WordPress and WordPress MU to Merge

This is the first year I did not attend WordCamp San Francisco, the annual event that is the largest of the WordCamp gathering. It seems like I’m missing the announcement of some big news.

Matt Mullenweg announced during his State of the Word speech, thaa going forward, WordPress and WordPress MU (Multi-user) would be merged. In principle, this is not all that surprising, as WPMU offers a single major feature that WordPRess single user does not – the ability to have multiple blogs with a single install.

In talking to attendees of the event, there were few details given in this announcement but conventional wisdom suggests that, either during the installation process or later down the road, a blog administrator would have the ability to “flip a switch” and turn on the capabilities of the WordPress MU system.

This seems to segue with an earlier announcement from the event that the BuddyPress plugins that turn a WPMU installation into a social network, would be made available as compatible with WordPress blogs.

It’s also unclear when this merging of streams will actually occur, but my best guess is WordPress 2.9.

More details as we get them.

WordCamp Mid-Atlantic Approaches

WordCamp Mid-Atlantic is five days away (May 16) and things are beginning to fall into place. This is my first attempt at event organizing and I definitely have learned some tough lessons along the way. It’s also been tremendously helpful and rewarding for me. I’m looking forward to this thing coming in to land though.

Along the way, people have been asking me, “What the heck is WordCamp?” If you’ve never experienced an unconference, it might be hard to explain. In essence, it’s a loosely organized event put together to draw the WordPress community out, share experiences, instruct, learn, network and connect. WordCamp is a one day event that will have a variety of speakers, a technical and basic track, plenty of open space to launch into small groups if people felt inclined and basically learn from each other.

WordCamps are typically geared toward a particular city. I chose to lead a new regional-based event that is focused on Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The event is held in Baltimore because it’s centrally located, and the blogging/social media/technical scene is least developed there out of the three cities. Baltimore has significant potential and has some great leaders in the community. I hope our event will spur that forward.

I’m excited about this opportunity and grateful to my co-organizer, Jimmy Gardner, all the sponsors and speakers and the attendees who, with very little marketing, sold this thing out. It’s awesome to see such a great engagement.

Announcing WordCamp Mid-Atlantic

Mark your calendars for May 16, 2009. This is the date for the first WordCamp Mid-Atlantic, a regional WordCamp organized for WordPress users in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia.

We have locked down the venue as University of Baltimore Thumel Business Center, which has also been the facility for a variety of other events – most notably, SocialDevCampEast. It is in proximity to major transportation hubs, including Amtrak.

We are launching the website and information about the event with the announcement that WordPress founder, Matt Mullenweg, will be attending (and speaking). Subscribe to the RSS feed to stay up to date on speakers and other information you’re going to need and I look forward to seeing you in Baltimore!

Update: We’ve announced that Matt Mullenweg and Anil Dash of SixApart will be the Keynotes.

Findability is a Legitimate Concern for Bloggers

On Saturday, I posted a review of my session at WordCamp on Search and Findability. It was hard to gauge at that time how effective the session was at the time I wrote that. Beside my normal annual attendance at WordCamp as a subject matter expert, and several sessions at different WordCamps around the country over the past few years, I was there on behalf of Lijit.

In fact, when I pitched the session on search to Matt (as a core interest of Lijit), I was firmly instructed (as I suspected I would be) that hard pitching the company was off limits. From my perspective as a member of the WordPress community, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was the same approach that we took at b5media. The company was represented. The company was known as a WordPress shop. We shared war stories with other WordPress shops. But no one on stage at any point pitched b5. It’s non-standard, I think, for any company to pitch their wares at any *Camp.

Instead, my session was about findability. Findability is the concept that content can be “found” by readers. This is a common problem that many bloggers wrestle with, and many have tried a wide variety of techniques to make their blogs more findable. This is not the same as SEO, though. SEO is a subset of findability. It’s findability for machines. Findability is as much about the data structure as the content or theme structure or the device compatibility (is it mobile compatible, for instance?)

