to give the organizers high marks, the event was run well, lunch arrived on time, and plenty of it. There was a big crowd, I heard about 165 registered, and I think just about every one of them made it from the crowds I saw. We had such a good response the organizers even spoke about the possibility of creating a WordPress user group of sorts, and having smaller events either on a monthly or quarterly basis.

This was a really fun event. I saw some friends (and relatives if you count Dougal) and met a lot of new people. I talked to folks from Nashville TN, Charlotte NC, Atlanta GA, and one lady from New Jersey. I also heard about one person coming in from Arkansas and another from Texas. I also came away with some great ideas around social networking, and using various forms of multimedia to enhance information and knowledge transfer in the work place. I spoke to a lawyer who specializes in discovery and got into an interesting discussion about data mining of unstructured data. I also have an idea that might be relevant for a presentation next year. Finally I am struck with the notion of taking WordPress and making it a dashboard for a SQL Server Business Intelligence solution. Hmmm…..

All in all it was a great WordCamp, and I’m looking forward to the 2010 event.

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3 Responses to “WordCamp Birmingham 2009 – Freedom of Speech”

  1. Bettina Byrd-Giles Says:

    Wonderful weekend. Wonderful post.

  2. Tammy Hart Says:

    Esra’a Al Shafei’s presentation was really awesome. She actually isn’t Iranian, she’s from Bahrain, and her friend in prison is Egyptian. Mideastyouth’s home site is http://www.mideastyouth.com

  3. arcanecode Says:

    Thanks for the clarification Tammy. Her voice was very soft and I was stuck in the back of the room so I couldn’t quite hear everything in the beginning of the presentation.


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