The second annual WordCamp for Publishers went down last week in Chicago with the theme “Taking Back The Open Web.” This theme was sparked from questions explored in a 2016 post by Drupal founder Dries Buytaert:
Do we want the experiences of the next billion web users to be defined by open values of transparency and choice, or by the siloed and opaque convenience of the walled-garden giants dominating today?
As conference organizers, we challenged speakers to touch on whether an open web ever truly existed, what state it’s in now, the consequences of a closed web, and how publishers can protect and encourage an open web.
Overall, we saw common themes emerge around empowering publishers to innovate and evolve. There was a shared belief that ethical journalism depends on an open web, with inclusivity as a fundamental building block to creating responsibly for the future.
Each of these topics has raised significant discussion in the WordPress community, and we envisioned #WCPub as a platform to discuss the state of the publishing industry and future of WordPress in the open web together, with folks from all different backgrounds in the industry. Thankfully, our speakers and attendees were more than up to the task!
Where Code Meets Community
John Eckman, CEO of 10up, was particularly drawn to the challenge of the event’s theme as it related to identity, inclusivity, and imagined communities. John explored the philosophical roots of the open source movement and how those ideas influenced modern-day open source ethics, software freedom, and netizen empowerment.
Austin Smith, CEO and co-founder of Alley, presented his research on the narrow path for local news. He argued in order to protect hyperlocal journalism, we’ll need to convince more readers to pay for the content they consume. We’ll also need to empower local publishers to innovate formats, ownership, and distribution.
Tyson Bird, projects designer at GateHouse Media, and David Parsons, senior software engineer at USA Today, spoke about their use of WordPress at scale to enable publishers to manage large media networks with a variety of markets and staff.
An Emphasis on Engagement
Caroline Porter, consultant for the Shorenstein Center on Media, Harry Backlund, co-founder and director of operations at City Bureau, and Sarah Schmalbach, resident at the Lenfest Institute, discussed the ethical collection of user data, experimenting with innovation around reader engagement, and two-way audience communication in a panel session moderated by Sherry Salko, director of the Amplify News Project.
Eric Ulken, a consultant, and Nick Johnson, founder of Pigeon Paywall, shared differing viewpoints on monetization strategies that ultimately focused on catering to users and their needs.
Open Sourcing in the Wild
There was a lot of excitement around Gutenberg, and Chris Van Patten, founder of Tomodo, open sourced his team’s documentation project on best design practices using Gutenberg live during his presentation.
Chris wasn’t the only presenter to live open source a project during a talk. Russell Heimlich, lead developer at Spirited Media, open sourced his team’s image CDN project to much applause.
The Trust Project also announced their Trust Indicators plugin during the event.
Open Means Everyone
Two lightning talks also addressed site accessibility concerns: one focusing on the particular needs of those with dyslexia, and another which offered a solution to accessibility through integration with Alexa.
Live Demos Galore
Shayda Torabi, director of marketing at WebDevStudios, and Jodie Riccelli, director of client strategy at WebDevStudios, demoed a number of workflows with streamlined editorial experiences all contained entirely within WordPress.
Barb Palser, global product partnerships at Google, argued we should look at site performance as a product, with a focus on quantifying the opportunity to increase user engagement.
Leo Postovoit and Ryan Kienstra of XWP went a step further and demonstrated how to improve performance “up to 85%” simply by integrating AMP.
On the flip side, Brian Boyer, VP of product and people at Spirited Media, delivered a passionate talk explaining his team’s decision to leave the AMP platform to focus on engaging readers in a different manner.
Off the Beaten Track
Attendees voted on Unconference session proposals to explore hyperspecific themes. The winning topics (“Gutenberg Therapy Session,” “Direct Revenue Discussion,” and “The Future of WordCamp for Publishers”) served as an opportunity for many to share their concerns about specific industry trends.
Workshops dealt with a variety of topics important to the community:
- Paul Schreiber, lead developer for FiveThirtyEight and The Undefeated, led a security-focused session.
- Joshua Wold, design strategist at XWP, dove into creative thinking through development problems by sketching.
- Ernie Hsiung, CTO at WhereBy.Us, fostered a discussion about communication across stakeholder groups.
We held a series of lightning talks that ranged widely in topic: from determining whether WordPress was a product or community, to implementing transparency standards for news; from solving content reuse and syndication woes to finding smarter and more efficient ways to create responsive HTML emails and manage media at scale, and even a case study of the need to combine mobile and AMP themes.
A Look to the Future
Then — all too soon — it was over!
Many thanks to all the speakers, sponsors, organizers and volunteers who made this fantastic week possible. Hope to see everyone at next year’s WordCamp for Publishers!