Our product at Lijit tries to address a lot of the issues of findability. Re-search provides relevant search data to readers coming from the search engines (think landing pages). It makes all the bloggers content findable by indexing not just the site, but all the other related content associated with the user.

What I found interesting, and that I did not know when I wrote my post, was that the rest of the day would reinforce the core principles of my session. Tantek Çelik expounded on Microformats. There was an SEO session. Numerous bloggers talked to me throughout the day explaining solutions that they have come up with for making a blog more findable. Solutions ranged from content practices, to theme structures to custom homegrown plugins that do various things. It was fascinating.

I realize now what I thought I realized then, but didn’t really realize until now. All bloggers are faced with the same core challenges. The challenges manifest themselves in different ways, but at the end of the day findability is on the forefront of everyones minds.

  1. All bloggers want to drive traffic. Whether the traffic is internal, a key interest of those in the SEO/SEM/Ad space, or within their sphere of influence, an interest of bloggers looking to build their personal brand.
  2. All bloggers want to provide value to readers. No blogger wants search engine traffic to go away. Everyone wants to find a way to keep that traffic and convert it into value, whether ad-driven or otherwise, for their blog
  3. Bloggers are grappling with ways to break apart from the pack. 99.999% of blogs (a totally random number) really look the same at the end of the day. I don’t mean the user interface, but I do mean the theme structure. Structures are built in expected way, and modules/widgets are expected to behave similar ways, regardless of the blog
  4. WordPress cannot solve all the problems of all the blogs. Keep in mind that WordPress is a tool, not a lifestyle. (And I’d say the same thing to social media aficionados). WordPress is evolving into something, but much of the value that bloggers can add, allowing themselves to be different or drive more traffic (see point 1 or 2), are created by smart people trying to bring a solution to a problem.
  5. At the end of the day, every bloggers wants a kickass community of readers and commenters that reinforce their worth in the world. Kathy Sierra talks about creating passionate users, and she’s talking about principles of an engaged community. Findability helps the community engage.

Doing a 9am session is hard. Everyone is still sleepy, and/or hung over, jetlagged, etc. At the end of my session, I felt like I said what I needed to say. However, by the end of the weekend, I realized that much of WordCamp reinforced exactly the concerns that I brought up to kick off the opening session. That’s encouraging to me as a WordPress user and as someone who tries to understand the dynamics of the greater community. Of course, it encourages me as a Lijit guy as I see that our product can directly address many of the challenges that I heard repeated throughout the weekend.

Search and Findability

I’m at WordCamp San Francisco 2008 today and had the distinct pleasure of giving a talk on Search and Findability. Distinct pleasure because it was the first session of the day at 9am. And if any of you know me, then you know that I don’t do mornings well. :-)

My session was about Search and Findability. There seemed to be a lot of misunderstandings about what the session would be about. Findability is not SEO. SEO is an aspect of Findability. SEO makes a blog findable for search engines.

Really, Findability is all about the right data being available to the reader, whether that reader is human or a machine (search engines). To that end, theme structure is a major area of concerns. Theme developers can setup their themes to have related posts or popular posts functionality, as well as attention to search implementation. I suggested theme authors should provide search results in full format, and not simply excerpts.

Secondly, findability is all about metadata and descriptive data. Microformats provide a human semantic understanding to machine-oriented descriptive data. Examples are

1
rel="nofollow"

,

1
rel="tag"

as well as WordPress built in XFN. Human understanding of machine data.

Multimedia content should take advantage of descriptive content. This means image tagging, show notes for podcasts and caption text for videos. Of course, and understanding of tags and categories is helpful.

Thirdly, I touched briefly on Ambient Findability, a concept introduced by Peter Morville in the O’Reilly publication with the same name. Ambient Findability suggests that no matter what, where or how, content should be easily findable. At b5media the mantra was “the right content, at the right time, to the right person on the right device”. Morville asks three questions:

  1. Can people find your blog?
  2. Can people find their way around your blog?
  3. Can people find your content, products and services despite your blog?

