The (open source) reasons behind the rules

Preview

All of the firm expectations in the WordPress Community program and most of the “best practices” come from open source principles or methodology. Let’s look at a few:

Ticket prices

One of the things we ask WordCamp organizers to do is keep ticket prices as low as possible; the idea there is that WordPress events should be as free and open (and priceless) as WordPress itself. However, when it comes to an all-day event, there are some fixed costs that can’t be avoided, and making tickets free to attendees usually results in having 500 people sign up but only 50 SHOW up, which is a lot of wasted lunches! For this reason we price tickets as low as we can (so that the cost of a ticket isn’t a barrier to anyone’s participation), but just enough so that people feel like they will be wasting money if they just don’t show up.

Avoid venues with religious or political affiliations

WordPress events are 100% welcoming events. A welcoming environment depends on more than just what the host and other guests say and do; it must also be free of associations that put people on their guard. By avoiding venues that are affiliated with religion and politics — topics that frequently divide us — we remove barriers to inclusion and help create that welcoming, safe-feeling space, which in turn helps build community.

Local organizers

A basic requirement in our program is for community organizers to be local. For example, we expect the WordPress community in Lagos, Nigeria to be organized by someone in Lagos, not someone in Finland. Much of the reasoning behind this comes from the notion that “with many eyes, all bugs are shallow.” We want to recruit and engage as many “users” (organizers) as possible, so that we maintain that large community that makes open source so powerful. Our “only local organizers” expectations can lead to imperfect local community events, but we cherish that imperfection as a powerful force that helps us recruit more local contributors, and build local community.

The 100% GPL requirement

Another firm expectation in our program is that if any organizer, speaker, sponsor, or volunteer distributes or promotes WordPress derivatives (themes, plugins, etc), that they provide their users the same freedoms that WordPress does, under the General Public License (GPL). Organizers are expected to vet potential speakers and sponsors by asking them to confirm that they meet that expectations, and also by looking at the licensing terms of any WordPress product that the speaker or sponsor might be selling. Client work is not included here; this is a requirement only for themes/plugins/etc that are being distributed (usually sold) publicly. This is a firm expectation because the WordPress project (and its license) values the freedom of the user above all else. Why? Because without the freedom to run, study, share/copy, and modify the software, open source software simply can not thrive. By only promoting speakers, sponsors, and organizers who embrace the license that makes WordPress possible, we protect the future of the WordPress open source project.

Hosting sites on WordCamp.org

It used to be that when you organized a WordCamp, you bought a domain and made your own site. Then when WordCamp was over, you had a lot of content sitting on that site, and if that content was to be preserved, you had to maintain that site forever. If the domain registration lapsed, the URL could be bought by someone else, and in many cases, important content was lost. There were also a few cases of community feuds leading to one party not wanting to share access to “their” domain with a new organizing team, which caused a lot of stress and sadness for community organizers. To solve this, we started hosting all WordCamp sites on a central network, wordcamp.org, which lives on wordpress.org servers. For this reason, security is a big deal, and so there are limits to what can be done on a WordCamp site for security reasons (no custom PHP or Javascript) — for a lot of people, that is a big disappointment, because they want to “show the power of WordPress” by making a really cool event website. However, the egoless participation of our organizers means that they can put aside that disappointment for the greater good — so that no WordCamp site content is ever lost again.

Local speakers

One goal we set for WordCamp organizers is to create a program featuring 80% local speakers, limiting the number of out-of-town “rockstars” to only 20% of the program. Just as with the local organizer expectation, the reason behind this goal is to make lots of room in the WordCamp program for WordPress users, developers, designers, and general enthusiasts to share their experiences with WordPress.

Speakers don’t have to be WordPress experts to give a great WordPress talk, because personal stories and case studies can be even more powerful tools for expanding the community’s understanding of how people are using WordPress. Talks from non-experts about what they’ve learned, how they’ve learned, and how they’ve struggled help us understand where WordPress needs to go from here. With many eyes, all bugs are shallow.

If we were to focus WordCamp programs mostly on known speakers/personalities in the WordPress project, we risk creating an echo chamber in the open source project. Because we know that open source requires a large number of users to thrive, we must intentionally keep the speaker roster in our community events wide open — to emulate the bazaar, not the cathedral.

Also, local stories/speakers are more inspiring to local attendees. It’s easy to think, “that Andrew Nacin is just unusually smart or special in some way that I’m not” when listening to a ‘rockstar’ speaker. Hearing from a speaker who taught herself how to build ecommerce sites and lives in your neighborhood — someone who you’re going to see at the next meetup — shows an attendee that normal people like them can do more than they might think, and that they have local, accessible resources for when they get stuck on a project.

Casual, easily replicable events

A large event with lots of “extras” can be great for attendees, but can have an unintended consequence of making it harder to share leadership in the community. Recruiting new organizers is easier when the event “product” has a few flaws — those flaws, in fact, become recruiting tools for the community itself. Certainly we don’t advocate organizers deliberately building problems into an event, but also we don’t advocate an organizing team aiming for perfection more than inclusion. WordCamps and meetups are intentionally organized as casual events, because casual events are more welcoming to anyone, and we want to welcome anyone into our community. WordCamps serve their purpose in the WordPress project both by helping WP enthusiasts share their stories, but also helping the WordPress project recruit new contributors. If the events are perfect, there will be no “itch” to motivate new contributors to become involved so they can “scratch” it.

Code of Conduct

Our code of conduct isn’t optional, and enforcing it is important. It’s the readme.txt that helps everyone understand what kind of behavior to expect and what kind of behavior isn’t acceptable at official events and in our community. Because we are intentionally building an open, welcoming bazaar of people from all cultural backgrounds, it’s unfair to just assume that everyone agrees on the best ways to interact at an event. If unwelcoming behavior isn’t addressed, then lots of people will silently decide that this group isn’t a place where they belong, and we lose the “many eyes” that we’re trying so hard to recruit.

Now you try!

In the following quiz, we’ll ask you to use your understanding of our program to give the open source reasons behind some other expectations in Community Team programs.

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