When is a WordCamp a WP Camp?

When is a WordCamp a WP Camp?

How far will WordPress users go to avoid involvement with Wordcamp Central? Zé looks at WP Camp Berlin, and asks whether it's such a good idea to reject the experience of the Foundation.

The Potsdam (Germany) WordPress Meetup group has recently announced that it is putting together a WordPress-dedicated event called WP Camp, in Berlin, on the 13th of October.

For all purposes, and from the description, it sounds almost like a normal WordCamp. In their words:

A cross between the looseness of a Barcamp and the structure of a conference.

I, for one, applaud any initiative which tries to bring WordPress users, designers and developers together, no matter which format is chosen. Given the size of the community today and the rate at which it is growing, many more meetups, WordCamps, WP On Tours and other events are sorely needed as nothing replaces meeting people face to face to create ties. Case in point: WP Realm. It would probably have not happened had not its founding members met (and had drinks) at some point.

However…

What I do not understand is organizing an event and not calling it “WordCamp” for reasons that, to me, sound either misguided or border line untrue. The organizers of WP Camp explain their reason for the naming of the event thus:

The short version: it’s about naming rights and to reduce the stress within the community.

The longer version: WordPress is a registered trademark, which the WordPress Foundation manages the name and makes sure it is not misused. The Foundation determines, for example, who may use the WordPress and WordCamp words in a domain name and (since last year or so) also who is allowed to organize WordCamps (although this designation doesn’t seem to be currently protected by any trademark law). For a WordCamp to name itself as such, it has to follow a set of guidelines issued by the Foundation on how the event is to be organized and conducted. The default guidelines are probably part of a bag of good intentions, drafted by some young bureaucrat at his new job at the Foundation – well-intentioned but equally idiotic doubtful as to their benefits to the international community.

Since we:

  • Have neither the desire or the time, to be dragged into an existing organization and allow it plan the event and dictate the price of admissions,
  • Do not want to see any leftover funds be transferred directly to the Foundation, rather than, as Inpsyde did last year, transfer them to a charity and
  • Are careful enough to want to avoid a possible conflict of American data protection criteria with the German ones before they arise,

We have, after due consultation, even with experienced WordCamp veterans (thanks!), decided to rename this baby otherwise. We organize an event for our community – that is challenging enough! What we do well, we do well and when we make mistakes it is our fault. We do not need a planned economy, but a lot of good humor and dedicated guests!

(I’ll skip over the patronizing, almost insulting tone, i.e. if “doubtful” was what was meant, what is the reason for the visible correction?)

In as far as the Foundation’s description is concerned, there is little to say. Protecting the names and guiding its applications in real life is indeed what it does, even if for more reasons than the ones mentioned above, such as:

We’d like to make it hard for anyone to use the WordPress or WordCamp name and logo to unfairly profit from, trick or confuse people who are looking for official WordPress or WordCamp resources.

That said, it is certainly not my place to argue here if these guidelines are being done in the right or wrong way. As in any other open-source community everything is always open to corrections, adjustments and input from the community itself. Confusions and mix-ups have happened before and the world didn’t end because of them. Being the strong and vibrant community that we are, we argue, disagree and, to misquote Frank go “up and down and over and out but we know one thing: each time we find ourselves flat on our faces, we pick ourselves up and get back in the race.” In short, we are strong and vibrant precisely because the majority of us doesn’t turn their backs on each other; we consistently aim to fix things so that it benefits the whole community.

Now, it may well be that all of this amounts to no more than a logistics quibble; it is not unheard of and would be perfectly acceptable were it not for the remainder of that FAQ item. I’m not sure if pointing out that the WordCamp brand isn’t protected by any trademark is either a hint or a simple statement of fact. Should it be the latter, there was no need to even make the point and I certainly hope it’s not the former as it sounds either childish or low (newsflash: it’s your brand, too).

Frustration with social conventions is a fact of life. At some point we’ve all suffered from having to compromise with guidelines that differ from our own vision of how things should run. Living in a family, to name but one situation, is a perfect and daily example of that. Storming out of the room in anger or sarcasm is not, however, the way to solve issues.

