My Top Takeaways from WordCamp San Francisco

wcsf-bannerWordCamp San Francisco happened Friday and Saturday this weekend with many of the WordPress.com Happiness Engineers and Developers from Automattic both in attendance and presenting.

This was the first time that I participated via the livestream, which was entirely brilliant, and it almost felt like being there, especially with the addition of the Hallway interviews. Well done! The time difference, however, was not in my favor and I ended up missing about the last third of both days. Thankfully, all presentations were recorded and will be put up on wordpress.tv. Right now you can already watch Matt Mullenweg’s “State of the Word” talk:

Matt shared that 18.9% of the web is now powered by WordPress. That’s up by 2.2% from last year and encompasses the top 10 Million websites. He also mentioned that 98% of users access their WordPress site via the web in addition to their mobile devices (and made him wonder about the “missing” 2%).

Other presentations that upped my knowledge and enthusiasm, not just about working with  WordPress (I’ll add the links to the videos as they become available):

Bridging the Chasm: Working with Non-Technical Stakeholders with Grant Landram, who spoke about working with clients who have little or no technical experience. The takeaway here was the  importance of having really good communication skills and getting into your client’s head. You can find a PDF of his presentation here.

Setting Up Your WordPress Site: Stories of Joy and Despair with Natalie MacLees, who gave a great roundup of the Why, Who, Where, When and How of creating a website. My prime takeaway from her talk was “Before anything else you need to have a plan.” Will post a link to her slidedeck here when available.

Collaboration and Competition with Carrie Dils. Again, Carrie’s presentation highlighted the need for people skills also when working within the WordPress community or better phrased “coopetition.” The slidedeck of her talk is available here.

The other super exciting presentation, to me anyway, was Beau Lebens’ Taking WordPress to the Front End with O2, a peek at the upcoming replacement to P2. If you are not familiar with P2, it has front end posting (no need to write a post in the Dashboard) and allows for near instantaneous appearance of replies. It is the workhorse of internal communication at Automattic, where, Beau mused, at times there were more P2’s in use than the number of employees at Automattic (now about 184). There will be a very closed Alpha of O2 released within a month.

A less happy statistic Matt shared in his talk was that of the 50K signups on WordPress.com within the last week, only 4% are active today. That harks back to his State of the Word talk last year and my subsequent tweet about retention. Sadly, still true today. How do we increase user retention? My personal goal is to help people learn WordPress.com through writing articles on this site, continuing to volunteer in the Community forums and engaging my local WordPress.com users in one-on-one sessions.

Twitter was again the medium of choice for #wcsf conversation and the stream was very active, both by attendees and by livestream participants.

Let’s all do it again next year!

16 thoughts on “My Top Takeaways from WordCamp San Francisco

  1. Hi there,
    Thanks so much for this. I lacked the time to view on live-stream as it was a dental surgery week for me and work was very busy. I will now be playing catch up and that why I’m so glad to know you will be adding the video links as they become available.

    Though we live half a world apart I benefit so much from helping answer support forum questions with you. I learn something new from you or I’m reminded by you of something I have forgotten frequently, and I do hope we meet at a WordCamp one day.

    1. You’ve very welcome, tt, and I wish you a speedy recovery. Thankfully WordCamp started early evening here (7pm) so we were able to spend the day doing the other things that needing doing and then settle in to watch the livestream. Thank you too for your kind words. I think our participation in the forums is a grand example of the “coopetition” that Carrie Dils mentioned in her talk. It’s all about helping each other learn and grow and I can say with no qualms that you’re a wonderful teacher. Hold that thought about WordCamp!

      1. It appears that 90% or more of those who attend WordCamps are using WordPress.org software to make their income from. It also appears that everything at WordCamps is aimed at WordPress.org blogging, not WordPress.com blogging. Truth be told I have zero desire to self host again. I’m not a geeky type so it’s not likely I will attend a WordCamp any time soon or maybe ever.

      2. You are right that the vast majority of information at WordCamp is directed to users and developers of standalone WordPress. But, speaking from my own experience of attending 5 WordCamps, besides the networking aspect, which is rewarding in itself, I usually come away from WordCamp with a rack of ideas to try out on WordPress.com. This usually involves workarounds. So even if I cannot directly apply 1 to 1 the information I get, I’m a bit twisty that way. 🙂

  2. Hi Jen! I just found your blog through tt’s feature of this post, which was a blessing. I get the feeling you will join her as a go-to resource for all things WordPress!

