Online WordCamps, making conferences more accessible?

In the past few weeks I have attended two online WordCamps. First WordCamp Kent May 30-31 and then WordCamp EU June 4-6. I enjoyed both of the conferences and was happy that they were offered online this year because if they hadn’t I wouldn’t have been able to attend due to some physical challenges I have been having. Here are some of my thoughts about how the online format can make events accessible to more people, and some ideas for improvements.

A lucky find

I stumbled on WordCamp Kent Online purely by accident. The event was listed in the WordPress dashboard and I spotted it while I was doing some regular maintenance on one of my sites. I would never have had the possibility to attend the event in-person since I am based in Europe but since it was online it was accessible to me.

The format of the event was nice, all the talks were streamed on YouTube with a live chat for discussions and questions. In addition there was a lively chat going on in the Slack workspace. I even spotted some folks I know from WordCamp EU and WordCamp Nordic which was a fun surprise.

Many of the sessions were useful but the ones I particularly enjoyed were the ones focusing on how to grow a small scale freelance business and generating leads. My very favorite speaker was Nathan Ingram. I really liked his fun and informal tone, and his handouts were very useful. 

Some of my favorite talks were:

Designing websites that generate leads by Bill Rice

7 steps to sustainability – improving your business model for freelancers and small businesses by Kori Ashton

Preventing client problems before they happen by Nathan Ingram

Mastering the client consultation by Nathan Ingram

I didn’t join any of the online social events or do much networking, but appreciated that those were offered. I hope that WordCamp Kent will offer streaming online next year as well, I would definitely listen in again!

Highlight of the year

I attended WordCamp EU for the first time in 2018 in Belgrade. This was actually my first WordCamp ever, and what a way to start! I ended up making some great friends and due to getting caught at the venue because of a giant rain storm I met some of the folks who were planning the first WordCamp Nordic and ended up on the organizing team for that event.

Since 2018 WCEU has become a highlight of my year, and I was sad when I realized I was probably going to have to miss it this year due to some pain issues I have been having. Then Covid-19 happened and travel wasn’t an option for anyone anyway. I am really grateful that the organizers didn’t cancel the event but put it online instead.

The format was similar to WordCamp Kent, all the sessions were streamed live on YouTube and then Slack was used for discussions. In addition to the two-day program of talks WCEU also offered an online Contributor Day. I joined this as well and picked the Accessibility team. Unfortunately it was on a Thursday afternoon/evening at the end of an already long work day for me and I was pretty worn out. The team also focused mostly on development tasks and it wasn’t easy for me as a designer and content creator to figure out how I could actually contribute in a meaningful way. The Contributor Day seemed to run smoothly however, and the different teams used Zoom rooms and Slack channels for communication.

Because of the pain issues I have been having I wasn’t able to sit at my computer for hours watching the sessions, so I ended up watching most of them lying on my couch using my smartphone. This worked surprisingly well, at least with the native YouTube app. That way I could follow both the stream and the live chat. It was not so convenient to watch the embedded stream on the WCEU website with the live captions, so I hope this could be done better in the future. The captioning is not something that I need to be able to follow a talk, but I always choose to use captions when they are available and missed them a bit.

As with WordCamp Kent I didn’t join the networking sessions or the virtual sponsor booths. This was mostly because I just didn’t feel like using my laptop from my couch and Zoom is not so convenient for me on mobile.

Some of my favorite talks were: 

Why understanding data privacy and cookie law for your WordPress website is critical for success by Suzanne Dibble

Why the next generation is critical to the survival of WordPress by David Bisset

Be a good boss: How to support your marginalised colleagues by Tara King

Making videos captions beautiful, accessible and engaging at the same time by Ahmed Khalifa

10 steps to a faster site by Doug Cone

Final thoughts

In summary I really enjoyed both of the WordCamps and hope that online events will be an option in the future. Although I am also hoping we will be able to go back to in-person events as soon as possible, since the reason why I love WordCamps is the incredibly friendly and welcoming atmosphere and accidental networking which only really works for me in real life. But for me, this year, if the events hadn’t been online I wouldn’t have been able to participate at all.

Next time I would try to attend more of the social events and networking as well but found that this year I was just too worn out from working earlier in the day or too sore to sit for hours and hours at my computer. YouTube and Slack were more accessible to me than Zoom or the embedded captioning on the WCEU website.

The online Contributor Day was not very useful for me personally. Next time I might consider joining a different team since I would love to contribute to Accessibility but didn’t feel like I had much to bring to the table since I am not a developer. It was also a bit much for me to try and follow along at the end of a normal working day. If I attend an online Contributor Day again I will make sure to take a day off of work so that I am well-rested.

In general though both WordCamps were very useful. I learned new things about the technical aspects of WordPress, but also about business, site design, paying attention to accessibility needs and improving workplace culture. This diverse selection of topics, along with friendly and open people, are ultimately what keep me coming back to WordCamps and make me want to stay involved in the WordPress community.

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