In other words, no “young bureaucrats” were harmed in the preparation of those guidelines. As far as I’m aware, there are no bureaucrats at the Foundation, young or otherwise. The guidelines were prepared by those directly involved in coordinating WordCamp organizers, from the experiences of the past. They may not be perfect, but then again, we’re the WordPress community, i.e. we’re not shy of discussing anything. If a new situation isn’t contemplated or is being handled in a way with which you do not agree the proper course of action is to debate it first, not storm out of the room. Who knows, you might well not be the only one with the same objection.

This applies specifically to the argument that the guidelines’ benefits are “doubtful as to their benefits to the international community.”. I’m sorry but it is not enough to state that. It may come as a surprise to the organizers that an “international community” exists outside Germany but I am (as are we all at WP Realm) part of that community and would very much like to know why they don’t benefit some, if only because I too have some issues that I’d like to point out  in a public debate.

I’m not sure how much the organizers have read of the planning site, but it seems that they didn’t read enough, if at all. The leftover funds argument is simply not true and I sincerely hope that it is just an oversight. To quote the guidelines:

Leftover funds from a WordCamp budget should be disposed of in one of the following ways: used to fund the continuing WordPress meetup group’s activities, donated to the Foundation to support other WordCamps and community initiatives, fund the development of a contribution to the WordPress.org community (such as releasing a free plugin or theme) , or provide partial refunds to attendees and sponsors. Excess funds are not to be pocketed by the organizers; organizers are considered community volunteers. If you are interested in putting together a for-profit WordPress conference, you should do so under another brand, as this is not allowed under the WordCamp brand.

The funds can be donated to the Foundation, they don’t have to. I’ll agree that charities aren’t listed, but know from experience that donating to charities is allowed. A simple email to the Foundation would have sufficed to clear that up.

Since we are on the subject of money, the Foundation does not impose a lower cap on ticket prices. It is disingenuous to list that as a reason when the event’s admission is 10€. What it does is try to regulate the maximum price, to guarantee that anyone can attend without having to rob a bank and to dispel suspicions of trying to make money with the event.

I’ve organized and help organize my share of WordCamps to know that organizing an event of this dimension is no small feat and juggling all the requirements can be daunting. My (wholly personal) point is that having attended even more WordCamps than that, I can safely guarantee that all that effort pays off in a very big way not only by creating long-lasting, cross-border relationships but also and especially by fully connecting with the local community.

In hoping that  I have made it abundantly clear that all of this is my own opinion, not necessarily WP Realm’s, the Foundation’s or the community at large, come back in the room. Let’s talk about it.

Update: After conferring with the WordPress Foundation, I can confirm that the WordCamp name is, in fact, registered. As to donating to charities, I was wrong; donating to charities is not something the Foundation allows. The logic behind this is that tax-wise, the Foundation would be supporting them and that isn’t proper. Also, if people are giving their money to a WordPress event, that’s how the funds should be used and not for some randomly chosen charity, i.e. it would equate to having attendees fund a cause they did not explicitly choose to fund.

 

 

Comments

  1. Ryan says:

    My default response to people unhappy about WordCamp regulations is that they should simply not use the WordCamp label. So I support their solution in a way, but writing inflammatory statements like that seems a rather unhelpful approach to solving whatever problems there may be with the way WordCamp’s are handled.

    • Juan says:

      Totally agree. I think everything related to promote/discuss or help WordPress evolve is a good thing, but: “the end justifies the means” is not something good for a community ( thinking that in the end, the wp community is the foundation of this wonderful platform)

  2. Rarst says:

    How about live and let live? The idea that there is “right way” to do everything (and other ways are not it) is leading vice of WP community.

    This post calls for constructive attitude, but reads like “what is wrong with those jerks…”. Nothing is wrong. They are making their own choices about their event. That’s all there is to it.

    PS I am not affiliated with WP Camp Berlin in any way.

    • Absolutely agree with “live and let live”, yes. Nor am I questioning their choices. What I am questioning is the public justification of those choices, which is mostly based on misleading arguments. I’m all for WP Camp, not for “WP Camp because the Foundation doesn’t respect us”.

      • Rarst says:

        Define misleading?

