Last month I wrote about the WordCamp culture in India. In it I mentioned briefly about WordCamp Mumbai. WordCamps are basically WordPress informal conferences. The idea is for WordPress enthusiasts from a particular city meet-up and interact with the other WordPress enthusiasts and experts from all over the country. It is ideally an annual event.
Mumbai will host it’s second WordCamp (first one was in 2012) this weekend (15-16 March, 2014). I have attended a few WordCamps and they usually end up being informative and a lot of fun. It is always a lot of fun to see interesting new ways WordPress is used.
I am personally involved in WordCamp Mumbai 2014 as an organizer. For DW’s parent company rtCamp too, this WordCamp will be a very special one as EasyEngine – a CLI tool that helps users to easily manage their WordPress sites on Nginx will be introduced to the community. Rahul Bansal will be speaking on it in a session.
Last month on 24th January, along with some friends I attended WordCamp Baroda 2014. This was the second time I was attending a WordCamp in Baroda and overall I have now attended four WordCamps. Will be attending a fifth one but more on that later.
The WordCamp in Baroda, itself was a good one. The venue was at the outskirts of Baroda city. It might have been difficult for some attendees but there were bus pickups arranged from two different points in the city. It meant a big benefit which was, that most attendees came to the venue and left the venue at the same time.
The speaker sessions were interesting and a lot of impromptu discussions were held too. These unstructured discussions are one major reason I actually like visiting WordCamps. One such impromptu discussions was actually a self-appraisal of speaker sessions themselves by Saurabh Shukla. The simple question was to ask if some sessions were adding any value to the attendees. This stirred some passions but in the end the tone of the WordCamp Baroda turned from officious to camp like.
The formalities were dropped and the informal discussions ended up being a blessing for healthy debates and a lot more audience participation took place over the two-day event.
As an organizer Rahul Banker did an exemplary job planning and executing WordCamp Baroda. I also must add the team of volunteers who worked tirelessly and diligently behind the scenes were true champions. Any amount of praise to the volunteers is not enough.
I have a lot of respect for WordCamp organizers and volunteers today than I ever did before. That is because I have ended up in the organizing team of WordCamp Mumbai 2014, which takes place on March 15th-16th. In this post more than reviewing WordCamp Baroda, I am taking stock of the WordCamp and by extension the WordPress culture in India.
Some delusions about meetups in India
There were some arguments made about how tech related meetups do not work in India. I do not mean tech related events but meetups organized by like minded people where entry is free and control over what is discussed is minimal to none. The constant argument made against organizing such meetups are “Meetups do not work in India as India is different from other countries”.
In my personal experience is absolutely untrue. I am part of WordPress meetups in Mumbai for over a year and we might not boast of a large community but all the organizers of WordCamp Mumbai 2014 met each other at meetups and did not know about each others existence before these meetups began.
This clearly shows that India is not any different and meetups can and do work in India. It just requires people to keep having meetups regularly. I have attended meetups with only four people (me included). I have a simple rule to decide if a meetup is successful or not. If I meet someone new, the meetup is successful. 🙂 In Mumbai we organize meetups over coffee or even dosas which always get decent number of people attending. 😉
Too many celebrities at WordCamps
I found a disturbing trend at all WordCamps I have attended till now. There is a bit of a celebrity culture around some people. These celebrities are usually popular bloggers. Too many people mob and excessively praise popular bloggers. I won’t blame the bloggers themselves and I think most are a bit embarrassed by the attention.
I think this can be toned down a bit in the future – again back to the importance of meetups – if these bloggers were accessible with local meetups, I do not think there would be too much fawning over individuals.
Organizers need to contribute their experiences
I think people who have organized WordCamps in India, have missed a trick by not writing down detailed posts on what went behind organizing such an event. Explaining how they approached WordCamp Central and what should other budding organizers do would be a lot more helpful.
Hopefully after WordCamp Mumbai 2014 is over, I will write a series of long posts on what exactly happens behind the scenes while organizing the event.
Over to Mumbai!
