Let’s drop the idea
of a WordCamp India right away

I wrote this post with the recent discussions on WordCamp India gaining a little traction. I recently hosted a discussion around this topic on The BaapWP Show.

Let me get to my point first before I start explaining it. I feel community organisers in India should just drop the topic. I feel (so it is my personal opinion) that

  1. The focus or goal of a WordCamp India is just a distraction from community organising and expansion/ evangelism, the first aim of community events.
  2. Somewhere along the way, a distinct celebrity culture has crept into this community because of which there are a couple of people who’d like to be famous and feel like bigshots. So, the primary driver of this conversation is to have a mega event with a mega platform purely for the sake of publicity and ego-issues.

The Indian WP Community is pushing in the wrong direction

I feel the current direction of the community is best explained by words like large, glamourous, centralised, efficient, hierarchy, great leaders, power, greed, tiffs, manipulation, photos on big stages, etc.

I feel the direction should be explained by words like intimate, relationships, productive, informal, open, welcoming, help, cooperation, distributed, widespread, peace, growth, selfies, group photos, etc.

I might sound like a hippie or Gandhian but this is more natural and obvious than that. I have organised two WordCamps in Pune, volunteered at two WordCamps in Mumbai, spoken at many more WordCamps.

Everyone (including me) likes feeling important

I’ll quote a passage from The Unbearable Lightness of Being, one of my favourite novels by Milan Kundera, my favorite author :). (My absolute favourite is Immortality!) All the emphasis and paragraph breaks are mine and not there in the original text.

We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under.

The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words, for the look of the public.

The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes. They are the tireless hosts of cocktail parties and dinners. They are happier than the people in the first category, who, when they lose their public, have the feeling that the lights have gone out in the room of their lives.

This happens to nearly all of them sooner or later. people in the second category, on the other hand, can always come up with the eyes they need.

Then there is the third category, the category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love. Their situation is as dangerous as the situation of people in the first category. One day the eyes of their beloved will close, and the room will go dark.

And finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers.

I love community organising because I love it when I get to play a part in something that improves the society that I live in. I like to feel happy, peaceful and content and it becomes even better when people around you feel happy, peaceful and content. It makes me feel important in my own eyes.

I don’t know if there are gods or the permanent in this world, but I like to think there are people around the world that are my close brothers and sisters, who are somewhat like me and when we’d really meet, we’ll love each other! People with the same values, the same principles and understanding of what’s right and wrong and what makes people really happy. I care about the eyes of those anonymous soulmates. I’d like them to feel proud of me. That’s my best bet to have a meaningful life.

The third category is the category of cuteness. No one has anything against those nice folks! 😉

I personally know some people in the community who belong to the first and second category. They somehow want to be famous, want the world to acknowledge that they are great. They like to see photos of themselves on large stages; that kind of thing.

With such need for grandeur, they also live in perpetual fear. They are constantly insecure, feel that folks are out to undermine their importance. They continuously plot, scheme, manipulate; have concepts like revenge, status, aukat.

So, the one and only problem that I have with WordCamp India is that some people in the first and second categories are the ones pushing for it in an extremely top to bottom approach. These are the folks who instead of facilitating open discussions within the Indian WordPress community have found it a better idea to approach WordCamp Central. That is the reason why the discussions are done in private, assumptions are made without consulting the general communities and short-term self-interest and ego-boosts are given more importance than long term prosperity and growth.

Even if it is so, why am I so worried? Am I overreacting? Why am I saying such unpleasant things?

How big is WordCamp India?

What I understand is this: India is the world’s largest free population. China has a totalitarian regime, so it doesn’t count. According to this page, US is about 1/4th of India. According to this page, EU is about 40% of India. If you take the population of Asia minus the population of China, India is almost one half of Asia.

That’ll hopefully get you an idea of the scale we’re talking about. Roughly extrapolating, a WordCamp India can be 4 times bigger than a WCUS, 2 1/2 times bigger than a WCEU and equal to a WCAsia if a WCAsia did not include India.

Let that soak in:

WCIndia is potentially 4X WCUS, 2.5XWCEU and 50% of WPAsia

Do you see the kind of stage, the kind of publicity, the kind of limelight? Even if things happen at a fraction of this scale, it’s still big enough.

Let’s get a little specific and find out how many people in India have access to internet and hence can be potential users of WordPress. In December 2016, it was estimated that 432 million people in India were connected to the internet. This number is expected to cross 500 million in this year itself and is expected to keep growing. We know why Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Uber, in fact, everybody is super interested in India.

So, I know where the WordPress project can grow and will grow. On top of that, India is more multicultural than whole continents put together.

If you wonder

  • where the next big swarm of WordPress users (small, medium, enterprise) are,
  • where the next big swarm of high quality WordPress developers will come from to power WordPress, related projects and organisations,
  • where the next bunch of innovative products and ideas will spring from,
  • where the future of WordPress’ exponential growth is,

you know my answer.