        (1) not wanting to deal with organization – their personal choice
        (2) not wanting to follow leftover funds policy – their choice (and “from experience” is far removed from rules as written)
        (3) wanting to focus on local law compliance – I’d say not only their choice, but their legal obligation

      • My points regarding (1) are sufficiently clear in the post. As to the leftover funds, the original German wording seems to imply that donating to the Foundation is the only option. That is not true, as shown. As to the “from experience”, it is the experience of actually talking to the Foundation while organizing a WordCamp versus reading a set of guidelines literally. They’re called “guidelines” and not “commandments” for a reason. (3) is a perfectly valid point, yes. But surely you must agree that it is no more than a technical hurdle, not a conceptual one.

      • Doug Stewart says:

        I helped organize WordCamp Philly ’11 and am co-organizing ’12 and, to speak in WP Camp’s defense, each and every one of their critiques was true. We ran into many of the exact same frustrations in planning last year’s event.

        That’s not to say that things haven’t been improving — they have. I think those at the Foundation realized that certain inflexibilities on their part were contributing to organizer grief and burn-out. They’re (hi Andrea! Konstantin!) willing to work with organizers (to a degree) and, at least in my experience, more willing to have discussions surrounding the rules and guidelines this time around.

        You may quibble with their tone, but please keep in mind that they’re giving voice to legitimate concerns. Also do keep in mind that Anglosphere-centric concepts of sarcasm, snark, etc. don’t necessarily cross geopolitical borders, so you may end up being overly harsh towards a good faith expression of frustration, delivered with a Deutschische chill.

        All of this is to say: you may disagree with their tone, but please don’t be dismissive of their concerns because of such.

      • The concerns are legitimate, that is not my issue with it. My issue is that they are not debated in public, just set out there incomplete and not always correct, from where I stand. The last thing I am is dismissive of the concerns. I am, however, dismissive of the flawed reasoning behind them.

        I get the point of the difficulty with which more abstract concepts cross borders, too. It is precisely because I am fluent in German that parts of the original text made me wonder. It’s also funny, being Portuguese, to be pointed at for Anglo-centrism. I’ll take it as a compliment :)

      • Doug Stewart says:

        Zé:
        They are called “guidelines”; talk to past organizers, though, and you’ll know that they were implemented as iron-clad rules. Again, this has begun to shift and in a way that I think will benefit all WordCamps.

      • this has begun to shift

        …a while ago, certainly before WP Camp was put together. Quod erat demonstrandum.

      • Doug Stewart says:

        Zé:
        No offense intended. I was going off the English translation of the original Deutsch you provided. You’re writing in English on a site that serves a (primarily, I’d guess) English-speaking audience. Apologies if my Jump to Conclusions Mat caused any undue stress.

      • None taken, it was my oversight to not have stated this from the outset.

      • Doug Stewart says:

        “Begun” != “sufficiently shifted so as to satisfy/accommodate all parties concerned”. Some of their concerns remain. Also, absent a direct contact from the WordCamp Central people, we in Philly would have been completely ignorant of the shifts in attitude over at Central. I don’t fault the WP Camp folks for that — even toddlers learn to avoid touching a hot stove a second time.

    • Noel Tock says:

      I agree with you Rarst, certainly nothing wrong with going your own way. However, and at least in the German language, the wording comes across as very condescending (calling the people running the foundation idiots and juniors, which is unfair). At the same time, I have the feeling there is a lot more backstory. Hopefully one of the WP Germany organizers will stop by and help shed light on their decision. Certainly not the first or last time we’ll see these sort of ideas/actions (pressnomics, wordcon, etc.).

      • Rarst says:

        It took me some years but I’ve learned not to equate “rude” with “wrong” which this post I feel has somewhat blurred. :) I agree on that it feels like decision with backstory.

  3. Monika T-S says:

    “A cross between the looseness of a Barcamp and the structure of a conference.” => no this doesn’t mean that it is a WordCamp,
    Events like this can be for joomla, cats, dogs and politics ;) of housewifes

    the foundation have the rights of the word “WordCamp”, but the foundation can’t have the rights of all events for the WP Communty arross the whole wide world and can’t have the rights of the word “Word” ;)

    At Germany we need no “WordCamp” to have a beautiful, fantastic WP event => “A cross between the looseness of a Barcamp and the structure of a conference.” and I’m so sorry that I have no time for this event , because the last was fantastic and if the team name that event “WordCamp” or “Meeting” or 0815 => people will come and have fun.