As I wrote earlier, I am part of the organizing team for WordCamp Mumbai 2014. There are some very good speakers lined up and one of them is our very own Rahul Bansal.
The big challenge was to make this WordCamp in Mumbai accessible to everyone. We have started that by keeping the ticket prices to a minimum of Rs. 300/-.
Here are some of the useful links for WordCamp Mumbai 2014 (March 15-16)
The WordCamp culture in India is still nascent but I can see it has moved forward since I wrote about my experiences at WordCamps a year ago. It is definitely becoming more informal and approachable. Hopefully it continues down this path. There are several thousand WordPress experts in India and hopefully they do not remain just a talent pool for companies but also end up becoming a thriving community.
Update: Rahul Banker brought to my notice that he had chronicled his experience as a organizer in a post last year.
27th May is an important date for all WordPress enthusiasts. It’s the 10th anniversary of the most widely used CMS in the world. From a simple blogging platform to a pretty flexible CMS that drives many complex applications, WordPress, the application has evolved, tremendously.
I think of it as an apt occasion to present to you a story. It is the story of the evolution of the WordPress community in India. It is just my perspective and a point of view.
A brief history of WordPress in India
I’m one of those users that hopped on to the WordPress bandwagon, quite early in the 2.x series. This is the time when WordPress was still a blog and the dashboard menus were horizontal. I know of a lot of users who were fiddling with WordPress, around then, but there weren’t many. These were days when everybody wanted to open a portal (like Yahoo, Indiatimes, Rediff, etc). That’s why Joomla was the most peddled platform, everywhere.
The bloggers and the entrepreneurs: the Users
Somewhere down the line, blogging started becoming the “in” thing and the focus started shifting from portal like information centric sites to content centric, magazine/blog style sites. Blogger had just become a hit.
Further ahead, blogging started becoming a business. People who were professionally serious and/or passionate about blogging wanted more control on how their sites looked and behaved.
At the same times, elite small businesses were looking for better and cheaper ways of building their microsites. Coupled with better internet access, everyone was looking for a solution that was not as overwhelming as Joomla or Drupal. And I guess, logically and naturally, all these people gravitated towards WordPress.
The Developers and the Designers: the providers
There was another scene developing gradually, in the background. A lot of new developers, designers and small agencies were discovering freelance marketplaces. The global demand for WordPress development was flooding the job posts on these sites. A lot of these were low-priced simple tasks that anyone could google the solution for and fix.
This system of SMEs outsourcing to SMEs propagated the ease with which WordPress sites could be designed, developed and deployed. These agencies then started proposing WordPress to the local customers, as well.
Popularity means a lot of people
Beyond that, the reasons that made WordPress the most popular CMS in the world, also worked in India. Maybe, it was just a global trend and India just joined it.
This is a heady concoction: entrepreneurs, passionate bloggers, DIY developers (with no formal qualifications), designers and tinkerers. When a large number of such people start working with a single platform, they are bound to have opinions, views and insights. That gives birth to a need to share: give and take. To share, one must communicate. And, a lot of people spread across geographical areas, talking to each other, sharing knowledge and resources, is exactly what makes a community.
The seeds of the community: WordCamp Delhi ’09
The best communication is face to face communication. In spite of virtual communication, unless a community gathers together, the energy and the buzz of the community is never felt by its members. That’s why we have festivals, celebrations and other social events. In the case of WordPress, the shrewd business logic already had a system of meetups and most importantly, WordCamps.
A WordCamp had to happen in India, sooner or later and so it happened. The first WordCamp in India was called WordCamp India and was an important affair. Held in the national capital, it boasted of sponsors like Adobe and Automattic and was organised by the Delhi Bloggers’ group. The highlight of the event was the presence of none other than Matt Mullenweg.
Beyond that, I personally know nothing about this event. This was before Indians had taken to Twitter or Facebook, as enthusiastically, as now. Besides, googling did not yield much about the event.