Finally, I suggested four plugins/features that can enhance the findability of a site:

  1. Possibly Related Posts – Only available for WordPress.com users.
  2. Search Everything – makes all areas of WordPress content available for the default search
  3. Microformats plugins – adds additional Microformats support to WordPress: Micro Anywhere, Blog Summary and Save Microformats
  4. Lijit for WordPress – our new plugin that allows registration and configuration from inside of the WordPress admin. Also, it makes it possible to hijack the theme search form.

The slide deck from the session is available below. It is Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial licensed. In other words, use the idea, use the concepts, use the deck in it’s entirety as long as you attrbiute me. I’m Aaaron Brazell from Technosailor.com in case you didn’t know. Oh, and if you make money, I expect a cut. ;-)

Findability Abwc2008
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.

Will I See you in Boston? Or in San Francisco? Or in Boulder? Or in Vegas?

Just a quick note as I’m getting ready for a meetup in my honor tonight in Boston. If you’re in the Boston area and don’t have any plans for tonight, would love to see you at Boston Beer Works across from Fenway Park. Michelle Wolverton gets all the credit for organizing and pulling the event together on my last night here in Boston (Yes, I did enjoy my first game at Fenway Park the Chapel of Awesomeness, last night!)

San Francisco

Tomorrow morning, I head out to San Francisco for WordCamp 2008. This will be my third trip to the Bay Area for this very special event and I’ll be speaking for the second time (third if you include WordCamp Dallas earlier this year). WordCamp is an exciting event for bloggers, particularly WordPress bloggers. It gives an opportunity for folks to come together and get their geek on with technical WordPress know-how or enjoy the community with other sessions geared toward more generalized topics.

For my part, I’ll be attending on behalf of Lijit along with Micah Baldwin, but will also be speaking on Findability and getting information in front of readers while driving them deeper into the site. I’ll release my slide deck in Creative Commons format after the event so look for it next week.

Mile High, Colliding with the DNC

Though I don’t anticipate participating in the DNC, I will be heading to the Rockies (Boulder to be exact) to work at Lijit World Headquarters. It will be crazy with 50k people coming in to see our next president accept his nomination and all the festivities that are involved. Someone told me there were 400 parties scheduled for the DNC which makes me think that perhaps the political catch-phrase shouldn’t be “Yes We Can” and more “1 Party, 400 parties”. DNC marketing executives have not returned comment on this idea. ;-)

What’s Happening in Vegas Needs to get On Your Calendar

Finally, next month I’ll be in Las Vegas for the annual Blog World Expo. This was one of three events I planned at the beginning of the year to be at. I attended SXSW, but will miss Gnomedex so two out of three isn’t bad.

I was talking to Rick Calvert, the organizer, and he mentioned that August 22 is the absolute drop-dead date for early registration and prices will go up significantly after that. So get registered!

On a related note, I’m looking for a hotel room to crash on the night of the 22nd. Due to Dividend Miles award travel, I ended up extending my stay a day later than most people go home. So if you’re still around Vegas for that night, give me a shout. I am open to splitting a room.

Either that or the fine folks at Southwest or JetBlue, both of whom are doing a fine job in reaching out to the social media community, can comp me a ticket. ;)

So, if our worlds might collide at one of these events, please give me a shout or look me up. My phone number is 410-608-6620.

Thoughts on WordCamp Dallas 2008

I’m just back from WordCamp Dallas where I had the pleasure to see the blogging world from a different angle. I credit Mark Hopkins for really clarifying this in his post at Mashable.

See, I’ve been lucky enough to attend a lot of conferences and events and to interact with lots of people along the way. Most of the folks I interact with are early adopter kinds of folks that love jumping all over the newest and greatest social tools, etc. We all travel in the same circles so we always see the same people at conferences and while it’s great, it was really catching to interact with a group that doesn’t necessarily operate in those circles.

