WordCamp and the Wide World of WordPress: Part One

On Saturday I went to WordCamp2015, hosted by BCIT’s downtown campus. While I had become familiar with WordPress and content management through the setting up of this site, this was my first initiation into just how big it is.

Until a few months ago, I only knew WordPress as a blogging platform. But it’s much more than that: it’s also a website builder which is used by nearly 25% of all websites. It is an open-source, nonprofit initiative owned by Automattic, which owns everything from e-commerce plugins like WooCommerce to cloud storage as well as Longreads, which publishes curated content.

The conference was only $25, not bad for an all-day event complete with snacks throughout, lunch and drinks afterwards. This is because it was subsidized by several sponsors, many of which enthusiastically pitched their products. After pursuing and/or flirting with careers in English-Canadian film, education, literary fiction, journalism, arts and non-profit, it was nice to be part of an industry event with such an optimistic outlook.

Internet Censorship and Open Media

The first talk was entitled “Understanding and Combating Global Censorship with WordPress” by John Gamboa, who also posted slides from the lecture as well as sources to back up some of his statements. He began by talking about the worst offenders in terms of internet censorship: Turkey, Russia, India, Vietnam, the Middle East, and especially China, which causes the most problems with WordPress in particular and where he lived for three years.

Different countries have different pain points and ways to make life difficult for bloggers and web developers. Turkey has shut down the entire domain of WordPress because of an offending blogpost, whereas Russia uses mass surveillance and employs trolls to direct conversation throughout. Usually censorship applies to specific censorship issues within their own countries, though as I learned when I lived in China, this can also apply to an issue in a country that China has a relationship with, such as Sudan.

China employs trolls and also censors major sites; this is one reason why they have alternatives to such sites as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, though they say they’re for promoting local business. 96% of traffic within China is with Chinese websites.

Gamboa gave some useful tips for dealing with the issue of having your website taken down and avoiding it in the first place. This includes avoiding plugins with external content that you are not in control of, especially Google with its photos and fonts. There are ways to test if your site is blocked in a certain place, such as Blocked in Iran and the Great Firewall of China, which provides detailed information about how and what China is censoring.

All of this makes it important to contribute to an open and free internet, continue to discuss censorship, contribute to websites in languages other than English and translations of plugins and keep publishing.

Reimagining Content Creation

The internet continues to change rapidly in terms of its usage as well as presentation. According to the second presenter, Reid Peifer, WYSIWYG, or “What You See Is What You Get,” is dead: presentation on web pages is about movement in the form of carousel menus, icons instead of text with things changing when you hover over them.

This gives a unique challenge to content management providers like WordPress which has largely remained static in terms of content delivery, using “atomic design.” Something like Tumblr in comparison gives more options to content creators: instead of a blank page, they are given different things to work with instead of the terrifying blank page. Content should continually push the abilities of the Content Management System, telling larger stories with relationships between pieces of content.

There are also plugins being developed to better enable new production of content. The new WordPress plugin Aesop Story Engine, which gives content creators greater ease of incorporating different media such as audio, video or organization such as chapters, is further enabling long-form content, which is gradually becoming more and more popular. There is also the Long Form Storybuilder, which is another tool to create interactive stories.

This is all interesting, although I’m not always sure what place this puts the “Content Creator,” or writer. As a Content Creator myself I see this as a new opportunity to develop ways of telling stories that can incorporate things like audio and video and finding new platforms and audiences. Ultimately good writing and storytelling is the most important thing, and it’s important not to lose sight of that.

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