As Mike teased a couple weeks ago, Voce hit WordCamp SF 2009 this past Saturday in full force not only as a sponsor of the event but also in terms of people on the ground. Michael Moeschler, Ryan Lack, Melissa Walker, Josh Hallett, Beverly Nevalga and Chris Thilk were all on hand throughout the day, attending various sessions and generally enjoying not only the knowledge dropped but also the general creative vibe that ran throughout the building as fans and supporters of WordPress, blogging and open-source software shared ideas and connected.
After the introduction by Matt Mullenweg the first two speakers on the main stage, writer Tim Ferriss and head of Google’s anti-spam efforts Matt Cutts, had presentations that complemented each other as two sides of the same coin or, more accurately, two essential components in a mixture.
Ferriss’ talk was mostly about passion and making the process of blogging – and by extension any sort of writing routine – fun. Be focused on what you’re trying to do, what kind of niche you want to create for yourself online, but don’t be afraid to have fun with it and go off-topic on occasion for no other reason than to make yourself and someone else laugh. Mostly, though, don’t let other people’s comments, suggestions or feedback influence what you write about. People, he says, are historically bad predictors of what they’re going to like and so don’t feel driven by their requests. Instead focus on what’s important to you and what you’re trying to say and you’ll be much happier.
That’s not to say he hasn’t done a lot of thinking around what work and what doesn’t, but all that work has been focused around the goals he has in mind for his blog. He’s tracked click patterns after new designs have been launched to see what the most “valuable” parts of his front page are and has made tweaks that give people more to do on his site instead of including a link to his Twitter profile, something he sees as little but an invitation for visitors to leave. He’s seen traffic from both StumbleUpon and Digg and finds the former sends higher quality, longer-lasting traffic than the latter and so, he said, he focuses on that.
Where Ferriss focused on finding your passion and then making the user experience as friendly and inviting as possible, Cutts talked mostly about the tools – ranging from WordPress to Blogger and everything in-between – and how they facilitate being found in search engines like the one run by, for instance, Google.
Cutts talked some about things like Google PageRank and how it works but also focused on the advantages that WordPress has as a blogging platform, from its spider-friendly post slugs to other small tweaks that creators can take advantage of, as long as they’re not overdone and begin to cross into the area of spam, which he’s obviously not a fan of.
What added even more levels of contrast to their talks was the difference between the speakers. Ferriss comes off as very under-stated and matter of fact, even while he’s talking about being passionate about what you’re doing online. Cuttts, on the other hand, displayed great passion and electricity and humor while talking about something as relatively dry as SEO.
After the “State of the Word” presentation by Mullenweg (which will be the subject of its own post) and lunch, the day resumed with a presentation by Dave Gray of XPlane on “Growing Your Business on the Web.” What stuck out from Gray’s talk was his discussion of why the “most popular” items on iTunes or on a blog are destined to stay that way. These are, he says, often the first to market and so because of their first-mover status kind of default into that “Most Popular” group. As new users/visitors enter, that’s a natural place for them to start and so subscribe to the podcast or visit that blog post because, hey, it has to be the best if it’s the most popular, right? So they often become cemented in that position and it’s difficult for new entrants to gain a foothold.
After Scott Porad of Pet Holdings talked about how the participation of the community is essential to the success of ICanHasCheezburger and his other humor sites (it’s actually a bit amazing how much interaction there is there) John Lilly of Mozilla took the main stage to talk about the lessons Firefox has learned over the course of its existence.
As a speaker, Lilly is about as far from a case study in “How to speak in front of 200+ people” as you can possibly get. Staring at the floor much of the time, self-deprecating and humble, his attitude, combined with the content of his presentation, seemed to actually reflect the attitude of most of the people in the room pretty well and the overall thinking toward open source software: Sure, this has worked and it’s pretty cool, but it’s what the community gets out of it and not what I do that is what makes it cool.
As one of the heads of an open-source project that spans millions and millions of people, Lilly’s talk was primarily about how ideas can come from everywhere and so communications channels need to be setup to bring all that in. They gather input from a variety of sources and have a wide-ranging network of testers and others who, simply because of their passion, will tell them what sorts of changes need to be made. His model of distributed feedback channels is something that isn’t going to work for every organization or corporation, but for what Mozilla is trying to accomplish with things like the Firefox web browser it does, especially since it doesn’t have the internal resources to compete with behemoths like Microsoft.
That’s all just an overview of what happened at WordCamp SF 2009. We didn’t make it to all the sessions and didn’t capture every bit of insight that came from the presenters – it’s impossible to do so. But we certainly found the day engaging, entertaining and informational and it was our pleasure to represent Voce at the event and, as an agency, were thrilled to be among the sponsors showing our support for the work being done not only by Automattic but the entire WordPress community, both those creating the software that powers it and those creating the content that is published with that software.