If you compare the sessions and the speakers, WordCamp Jabalpur was a definite progression on WordCamp Delhi. The topics were more advanced and varied, the speakers differed in professions and the range of talks was wider. I wasn’t there for even this one (I had just begun freelancing). However, my friend and colleague, Rakshit Thakker attended as a speaker. This was a good event, but the community was still struggling to find its baby steps.
WordCamp Cuttack ’12
Update: This wasn’t there in the original article.Amit brought it to my notice in the comments. The text below is almost verbatim.
This WordCamp was smaller in scale than the others. Held over just a day, it was organised by Soumya Pratihari. In first half there were user focused talks. The last two hours were focused on a workshop for creating plugins. This ended up being a two hour long discussion on WordPress development, plugins, themes, security and how to troubleshoot issues.
Compared to all other WordCamps in India, turnout was lesser. However, this resulted in better interaction between attendees and speakers.
WordCamp Mumbai ’12
Organised by a group of students, in the financial capital of India, this WordCamp courted some disasters. A couple of speakers were sponsors who talked about irrelevant stuff. A sponsor spoke in detail about the intricacies of off-page SEO and pay-per-click advertising to WordPress developers.
It was a sound meetup for marketing, developing Android apps, Windows 8, apart from a few important things about Google. Primarily, it was about the business of search engine optimisation and marketing on social networks. Except for a couple of talks, the event didn’t add any value to the community.
Attendees (including, yours truly) who felt let down, registered their protest, but were ignored for a decent amount of time. Eventually, apologies were issued.
The organisers had in fact, done a huge service to the community. Observing the fiasco in the background were two people who understood that WordCamp Mumbai was a lesson in ‘How not to organise a WordCamp’.
WordCamp Baroda ’13
One of the two people I indicated above is Rahul Banker, a young professional blogger from Baroda. Picking up the thread from Jabalpur and passing over Mumbai, he organised a WordCamp in Baroda.
This WordCamp had a higher relevance to WordPress and excellent speakers presented some complex topics in simple, easy to understand details. Being held in Gujarat, the hotbed of SEO/Social Media and other forms of digital marketing, the marketing influence was there but not at the cost of relevance.
Attention was paid to minute details like numerous charging points everywhere, fast and reliable internet connections, etc. Everything was well orchestrated and the event was held without any hiccups. This was a prime example of event management.
Also, there were ample occasions for attendees and speakers to mingle informally and discuss things: the true aim of a community event. In the backdrop of Mumbai, WordCamp Baroda was a greater success and according to the regulars, the best WordCamp they had attended till then.
The second person who was quietly taking notes and preparing his own event was Amit Singh. With a bare minimum of sponsors (compared to Baroda and especially Mumbai), his team, according to a lot of people who attended the event, delivered India’s best WordCamp yet.
The event wasn’t as fluid as Baroda was. It lacked a bit in event management. However, that is excusable in favour of its content, enthusiasm and a genuine interest in the actual reason for a WordCamp. This one had something for everyone. From absolute novices to experts, there were more than one session that were useful. Bloggers, developers, marketers and entrepreneurs, all benefited from the event and were all praises.
This WordCamp was also unique for the Workshops that were conducted. These ran parallel to the speaker sessions. Workshops were practical training sessions on using WordPress. They were meant for the benefit of students and novices, and were well received.
Another factor that went in favour of WordCamp Pune was that by then, there were some veterans of previous WordCamps. They were great mentors to the newbies. Questions flew thick and answers were aplenty. Doubts were raised and solved. People disagreed and fought. People agreed to each other too. It was a warm and exciting event.
Speakers were more interactive, drawing more participation from the listeners. In all, a proper community buzz had begun shaping up.
The scenario now
Post WordCamp Pune, there is a definite community that interacts regularly on various online platforms. A facebook page and a site from an initiative called WPHub have sprung up to coordinate and boost the growth of the WordPress community in India.
Meetups have started happening more often. More Indian organisations are building products around WordPress. Still, the only time the community truly comes together is in a WordCamp. By far, the only yardstick that I could find to measure the growth and evolution, is a WordCamp. Although, more WordCamps are being planned, until the next one actually happens, it’d be too early to pass a judgement on the maturity of the community.
