Mr, Cupcake at Craters of the Moon

Mr, Cupcake at Craters of the Moon
Mr. Cupcake at Craters of the Moon

Sunday, January 15, 2012

WordCamp Victoria 2012: a brief recap

I love conferences. I love going to these kinds of events where a whole bunch of interesting brains are in one space and having one big gigantic brainstorming love-in, with lots of different options of which session to go to. During and after each session I always feel like I want to press the "pause" button so I can run off and write in my journal about all the thinks [sic] I'm thinking. But there is no pause button alas, and I just simply have to take copious notes and hope that I remember to revisit every detail later in writing. Is that even possible?

Here is what happened: On Thursday, someone retweeted that there were extra tickets available for WordCamp Victoria if someone wanted to attend but couldn't afford it, just go to the website and contact the guy. This was a right place-right time situation, and I was on it. I contacted the guy, was registered and two days later I was there.

So were 300 other people. Holy cow, this was a thing! This un-conference (as it was billed) is for WordPress enthusiasts, but I figured there would be lots of content for people who are social media fans and bloggers in general. I knew that I might perhaps be lured to move my blogging activity to WordPress. You have been warned. There is an actual Social Media Camp in Victoria in June, but by then I'm sure I will be long gone to North Carolina with green card in hand.

I will do another post about the specific sessions I went to, because there really is just way too much content to put into one post (and you might not be interested in it anyway) but there were some general observations and themes throughout the day that I would like to share with you.

Who was there? Good question. I didn't actually interact with a lot of people in person, believe it or not. I spent most of the day being an audience member, and as so many people were live-Tweeting, it meant that those same people (I was one of them) were not interacting with other attendees. That did feel admittedly odd, since the whole point of an unconference is to interact with people. But that's the thing, right? It's about being online. I did get to meet a few people from Twitter (was starstruck by a poli sci prof from UVic, @janniaragon who is interesting and prolific, she later referred to me in a tweet as "statuesque"!) and made a bunch of new Twitter friends. It was kind of surreal. In one session, someone I follow on Twitter (@scribbler9) was tweeting about the same seminar I was in, so I tweeted "where are you sitting?" she said "second row, red water bottle", and I said "I'm in the third row, blue water bottle". Then later, a new Twitter friend/follower asked if it was me knitting with the pink yarn (I think I was the only person knitting there). It was like public stalking, but in a good way. In terms of demographics though, it seems everyone was proportionally represented, given the demographic of Victoria. I would say more than half the attendees were 45+, more than half were women, there were not many visible minorities. Lots of technogeeks (as evidenced by the sheer volume of iDevices) and WordPress superfans. There were writers, photographers, graphic designers, social media junkies, academics and laypeople. And all of them were Tweeting.

There were seven sessions, one per hour between 9am and 5pm, plus lunch. There were two keynotes and I missed the first one (I think I was confused about the schedule) but everyone was live tweeting the content so I felt like I was there. I'll talk later about the specific sessions.

What surprised me: people schedule their blog posts. Then they schedule the tweets announcing their blog posts. There is software to do this for you. Does this seem weird to you? It did to me. Some people tweet about their blog post three or four times to make sure everyone reads it. Then there was talk about linking from all the social media sites, Twitter and Facebook being the main two, but Google + being a leading contender and people are actually using LinkedIn. (For the record, I hate LinkedIn, never found it useful when I was on it and would go back with a great amount of resentment if I had to). There is a feature in WordPress that gives you suggestions on what to blog about. Um, what? Toni and I were talking about this the day before, about what an odd thing that was. Why blog at all if you can't think about what you want to write about? What I found hugely surprising is that no where in any of the presentations I saw was there any attention to language skills, to grammar, punctuation and spelling, or to the conventions of writing. Is that a given? Is it even an issue for people who blog that if you don't have the language skills that you might not retain a sophisticated readership? As a word nerd, I was rather shocked by this absence.

It also gave me cause to give some thought to why people blog, tweet, and otherwise engage in being an online presence and social media. There was a very clear message early in the day about being your own PR manager and creating your own personal brand, because everyone, it seems, has something to sell. Lots of people want lots of people to come to their blog so that they will attract advertisers so they can make money from blogging. This made me uncomfortable and I have to do some thinking about why I blog. At the moment I blog to keep people up to date with what kinds of adventures YarnSalad is having, and I hope that will always be interesting. While I think I have lots to say and I am delighted that I get more than a thousand hits to my blog every month, I do need to think about the future of my blog. A future employer or publisher could be reading my work here so this must be a consideration. I'm sure if you Google my name this comes up high, and it is true that potential employers and landlords are using Google to see what kind of person their applicant is. I am one of those people with a unique name (and not a Kevin Miller or something like that) and a solid internet presence, so I do have to be very mindful of the content I put on the Internet.

At any rate, by the end of the day my mind was full and exhausted, but I am so glad I went. I will start paying attention to more things like this in the future because I think unconferences like this will proliferate and, well, you know me, I like to be on the cutting edge (that was sarcasm). Something to consider though, is how to keep the balance of being a smarmy salesman engaged in shameless self-promotion and being a sincere human being behind the keyboard? Hopefully, dear reader, I will keep it real and that will mean you will continue to hang out with me.


  1. Thanks for the report! I have found your comments useful already! I wasn't responding to comments on my blog, now I am. I can't wait to read more about the conference!

  2. I'm so jealous you got to go to this. It sounds like an awful lot of fun. Kind of on topic (but not really too) I prefer Wordpress over the other blogging options available.

    A couple of comments: you mention the scheduling blog posts and tweets and such and how this was strange to you. Because I was part of the World of Warcraft blog/twitter-verse for the last year and a half, I've been able to watch how those kinds of posts have been handled. Even if it's not taken care of with 3rd party software or plugins, people definitely did exactly this. They wrote when they had time, but saved certain subjects for different times of the week. This is good for capitalizing on exposure to social networks.

    LinkedIn is probably good for specific types of bloggers/subjects, and might not be very useful for many people. I would never use LinkedIn for any of my craft stuff, ever. But if I were trying to be a professional writer (or even if I decide to blog more about behavioral sciences and grad school, I could see how LinkedIn would be a good resource).

    I think you absolutely hit the nail on the head with regard to spelling, grammar and punctuation. If you can't write in a way that is understandable to your readership, then the readers will not stay. It is a given. That's not to say that people who are terrible at spelling don't try to blog or get readers... I just imagine that those writers don't tend to stick around for very long.

    The big thing about blogging is that there are multiple types of blogs and bloggers. There are those who use it as a diary and thus it's meant to share and converse. Others use it as a means to generate income, either through crafts, selling themselves as a service, or something. It's all dependent on personal preferences. That being said, don't ever feel like you /have/ to blog about anything you don't want to.

    Sounds like the conference made you do a little thinking. And that's good. I hope you came away with a lot of useful knowledge. :)