2010 – Year in Review

The year has gone by quickly since the WordPress Foundation was announced back in January. Much of that time was spent surveying the WordPress ecosystem to identify how we best could fulfill the mission of the Foundation to promote WordPress and educate people about the possibilities it offers to both publishers (personal and business alike) and developers.

2010 saw explosive growth in the number of people using the free downloadable software from WordPress.org. How explosive? When WordPress version 2.9 debuted in December 2009, it averaged about 47, 000 downloads per day. When version 3.0 was released in June 2010, it averaged about 235,000 downloads per day. When version 3.1 is released in the coming weeks, I expect the numbers to show continued growth. In the meantime, if you ever question the impact WordPress has, just watch the download counter for a minute or so, and think about those people who — every second of every day — are being empowered to publish on the web, without restriction and for free. As I type this, the download counter shows that WordPress 3.0 has been downloaded over 28 million times. I know it blows my mind!

2010 also saw the WordPress trademark donated by Automattic to the WordPress Foundation. This was important in helping to draw a clearer definition between the two entities, and to ensure the protection of the trademark in the future, but more immediately it was important because now the trademark is officially tied to the open source project and its goals. As we move forward in coming years with initiatives to educate users and developers, the trademark policy will help prevent confusion among the community about which resources are officially tied to the open source project (or not).

One of the best things about the WordPress community is the existence of WordCamps. However, that explosive growth I mentioned earlier has made it more and more difficult for WordPress fans to put together affordable events that can meet their local community’s needs. Having been involved in organizing a number of WordCamps myself (New York 2009 and 2010, Savannah 2010, San Francisco 2009 and 2010) and acting as a central point of contact for organizers around the world, I constantly hear about the pain points, which usually come down to money. Whether it’s not being able to get a decent venue as a donation or for an affordable fee, not having access to video equipment to record sessions, or bearing the tax burden of an event that can run tens of thousands of dollars, there are many issues that distract WordCamp organizers from what is intended to be their focus: putting together a program to bring together local community members to learn about and celebrate WordPress.

In 2010, we bought the first of several video kits for use by WordCamps. The video kits contain a Canon HD camcorder, ¬†an external microphone for better sound, a tripod, memory cards, and a hard shell case to protect the gear. The first WordCamp to use one of the kits will be WordCamp Phoenix in January 2011, and the hope is that by providing decent video equipment to WordCamps that can’t arrange it locally through volunteers, we can ensure that there will be a video record of every WordCamp posted to WordPress.tv. Right now we have one full kit purchased with the funds donated last year by WordCamp NYC, another on the way donated by WordCamp Savannah, and some additional video equipment being donated by WordCamp Philly. Contributing funds or equipment to video kits is a great way for WordCamps to dispense of any surplus after the event is over, and has a nice symmetry.

Handling the money for a WordCamp — taking sponsor payments, paying vendors, signing venue contracts — is one of the greatest burdens on a WordCamp organizer, and not having to deal with money at all is the single most frequent request from WordCamp organizers. We’re not at a point where the Foundation can take on the financial burden entirely, but we are working on coming up with a solution toward this end. As an experiment, the Foundation handled all the finances for WordCamp NYC 2010, including the venue contract. This meant that all ticket sales and sponsor payments went straight to the Foundation, and the Foundation paid the bills. In cases where cash payment was necessary or it was easier for an organizer/volunteer to pay out of pocket, the Foundation reimbursed those costs shortly after the event.

Compared to the year before, when one organizer had to jump through tax hoops as a result of being the WordCamp money handler, it was much less stressful. On the other hand, it was not always convenient, as when we wanted to buy anything, we needed to put in a payment request to the person who handles the Foundation finances. In 2011, we hope to find a way to enable more WordCamps to have the Foundation handle the finances in a way that is efficient and hassle-free, so that WordCamp organizers can focus on the content and the community instead of worrying about maxing out their credit cards or setting up a checking account and the tax repercussions that go with that.

In 2011, we hope to accelerate the initiatives to make running (or attending!) a WordCamp easier, which includes building out a number of community features on WordCamp.org. In addition, we’ll be ramping up some of our plans around developing free, open source WordPress training materials, participating in mentorship programs, and doing our best to help grow the WordPress community in a sustainable and Super-Awesome-McExcellent way.

If you want to contribute to this effort, donations are welcome — and tax deductible!

Thanks for continuing to spread the word. Happy New Year!

Our First Project: WordCamp Videos

It’s been pretty quiet around here, but it’s been busy behind the scenes as we worked through budgets, tax requirements, legalese and reviewing the ways in which the Foundation could be of most use in helping to promote WordPress and provide education to the WordPress community. Our first program is centered around making it possible for all interested parties to benefit from the presentations and workshops given at locally-organized WordCamps around the world.

WordPress.tv hosts all WordCamp video free of charge as a community service, but not every WordCamp is able to record sessions, as organizers and volunteers don’t have access to the proper equipment. Moving forward, the Foundation will be working on making it possible for every WordCamp to publish their session videos by providing video kits.

We used WordCamp NYC as a test drive, and bought a handful of Flip HD Slide cameras and gorillapods, thinking that small, easy-to-use cameras would be the easiest for volunteers to operate, as well as the safest to ship back and forth between WordCamps. However, we found that the Flips had four serious problems:

  1. Though the Slides were chosen because they can record up to 4 hours of continuous video, the fact is that the battery does not last more than 2 hours. They didn’t put that in the ads! WordCamp NYC was a nightmare in this respect, with Flip operators constantly needing to trade out cameras so they could be recharged, because….
  2. You can’t plug a Flip into an outlet while it is in use. We bought a couple of wall chargers, but plugging the USB connector into the outlet charger still means the camera can’t be recording at that moment (and when it’s plugged into a computer’s USB port, it’s obviously out of rotation).
  3. The USB connector that flips (ha) out is not as sturdy as other Flip models, so that when it is plugged into a computer port or a wall charger, it is precarious, wobbly, and stops charging (and downloading video) when the connection is interrupted.
  4. The sound is terrible unless the camera is right in the front row during a presentation, and you can’t connect an external microphone.

Because of these issues, we’re going to go with a slightly more complex, but vastly more reliable solution. We’re buying kits containing a Canon Vixia camcorder that records onto SD cards, a compact, expanding tripod, an external microphone, and a hard case to hold it all. The cases will provide protection for the electronics during shipping, and we’ll put together a simple user guide for the volunteers to learn how best to record the sessions.

We’re ordering the first of these kits now, and once we confirm that the components we’ve chosen are definitely the best ones for the job, we’ll buy more kits so that we can cover multiple tracks at the larger WordCamps and/or multiple smaller WordCamps. For now we’re going to begin with WordCamps in the U.S., but hope to expand this to support international events in the future. Since WordCamps are some of the best educational WordPress events around, it will be awesome for people around the world to be able to watch the sessions whenever they like for free on WordPress.tv, overcoming the barriers of geography, economics and time that might prevent them from attending a WordCamp in person.