Having attended the first WordCamp in Southeast Asia at the College of St. Benilde in De La Salle University over at Taft Avenue last Saturday, Sept 6, I have to say that blogging truly is a serious undertaking for many, and I take it from those who attended and stayed throughout the event. This also happens to be the first blog-related event I had ever been to.
I missed the morning sessions and I feel deprived of knowing about some important issues regarding blog services in general, and the state of WordPress in the Philippines, in particular (courtesy of Chuckie Dreyfus).
However, I made sure to stay the rest of the day and be at the highlight of the event which I believe was WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg‘s talk and the premiere with live demo of version WP 2.7. But that is getting ahead of myself.
There is something about the City of Manila, the once proud and bustling city — it still is, although in a different way — that makes me psychologically prepare more for a trip there more than any other, especially further to the south by the Baclaran-Pasay City boundary area near where the DLSU-St. Benilde is located.
Perhaps it is that living in a northern suburban part of the Metro for the last 20 years has made me more at ease with my environ, more in control of my bearings and lesser on my guard most of the time. Manila, the City, is not an alien territory having lived in the beautiful Malate district in the 70s. It means I can navigate through most of the City if I ever get stuck in traffic, but a trip to the eastern side of Taft Avenue is something I do with caution and attentiveness because I rarely ventured there as a child.
Needless to say, because I was not fully prepared to tackle the trip to the Camp especially if I had taken the connecting train trips as I had originally planned — meaning, to have to tread through the crowd alighting at the last MRT stop and navigate the corner of EDSA and Taft Avenue as brisk and as vigilant as possible — I made the mistake of taking the cab through the backdoor.
Manila is never without surprises, both pleasant and unkind, and on that Saturday of WordCamp, it was even more unpleasant than usual when traffic ate most of my travel time just a few blocks away from the venue coming in via Singalong. It did not help that it felt like the most humid day of the year and lugging a total of around 3kg-plus of accessoria, including an extra jacket, power cables, personal ephemera and such, was no mean feat for a small person like myself.
Thank God for the efficiency of the organizers who gave fair warning days ahead of the schedule (take note, everything at the participants’ end of this event was done electronically: the announcement, pre-qualification, approval and instructions, without me ever making of a phone call or SMS) and having breezed past the school guards with their bar code scanners and push-button entrances, getting into the event venue itself was easy. On a side note, the organizers arranged the IDs alphabetically, alright, not by surname but by first name. How nice.
Unfortunately, the breakaway sessions had started and were almost ending, in fact. I was advised to wait out or take an early lunch down at the 4th level where a roomful of styro-packed, fast-food lunch was lined, courtesy of a sponsor. I did manage to get into a room about CME/CMS I believe it was, just to see how these were conducted. The projected examples on the screen was too washed out and blurry to be read from the back row, but the room size (a class room) was small enough to make any soft-spoken facilitator audible. Meanwhile, the organizers had gathered all media personnel in another room by the theater for a press con with Matt.
I was surprised at the number of unclaimed IDs at the house. This meant there were as many registered participants not attending as those who were at the WordCamp. Some volunteers I asked about the unclaimed IDs did not have any idea what may have caused that many a qualified bloggers not attending. I think that’s sad, for whatever reason each had for being unable to go, a courtesy of a call or notification should have been made.
Lunch was served in a very orderly manner. The WCampers who lined up seemed like hungry for physical nourishment by that time, after getting their doses of blog-related food for thought in the breakaway sessions in the morning.
Lunch break was followed by a call to rescan all IDs to be eligible for give-aways. This part was fun, especially to the winners who were cited for significant accomplishments as early registration, early arrivals, naming of sponsors and such. Prizes were given throughout the afternoon sessions, with some ID numbers called out without claimants, which meant many more had gone home or took a break.
THE MEAT OF WORDCAMP 2008: INSIGHTS AND A WORLD PREMIERE
This is the meat of the action, so to speak. Not only because it was a forecast but because the forecast, barring glitches, came from the acknowledged founder himself, Matt Mullenweg, on behalf of the creators. But what is so significant about WordPress and why should there even be an event in Manila just for and about this?
One of the interesting things Matt mentioned was looking at Philippine or Filipino WordPress blogs as he was preparing to come over, and having a difficult time finding an accurate hit. What he did offer, however, was a data entry drawn from Alexa ranking the Philippines at #24 (the category escapes me) following that with a WordPress Alexa stat at…no. 24! How auspicious! Matt did note that the data he saw from Southeast Asia reveals Bahasa to be at the top among languages, which, to me drives home two points: many blogs by Filipinos for Filipinos, from or about the Philippines, are written in English and these are not frequently tagged as Philippines, Filipinos or Tagalog.