WordCamp India is a bad idea

So, the kind of culture and community you build in India will affect the whole WordPress project massively, way sooner than you may think. If nothing, we have sheer numbers in technically adept individuals. We’re losing traditional outsourced and consulting IT jobs and we’re going to turn to digital.

What we do right now, at quite the beginning will dictate how the WordPress project itself will shape up. We can either make sure that all the brightest minds and people with their hearts in the right place flock to WordPress or we can make sure that we allow a certain kind of toxicity to take the spotlight and drive genuine folks away.

If we’re going to push for things in a top-down approach, we’re creating a mess that’ll waste everyone’s time, effort, money and energy for a long time to come. Time, that we could spend on building awesome stuff that makes everyone’s lives a little bit easier and a little bit better.

So, I feel we should stop talking about a WordCamp India or such mega events. I think we should shift our focus to the grassroots and create opportunities for enablement and empowerment at the bottom. We should push for distribution and expansion. As we do that, a better version of a WordCamp India will gradually evolve organically.

In my next post, I’ll explore this alternative approach in a little detail. I also have an exciting announcement to make. Afterall, what is the use of words if they’re not backed by action?

8 thoughts on “Let’s drop the idea
of a WordCamp India right away

  1. Jitesh

    I think in any organization in India, you’ll see a hunger within individuals to become a celebrity. You’ll see this in Ganesh mandals, housing societies, co-operative societies, political organizations and even in the likes of Rotary or Lions. I am not sure how it is in NGOs, but from what I have seen on TV with the anti-corruption movement, it seems the same (and I may be wrong).

    Is this ingrained in us Indians? Will this ever change? Should movements wait for these changes? Or should they move ahead and let democracy take it’s own course? I guess these are questions to ponder.

    Reply
    1. Saurabh Shukla Post author

      As far as I understand from conversations that I have had with non-Indian members of the WordPress community, this is not an Indian characteristic, it’s a global phenomenon. There are people everywhere looking for a spotlight whatever it may cost people around them.

      In fact, it is one of the responsibilities of a business to gather eyeballs and such stages can be really useful to them. I feel there’s nothing wrong with that.

      The issue is not that folks are looking for a spotlight. The issue is that this has become the main (and I feel, the only) reason for the current direction and push.

      Most of them have never worked at the grassroots or are directly aware of deeper issues on the basis of experience. Moreover, they have chosen to ignore and sideline anything that interferes with the big stage dream. I’m even sure that I’m being the bad guy and the villain for many of them with this.

      My worry is that if a WordCamp India is hoisted on the community instead of gradually evolving from the ground up, there will be long term repercussions for everyone including these folks. They either lack the foresight or are blinded by the bright lights.

      Reply
      1. Jitesh

        Oh ok. Now I get your point (or may be I don’t :)).

        I am sorry, because I am a bit far away from what goes on in the WordPress community, I am struggling to understand this. But I really want to.

        What would you say would be an antithesis to the problem you described? What would an ideal community that hosts WordCamp India (or any WordCamp for that matter) look like? May that’ll help me better understand this.

        Reply
  2. Ajit Bohra

    “Somewhere along the way, a distinct celebrity culture has crept into this community because of which there are a couple of people who’d like to be famous and feel like bigshots. So, the primary driver of this conversation is to have a mega event with a mega platform purely for the sake of publicity and ego-issues.”

    You nailed it this celebrity culture is like cancer to the community !!!

    Reply
    1. Saurabh Shukla Post author

      Not really. Like I have mentioned in my reply to Jitesh, there are going to be folks who because of the kind of work they do with WordPress will become celebrities. That’s a good thing. We obviously need to celebrate excellence. Ironically, many of the folks that I’m referring to are legitimate celebrities because of their themes, plugins and other products.

      The problem is that somewhere if this celebration goes into your head, it causes things to spin. You start looking at the spotlight as the main thing and start chasing it. Instead, if they just focus on their work and continue giving the community reasons to celebrate them, the spotlight will chase them instead.

      As a parable, let’s say you want Matt Mullenweg (replace with any name: NaMo, Sachin, Obama, the whole world, etc) to hug you and publicly say, “Ajit is my best friend!”. You could try and seek his attention, privately and publicly. You feel that the bigger the stage is and the bigger the spotlight gets, there are more chances of Matt seeing you clearly. That’s the kind of spinning that can happen.

      Instead, if you manage to avoid things getting into your head from people who follow you around, agreeing to everything you say and heap praises upon you and instead, focus on building awesome stuff with WordPress, the next time Matt and you are at the same WordCamp, he will seek you out and speak to you.

      Focus on what you’re good at, I’d say.

      That’s my message to at least to some of those celebrities. 😉

      Reply

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