Category Archives: WordCamps

The future of the Indian WordPress Community, as I see it

My thoughts are mine, and I’d happily be proven wrong

Should we do a WordCamp India? Yes and no; a gray area is just a mixture of some black dots and some white dots. Right now, my black dots are more in number than the white dots and I’m more inclined to say, don’t do it.

I have had folks reaching out to me, albeit privately saying that I was too harsh, negative and confrontational, even dramatic. Let me try and see if I can explain myself better this time.

What do you think about Wordcamp India?

My views and opinions in this matter are strictly personal. They are voiced because I’d like to initiate public conversations. Basically, I’d like you to write a post expressing your opinion about it.

The points I was trying to make in my earlier posts were:

  1. We know that power centers are forming in the ecosystem, in terms of regions, people and organisations.
  2. We know that people and organisations have exploited these power centers in the past.
  3. None of our local communities can claim to be perfectly co-ordinated and conflict-free.
  4. I think there is an alternative way to do things and if you feel we can work with JaiWP together, we can.

I have issues with the centralised, top to bottom approaches

I feel that the only thing we should focus on is to make sure that such conversations keep happening. We should create platforms, movements, events that bring the community together and help it grow in a bottom to top approach.

I wish them the best of luck for that. As long as the activities overlap with helping local communities grow, I’m all in. However, I’m not open to the preparation for a WordCamp India in 2018, 2019 or even 2020.

I’m happy that some of the folks taking charge of the WordCamp India idea want to set a future date and try and work towards it. I personally don’t like that approach. So, my primary concern isn’t that bad boys are in charge. My primary concern is that this approach is wrong and that is why bad boys can exploit it. I feel it is vulnerable to manipulation and to chaos.

I’m not convinced that setting a period of 6 months to 3 years and then working towards making sure a WordCamp India happens is a good strategy.

I believe that the whole top to bottom approach is wrong. I won’t personally like to work with something that I don’t believe in. I don’t believe in a top to bottom system.

I feel that it accumulates power of decision making or representational claims, into a few leaders and in a hierarchy. Wherever there is accumulation of power, there are people willing to and even eager to manipulate it or exploit it any way possible, benign to malignant.

Second, the best current system we have is representative democracy. However, we can make sure that in almost all things, local communities should have local self-governance and the most power. This way, the local representative can be a real representative of 10-15 people’s opinions and decisions, not just their own.

A future for the Indian Community

So, what I’d like to see in the WordPress community in India is that the meetup groups should not be dependent or in need for a WordCamp or large scale events as the only option for evangelism, marketing, networking and celebration.

Meetup groups should be able to host half-a-day or one day events that are attended by 50 odd people. Obviously, that number is for reference. Communities can be any size. Even 100 is a small number for some.

The events should be well funded so that they can be high quality with equipment for projection and even recording. Did you know that WordPress.TV has great meetup sessions, as well?

Think of them as mini WordCamps of 2-3 sessions with less preparation, headaches and time. Also, like WordCamps, participants should get swag, too. 🙂

Meetup groups should be able to promote and market the event locally to attract as many people as possible.

Meetup groups should be able to pay for good venues, if donated venues are unavailable or low quality. I’m sure with the right support and if local communities can pay for the meetup and refreshments, a lot of venues will open up across their towns and cities. You won’t be doing meetups in the same place all the time. That’ll obviously help the cause.

There should be some time allocated to networking and meetup groups should be able to provide refreshments, or a full meal. Everyone likes free lunch!

They will come for the event but stay back for the community.

Instead of directly grappling with one large event a year, meetup groups should be able to do such mini WordCamps multiple times in a year. You could do once a month, or even once a week.

Local meetup groups should get sponsors and such for these events. If the local group doesn’t have good speakers, they should be able to have speakers from nearby for such events or even over hangouts.

The costs, the time spent and the stress of such events will be way lesser than that of a WordCamp. This will make sure that more people can become organisers, even freelancers. Otherwise, the community gets very dependent on employees of large organisations who get the time and support for such activities.

Also, each organiser can lead each such smaller event. This way, all the organisers will gain the experience and the confidence to do a WordCamp. From experience, I can say that if you get the flow of such small events, 3-4 times, organising a WordCamp is not very difficult. The most difficult part that takes real time and effort is co-ordination and everyone being on the same page.

Because of this experience, such coordination will be carried over to the local WordCamp whenever it happens. If you could carry over the same model further, imagine the kind of coordination and smoothness you’ll get at WordCamp India.

I personally feel that none of the communities in India right now, not even Mumbai is running that smoothly. Every organiser that’s reading this knows that their communities have issues with communication, coordination and there aren’t enough people turning up for events. Almost every community has had its share of tiffs and such on more than one occasion. I know personally, how much stress organisers and their loved ones have to go through currently.