    There is a foundation with legal right of a name and there are guidelines, if a team don’t agree with this guidelines the foundation can’t do nothing if they name their event ” Event” ;)

    I’m from Austria and we name problems like that “childish” like Rumpelstiltskin.

    There is a foundation with the rights of a name “WordCamp” and the foundation have guidelines => and at Germany there are people who need neither the foundation nor the name “WordCamp” nor their guidelines to make a fantastic event for WP user, :-)

    this is great , really great…

  4. Thomas says:

    So, who is this English translation from? Certainly not a professional translator, but if it is, it misses a whole lot of nuances and local color. So, your starting point is wrong: you cannot start out with a loose translation and follow it up by arguing semantics. Rarst and Noel rightly point out that there is a “backstory”, though that has much more to do with issues within the German WordPress community than with differences (of opinion) vis a vis the Foundation. That has – unfortunately and unjustly, in my opinion – spilled over into how the organizers view the Foundation’s set of guidelines.
    Speaking of which: please bear in mind the differences in mentality as to what “guidelines” are in a German and in an Anglo-Saxon culture. To illustrate my point: the Foundation may not look at there guidelines as if they were US GAAP rules, but a German mindset equates the two. That is not saying one is right and the other is wrong – but it is just the way it is.

  5. Zé, thank you for your article and for the invitation “back into the room”. Personally, I don’t think we ever left it, but I see we might have given the impression we did.

    Before getting into the discussion here, I’d like to point out that there clearly is a large difference between critiquing an institution’s policy or actions and insulting somebody personally. No person has been named an idiot on our website. It neither was, nor is our intention to insult anyone personally.
    I’d also like to clarify on the use of the words “we” and “I” further on in this comment: I’m going to use “we” on behalf of the organizing team of the WP Camp in Berlin in places where it is safe for me to do so; most of the time I’m going to write in first person singular, though, being the one who worded the FAQ page in question here. Although there has been a consent within our team to publish it as it is now, I think it’s appropriate for the actual author of the page to reap the benefits from their writing. (That’s meant to be a slightly ironic yet friendly remark, btw. I’m trying to reduce my use of emoticons, but it could be a wink here.)

    Most of our possible responses to the guideline issue have already been given in the earlier comments of Rarst and Doug Stewart (thank both of you). Breaking it down: We are newbies on the field of WordCamp organization, we’ve done our best to educate ourselves, we’ve talked to some people and tried to learn from their experiences, because —most of all— we didn’t have much time to ask for allowances, follow a pre-defined procedure and discuss guidelines. So we stormed forward, always making clear our actions (including the name thing) were intended to be a one-time-effort. In other words: We did not and do not intend to establish anything here, nor do we have any interest in starting any kind of a revolution—which would be ridiculous anyhow since we benefit from the existence of WordPress and its community like everyone else reading this comment.

    However, as the main issue here might be the tone/wording on our FAQ page, let me add some personal thoughts to it:

    No, it is not fair to call people’s actions “idiotic” unless they do something very, very stupid. Which is the reason why the <del> tag is being used on the word. It has been left visible to illustrate the thought process of the author who has come to the conclusion that his personal first impression of plain “idiotism” regarding the Foundation’s guidelines might not be valid once he spends a second and third thought on the matter (which he did), but he still would like to let his audience know about his personal first impression, because he knows for a fact (!) there are people out there who do think the plain act of drafting any guidelines for a community-driven event like a WordCamp were—excuse me, again—an act of idiotic bureaucracy. That being said, the strikethrough actually can be understood as a shortcut for “You know, we too thought it was idiotic, but here’s what we think now…”. Which then appears to be an expression of our sincere doubts that those guidelines would work for an international community.
    If none of the guidelines are mandatory, meaning if we could celebrate WordPress in our own style with our own means of promotion and communication and still use the term “WordCamp”, we got it all wrong. All of it. And the people who have had experiences like Doug above got it wrong, too. In that case I’ll apologize in public for my “rude” writing. Or maybe the guidelines are all fine and dandy and it was just a matter of how they were being implemented?

    Finally, a remark on the international community poke: Yes, we are German, some of us are blond, yet we are aware there is an international WordPress community outside of Germany. (Look at Monika’s comment here, she’s Austrian… just kidding.) I’d go further and say there is one WordPress community world-wide and it speaks in many different tongues. (It’s only one WordPress, too, isn’t it? You get a .mo-file, not a complete different install for your language.)