A hope for the future
The next WordCamp can only be better than the last. Everyone has higher expectations. People have tasted the benefits of community behaviour. More people who will share knowledge will be discovered. More people will hop on to the ride.
It is now over a week since I attended my second WordCamp. The first one I attended in Mumbai, India – where I was slightly disappointed with the lack of WordPress related discussions. But I was not really complaining and looked forward to another one in the city of Baroda. The WordCamp in Baroda was better than the Mumbai event as it had more WordPress related content being discussed and shared.
I thought, I would sit down and write my views on WordCamps that I have attended. The idea of this post is to take stock of how things might be at WordCamps being hosted in India and how could they get better.
What I found lacking at WordCamps!
WordPress is not exactly very popular in India. It has a decent following but nowhere developed like it is say in western countries. I think there were some basic things that I found lacking at WordCamps I attended.
Local meetups arranged prior to WordCamps seem to be few if not completely absent. Having meetups will be a good idea as this will give a good idea to organizers on how much local enthusiasm is there for the WordCamps. It will also help drum up support for WordCamps.
People love to volunteer and get involved. But people who want to get involved need a platform to get involved. I think more work can be done to build better smaller local communities which can be more accessible.
The talk sessions sometimes are more centered around social media and SEO tips. I personally find this a waste of time when social media marketing tips and SEO tutorials are shared which have nothing to do with WordPress.
I did not come across any good sessions on basic introduction to WordPress. This I think is a must have session for any WordCamp.
I was also a little disappointed that WordCamps I attended hardly saw a mention of how people should contribute to WordPress. It is important that as open-source community we think of making and adding to WordPress more than just taking from it.
I won’t be too harsh on the two WordCamps that I attended as I saw organizers themselves sharing their experiences with other organizers very freely. This is crucial as sharing their experiences will improve WordCamps a lot more in the future.
What I would like to see in India’s WordPress community
I am using the word ‘community’ instead of ‘WordCamp’ on purpose.
I would love to see organizers write down a detailed list of difficulties they came across while arranging a WordCamp. This would be a great resource to future WordCamp organizers.
Another idea is for organizers to help first time speakers. First time speakers are often unsure about their sessions and maybe a list of things to do, guides on how to go about presenting a session and what they should talk about might be of great use to them.
Finally, I would love to see a session called ‘Basics of WordPress’ for people who simply have no idea of what WordPress is all about. This could be like a 10 minute session.
Finally, I would like a lot local casual meetups. It would also be great if people who take part in such meetups write and share what they discussed during these gatherings.
India’s love affair with WordPress is simply beginning!
I suspect India does not have a very strong WordPress community. There is a lot of interest in it surely but most students are not exactly aware of it. There are many WordPress developers who work freelance in India. But many of them are not exactly organized as a community. Hopefully with more WordCamps all that will change slowly by surely.
As WordPress is open-source, it’s biggest supporters will always be college going kids who do not exactly have a lot of resources but have the adventurous spirit to learn new things.
Considering India will have a lot of young people who might not find fancy jobs in IT, I am sort of betting on them finding their true calling with WordPress. 🙂
Useful Links for WordCamp and WordPress Meetup Organizers
If you are interested in taking part in WordCamps or organizing them you might find some of these links useful.
Make – WordPress.org Events – Useful link for people who are interested in reading up about best practices to follow while organizing WordPress related events. This also includes information on meetups.
Finally, as I was writing about WordCamps in India, let me inform you about the next one. WordCamp Pune 2013 will be held on the 23rd &24th February 2013.
Last year, the WordPress conference called WordCamp was held in Jabalpur, India. Despite Jabalpur being a smaller town compared to the big metros in India, it was a well attended and a successful WordCamp.
This year, WordCamp is taking place in Mumbai on October 20-21, 2012.
What will happen at WordCamp Mumbai?
The event mainly spread over two days. Many WordPress geeks, bloggers will be attending to discuss and share ideas about the WordPress platform. The event will also feature many speakers who have confirmed participations.