If we focus on getting our local communities right, build a larger pool of organisers that can gain a large amount of experience doing mini-WordCamps:

  1. It’ll be easier to delegate and distribute tasks.
  2. Smaller, less time consuming tasks for everybody.
  3. Less stress and less friction.
  4. More backup organisers and wranglers.
  5. More volunteers.
  6. Complete familiarity and confidence in logistics.

This will enable existing community to grow, new communities to start, new WordCamps and eventually a great WordCamp India.

If we do all that, whenever we do it, it won’t matter how many years, but then we can have an awesome WordCamp India.

That’s what I’d like everyone to focus on, but at the same time, I’m not going to prevent you from focusing on WordCamp India. In fact, it’d be awesome if we could work together on this little plan that I have.

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?

Bhopal Junction

WordCamp Bhopal 2016 and an enquiry into inclusiveness

Brace yourself. This is a really long post but I have left a lot of things out and this is the story of 36 hours. My first draft was twice as long! 😉 However, you won’t be disappointed. I feel I have an interesting experience to share.

A cynic prepares for WordCamp Bhopal

In all honesty, my expectations and understanding of WordCamp Bhopal was clouded by a past WordCamp organised by students a couple of years ago. Adding to it, the organisers were WordPress and community noobs and often bungled things that we have come to expect as basic by community standards.

Added to that, lately, I have been spending a lot of time on the concept of WordCamp Glamour. Of course, associating with WordCamps is glamorous in the community and is beneficial for business. However, that attracts a lot of fame-seekers who have absolutely no interest in the stated or intended aims of a WordCamp. That’s the subject of a different blog post, however.

Yes, I’m cynical and I did question their intentions. Even then, I always doubt my cynicism even if, as a second thought. 😉 Keeping that in mind, I offered the organisers any help they needed with the event, except for sponsorships (Yapapaya is a new agency with not-so-deep pockets). In the same spirit, I applied as a speaker and decided to speak on “Contribution Oriented Development”. My application was accepted.

Clueless and bored in Bhopal

There were other factors, like how I can’t remember a lot of things thanks to my depression and how we’re having excitingly busy times at our month old agency, Yapapaya but in this case, I would say it was pure laziness and I didn’t make my travel arrangements till a couple of days before the WordCamp.

What happened because of that is that I landed at Bhopal junction at 02:30 am with no arrangements or plans. (I found out later that this gave me the freedom and the opportunity to have the experience that I ended up having.) I thought I’d stay in the waiting room available on the station. I’m a metro city dweller and expected it to be a dead place with sleepy dogs everywhere.

However, I’m addicted to nicotine and smoking is banned on trains. After a 16 hour long nicotine free journey, I needed my fix. So, I stepped out of the station and found it wide awake and buzzing with activity.

However, after a smoke or two and 4-5 cups of tea, I started getting bored. Also, I had no idea who I had to meet or contact in the morning and how early could I do that. I chatted with Aditya and Alex to while away some time but they were preparing to leave for the airport. So, I posted all my queries to a Facebook chat that had all the speakers and organisers as participants.

Fortunately, one of the organisers, Gourav was awake and responded.

From then on, boy! was I glad I was wrong about these guys! 🙂

Making friends, changing perceptions

I got into an Uber and went to Gourav’s “room”. A room is an interesting concept in India. It is just a room in a larger house that is sub-let like a hostel. When I first moved to Pune to join rtCamp, I lived in such a room. In fact, I met Ganesh, Yapapaya’s CEO because he used to live in such a room bang opposite mine with Joshua (currently, an engineer with 10up who has no social profiles to link to) who is a common friend.

Gourav was a little apprehensive about hosting a “speaker” in such a room. There, I found Tanay fast asleep after a tiring day of preparations but Gourav is not human and doesn’t sleep! Once he saw I was super comfortable and he had nothing to worry about, we ended up chatting about the event and his role. I shared my concerns and cleared all my misconceptions. He showed me Tanay’s design work and went on telling me great things about every organiser and volunteer. Gourav struck me as an interesting and hardworking person. If any WordPress agency owners are reading this, keep an eye on him, you might want to hire him as soon as he’s out of college!

Early in the morning, Tanay woke up and we spoke about the role of designers in the WordPress ecosystem. I introduced him to open source design and of course, Wapuu. He found it interesting that my CEO is a designer. That’s usually not the case! Animesh (another volunteer) arrived in his car, we got chatting even more and I learnt a lot of things.

Bhopal community, a background

What I learnt was that Bhopal has about 110 engineering colleges. Only four of them have any arrangements for Campus Placements. Of these, only the venue sponsor, that is, Laxmi Narayan College of Technology manages to have the best and a healthy placement record.