    Having watched Matt’s State of the Word the other day I think it is safe to say the discussion on how the international aspect of the WordPress community is going to be handled in the future goes way beyond our little (and temporary) guerrilla re-naming approach over here.
    As an obvious fact that discussion won’t be cross-language only, but also cross-cultural, just as the discussion we’re having here right now. Some of us are fluent in German, some in English, some in both language, some in neither one of them. Let’s take in consideration that words and terms can have certain connotations depending on the language and the cultural context they’re being used in.
    Generalizing a quote from Doug Steward above which I loved: concepts of sarcasm, snark, etc. don’t necessarily cross geopolitical borders. Take a word like “bureaucrat” for example. It can easily mean something very different to a person from Arizona or Texas than it would to someone from Portugal, Spain, France or Germany. Let’s bring that to mind before we get all upset with each other, shall we?

    You read my tone as “patronizing, almost insulting”. Now, these terms would almost exactly describe my own feelings (and I’m sure this goes for some of my team-mates) when I first read through the pages over at plan.wordcamp.org.
    If we should have failed in educating ourselves enough about the guidelines for WordCamps published by the Foundation, we’ll be glad to learn! To us they sounded pretty darn mandatory —which again might be all good and necessary from the Foundation’s perspective, but some key points like using a wordcamp.org site and their ticketing system just didn’t seem to work for us, and as I said, based on the experiences from others we had read and heard about we didn’t take much time to experiment in order to get things going and create that event for our community.

    • Thank you Caspar for your comment.

      It is a pleasure to read a well-structured, well-written answer on the internet, for once. If it’s ok with you, I won’t go into the specifics of your comment. It sounds to me as if we are beginning to thread some kind of common ground and I wouldn’t want to endanger that. Suffice to say that most of your remarks make perfect sense and I’m perfectly confortable stating all the mea culpas that apply. One would be my wording on the international community poke, which was uncalled for.

      That said, let me restate my position:

      • I have no problem with events called something other than WordCamp
      • I do not think the German community is going somewhere different
      • I do think that a little more time would have been well invested in research on the guidelines and talking to the Foundation directly about your concerns. I’ll grant you that it is a subjective opinion, but then again, my whole post is one.
      • I am however convinced that there is a longer backstory to all this; discussing it is entirely your call, not mine
      • Have you noticed what we’re doing here? We’re talking! Mission accomplished.

      Germany is one of the oldest, largest and best established WordPress communities in the world. You have to understand the we cannot ‘do international’ without you, and that’s why we sadden when you seem to be storming out of the room. I hope that today marks the beginning of a productive dialogue. The signs are certainly encouraging.

      Thank you and best wishes for a great WP Camp (of which we at WP Realm will surely report)

      • Zé, thanks for the quick response and the fair discussion. There obviously is a longer backstory to all this, but I wouldn’t agree discussing it would be entire my call, because before June this year I was as little or much a part of it as you are. Having researched on WordCamp organization experiences in general and having read through the comments here, I think it is safe to assume that story is not written in German altogether. ;) (Oops, did it — emoticon…) There is a just as obvious need for the Foundation to protect the WordPress trademark, and the question I see for the future is how that need and the open source spirit of the WordPress community can be responded to equally.

        I’ve noticed we’re talking, and I’m enjoying the conversation, although I must totally refuse being regarded a representative for the German part of the WordPress community. I am totally not, nor is anyone on our team. Seeing our small group of individuals “storming out of the room” temporarily if you will doesn’t mean at all the German community as a whole has done or will do so!

        Thank you for your best wishes! If you’d like to come over, we’ll be glad to have you. ;)

      • …nor am I in charge of identifying who that community is made of :) Attending WP Camp is tempting and I promise to take your kind invitation in consideration.

    • Axel says:

      As a member of the team that organizes the WP Camp 2012 in Berlin, I am proud of the statement that Caspar gave (remember: in a foreign language). Thanks Caspar and hey, we all think WordPress, don’t we?