    I think the best way to increase retention is to drive use. It seems (and this is purely anecdotal) that most people start a WordPress account because it’s 1) free, 2) easy to do, and 3) they’ve heard it’s a “big thing” when it comes to social media. After all, everyone needs a blog, right?! However, they have no concept of the long-game mentality needed to make a success of this. Thus, you’ll get accounts started and people will quickly throw up a few posts…and then become disheartened when they don’t get much engagement they can quantify. So, they quit posting, and their WordPress site suffers a slow death. I know. I was one of them.

    What you’ve proposed above will certainly help increase retention. Additionally, targeting new users in the forms of workshops and tutorials may also help. I know there are a lot of support videos, which is great. Perhaps directing new users to specific introductory presentations as part of the enrollment process as a way of increasing engagement is another possibility. Finally, pointing to workshops, whether free or with a registration fee, in the Reader feed might create more top-of-mind awareness of the need to invest in continuous learning when it comes to this wonderful tool that is WordPress.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment and kind words, Kerwyn.

      The figures that Matt referred to dealt more with what happened within a single week’s time, not so much over the long term, and at the end of that specific short period, only 4% of the 50,000 WordPress.com site signups actually had activity on them. Granted there could be a number of reasons why someone would sign up and then immediately let their site become dormant (name-sitting for one).

      On a recent occasion that I signed up with an entirely new WordPress.com account to start a new site, the introduction process was tortuous if you didn’t already have a clear picture of how the WordPress.com site is set up and functions. Even I was put off by it. I mentioned this to a couple of Happiness Engineers/Devs who were visiting and they said it’s quite possible there was A/B testing going on as well. While this explanation was interesting, it certainly wouldn’t resolve anything for an unhappy and confused new user. In other words, 96% of signups never made it out of the starting gate to blog. To me that would indicate that in spite of Learn WordPress.com, there isn’t a clear and concise path to follow to help new users learn their way around the site, so it is an education problem.

      The suggestions you’ve given in your last paragraph are spot on and would certainly help those who are patient enough to view training as part of the process, which of course not everyone is, and that, too, needs to be addressed.

  3. I’m not going to submit a lengthy comment Jen.

    The days when I could recommend that anyone could set up and WordPress.com blog in single day and learn how to use the software with ease without knowing how to code are long gone and will never return. Some of those folks who seek to have hobby blogs start out at WordPress.com and some remain there doing well, but many others find the learning curve to be so steep that they move to Blogger or to Tumblr and I don’t expect that will chnange.

    WordPress software became increasingly more complex to fathom and the learning curve became steep when those who wanted to use it as a CMS were provided with the features they desired/required. As Matt’s stats demonstrate today WordPress software is primarily in use by those who use it as a CMS or as a combined blog/cms.

    Those folks who simply want to blog and be able to do that in short order on a free hosted WordPress.com blog are not going to cotton to an increasing number of tutorials, books and workshops. WordPress.com bloggers I know who are inclined to focus on resources attend WordCamps get all pumped up and move to self hosting WordPress.org installs. And, that makes perfect sense to me because It’s the WordPress.org user needs that WordPress developers are focused on.

    1. Entirely correct tt, but as they say, anything worth knowing involves learning. WordPress is certainly not “push button” publishing, not WordPress.com and certainly not standalone WordPress.

  4. In addition to the WordPress tutorials, there is also a book that I found useful when starting my blog: “Teach Yourself Visually WordPress by Janet Majure. I’m no techie and this was a wonderful way to learn.

    1. Books are most definitely a good way to learn about using WordPress because they are far more linear. The only real difficulty I have with them is that mostly they are geared towards the standalone program and even the one I recommend, “WordPress for Dummies”, which has a couple of chapters dedicated to using WordPress.com, become outdated rather quickly compared to the Support docs here, which are routinely updated. Even forum discussions from 1 or 2 years ago have to be approached with caution because things move so fast here. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Thanks so much Jen for your blog post on wordcamp impressions, llnks.