I learnt that their placement officer, Anuj Garg foresaw the benefit of engaging with open source communities for the students’ future and helped them in promoting the event, the logistics and making sure the event was smooth. He even arranged the college’s guesthouse for the speakers, at no extra cost. We all had reached early in the morning and needed a place to freshen up, shower, etc and a hotel seemed unreasonable. The college also provided buses to pick up participants from the station and elsewhere.

“Very thoughtful”, I thought to myself and made a mental note to make sure I met him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. So, professor, if you’re reading this, thanks a lot! I’m sure we will visit Bhopal again and hopefully help out with a couple of workshops, training and organising meetups. I hope we’re able to discuss this in detail, someday. Especially since you’ve organised a damn dedicated space for the local meetup group! Such dedication and investment in your students’ future is commendable and I think I speak on behalf of the Global WordPress Community, we’ll help to make sure it bears fruits!

I also learnt that the only concept the students had of IT jobs were that of two year bonds, formal dress codes and measly salaries for a machine like existence (a recent essay on HeroPress gives more insight into this). Although I did give them an idea of what the WordPress ecosystem was like, I quickly realised that we (the speakers and other community members) had an important task today.

We were going to be the ambassadors of WordPress to the student community in Bhopal.

I also realised that most of the sessions lined up for the day (including mine) would be useless for an audience that largely consisted of people who had no idea what WordPress was and won’t make sense. What we needed to do was introduce these guys to the opportunities that WordPress could provide and the awesomeness of the ecosystem.

Animesh and I set out for the venue, picking up Aditya, the lead organiser on the way. I proposed that if we have time, we can have a panel discussion and QnA on Career Opportunities in WordPress. I even offered to replace my session with it. They quickly agreed to the former.

I couldn’t change my slides or make my topic accessible to these students. That kept hounding me as the day progressed. I hate doing that to myself and the audience, speak about something just because I have it prepared without bothering about whether my audience is interested or can participate. That’s one of the reasons I’m against single track events and find multi-track events to be fairer to both speakers and their own set of interested audience. Otherwise, all of us are just wasting a lot of people’s time. This criticism isn’t valid an hour before the session is about to start, anyway.

However, that’s what I feel and even though I felt the same about the majority of the sessions, it would be unfair for me to talk on these lines at such a short notice, so I didn’t speak to the other speakers about it. However, like I have mentioned, we arranged a panel with Nirav, Rahul and Amit, all three CEOs and speakers at the event.

I did share my findings about Bhopal’s student community with everyone else and I’m sure many of us see this as a future recruitment opportunity.

Aditya and I have also been discussing a type of event that’s relevant to such contexts. For the sake of conversation, we’re calling it a Student Edition WordCamp. It doesn’t need to be a WordCamp, it could be called something else, but it’d be awesome if the WordPress Foundation could back it, instead of private groups or companies.

It could be used to kickstart a meetup group and a community and would be targeted at people who are either newbies or beginners at WordPress. In just one or two years, it could transition into a full-fledged WordCamp or could co-exist with a regular WordCamp, as well. This would be super useful in India, especially in educational hubs. Then again, that’s a separate discussion, altogether. I digress!

The event and the struggle to start

This story I won’t go into much. In short, the projector failed, Vachan pulled out a portable projector out of his magic hat and after a long delay, things got back into track.

Before things got sorted, the organisers started panicking and worrying a little but they didn’t know how the community works. Soon, the “mighty esteemed respectable speakers” were sitting cross legged on the floor, trying to troubleshoot the problem and getting Vachan’s projector installed, at the same time.

Even Rahul, who can’t be seen in the picture and who was a gold sponsor and holds the distinction of leading the only WordPress VIP agency in the whole of Asia, was there, on the floor, helping figure things out.

Many organisers told me later that it was unprecedented. Guests, especially “VIP” guests don’t behave like they are the organisers themselves. Sponsors too, don’t take such glitches in their stride, forget trying to help with them!

Well, if only the members of the community considered themselves guests. 😉

While this was going on, the audience was getting restless and the emcees were a little lost. Alex came to the rescue but after a while naturally started talking about WordPress. I jumped in because the first speaker was supposed to do that and Alex could have inadvertently rendered his talk moot! We then had a little interaction with the audience where we tried to contrast the friendly informal nature of WordCamps with regular conferences.

Just before that, we discussed with the organisers and because things were getting really late, we suggested that the organisers ask the speakers to try and shorten their talks by 5-10 minutes, each. I again offered to cancel my talk because that made complete sense, given the scenario. However, I was still thinking at the back of my mind if I could tweak it so that it makes sense to this audience.

We here and later indicates Aditya Kane, Alex, Aditya Shah (the lead organiser) and other organisers and volunteers including the ones I have mentioned before.

