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WordCamp Mid-Atlantic: Where It’s Been, Where It’s Going

Late in 2008, while I was transitioning from life in Baltimore to life outside of Washington, D.C., I was contemplating organizing the first WordCamp event in that area. Baltimore had begun to show signs of a healthy tech community and Washington had continued to flourish as a healthy communications scene. Philadelphia, just up I-95, had a healthy design and development community and I had become somewhat familiar with that city as well.

I made a point of making my event one that would set trends and challenge the status quo.

Mid-Atlantic

One thing I did think of early on was that I detested the trend that identified an event with a singular city, especially when there were multiple cities, all offering different, yet complementary modus operandi. I bucked the trend of identifying the event by a city, eschewing names like WordCamp DC or WordCamp Baltimore. These names, while celebratory of the city that hosts them, inherently bear the problem of inferred exclusivity.

From the very first WordCamp in the region, I challenged that designation and attempted to bring the cities together. It was called WordCamp Mid-Atlantic.

Three Cities, then Two

The original plan was to bring the three cities together in Baltimore for a WordPress event. Ideally, the result would be more collaboration and resources shared between the various communities. Ultimately, Philadelphia never bought into Mid-Atlantic (and in fact, ended up with their own successful WordCamp Philly). However, Mid-Atlantic was wildly supported by both Baltimore and DC. even garnering coverage in the Baltimore Sun business publication Maryland Daily Record.

For WordCamp Mid-Atlantic 2010, the event was geared mainly to the Washington Metro and Baltimore.

Keynotes That Challenge

In both events, I wanted to bring in someone from the WordPress leadership hierarchy as a Keynote as well as someone from outside of WordPress entirely to challenge the gathered attendees. This as quite controversial, actually. In 2009, I brought in Anil Dash, founder and former SVP at SixApart. Anil was known historically as somewhat of an antagonist, but did a wonderful job in sharing and illustrating the similarities between WordPress and SixApart who provided a competing platform. His message was one of learning from each other.

This past year, I opted to bring in Marco Tabini who has also been a frequent antagonist of WordPress. His message was one from the perspective of the PHP community and reconciling how the PHP core people could learn and help the WordPress core people, and vica versa. My inbox became a little tense in the weeks leading up to the event due to other incidents involving dissenting views about the GPL license and WordPress’ interpretation of it. Needless to say, Marco did an amazing job.

It’s Not My Baby

As most of you know, I have left the Baltimore/Washington region. As a result, this past WordCamp Mid-Atlantic was my last. People have asked me quite a lot about who I would pass the baton to. This is a tricky question because the event is not mine. It’s yours.

That said, this is not for just anyone to run. I cannot put any strings on who will run the next event but I do have the platform to voice my sentiments:

  • I want to see Mid-Atlantic stay in the event. I do not want to see a fractured event where there becomes a WordCamp Baltimore and a WordCamp DC. Both cities have user groups that meet frequently. I want to see the WordCamp Mid-Atlantic event retain it’s place as a regional/local event.
  • I want to see the idea of challenging (and even dissenting) opinions welcomed to the stage, like Marco… and Anil. We should not be scared of being shaken up. We should embrace it and learn from it. That said, future organizers should be sensitive as to who you have come and speak.
  • Retain the unconference. One of the amazing success stories of WordCamp Mid-Atlantic 2010 was the unconference, organized by Steve Fisher. Besides the pre-scheduled and organized tracks that are familiar to conference goers, we provided a separate, yet equal unconference for ad-hoc discussion and talks. The only thing I’d change is to make it true barcamp style and make a no-powerpoint rule.
  • No one organizer. I became the defacto organizer for both events. While I had varying degrees of help for both, I really became the guy for the event. This was not wise on my part. There should be an organizer in each city.

This is Baltimore’s event. This is Washington’s event. This event brilliantly integrated both communities. It really, really did. I want to see it continue (obviously with new leadership), but I want it to be with people who take it seriously and can make it better than it ever was. Put your own spin on it. Make it your own, not mine.

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The Greater Good: Entrepreneurship, Open Source, and a Better World

Last night, I was catching up with a friend who is as far from me in lifestyle outlook as you could possibly be. She is a extremely left wing type working for an environmental advocacy organization in DC. I, on the other hand, am an entrepreneur with one foot planted firmly on the right and one foot firmly planted on the left.

The conversation came to an issue that I’ve only marginally thought in great detail about. I had made the comment about how I am potentially looking to leave the DC area because, as I put it, it’s not my scene. I feel like a square peg trying to be fit into a round hole. While I certainly have political views and will sometimes voice them, my life does not revolve around politics, policy and advocacy as it does in Washington. In fact, when pressed to explain my feelings around why I dislike DC, I described myself as a regular guy wanting to live a regular life in a regular town.

Defining that more explicitly, I appreciate town like Baltimore, where I was raised and lived most of my life, because it’s filled with people who go about their normal everyday lives. No one is trying to “save the world” as seems to be the case in DC. Certainly, there are people and companies (hopefully many) who take a balanced position in life to be good stewards of the earth, energy and the planet. Certainly, many are socially conscious in how they live their lives. But it isn’t an all consuming agenda such that you find in DC.