    I would agree that it’s expecting too much to set up a simple blog with wordpress in 1 day. WordPress.com offers increasingly more features for fine tweaking and interoperability with social media tools and linkages. It means a better user experience, but that also means more buttons and more navigation by the blogger on the admin. back end. WordPress is probably more palatable for folks who already have designed a simple web site or database, which are 2 different tools but draw upon a person’s logic, analytical skills, attention to detail yet capacity to be aware /sensitive to different levels of reader comprehension.

    I’ve never gone to a wordcamp. Instead I did go to a local session on social media which included wordpress.com. That was not the right place for me: I was underwhelmed…people asking what metadata meant. I don’t consider wordpress.com a very flexible, powerful content management platform. But for small organizations, narrowly defined audiences or for personal use, it’s great.

    In terms of improving user retention, maybe wordpress camps must always include a beginner’s online course.. with a moderator steering a bunch of folks over several weeks. I think Matt has to rethink this. I realize the little videoclips on specific topics exist. But understand, it demands the user to piece together multiple self-learning videos on several interrelated features. It’s fragmented learning for some folks who might want a more holistic approach to learn.

    I appreciate the free forums support. It’s a shame that they did shut off the informal, non-wordpress.com forum area. That’s important too..building community in general among bloggers worldwide.

    1. Thanks for stopping by with your thought-provoking comments, Jean. If you’ve read any of my earlier posts on who I think WordPress.com suits, it’s just about everyone who doesn’t need e-commerce capability! That’s a lot of different sectors and WordPress.com has certainly been making a push to present itself as the answer to just about everyone’s web needs. Just look at the number of verticals they’ve promoted over the past year. That being the case, they really do need to address the educational needs of the varying levels of technical ability of their users. Your idea about an online course is certainly one way to address it.

      On a different topic, over the course of the past couple of days someone on twitter shared a cautionary tale of a very popular tumblr blogger who was shut down for repeated copyright infringement. That’s something that I expect to see more of here as WordPress.com becomes even more popular.

  6. Interesting stuff. ( slid over from timethief)
    That’s a lot of blogs started and abandoned. Personally, I looked at other places, but chose WP as I liked the looks, and it didn’t seem that hard to start one up. There is a learning curve, and it takes a little bit to feel comfortable. It’s learn as you go along. I emailed a couple of times for help and got answers…and I looked through the help stuff. It’s a blog – can’t expect it to be perfect right away – it grows and gels over time.
    Maybe a newby “room”/tag to group new blogs together for a couple of months – WP could assign someone to keep an eye on them and contact blogger by email with suggestions of to see if they need help. New blogs get lost in all the existing ones – easy to get discouraged if no one notices you. A little encouragement goes a long way.
    One thing I’ve noticed is a large number of spammers setting up one post ( and empty forms for “about page” and others) Or a blog/spammer reblogging large numbers of other people’s posts in order to look legitimate. (I hate the reblogging without permission or approval.)
    Also a large number of blogs are created to simply self promote – then very few new posts follow (other than more self promote.) But they have a blog now and can check that off the list. Not very interesting reading – add to the already large number of blogs/clutter to weed through to find new reads..

    1. Hi and thanks for sliding by! 🙂 About 80% of all internet traffic is spam and the numbers mentioned by Matt during his talk seemed to surprise even him. I don’t know how many of those 50K signups were spam, but it certainly makes sense that a good portion of them were (and if you come across them, please take a moment and report them). But 4% active blogs is still pretty low.

      I agree with you that it takes time and there’s a learning curve involved in blogging, let alone using WordPress.com. I don’t wonder if people’s expectations haven’t been inflated with the “push button blogging”, or “5-minute install” (on self-hosted sites). There will always be those who are determined to learn something new and those who leave it after a week’s worth of trial and error.

      And also, you have to wonder where the real focus is for Automattic? Yes, it’s great to have best-selling authors, etc., as a part of your community. But is that what they are focusing on? I had to wonder when Matt mentioned that even with 4% retention, the numbers of people signing up hasn’t slowed down.

      1. Another thing is some expect to attract readers and get big stat numbers right away. If instant stats instead of writing/exploring the blog community to find a fit is the goal, it’s no wonder people get discouraged and stop.
        I just don’t think WP is all that difficult if someone is interested. Besides it’s supposed to be good for the brain to work through challenges.
        Enjoyed your response – we’ll see what shakes out

Comments are closed.