This weekend just gone I attended WordCamp UK in Manchester, which is the annual gathering of UK WordPress users and developers in the UK. As was the case last year in Cardiff, I fully enjoyed the sessions and the whole weekend, and as normal I am writing this post as a summary of what I saw and found out about on the weekend.
Last year event in Cardiff meant a long (ish) journey down to south Wales and a stay over in a Hotel. This year I was a little more fortunate as I was able to drive their and back on both days without having to endure and overnight stop. I am not a fan of staying in hotels, in fact I like my own bed too much!
Still a city centre location had me slightly nervous about driving through Manchester centre with all the one way roads and tricky navigation. Thanks to several people on the WorddCamp UK mailing list, including Rachel Shillcock and Gurbir Singh about car parking facilities and directions getting their was easy. The free parking also made the event extremely good value for money at £20 for a ticket.
WordCamp UK started off for me with a talk from Michael Kimb Jones all about the development of WordPress themes. It really is amazing how far we have come with themes, especially over the last 12 – 18 months. There was a time when all themes were essentially the same with just different CSS, whereas now we have all sort of themes doing different things with option pages etc.
The commercial theme market was very much at the forefront of the discussion and as to how companies such as StudioPress, Woo Themes and the like make their money. What can certainly be said is that they make big money according to the figures that were mentioned during the session.
Later in the day, Jonny A also talked about themeing with some interesting ideas, hints and tips about best practice when creating a theme. Particular he concentrated on some of the newer WordPress 3.0 template tags and features such as get_template_part() and custom post types. Personally the jury is still out about Custom Post Types particularly since they are driven by the active theme which could cause problems, but I am sure they have their uses. In fact OttoPress has stated just this rcently, indicating that they are often misunderstood.
Using custom post types right now is, for most people, a bad idea. Only specialized usages really exist for them… for now
That then brings me onto Theme Frameworks. Don’t get me wrong I can see the benefits of using a theme frameworks, but in my limited experience of using them, they cause a lot of problems as it feels as though you don’t have full control. It will be interesting to see first impressions of Wonderflux the new theme frameworks for designers out soon in private beta.
I also attended the WOW plugins session, another presented by MKJones. I found this very useful as it opened me up to a lot of plugins that would be very useful, yet I have never heard of. There are so many plugins that you tend to just stick to the ones that you know about really, so sessions like this were people can share there experience of different plugins is a really good idea.
One that really caught my eye was Gravity Forms, even though it is paid for. Many had been advocating this in the past on Twitter and having seen it first hand I thought it was worth buying, particularly as I negotiated a 25% for WordCamp UK after the event through a Twitter conversation with the author!
I am yet to write my first real plugin but maybe it is time to delve into that area now after having seen what can be done. I am sure that some time in the future I will give it a go when I have some time, or have the necessity.
Dave Coveney is always an interesting speaker and he did not fail to deliver this year, particularly with his talk on WordPress in Enterprise. This is something that is always close to me because we run an ‘Enterprise’ environment in our school, with over 1000 users. Dave was mentioning about some of the difficulties of integrating WordPress with an Enterprise Windows server environment, something which we seem to have overcome at the moment using a plugin called wpDirAuth.
In many ways WordPress seems like the perfect solution for so many enterprises with it licensing and open source advantages, yet we still see a slow uptake by the enterprise community. Personally I think the majority of this comes down to accountability. Since WordPress is Open Source there is no-one on the end of the phone to ring up and sue if it all goes pear shaped.
BuddyPress looks like a really good tool and would seem to have all sorts of uses in all sorts of sector, particularly in my sector of education. Paul Gibbs, a BuddyPress forum moderator gave 2 very good talks covering the basics of BuddyPress as well as how to create your own BuddyPress theme to get your sites looking as you want them.
This is something that I definitely want to have a go with in the near future and Paul’s presentations with the advice and insight he offered is certainly going to help.
The weekend ended on a slightly controversial note. The last session was intended to be a meta session with attendees discussing the future of WordCamp UK, what worked well this year and what could be improved in future years. Jane Wells from Automattic (the company behind the WordPress project) appeared to indicate that WordCamp UK would need to become a regional event rather than having a single national event.
The audience did not take too kindly to this and argued against this being the case. Personally I think that it should stay the way it is, and if people want to get together regionally then fine. In fact some already do, for example there is a Manchester group. We are a small country at the end of the day and an event of nearly 200 is better in my opinion than events all over the country of 20 -30 people. But to be honest, I don’t think I am that bothered either way, as long as WordCamps in the UK can continue, whatever they are called and wherever they are.
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