My reasons for attending were along the lines of exploring what others are doing with WordPress, a chance to meet and talk with other developers, WordPress users, and to see what lessons could be learnt from others experiences with WordPress.
The journey from Kent – London – Edinburgh was a mission in itself, starting with the 6:48 am train from Kent, I decided to go into St Pancras Station on the city link train, exit St Pancras walking past the British Library to Euston station for my connecting train, the olympic rush had not kicked in yet.
To cut a long journey down to size, I arrived in Edinburgh on the Virgin Train some time mid afternoon, meeting up with Keith Devon organizer of the #wpldn Meet Up Group, we went for a coffee and a quick look at the Edinburgh National Museum of Scotland, then I walked to the “hotel” using the android navigation app with a depleted HTC phone battery warning popping up every minute was a lot of fun.
I unpacked my stuff and then later walked from the hotel for something to eat, meeting up with others attending the event, at a local restaurant covering 3.4 miles for that trip, well that about sums up getting there.
Being a soft southerner from “Down Sar’f” walking or drinking alcohol are not on my list of activities, however the weekend did see plenty of walking to and from the venues, others saw plenty of drinking, I had decided not to drive up or use taxi’s while in Edinburgh, I must have walked about twelve miles over the four days, I normally only walk from the house to the car, station or the local stores about 1/3 of a mile away.
Having booked a room at the Pollock Halls Holland House “Block A”, the Edinburgh University halls of residence, which becomes a hotel when the students are not in residence, never been to university, it was a bit of a shock very basic with “No Television”, I was thinking that even our prisoners have a television in their cells unless they break the rules then it can be removed, ‘end of rant’, no television in the student halls is quite normal I was informed later, on the positive side the breakfast was an open buffet style with plenty of choice, setting me up nicely for the day ahead.
WordCamp Day One
The day started with registration, seeing a few familiar faces from the WordPress London meet up group in the queue, the first session was the introduction to WordCamp UK by Tony Scott, WordCamp is a multi-track event, and we broke out to one of the five tracks (conference rooms).
I am not writing about all the sessions I attended, but the ones that were most relevant to myself, there were a number of great talks about development, design, usage and security all aspects of managing WordPress were covered at this WordCamp
Important as some might be they are not an area I work in as I host my WordPress installs on managed servers, if anything was to go wrong the hosting companies experts deal with it, well that is my thinking, I write articles and posts looking at enhancing the twenty eleven theme, so the sessions I attended were more frontend.
I did spend some time in the Happiness Bar, where the experts were at hand to help out with anything WordPress.
Custom Theme Development
I opted to start with the presentation on Custom Theme Development, there were three speakers with different areas of expertize.
Steve Taylor started the talk with an insight into how he uses WordPress, adding the themes custom core functionality into a must use plugin, which he then puts into the mu-plugins folder, these types of plugins can not be disabled from the plugins page, are ideal for themes on websites that are managed by the WordPress developer or designer, Steve also spoke on a number of other points about theme development, but the plugin part was one that stuck in my mind.
Jonny Allbut followed Steve with a talk on how frameworks can be used in WordPress, Jonny spoke with an enthusiasm and passion on the subject of frameworks, Jonny having developed the WonderFlux framework as a personal project, Jonny also presented the Turbo Charged Theme Development presentation, I did not attent that presentation but I see the presentation online has already been posted.
Rachel McCollin was the final speaker discussing the thinking around mobile first, Rachel spoke about designing for a mobile device and working up to larger sizes from there, another great point from Rachels presentation was the way that in business she uses a master or base theme, developing child themes for the layout and styling.
Child themes are something that most of my posts on this website use, to make it easy to add functions to an existing theme without changing the parent theme.
How I made WonderThemes
This presentation was one that had many learnt lessons and a frank and honest presenter in Michael Kimb Jones who did not mind sharing the pitfalls of his business venture.
WonderThemes was launched last year and sponsored the WordCampUK event in Portsmouth 2011, it might be worth reading the wiki to get a much better understanding of the project time track and presentation, I am only summarizing the talk.
