Saturday 22 October was the culmination of ten months of hard work and exciting progress for Taryn and I at WPScotland. We held our first one-day unconference in Edinburgh, bringing together the country’s top WordPress talent and eager enthusiasts.
The weekend for me started on Friday night, meeting up with some of the presenters for pre event dinner and drinks at our favourite Edinburgh eatery – Illegal Jack’s. A late night ensued, followed by a hideously early morning as I hadn’t finished preparing the slides for my presentation.
Arriving at the venue to get set up it really started to sink in that we were on the verge of something special. It was all a little bit scary. Thankfully people started arriving (early no less!) and there was a real buzz around the Surgeons’ Hall. We had a cracking lineup of interesting subjects and presenters and it really didn’t disappoint:
So, to kick off the day we had Jim Convey of Ladder IT, giving us a talk about how he was using WordPress to learn CSS. Jim started off showing us some really handy developer tools and browser extensions, none of which I’d used before. The learning had started after about two minutes! After demonstrating how easy it is to pick sites, and themes, apart and use that knowledge to further your development skills we then went on to create a five minute theme. I had heard of Artisteer before, but to be honest had no idea what it did. For anyone who wants to be able to build WordPress themes from scratch with a nice GUI I can’t recommend it enough. A great start to the day.
Then it went downhill. My friend and colleague Andy Gilpin and I ran a session looking at the role of WordPress in the enterprise, and the difficulties we’ve had in implementing and supporting it in a large organisation. We discussed the difficulties of overcoming corporate skepticism about open source solutions and governance can hinder creativity and agile development. It wasn’t all negative though. We finished by asking the audience what the community could do to make WordPress more attractive to large organisations and offering a few ideas of our own. Nothing concrete came out of it, but it’s a discussion I think the community as a whole needs to have.
Taryn Wallis was next up, giving us an insight into what makes a good WordPress theme. As well as running her own web design and development firm and being co-organiser of WPScotland, Taryn is a member of the WordPress Theme Review Team. This little known group of volunteers assesses each theme that is submitted to the WordPress repository against the theme review guidelines. Obviously, learning and adhering to these standards will make all of our themes better, even if we don’t intent to submit them to the repository. She also gave us an overview of some great plugins to use when developing themes.
The “main event” was a 90minute panel discussion about WordPress in the voluntary sector, lead by Alex Stuart with John Adams and WordPress co-founder Mike Little completing the panel. I think everyone who was there would be able to write an entire blog post about what was covered, but suffice to say that it was fast moving and very informative. The whole room got involved in the conversation and while it remained very well controlled we covered a huge range of topics, from vertical application of WordPress to the one-size-fits-all model that multisite installs can offer.
After munching our way through rather a lot of tasty pizza came the quick fire “How did you do that?” session. Throughout the morning everyone had the opportunity to put forward interesting projects they’d like to show off, and for people who had questions to have them answered, complete with a demonstration. Our first volunteer was Kimb Jones, who showed us how he had used the WordPress links function to power an a-z and featured content around the Barnsley Hospital NHS Trust website. This was particularly interesting as it seemed that I was far from the only person in the room who doesn’t use the links feature very often.
Our second presenter was Neill Russell from Inigo Media, who showed us a site he had made for a gallery, with lots of cool customisation and particularly ingenious use of the Advanced Custom Fields plugin, which I’ve been battling with regularly over the last month or so. The site looked great, and it was a pretty unusual use for WordPress, which is always great to see.
The final show and tell session came from Heather Burns of Idea15 Web Design, who reminded us that it’s not always necessary to build everything in WordPress when there are better products our there which can be integrated relatively easily. She somehow managed to integrate a Google map with 1200 pins on it into her site for the Association of Scottish Community Councils, which anyone who has ever used Google maps will realise is an incredible achievement. All too often we try to bend WordPress beyond it’s capabilities, while remaining blind to the fact that there are sometimes better tools out there. A valuable lesson.
Sadly we didn’t have time for more, I get the impression that in future we could run a full day of this kind of session and still not have time to fit it all in. Something to think about!
Donnacha of Wordskill then gave us some ideas of different ways we can manage large networks of WordPress sites. He talked about ManageWP, where you sign up to a service which allows you to manage all of your separate installations from one control panel. It sounds cheap and very effective, although not many people in the room had enough sites for it to be worthwhile. Donnnacha ventured that this would change soon. Again we covered lots of topics, even discussion the best way to determine your hourly rate.
With more and more people using smarphones and tablets to access the internet it’s important that we all create websites which are usable across a range of platforms. To that end, Ian Mackay of Epitome Solutions gave us a slick and engaging demonstration of two different approaches to this challenge: responsive and adaptive design. He wasn’t helped by the low resolution of the projector, but we were all able to see how effective a website which changes layout depending on the device or screen size it was being viewed at. Very impressive. I think the one thing everyone who attended will remember is that on screen elements need to be 44px wide to be “fingernavigable”. Money can’t buy that kind of knowledge!
Kimb Jones wrapped up the day with a history of WordPress themes and how their evolution has powered WordPress’ rise to be the world’s dominant CMS. It was a fascinating trip through design and functionality, with Kimb even showing us the first theme he ever developed. I was very surprised to find that the total number of themes available in the WordPress repository hasn’t really changed in the last five years, while downloads have skyrocketed. There is however much more choice for the consumer because of the rise of third party premium theme marketplaces. We had a group discussion about the pros and cons of Theme Forest, WooThemes and various others. Not to forget Wonder Themes! It was a great interactive session to bring to an end our first event.
I can’t thank everyone enough for coming along, and especially Taryn without whom the event would never have happened. Better get planning for the next one now!