The WordCamp Dallas group was different than even WordCamp San Francisco where Om Malik has spoke two years in a row and where folks like Dave Winer, Mike Arrington, Matt Cutts and others have spoken or made some kind of appearance in the past. There were very few of the “internet rock star” types in Dallas, but the demographic that was there made it so much more rich and interesting.

Aaron Brazell and Ronald Huereca
Photo Credit: ronalfy

ContentCamp

It was different, but it was good. I discovered a really telling and exciting thread through the entire weekend as I observed a few this:

  1. Going into the event, I was asked to make my session technical to meet a technical audience. There were some technical people in the audience, but I felt it important to adjust my presentation to be a bit less geeky.
  2. The most well received sessions of the weekend dealt with copyright and licensing, developing a community around your blog and the business blogging panel.
  3. The number of people was notable who simply talked about wanting to write more, and having better insight on writing in general

To me, the common denominator, and the highlighted theme for the entire weekend, was not WordPress. Despite the fact WordPress 2.5 was released and is being well received across the board (I was watching Twitter for about 3 hours after the announcement and saw nothing but good reports). Even though the premise of the event is All Things WordPress the most value seemed to surround content.

Guess what? Content is non-platformic. Easily, this event could have been a general blogging event. Easily, value could have been gained by Movable Type users and Typepad users; by those on Blogger or Textpattern or Drupal.

Why was it that I found myself silently annoyed by WordPress fanboism in much the same way that frustration with Applegasms – the reaction by Apple fanbois whenever the beloved Cupertino company announces something new – caused me to register applegasms.com?

I reckon my annoyance comes from my feeling that WordPress is a tool. It is a wonderfully awesome tool that I support, encourage and use. However, at the end of the day, it is a tool. My friend and colleague Mark Jaquith, who is also one of the core WordPress developers, has a philosophy that I love: get WordPress to the point where the user has no idea that WordPress even exists.

At the end of the day, it’s not about if you use WordPress or Typepad or any other blog platform. Sure, there are things to consider when choosing. However, at the end of the day, it’s about creating engaging content that creates community between author and readers. That’s the important part.

Frisco, Texas
Photo Credit: zizzybaloobah

Frisco, Texas

Although the event is called WordCamp Dallas, it was technically held in Frisco, Texas about 30 minutes north of Dallas. Frisco is an amazing city. In the short few days that I was there, I felt like I was watching the beginnings of a brand new city that in five years would be the hub of activity for miles around.

The city was gracious enough to lend us their City Council chamber which is an amazing, state of the art facility in itself. The acoustics of the domed room were so vibrant that I would love to play my guitar in the center of the room.

The city supported us and went out of their way to help us on a number of fronts. So, thank you, Frisco.

Business Blogging Panel
Photo Credit: ronalfy

Best Panel EVAR

The best panel I’ve ever been on (and no offense to every other panelist I’ve shared the stage with), was the business and blogging panel. It was such an honor to share the stage with Mark Ghosh, Matt Mullenweg and Liz Strauss. I felt like I shouldn’t be up there. Thank you, folks. That panel was the highlight of my weekend.

In summary, the professionalism and agility that this unconference was delivered in was nothing short of amazing. The sponsors were all in. The organizers were quite adept. The WordPress.com folks came in to support and WordPress 2.5 was launched in the heart of Texas. I had a blast.

The Business of Blogging Panel, WordCamp Dallas 2008

The second opportunity I had to be in front of folks at WordCamp Dallas came in the Business and Blogging panel session. It was amazing to be on a panel with Matt Mullenweg, Liz Strauss, and Mark Ghosh as we talked about blogging and PR, customer relationship and transparency. It was one of the most enjoyable panels I’ve ever had the chance to be on, so thanks everyone.

Here’s the video, courtesy of Mark Hopkins at Mashable: