Some notes on WordCamp Edinburgh 2012

Royal College of Surgeons stained glass

This is just a little post to say a big thanks to all involved in organising and presenting at the WordCamp Edinburgh UK 2012 conference last weekend.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend all of the event, but I was able to see a fair few talks, and to meet some great people. Some quick notes:

The venue

This was terrific, I thought. The Royal College of Surgeons is ideally located in the heart of the city with many coffee shops, pubs and restaurants nearby. I agreed with the organisers that increasing the ticket price for the sake of food and coffee on tap within the venue would not have been worth it. The conference rooms themselves were all good: I've been in some pretty poky rooms when attending other events at the College, but these were all comfortable with good projection screens. Also, the wifi was excellent, reliable and fast.

The presentations

I enjoyed all those I got to. Of particular mention:

  • As for many others WordPress and Web Accessibility: Why It's Important by Graham Armfield was a highlight for me. This was a thorough consideration of the main elements of website accessibility, of which all designers and developers, myself included, need to be frequently reminded. Pressures of project budgets and timescales mean we can't do everything, but the basics aren't hard. I'm glad Graham included demonstrations of screenreading software in action: it's very powerful to experience the web as visually impaired users do. There was a great discussion at the end of the talk about the state of the accessibility of the WordPress control panel itself.
  • Talk in the Playfair Hall
  • You don't know query? by Scott Cariss was a forensic look at how WordPress queries work and alternatives to query_posts(). I'm no PHP expert and didn't follow all of the talk, but this was a carefully thought out presentation of concrete benefit to anyone looking to make their queries more efficient.
  • WordPress for Mobile by Rachel McCollin was a thoughtful discussion of the serious challenges presented by the emergence of a truly mobile web. I'm glad Rachel devoted so much of the presentation to responsive web design which I strongly believe is the most practical solution we have. As she said, budgets don't tend to extend to the development of mobile-only sites, and clients certainly don't have the time to craft different content for different sites. There were useful suggestions on how to make use of WordPress' ability to generate multiple image versions as one possibility for dealing with responsive images.
  • The EU Cookie Law and WordPress was Heather Burns' comprehensive and wry look at the absurdities of this benighted legislation. Heather detailed the (comic) manoeuverings of the Information Commissioner's Office over the past few months as they've chopped and changed their criteria for meeting the requirements of the new law, moving from recommending explicit consent to fairly mild implicit consent. Although we cannot be complacent it now appears that simply adding a clear link to an unambiguously worded privacy and cookies policy is sufficient.
  • David Coveney's Get Better at Business offered entertaining - and graciously humble - advice on surviving the WordPress and wider-web marketplace. Just stuff that David has learnt along the way, amusingly delivered.

I've heard good things about other talks that I couldn't get to or which clashed with those I did attend, including WOW Plugins, What is Agile Really? and Writing Awesome Docs for Your Code. I'll try to catch up with all of those and others through the videos.

Other observations and suggestions

A few general comments:

  • It was interesting to note that the age range of attendees was quite broad. Quite a lot of forty, fifty and (a few) sixty somethings. I had expected a younger demographic. This is good! Reassuring to those of us who got started in web design back in the 1990s, nobody is getting any younger.
  • The event was quite extraordinarily good value. Congrats to the organisers for putting on such a big conference at such a low price.
  • I think that the Q&A sessions during the bigger talks need to be a bit more disciplined. It wasn't exactly a free for all, but some questions were too long and had too many follow ups, and I noticed quite a few people who had their hand up for quite a while and didn't manage to ask their question, or who gave up. I don't blame the speaker for that: it is very difficult to sequence questions fairly when you're concentrating hard on coming up with answers. I'd suggest a system somewhat like that at the Edinburgh Book Festival, where someone other than the speaker takes responsibility for lining up questions, and keeping an eye on whose turn is coming up next. As I say, this is only necessary for the larger talks.
  • When I attend these events I never fail to be impressed by the friendliness of the web development community. There are so many kind, clever people. But friendly or not these large events can be daunting for those attending for the first time, with no prior connections with other attendees. There were plenty of opportunities for people to get to know each other as the weekend progressed - only a true hermit wouldn't have felt part of it by the end - but I think for next time it would be worth considering one or two icebreakers, certainly for the opening day. For example I noticed quite a lot of attendees heading off for lunch on their own, perhaps by intention - maybe just wanting a bit of personal space - but it would be an idea to some kind of pre-lunch meetup for new attendees. And, at the risk of sounding somewhat nannyish, to encourage some kind of pretalk chatter before the discussions, particularly on the first day. Designers and developers tend to be a friendly but rather introverted bunch, and just a little help is sometimes needed to help everyone to participate fully.

In conclusion

Suffice to say thanks very much again to all the organisers and participants. I'm now away on holiday so, just in case you comment on this post, apologies I won't be able to respond for a couple of weeks! Comments are now disabled while I'm away.

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