I love Austin too. Why? Well, it is the self described live music capital of the country. On any given night, from my experience, it is not difficult to find bars that have a good live music set that is original and that doesn’t carry a cover charge. Outside of a handful of live music venues (DC9, 9:30 Club, Velvet Lounge, Madames Organ to a degree, Rock and Roll Hotel, etc) it’s hard to find a burgeoning music scene in DC.

Even with sports, which consumes a fair bit of my life, it’s hard to find supporters of the home team. No one, it seems, is from DC. They all came here with an agenda. You have to go out to Maryland or Virginia to find real hometown fans.

This is not my scene. This is not what I like. I am an entrepreneur because, first and foremost, I want to make money. When I made a break from my former corporate job, it was after becoming aware of how much my employer was billing our customer for my services and realizing that if that was how much I was worth, I could damn well do that on my own.

But that’s the crux. As entrepreneurs, our general purpose is not to do social good (though there are exceptions). Not that there is anything wrong with that. There isn’t. But entrepreneurs get our kicks from building something. From doing something. And of course, from making money. Who starts a company with the intention to not increase profit margins? You show me that entrepreneur, and I’ll show you an entrepreneur who will fail within a year.

There, of course, is a balance. Like Geoff, Beth and Kami are doing at Zoetica, there’s a balance between making money and doing good. The more I had this conversation with my friend, the more shallow I realized I sounded.

But as I thought some more, the more I realized that doing good is not something you do. It’s something you are. Based on the integrity and character of the entrepreneur, the decisions that are made, whether geared for profit or for building a product or spinning it up into an acquisition by Google, become decisions made out of the character and integrity of being “good”.

Frankly, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that even what I do as an entrepreneur creating services and products around WordPress, (and yes, even sometimes writing patches for WordPress core itself) is done to make the world a better place. Even writing a book on WordPress and travelling to San Francisco, Dallas, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago and Raleigh speaking to WordPress users, developers and designers is done to extend the platform, thus extending the reach and improving on the largest self-hosted blogging platform on the planet.

Think about why this is important. It’s not just about WordPress. It’s about enabling voices. Giving those who never had a chance to speak before the opportunity to be heard. We’ve heard as recently as this week about the man who used an iPhone app to figure out how to treat his own wounds while buried under the rubble in Haiti.

The Chinese government is so threatened by web technologies, and blogging in particular, that they have banned WordPress.com in China.That is not likely to be lifted anytime soon, especially as the government lockdown and censorship of the Chinese people is thrust back into the limelight with the latest Google-China fallout.

Even the internationalization efforts in WordPress is putting WordPress into the hands of more people in more countries and making it possible for voices to be heard, not only in the United States, but in the Sudan and Kurdistan as well.

As an entrepreneur with integrity and character, even the mundane decisions that go into building a company can be seen as social good. This is not intended to diminish the efforts of those who explicitly set out to do social good, but with the right mindset, the things that make us successful can also make the world around us better.

Crime Statistics in DC

After the news today that MSNBC.com acquired EveryBlock, a service that tracks local news in 12 different cities and organizes news, reviews, and other localized data into searchable locales (zip codes, neighborhoods, etc), I decided to poke around a bit.

One of the areas that EveryBlock tracks is crime statistics and Washington, DC is one of the 12 cities. I discovered that according to publicly available crime data, there are over double the number of crimes reported in Northwest than their are in Southeast or Northeast.

Photo via Badercondo.org
Photo via Badercondo.org
In DC, the city is divided into four quadrants based around direction from the U.S. Capitol building. That means everything south of the National Mall and west of South Capitol St is considered southwest. South of East Capitol St and east of South Capitol St is Southeast and is generally considered the most violent area of the city. North of East Capitol St and east of North Capitol St is Northeast and is largely residential. North of the National Mall and west of North Capitol St is Northwest, the busiest and most upscale quadrant of the city.

I dug around for a bit, looking at data by zip code, by ward, by quadrant, by types of crime, etc. Needless to say, it was quite startling to see this chart via Everyblock.com:
Picture 4
Naturally, we can draw some conclusions based on this striking data:

  • The socialites that go to the upscale bars that pepper Northwest, are clearly more likely to commit crimes than the Hipsters who pepper the bars along H St in Northeast.
  • Traffic circles have a higher rate of inciting violence than straight roads (the bulk of DC’s many traffic circles are in NW).
  • A higher cost of alcoholic drinks is directly responsible for an uptick in theft.
  • A higher concentration of tourists in and around the National Mall and monuments escalates anger level in citizens who have a tendency to then get into altercations as frustration level boils over.
  • The Metro and access to the Metro has a negative effect on people.
  • Sunday brunches don’t have quite the positive effect everyone assumes they do.

Clearly, we can draw these conclusions. Clearly.

Or maybe we just like to jump to conclusions that support our own worldview. For instance, I really dislike Northwest because it’s pretty douchey, expensive and parking is hard to find. Therefore, my worldview is projected into these crime statistics and I can make claims such as the ones above. Finding evidence to support our own worldviews, instead of finding a worldview that matches the evidence is the American way, eh?

Yeah. It is.

Reminds me of a healthcare reform debate.