This event review is brought to you by Doug Millen, from our Fetch Community Ambassador team in Sydney.

WordCamp brings together WordPress end-users and developers to share good ideas for doing great things with WordPress. WordCamp events are held regularly all over the world, and on 21-22 July 2012, WordCamp came to the University of Sydney for two days of community-building, as well as fascinating insights and useful ways for using WordPress effectively. Here are eight lessons I learned from my weekend at WordCamp.

1. There’s a community doing great things with WordPress in Australia.

People came from all over Australia and New Zealand for WordCamp Sydney – this was no small weekend workshop. I was delighted to meet developers, users and business owners from everywhere, including Travis, a developer from Adelaide, who helped me to see that events like WordCamp bring a sense of belonging and connectedness for freelancers who thrive on spending time in a community of people who work with the same tools.

WordCamp Sydney has been great for bringing together a community of people who work with WordPress.

Travis Hensgen @_traversal

Between them, WordCamp organisers Dee, Tracey, Peter and Alison have travelled to four WordCamp events across Australia and New Zealand in the last 12 months – and now they’ve brought WordCamp to Sydney again. It really was inspiring to hear Dee talk about the excitement she feels in bringing together this group of people.

2. You can do pretty much anything with WordPress.

WordPress is the most popular CMS in the world (ref) – even the New York Times uses WordPress. Tony Cosentino showed off a plugin for nearly every purpose (but warned not to install too many). Sofia Woods shared principles and tools for building, managing, and maintaining communities with WordPress. Several other talks covered everything you might need from back-to front-end, including themes, extensions, SEO and commerce (all slides here).

3. Accessibility is important. Really important.

Some one in five Australians have some form of disability, but accessibility isn’t just about providing a ramp into a store for people with mobility difficulties. Accessibility is also about making websites and multimedia interactive and understandable for users with different abilities of sight, hearing and physical dexterity.

Joe Ortzenzi gave a super simple (and funny) walkthrough of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, with examples of poor design and accessibility and gave a few tips for making sites and online media more accessible:

  • Use alt tags to provide informative descriptions of photographs for users with impaired sight.
  • Add a ‘skip to content’ link on each site page so that users with screen readers don’t have to listen to the entire navigation sequence.
  • Use semantic structure in your code (title, h1, h2, em) so that even if your site doesn’t look pretty it still makes sense.

Joe recommended the great new Sydney-based service Access iQ for helping developers better understand and implement web accessibility standards.

4. When blogging, just write – focus on perfection is your worst enemy.

Kate Carruthers was full of useful tips on blogging, but two ideas stood out and everyone was relieved to hear them!

Blogs are full of ideas and thoughts captured in time. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t write a masterpiece – it’s about getting your content out there and starting discussion around it.

A blog is like a puppy: don’t get one if you can’t look after it properly.

Kate Carruthers @kcarruthers

Kate gave common sense advice for getting started with WordPress sustainably and carefully (and legally). Check out Kate’s slides for helpful resources.

5. You can make a visually appealing, functional site with WordPress.

Phil Peet teaches design at a TAFE in Sydney. In his talk he broke down the process of setting up a WordPress site into the simple things the casual user wants to get started with.

6. There are tools for WordPress that make SEO easy.

Lisa Davis laid everything out on the table – everything you need to take care of to ensure that search engines understand your site and connect you with the people you want to reach. Lisa explained how to use title, h1 and h2 tags (step 1: don’t ignore them), listed the best plugins for SEO on WordPress (Yoast was mentioned by multiple presenters), and reminded us to use 301 redirects and to place content on 404s so that we don’t lose visitors.

7. There’s is a lot that can be done on your server to speed up your site.

Good morning, freedom-lovers! began Jeff Waugh’s 3 pm high performance guide to WordPress. One of the strongest characters at WordCamp, Jeff gave insights into what goes on inside servers running WordPress, including how php works and how you can refine your server to your advantage. He recommended using nginx instead of apache to reduce the amount of shovelling that goes on. To keep things speedy, he suggests hosting web services and DNS close to your audience. This means don’t host from Texas if all of your visitors are in Melbourne and Sydney.

Give WordPress to someone you love.

Jeff Waugh @jdub

In one of his examples, Jeff used webpagetest.org to show site load times – pretty cool for exploring what parts of the entire process of loading your website are letting you down.

8. Become an expert in the tech you know and love.

Find a framework you can become great at and use it, rather than just being good at it – unless you really need the money!

Bronson Quick @bronsonquick

Bronson Quick is a bit of a WordPress pro and his advice was well-received! There was pretty strong representation of developers who use the Genesis framework (including co-organiser Dee). So it’s not just about WordPress – it’s themes, extensions like widgets and plugins, child themes, the list goes on…!

Connect
All presentation slides from the event are available on SlideShare and keep an eye out in The Fetch for future WordPress Sydney meet-ups.  A big thank you to Alison, Dee, Peter and Tracey for organising this event and having us along to WordCamp 2012. We’ll see you next year.

About our Ambassador // This article and photography were contributed by Community Ambassador Doug Millen. You can connect with Doug through his site dougmillen.org or on Twitter @dougsky.