The TriPoint Center was buzzing with a capacity crowd of several hundred attendees on Saturday for San Antonio’s first-ever WordCamp. The inaugural event was so popular that it was fully sold out several weeks in advance, with a waiting list of more than 50 people. But what, you may ask, is WordCamp — and why all the palpable excitement for this conference?
WordCamp is a one-day seminar convened around WordPress, which has become the most popular website software (both blogging tools and content management system) in the world since its creation 12 years ago. Developers, including do-it-yourselfers, use it to build websites and blogs, and there’s both a free version (WordPress.com) and a paid version (WordPress.org) that offers more choices and features. Current figures indicate that more than 75 million websites use WordPress, including the Rivard Report. About one in four of the world’s most popular websites are built with WordPress, according to various industry estimates.
WordPress is open-source software, which means it’s essentially built in community. While it’s intensely popular, and over the years has become easier to use, it’s not a no-brainer and there is a learning curve – depending on the complexity of the site. Hence the emergence of WordCamps, or “causal, locally-organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress,” according to WordCamp Central.
“WordCamps are informal, community-organized events that are put together by WordPress users like you. Everyone from casual users to core developers participate, share ideas, and get to know each other,” says the site. WordCamps happen all over the world, Saturday’s was the first-ever WordCamp in San Antonio.
If you missed it, the next one scheduled is in Norway, on the same day as one in Birmingham, England, followed the next week by one in Maui, billed as “a WordPress conference in Paradise” — all of it a testament to how international the WordCamp phenomenon has become.
“This was San Antonio's first-ever WordCamp and the response we had was incredible, said Wayne McWilliams, WordPress developer and lead instructor for local web design firm WebTegrity, which organized the conference. “We released 100 tickets initially and quickly sold out; then installments of 50 tickets which sold out (the) same day each time until we finally capped capacity at 300 attendees. Once we announced we were sold out we received a flood of emails asking to get tickets or be placed on a waiting list. We ended up with 50 people on our waiting list by the day of the event.”
Sponsors for the event, which was staffed by volunteers, included: WebTegrity, WP Engine, Rackspace Hosting, Pressable, HostGator, Flywheel, Dynadot, Passion Fruit Creative Group, TriPoint, and others.
The significance of bringing WordCamp to San Antonio is something McWilliams is passionate about as he recounts how it came to happen here.
“If I remember correctly the first WordCamp was held 11 years ago in San Francisco. Since then it has spread like wildfire," he said. "We knew that Austin and Dallas had one each year and always wondered why we didn’t have one in San Antonio for our WordPress community, so we decided to get in touch with WordCamp and find out if we could have our first-ever."
McWilliams and several colleagues built a following by first establishing a local WordPress MeetUp Group. From there, they demonstrated to WorldCamp officials that San Antonio would be a successful locale.
“We have a great tech community here in SA, but a lot of times people don't think of us as anything more than a tourist town and of course the home of the Spurs," he said. "Austin is always shadowing us for the tech spotlight, so it is a great honor to finally represent San Antonio in the WordPress and WordCamp community.”
If you’re sorry you missed this premier event, there are a few suitably tech-friendly ways to keep up with what happened. You can go to the WordCamp San Antonio page on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, or search for the hashtag #wcsatx (for WordCamp San Antonio) and scroll back through the feed to read attendees’ and presenters’ enthusiasm for the event as they were commenting about it in real-time.
Speakers’ presentations from the event are being curated on SlideShare. There’s a digital story about the conference, produced by HootSuite evangelist Scott Croom. And if you’re jamming on the idea of WordCamps in general, there’s even an international TV channel devoted to it on the Web.
One attendee, commenting on WordCamp San Antonio’s Facebook page, said he attended and "had a spectacular time. Best $20 I have spent in a very long time. Lots of information, lots of networking, and a chance to hear some great presentations.”
Susan Price is the founder and CEO of web design firm Firecat Studio, which redesigned the Rivard Report website on a WordPress platform. Price was tweeting her enthusiasm about the conference throughout the day. As the founder and organizer of TEDx San Antonio, who keeps up-to-date on all things web-friendly, Price’s observations put the conference into context.
“What WordCamp San Antonio shows is that WordPress has really come of age,” Price said. "The conference reflects the fact that WordPress is no longer a bloggers’ platform. You can still do blogs with it, but the meat of the conference was all business. There were a whole lot of people there who are deeply engaged in building a business on a WordPress website with complex functionality – and they were there to talk about pricing, and how to market themselves. So it was a business conference, not a bloggers’ conference — it was an information technology tools conference.”
“The event was jam-packed with WordPress enthusiasts,” agreed McWilliams. “About 90% of the audience had never attended any other WordCamp here in the U.S. or around the world. I literally heard nothing but praise all day about the venue TriPoint, how well organized the event was, and how valuable the information they had received from each speaker was.
"Everyone I spoke with said they can’t wait for next year’s WCSATX and we, the organizers, can’t wait to make it bigger and better for our wonderful San Antonio WordPress community.”