The talk was light, comical with a serious message, it took us through all the steps from the initial idea, including the development, marketing, hosting, all the costs in creating a digital theme download website, at the time a theme marketplace was a fairly new idea, WordPress was on the up, the delays in adding new functionality, the time taken bringing the project to market, marketing to vendors and not customers did not help this project allowing others to seize the market, you really needed to be there to get the most from this presentation.
Lessons learnt: Be early and quick to market, don’t think that an existing business model is easy to replicate and adopt, there are no sales without vendors and customers, research the market be realistic with expectations, “Build it and they will come!” or should that be “Build it and they won’t come”?
This presentation reminded me of the stock photography websites, I used to take a few commercial images and upload these to the five main stock image websites, I saw many new stock image websites spring up, these new websites were offering a great suppliers cut 80/20, 60/40, I did think that I could build a stock image website.
“Reality check” Wonder Themes launched offering up to 90% to the theme Vendors, you would think that the Vendors would be knocking the door down to get their products in the catalogue.
The advantage the big digital download websites have over Wonder Themes or any other “new kid”, is they were are up and running or came to market quickly, some might have had large marketing budgets, and they were there first.
Vendors are often tied into exclusive agreements and the most important thing these other websites have is customers, when discussing a new stock website venture, one photographer asked me, “what is 80% of nothing?”
On day two I attended several presentations, the one that I am writing about is one we should all think about, which is the one on accessibility, I work as a freelancer with a product called Microsoft Dynamics NAV it is at the core an accounting package with ERP, CRM built on, I have developed Dynamics NAV for over 17 years, one of the early lessons learnt was tab order, I spent hours setting the tab order and shortcuts on the forms for keyboard users, I had never even thought about this when creating themes.
Pun of the day: the last session was site doctors, they were looking at a cosmetic surgeons website, the header image was not responsive, it would not re-size, a voice from behind muttered “to much Botox!”, it made me smile.
WordPress and Web Accessibility
There is a some information on the wiki about this subject, the presenter Graham Armfield was very passionate, informed, well prepared, with statistics, real examples and screen readers, for this talk, there are a huge number of people with different types of impairments, Graham discussed some of these and how their online experience could be made better with a few simple things when creating a theme or just writing a blog post.
The demonstration included the free NVDA Screen Reader which Graham urged everyone to download, test their website for accessibility, simple things like adding a description of an image into the alt tag, takes a few seconds then screen readers read these, do we ever consider sight impairment when choosing a link or hover color, how would out links look to someone that is color blind?
Graham also discussed the front end menu, the screen readers are unable to open the nested menu links so a lot of the content might never get seen, again hover colors should be a contrast change not a subtle font change, in the case of an image lightbox or pop-up the screen reader can often only tell you that a new window has opened not what is in it, the screen reader is unlike me, when a pop-up window appears it annoys me I close the page and go elsewhere!
The admin area of WordPress was a real problem again for navigation, with no structured tab order, there is a market here for JQuery and plugin authors looking for a showcase for their skills, to look at accessibility like an easy way to mass update the alt image alt tags, set the admin tab order, change font percentage and link colors from the front page at the click of an image, and make many peoples online experience a better one.
The Return Journey
I was perplexed that my reserved seats on the Virgin Train meant I got off the train going to Euston via Birmingham at Crewe, waiting twenty minutes then boarding another Virgin train at Crewe to Euston, which was due to get in before the train I had got off, well I did pick the fasted ticket!
I was sitting in my seat when another passenger sat opposite it was Rachel McCollin, we had a chat about WordPress, more me asking Rachel about the best product for a particular scenario, also moaning about my ticket and the train guards insistence that I had to get off the slow service at Crewe wait twenty minutes and take my set on the faster train.
“Not a bad thing changing at Crewe” Rachel said “there has been a fatality on the line to London”
Rachel was almost right, the fatality was on the route that my fast train was taking, the connecting train had been cancelled, I had to get a train that arrived 10 minutes after the train I had got off arrived, putting me at Victoria Station on my way to Kent in the rush hour, I arrived home worn out aching feet from walking, any issues I had with the journey back are really insignificant, as there are friends, family, or family and friends of the train line fatality, getting or having had the devastating news of their loss.
The return journey is not complete until WordCamp UK 1013 (Hopefully in London), all things being good in the world, I will see you there?