What WordCamp London Taught Us About the Future of WordPress and the Web

I spent this weekend with 600 other WordPress folks at WordCamp London, the UK’s biggest WordCamp. It was a great weekend and I met lots of people who use WordPress in many different ways and attended some great talks. But instead of blogging about ‘what I did at WordCamp’, I’d like to share what I think WordCamp London told us about where WordPress is going and how it and its users are changing.

WordPress is Changing. Big Time.

If there was one recurring theme this weekend, it’s the way that WordPress is evolving to embrace the REST API, which has the potential to completely turn the way we query the database and display content on its head. Jack Lenox‘s talk on Saturday morning was packed to the rafters (I didn’t get in but my work somehow found its way into his slides which was a nice surprise!), and I talked to a lot of people afterwards who were determined to go away and learn more about JSON, the REST API, and how to display content dynamically without having to make repeated database requests.

Sara Cannon came all the way from Birmingham Alabama to talk to us about WordPress UX. In her talk she told us how excited she was by these developments and the potential it gives WordPress as a platform for much more than we’re using it now: more interactive media, peer to peer experiences, apps, games even?

Sam Hotchkiss‘s talk was about the future of WordPress admin, and again looked at the  REST API and what it means for us all as WordPress developers and users. He drew some exciting parallels between WordPress’s past evolution from a blogging platform to a CMS and its current evolution from a CMS to a platform.

In my talk on Careers in WordPress I asked who in the audience was using each of a number of languages and technologies. Unsurprisingly the vast majority were working with PHP but I think that when the next WordCamp London rolls around there will be a lot more people working with JavaScript and JSON. Recently a developer for the BBC News site told me that PHP is dead: I strongly disagreed of course, but if WordPress developers might not need to write PHP in the future, maybe he could be right? So for me the takeaway is that I finally need to get around to learning JSON so I can get to grips with the REST API and ensure that it all makes a lot more sense to me this time next year!

People Are Doing Loads of Diverse Things with WordPress

I spent a lot of day 1 in the not for profit track, learning about the inspiring way charities and the education sector are using WordPress to support their work, educate the public, raise funds and develop the next generation of web professionals. In my talk on careers with WordPress I think there were about 30 different activities and careers represented by the people in the room: people with a range of backgrounds and specialisms all making a living with WordPress.

You don’t have to be a developer to work with WordPress: there were people at this WordCamp who were content creators, designers, educators, marketers, fundraisers and much more. I strongly believe that we all need to find a niche if we’re going to have a successful career on the web, and every time I go to a Wordcamp I find that there are less generalists and more specialists, and that the diversity of specialists represented is growing.

The Cool Kids Are Working With WordPress Too These Days

A few years ago I spoke at a web standards event about responsive development with WordPress. This feels like prehistory now as responsive development is mainstream these days, but something that stuck with me from that event was the fact that people there had a big downer on WordPress. Audience members challenged the relevance of talking about WordPress and the claim it was a CMS at all. When I talked to one of the other speakers about collaborating on a WordPress plugin to implement his work for WordPress users his response was not much more than ‘meh’. But that’s all changed. At WordCamp London, Opera’s Bruce Lawson (whose pink mohican perfectly matched the event’s branding) spoke about the exciting developments in responsive images. He told us how the new <picture> element and srcset attribute could be used to serve up ‘real’ responsive images to different sized screens.

This is something that plays very well with the way WordPress manages images, a topic I’ve written about for Smashing mag, and as I sat in the audience I was designing a plugin in my head…until Bruce told us that the Responsive Images Community Group have already produced one! I’m not sure this would have happened a few years back and the fact that developments in web standards lead to an ‘official’ WordPress plugin tells us how widely WordPress has been accepted by the rest of the web community.

The Future is Exciting, if a Bit Scary!

I talked to lots of people involved in educating kids and young people in one way or another. Right from Code Club volunteers to University Professors, there were people there who are watching the next generation of web creators learn – and boy are they learning quickly! It was great to meet so many people who are passing on their skills and enthusiasm to kids, often as volunteers, and even better to see how excited this made them all (running a Code Club is hard work but incredibly rewarding – I strongly recommend it). These kids will be snapping at our heels very soon, which gives even more weight to the argument that we all need to find a niche and develop a solid reputation. It won’t be long before most kids leaving school will have the skills to create a website so if that’s all we’re offering it’s just not enough. And at the the same time if we do have a niche, this weekend taught me that we all need to be prepared to change that niche, stretch it and even leave it for a new one if needs be. Nothing stands still for people working with the web, and that change is only going to keep accelerating. Were you at WordCamp London? What did you learn and what are you going to do differently? Please leave a comment if you were there, especially if you spoke or attended a talk I didn’t make it to. 

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