Matt echoed much of what many internet specialists are saying the internet is about in our current generation, which, in essence, is that “the world is becoming more social…[and with the continuous development of WordPress] will have a way to establish ways to put everything together and add social aspects to one’s site”, especially with the forthcoming release of the more powerful WP upgrade come November 2008.
WORDPRESS V 2.7
Without further ado, 2.7 was first publicly demo’d at WordCamp Philippines with very positive and, I believe, very effective interface geared towards giving the users the power to modify one’s site — like it hasn’t already yet with its open-source platform — and perfecting many buggy features that came with past upgrades. Four of these features stand out for me:  almost seamless drag-and-drop capabilities,  a more intuitive dashboard by rearranging tabs and features,  stricter security and  a robust platform.
For the first two points, Matt revealed that they spent a large amount of time utilizing eye-tracking technology and a battery of tests on many users and perfecting it across many browsers to get to the point where the forthcoming WP platform vis-à-vis intuitive user experience will be flawless without the actual programming getting in the way, “automagically happening in the background”, he says.
The third important point he stressed was dealing with security issues. WordPress is even more becoming the platform of choice of many important news blogs such as The New York Times and CNN (as of this post on Matt’s page is a testimonial by Martha Stewart on why she just moved from TypePad to WordPress). They overhauled the database code and redid cookie cacheing and password encryption, among others. I believe the army of developers at WordPress cannot afford to risk its platforms’s reputation and the public’s trust if it slacks on security.
Then there is the added feature of taking advantage of the current Web2.0 functions and turning on multi-modal blogging via the BuddyPress, like a “Facebook-in-a-box and SNS integrated within one’s post”. However, this will only be available on self-hosted sites under wordpress.org.
Lastly, he assured us, attendees, and all the WordPress users, that their biggest effort is geared towards making WordPress a robust platform. Part of this effort is being all ears and listening to what the users want and need, as well as being present in fora such as the WordCamp to listen to feedbacks and opinions they could consider implementing.
The reason I am all the more attracted to WordPress (like I am to Plurk, for instance) is because there are real people behind the GUIs and platforms who actually listen, inform and make their presence felt. From my experience, WordPress was not easy to handle at the beginning, and I preferred other platforms like Blogspot for ease of use.
Matt says that he values user feedbacks and finds time to read blogs of other WordPress users; is in fact familiar with the earlier WordPress.org sites and is delighted at meeting the people behind these sites as he did on his trip here.
He reiterated that by listening to users, he and the people behind the development of WordPress allows them to add features “ahead of anybody else”, and by sticking with open-source allows many designers and coders the freedom to innovate and personalize each site as they please, as well as open up the opportunity for more designers and users to come together for a compleat web experience.
DEEPER THOUGHTS: MATT’S
WordCamp ended the day with a pow-wow, a Q&A session with Matt answering the following, among others (from my notes, not complete):
- built-in cacheing and back-cacheing will be enabled for all blogs and across all blogs;
- they are looking into implementing threaded comments;
- he still actively writes core codes for WordPress but is more involved towards the final stages like clean-up and QAT’s and such;
- that, among others, they are looking into creating downloadable “how-to” PDFs and screencasts for WordPress users, particularly for the new bloggers;
- that he is with WordPress full time;
- that they closely manage 27 smart people worldwide who work for WordPress;
- that they have released WordPress mobile support via updates using the iPhone; it was unclear, however, if they are developing the same for other brands and OS’es;
- that WordPress is open to Filipino developers and/or designers because, in principle, WordPress does not select based on geographical location or nationality “or we’d be cutting the world in half”;
- that his blog is titled “Unlucky in Cards”; he explained that it came came from the saying “Lucky in cards, unlucky in …” then trailed off…
- and that he will vote for Barack Obama.
Soft-spoken and shy, Matt said it succinctly, “I’m just a guy that travels around. I listen to what people want. I never dreamt of coming to Manila. I was a kid in Texas who wanted to share the joy of open source.”
Thank you for taking time to come to our shores, Matt Mullenweg. You’re lucky to have the MindanaoBloggers take care of you. Thank you to the volunteer-bloggers putting on a smile for everyone throughout the day, and to the facilitators, one of whom I had the pleasure of an introduction, thank you.
Next time, other bloggers who fail to give as much as a courtesy RSVP to the organizers should think about the effort these guys put into making sure events like these are worth everybody’s time.
Lastly, I think that if Filipino bloggers want to be on the map, each should remember to tag their posts or add to their profiles: “Philippines” or “Filipino/s”.