    • Noel Tock says:

      Sounds awesome and thanks for explaining everything. I’ve bought my ticket and hope to find a cheap plane ticket in the next few weeks (only coming from Zurich). Looking forward :)

  6. While my first comment is being moderated it might be worth a side note that the WP Camp 2012 Berlin has 119 registered attendees up to today none of which has ever taken issue with the wording of the FAQ page.

  7. Leonard says:

    It’s very difficult to understand if this conference will be in English or in German language. The original website exists only in german..any one has a clue? thanks

    • The original website exists only in german

      That’s a pretty clear hint right there…

      • Leonard says:

        So it has no meaning for me to promote such conference throw an english website like this one translating the original description in english. That is pretty confusing, wouldn’t you agree?

      • Ryan Hellyer says:

        What is confusing? It’s a WordPress conference. This is a website about WordPress. Makes complete sense to discuss it IMO.

    • Ryan Hellyer says:

      I’d guess it’ll be like most conferences in Europe where there are some talks in English, some in the local lingo.

      • Leonard says:

        If are discussing about it you should also provide some extra information like in which language it will be held IMO. “I’d guess it’ll be like most conferences in Europe where there are some talks in English, some in the local lingo.” The guess it’s not sufficient for me in order to buy a plane ticket, if I will go there and then find out it’ll be completely held in german I will be ..well very disappointed.

      • Monika says:

        @Leonard

        we speak English too, if someone can’t speak German and would like to be a part of this meeting,
        we’ll find a way . ;)

        But if you would like to be a member of a Europe WP meeting => Great Britain is a better choice.

      • In which case it’s a good idea to check the agenda of sessions. Organizers will usually indicate which are not in the native language.

      • Monika says:

        I’m not a part of the organisation
        but I meant, we can translate => this is a German meeting

        I would be very disappointed if there are sessions in english …

  8. Ryan says:

    @Leonard – I suggest you don’t look to random blogs unrelated to an event to find out of it is in a language you wish to listen to.

    @Monika – Thanks for the heads up on there being no sessions in English. A couple of people had already asked me if it would be in English and I told them the same thing I said above, that I guessed some sessions would be in English and some not, but I was only guessing. Germans speak very good English in my experience, so it wouldn’t put me off going personally. I’m already heading to Portugal and Spain the month before for WordPress conferences though, so not sure I can throw another one into the mix unfortunately.

  9. Monika is right, all sessions in Berlin are planned to be held in German. The absence of any prominent hint in English on the website in fact means the event addresses a German spoken audience. Nevertheless, a lot if not all attendees can be spoken to in English, so if you understand a little bit of German but not speak it, you’ll still have a good time.

  10. Would Rather Not Say says:

    I’d rather not give my name now, I have too much to lose, so please excuse me.

    What I’ll say anonymously is that if you run a WordCamp you will come under a lot of pressure from some quarters to organize things in a certain way. You have to use the wordcamp.org platform, which is rather weak, and you are expected to structure your event and accounts according to guidelines – some of which aren’t exactly written.

    The whole way in which WordCamps were handled has been divisive. Australians, Kiwis, Brits and no doubt many more have felt the pressure to not have national WordCamps but smaller, more somehow ‘community’ driven events even though there’s a misunderstanding in WP land that other countries just aren’t that big on WP compared to the US.

    What we must remember is this – the WordPress and WordCamp projects are not community led meritocracies, but led by Automattic, WordPress Foundation and Audrey Capital. Yes, you can make contributions, add plugins and themes and have them hosted on a free infrastructure for as long as you follow the rules. No, you cannot make decisions, get voting rights or expect to be listened to unless you’re in a position of substantial power. Often you’ll see folk like Adii Pienaar rail against it for a while before realising that, in fact, you can still run a perfectly successful business on the back of WP regardless of how it is run. Just like you can have freedom and a happy and successful life when living in a dictator led country.

    But if you want freedom to express yourself and your event in the way you wish to, you have to do it outside the control organisations in charge. You risk being ostracised, of course – that’s a very real danger. If you run a successful business within the rules it’s dangerous to speak out. But at some point, as the alternative WP community strengthens, there’ll come a point when there’s enough of a critical mass that there may well be a fork. Those in power and on the side of the Foundation and its friends need to appreciate that they can’t call this a community project if that same community has no real say in how it’s run. If not, the big fork might just happen. Or somebody will come along and create something bigger and better. Who knows?

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