We also decided that if it takes longer, we’ll have the panel discussion first. We even announced it and started to introduce it but viola, by now the projector was on and we could get started with the schedule.

I missed most of the sessions, needed to conserve my energy and needed to think about my presentations. Of course, I also needed frequent smoke breaks!

Career Opportunities with WordPress

Since both breakfast and lunch had been delayed, we decided to tweak the schedule and have the panel discussion immediately after lunch. The discussion was great, interactive and piqued the interest of the audience. The panelists were awesome with their answers and the audience enthralled by the peek into a possible career with WordPress.

To a question about dress codes and formalities, Rahul just pointed out to his attire and asked, “What do you think?” to a roar of laughter and an applause of approval. That’s when I felt deeply satisfied! See Rahul’s attire for yourself:

From what I observed, and was confirmed by the organisers, WordCamp Bhopal was a pleasant culture shock for all of them and the WordPress community gained some more fans that day.

Young, curious and energetic

The side-effect of all this and some interesting sessions in between was that the audience was engaged, willing to listen and super curious. All the speakers were quickly surrounded by young energetic students who had an endless flow of questions.

We speakers aren’t that old, many of us are just in our mid-thirties but keeping up with the students’ energy was exhausting; I had lost my voice by the end of the day! I could see the exhaustion on each speaker but they never turned a single person away, patiently answering questions and explaining things.

The most common question that I kept getting asked was,

WordPress looks exciting, I’m interested, how do I start?

After trying to answer it a couple of times, I quickly contacted the organisers and changed my topic to answer that question. I wasn’t prepared, I had no slides but I managed to pull a couple of slides from my existing presentation. My session was the last one and I was exhausted, the audience was exhausted. We (the audience and I) still managed an interesting, interactive session that’ll hopefully get the participants a step closer to WordPress. 🙂

So, yeah, I have no slides to share and my session didn’t have much structure but now, I don’t have to think of a fresh topic for WordCamp Udaipur. I’m going to send in the one I had prepared for WCBhopal!

Puneet, if you’re reading this, my applications, my slides and my content are ready more than 3 months before your WordCamp! Enough reason to select me, don’t you think? 😉

The WordCamp was over, but not the questions. We kept on till some more time and then went to see the special office space for the Bhopal WordPress community that I have already spoken about.

Divine intervention, any one?

The story should end with the speakers’ dinner but it doesn’t. I knew that the famous stupas of Sanchi were just 50 odd kms away. I had already come thousands of kilometers and couldn’t let go of the opportunity to visit them. I had made no plans or arrangements for my return journey yet.

Gourav insisted I stay with him because he’s not going to sleep and had some work to do. I’d be good company. After a little round of polite negotiations, I agreed. Back into his room, we continued our conversation around WordPress. Both of us were tired but not sleepy. The conversation moved to Samaanta, an event for the differently abled that Gourav co-ordinates. This was the second year and he had to come up with some ideas.

I spoke to him about accessibility and technology, especially WordPress. I told him about Raghav and suggested contacting Alex who’s deeply interested in such endeavours and I told him about Topher and HeroPress. Finally, after 36 hours of continuous excitement, I passed out.

Now imagine my surprise when I see a tweet addressing Gourav from Topher about Samaanta in the morning!

I felt a surge of emotion for Topher who’s on the other side of the world, having the exact same ideas. I’m not sure if most people would get it, but at times you experience the divine. This was one of those moments.

Finally, I headed to Sanchi, my legs and my voice sore from the previous day. Won’t say anything about it, see for yourself:

Here’s the album:

Inclusion and a little idea

Finally, after another 16 hours of a bus journey, where I couldn’t sleep properly, partly because my co-passenger snored heavily but mostly out of excitement, wonder and rumination, I reached home. Within an hour or two, I had an idea. I quickly consulted Ganesh and Aditya, my co-founders, called Gourav to check if it was okay with them and finally, asked Harshad Mane, the lead organiser of WordCamp Nashik for his help and announced the idea.

This is the second WordCamp, after WordCamp Pune 2015 that opened my eyes further, transformed me as a person and lent me such deep satisfaction. I was once trialling with WordCamp Central, where I was told how polished, sophisticated conferences don’t work for the community in the long run. What works is inclusive events where everyone gets to contribute in their own small ways.

I get that on an experiential level now. I think I have better ideas for the next WordCamp Pune and some more concepts on inclusiveness that I’d elaborate upon as the days pass and the thoughts get clearer. Until then, I’m looking forward to WordCamp Nashik which is about 2 weeks away.

I’m speaking there and all the founders of Yapapaya are also going to be there. Feel free to approach us. We love talking about WordPress and the community!