The list of speakers includes Philip Arthur Moore, a WordPress Theme Wrangler with Automattic Inc (the company at the core of development for WordPress)
Registration for WordCamp Mumbai
You can register for WordCamp Mumbai online. There are two types of tickets “Developer’s Track” and “User Track”.
Both the tickets cost INR 1500/- but you can avail of a discount coupon for INR 500.
Something interesting happened in India for the WordPress community a week before Diwali holidays. A WordCamp was organized and it was not in one of bigger cities but in a smaller town of Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh.
Q. How did the idea of having a WordCamp in Jabalpur come into being? Who were in your group and helped out in organizing it.
I was introduced to WordCamp by my friend Aniket Pant when I was doing internship at Delhi Metro Rail Corporation in June this year. We were fascinated by the idea to organize WordCamps in our cities (Goa and Jabalpur) and applied for it. Unfortunately he was not granted permission and I managed to succeed.
After getting permission, I got warm support from my juniors in college, namely Roopal, Ankit and Apoorv. They were the real organizers whose efforts made this a success.
Q: Jabalpur is not a metro in India, what had an disadvantage or an advantage?
Jabalpur not being a metro in early days felt like a big disadvantage as most of the tech guys and companies are based out of cities like Pune, Hyderabad and Bangalore. In beginning it seemed really hard to get some sponsors from Indian companies, who were not ready to support because it was organized in a tier-2 city. Some speakers had to cancel their slot because of 2-3 days long journey and non availability of tickets.
On a brighter side, we were able so cut down costs, as a tier-2 city is relatively cheaper when compared to metros. This made us save on infrastructure cost like venue charges, bandwidth(donated by BSNL at 1Gbps) and other such items. Above all, we are happy that we were able to spread WordPress and open source in a city which is not too involved in web development. WordCamp was covered in the local Hindi daily(Dainik Bhaskar) for 5 consecutive days. Now I get calls from people who want to shift their HTML sites to WordPress. I consider this to be a big achievement.
Q: Were you all WordPress developers or just enthusiats?
I am a WordPress freelancer since 3 years and have my little contribution to WordPress community as well. Other organizers are WP enthusiasts and now trying to get more into it since WordCamp.
Q: What was your single biggest challenge in arranging a WordCamp?
The single biggest challenge was to convince tech guys from metros to travel some 500-1000 km to join us for WordCamp. Most of them were professionals and had to take leave from their day job to reach here. It was awesome meeting them all and would like to thank them for being here during WordCamp.
Q: Jabalpur being a smaller city, do you think more WordPress fans from other smaller cities would be inspired?
Yes, it was managed totally by undergraduate students. We can hope to see more such events coming up in future. I had a e-mail conversation with Andrea, an Automattic employee who managed WordCamps across globe, told me that applications from India have increased exponentially since WordCamp Jabalpur.
Q: Your advice to anyone looking to organize a WordCamp in India and tell us about any India specific challenges?
I would suggest people, never start exporting speakers from outside your city. First look in the local WordPress group and see if someone is interested in being a speaker. Also as WordPress is not a very well known topic in most of Indian colleges, I would suggest offer some discount for students as they are the backbone of all tech developments in future.
The biggest India specific challenge is lack of WordPress community. We don’t have local WordPress meets and also developers are not on a common mail group for better discussions. If possible, try to form a community and keep that strong even after WordCamp.
Q. I was struck but the fact that WordCamp Jabalpur was held very close to Diwali. Considering a lot of bloggers and WordPress enthusiasts are college students, did having it during vacation time help or hinder the camp.
The weekend we choose WordCamp was the only feasible date from our side. A weekend before that meant we had little time for preparation and a weekend after meant no tickets for most of last-minute planners because of the Diwali rush. However the dates in end proved to be good for us as most participants being students, had this even at the start of festive season just before vacations in colleges.
Q. Finally who helped you organize WordCamp Jabalpur 2011?
The names of organizers and volunteers are Roopal Jain, Ankit Chansoria, Apoorv Anand, Arya Bhasin, Neha Nupoor, Ambar Khan, Kautuk Kashyap, Akaar.