Wordcamp Columbus – Mixed Review

I went to the first Wordcamp Columbus today, and while I thought there were some great sessions, and the organizers did a great job of putting the details together for a good day, I’m still going to give the day a mixed review.

First the plusses,

The opening keynote, by Jane Wells, was a great “here’s what’s coming up in the new WordPress 2.8 beta release” session. It was great to hear the details and I look forward to seeing some of those in action.

The next session I attended was Legal Issues for Bloggers, which was also very good. (And no, I’m not just saying that because the presenters, Alex Brown and Vladimir Belo, are attorneys at the same firm I work in!) It turned into quite an interesting discussion about copyright, and employment concerns. There were lots of questions and useful, real life, information for bloggers, whether they use WordPress or not.

The last three afternoon sessions in the main hall were also nice, brief, presentations filled with real life information and advice you could use right then and there. Cheryl Harrison on using social networking to spread the word about your blog, Noel Jackson on designing themes and some of the theory behind his design ideas, and Brian Lockrey on Internet security as it relates to blogs and podcasts. Again, they all did a good job giving you something to think about, and some advice on things you could do that maybe you didn’t know about before.

The venue was great, the wireless was a challenge, but then again, where isn’t the wireless a challenge? (For the record, I had no problem with the wireless, but I know some folks did.) The power available under each table in the main hall was well-used, the breakout rooms were actually fairly sizable, no cramming in and sitting along the walls, etc., and it was easy to get to, with plenty of available parking. Can’t complain about that!

Now, the “not so plusses“:

There was a “session” of sorts right before lunch that, frankly, was a little bizarre. A couple of folks with some ties to Automattic, the company behind WordPress, showed a video presentation called “How WordPress has Changed my Life” that was slightly over the top. From there it turned into a full-on tent revival, asking for testimonials about how WordPress has changed your life, and what you are doing to give back to WordPress and the community of WordPress. As some of you are well aware, I’m not real tolerant of fanboys, of any stripe, and this seemed even far out there on the fanboy scale of things.

Look, WordPress is a great web/CMS tool. I use it on my other site, and love some of what it can do. But it’s still just a tool. The change in my life comes through because of the Internet backbone, and the people I connect with by using the different tools at my disposal, not simply because of the tool itself. It’s ok to simply let it stand on its own.

The second disappointment to me is somewhat of a disappointment that I’ve had about the Columbus tech community in general, and this event was a good demonstration of it. It seems that the “tech” community of Columbus is less “tech” and more marketing and entrepreneurs. It’s more business than it is about actual technology work. Thus, while there were a couple of good sessions about marketing yourself and your business, I’m not exactly sure what they had to do with Wordcamp.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met a bunch of great people through the local tech community, and I have nothing against what they do for a living. We all need startup companies and marketing gurus! But, sometimes that dominance means those of us who are just geeky and want to learn about the technology, don’t always get that at conferences. (To be fair, I did not stop by any of the unconference sessions, where there may have been more hands-on tech stuff, though the themes seemed more aimed toward beginners.)

So, if I had a suggestion for the organizers for sessions, it would be less business/marketing school, more “what kinds of cool things have I not even thought about using WordPress to do yet?” Alas, I already know that I’m probably in the minority on that. There’s too many other people trying to use the tools to make their fortune. I wish them well on that.

Still it was an interesting day, I learned some things, just wish I had managed to get around to more folks!

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