This is a beautiful and moving talk by Merlin Mann at this year’s Webstock. (via Swiss Miss)
This weekend Alex and I drove up to WordCamp Seattle. It was the third WordCamp I’ve been to and while driving home I started relating those WordCamps to the journalism conferences I’ve been to over the past few years.
WordCamps ground themselves in software, so an iterative approach is a natural fit. They are about answering the question, what are you working on right now to make things better?
That question is not limited to code. The writers in attendance focus on concrete tips for making their writing more engaging, their communities more active, and their publishing business more successful. Aaron Hockley, for example, gave what sounded like a really great talk about the basics of making money with your blog.
The code-focused speakers were covering everything from approaches to using AJAX in plugins to Swiss Army Knife-style theme options pages. Each talk gave you a tool you could take home with you and implement in your next project to make it better.
The journalism conferences I’ve been to have been decidedly different. In the past couple years I’ve been to the Associated Collegiate Press Conference, a couple of SPJ conferences at the University of Oregon, and other smaller conferences and presentations around Portland.
With the exception of the talks Marshall Kirkpatrick gave at the SPJ conferences, these journalism conferences are far less about doing things. They are filled with self-referential discussions about news. I’ve come away with a strong sense of what’s broken but not a good feeling about what is being done to fix it.
When you speak at a journalism conference I want to hear about what the top idea in your mind is. I want to hear about what experiments you are trying, how you are measuring them, and how they are affecting your success.
At the end of the month I’m heading out to Philly for Bar Camp NewsInnovation. I’m excited, it should be a great WordCamp-style journalism conference. We need more of these discussions to iterate and make the
news information business better.
WordCamp Philly had 4 simultaneous tracks of talks throughout the day so while I couldn’t see everything I did catch a lot of interesting sessions.
Taking over the world with custom taxonomies
In the first session Sean Blanda talked about how to take over the world with custom taxonomies. Sean is a self-described non-coder and claims WordPress makes him look smarter than he actually is. He talked about Technically Philly, his local tech news startup, and how they use custom taxonomies to create a directory of terms similar to TechCrunch’s Crunchbase.
Using custom taxonomies (and lots of dedication to go back and tag more than 1000 earlier posts) Sean’s been able to create slick-looking landing pages for companies, people, and locations within Philadelphia. While custom taxonomies have been around since WordPress 2.3 recent updates have made things easier to manage. Sean created all of this with small pieces of code and the taxonomy term descriptions are all powered through a WYSIWYG text editor. It looks like a great way to create a directory without a significant code investment.
Making WordPress work at work
After running into many companies that rely upon GoLive, SharePoint, Microsoft Word, and homegrown CMSes Doug realized that, “most companies don’t know how bad they have it.” This means Doug advocates an “install first, ask questions later” approach to getting WordPress going at large organizations.
While WordPress can help lower the cost of tradition IT departments it is far from a purely technical problem. As Doug mentioned, if you move to WordPress it inherently replaces another system that a co-worker now has a stake in. This means that Doug recommends focusing on the concrete benefits of employing WordPress. Things like easy upgrades, multi-site installations, and a strong community of plugin developers can help persuade an IT department.
From Philly I headed down to Washington D.C. with Max Cutler and Andrew Nacin for the post-ONA Hacks/Hackers hackathon. Daylife was generous enough to sponsor the day and we were put up in NPR’s offices.
Max worked with Daniel Bachhuber, Lauren Rabaino, Mark Lavallee, and Greg Linch on creating a Crunchbase-style directory for news organizations. Pulling data from the Daylife API and other sources they created a basic directory for more than 17000 news organizations. Ideally this directory would be used as a base layer for other forms of data that could be overlayed to reveal relationships and information that would not otherwise be apparent.
Another group used WordPress and the Daylife API to create a plugin that would rock the world of local politics coverage. It creates a custom shortcode that pulls candidate information into a sidebar to display personal, funding, and news coverage information to provide greater context for election coverage.
Nacin and I worked on rebooting the links feature in WordPress. Leveraging APIs coming as part of WordPress 3.1 we aimed to create a bookmarklet that allowed for low friction link saving. On top of this the plugin would create an internal link wire of all the content saved by site users. Links could be saved as public or private and everything could easily be selected and send directly to the editor for easy link roundup posts or as notes for longer essays. The recent and previously untested APIs combined with our combined 4 hours of sleep foiled us this time but you’ll see the plugin in a directory near you soon enough.