WordCamp Australia 2008: kick off & the talks

Was sweet… and by sweet I mean “totally cool”!

Day 1

The first day got off to a decaffeinated start; I thought for sure, a conference for such geeky types would have to have good coffee, alas Nescafé prevailed! On the bright side, the fruit buns were really good.

I’m glad I rocked up with @niphal because at 09:10 (rego time was 9–10am) there was not too many people there. I even made it into a shot titled am i early? (I’m standing near the front wearing a blue singlet).

Our entry tickets/name tags/schedules were cool. They were really simple, but they looked good on brown cardboard and they were so clever! The name was facing the right way up for people looking at you, but if you flipped the page over, the schedule was the right way up for you to look at it.

WordCamp Name Tag/Pass
WordCamp Schedule

Jane Wells: The Road to 2.7

Jane Wells spoke about how they got from 2.5 (and 2.6, which is essentially the same interface) to 2.7, which was really interesting. I also had a bit more of a chat with her on the second day about how she ended up working for Automattic.

Usability testing was done on WP 2.5 (even using eye tracking by bouncing lasers off people’s retinas, I think, very cool) and they developed a frame for better usability in WordPress. That experimental framework, which was originally meant to compare how people interacted with WordPress, evolved into WP 2.7.

The new version, which will probably be coming out in the next week or two, looks really exciting! The admin is getting (another) major overhaul: menu items and admin pages are going to be much more accessible, it will take fewer clicks to get wherever you want to go, and the colours and icons will be more subtle and streamlined to let you get on with the business of creating content.

There is also some fantastic inline editing from the admin, including replying to comments from the admin area. You will also be able to upload media without having to create a post— very convenient.

Also, media handling and widgets are getting an overhaul in 2.8 and 2.9. Should be sweet!

Sam Bauers: Prologue Groups

Sam Bauers showed us how they’re using the Prologue theme to run a project management system. It’s purely via the theme architecture, but turns WordPress into a sort of Twitter crossed with Basecamp.

Matt Mullenweg: Keynote Presentation

It was great to hear Matt Mullenweg speak about the history and future of WordPress and about his company Automattic. It’s all come such a long way in the last 5 years and is going to get even more awesome, I’m sure.

A few tidbits:

  • Matt started blogging with b2 and WordPress was originally built on/derived from that platform.
  • Matt had been saying WordPress was easy enough for his Mum to use, but when she asked to start a blog, he wondered if it really was! (She wanted to blog a to-do list for Matt!)
  • WordPress is in its awkward teenage years: rapidly growing and changing. So, it might be a little while before plugin developers feel like they can count on forward compatibility in WP, but if WordPress keeps growing in the direction it has been, it will be worth it!
  • Matt loves comments and would like a quick and useful method for keeping up to date and in contact with frequent and interesting commenters.
  • The Matrix easter egg is classic. Find the new easter egg in 2.7!
  • WordPress.com is pressing 1.33 billion words each month!

I learnt a heap more from Matt when I chatted to him at the end of the second day as well. Apparently you can register taxonomy (tags and categories are examples of taxonomy)! We also mused about geotagging photos and using the exif to show photos on a map. At the moment, I’m able to import EXIF latitude and longitude into the database, I just need to write a function that formats it in a useful way.

Matt Mullenweg & myself (yes, Im okay with the fact that Im geeky enough to want a photo with the creator of WordPress)
Matt Mullenweg & myself (yes, I'm okay with the fact that I'm geeky enough to want a photo with the creator of WordPress)

Matts + Kristens feet
Matt's + Kristen's feet

Alister Cameron: When is a theme not a theme? When it’s a framework.

Alister Cameron talks about theme frameworks (photo by Halans)
Alister Cameron talks about theme frameworks (photo by Halans)

I loved Alister‘s talk about theme “frameworks” or what he’d rather call “base themes”. Basically, base themes are smart themes that have great semantic markup, allowing you to do pretty much anything you want through CSS, hooks and widgets without rearranging your code.

Here’s a brief summary of the themes he discussed, which are on the road to being super base themes:

  • Sandbox: smart theme with so many dynamic classes, you can really modify the heck out of it. It’s initial ugly appearance screams “Freedom!” to designers and developers.
  • Thematic: it has hooks, it’s SEO ready and is widget ready for essentially every area of the page.
  • Carrington: context aware templates, you can create different templates for each element of your page that can change according to user context (I think).
  • Hybrid: plugin awareness, e.g., the theme already has good SEO, but if you have the All in One SEO plugin installed it accommodates it nicely. You can use child themes to customise your site and remain future proof when upgrading your theme.
  • Vanilla: Alister’s own project, which looks to integrate the features of the aforementioned themes, plus add layout flexibility using options (like dropdown page rearrangement), content blocks (as opposed to the rigidity of header, posts, sidebar, footer that we’ve been adhering to) and widgetising those blocks.

I was excited to hear about these themes and this concept of smart themes because I’ve been wondering for a while what is out there and how far themes have come. Obviously I’m very familiar with Thesis, but I wasn’t sure if any others had come close to that.

Pretty early on in the talk I wondered if he would mention Thesis, but I very quickly noticed that all the themes he mentioned were free ones. For that reason I asked what license those themes were under (they’re GPL) and how he hoped to release Vanilla. In the answer to those questions he actually mentioned that he’s used Thesis, so I was at least glad he was aware of the theme. We had a brief chat about Thesis later and why, apart from the GPL issue, Alister doesn’t consider Thesis to be a true base theme. I have further thoughts about it, I might write about them another time, but if you really want to know ask me about it.

I pretty much instigated a debate/discussion about GPL and premium themes and selling products dependent on WordPress. Woops! You can grab some of the Twitter background chat that happened during that by searching for license, GPL and licensing.

Harley Alexander: Versatility of the Loop

Harley Alexander talks about WP_Query (photo by Halans)
Harley Alexander talks about WP_Query (photo by Halans)

I was so excited to hear a techy/geeky talk with some practical examples! Harley is a really talented 15 year old (don’t let his age put you off, he is definitely worth hiring for WordPress work!). I think the whole room was stoked that such a young guy was doing so well and talking to us, and at the same time half (maybe a quarter of) the room was jealous that he seems to know more about WordPress at 15 than they do now! He spoke about WP_Query and query_posts, which is exactly the stuff I have been dealing with for the last week or two, so that was pretty exciting. He gave a great explanation of them and you can find the example he used on his blog, Baffle! inc.

Thanks to all the speakers!

Really, thanks to everyone who spoke. You’re all doing top notch stuff with WordPress and it was excellent to hear about all the different things folks are doing!

You can check out some of the talks from WordCamp AU on vimeo (there’s only one there right now, but more are coming). There’s also a good collection of photos on Flickr and some on Matt Mullenweg’s site.

I think this post is about long enough! Please feel free to ask about other details from the conference or about any of the jargon I might have used.


  1. says

    Thanks for the report about WordCamp! I’m interested in what was said about base themes and why Thesis is not one…just an idea for a future post?

  2. says

    Mike — You’re welcome! Yes, it is an idea for a future post. I think I would need to chat to Alister and maybe Chris about it more though (actually might make an interesting cross-interview type thing), they’ve probably thought about it more than I have, but I also don’t want to run the risk of misrepresenting what Alister was saying, especially since he was almost walking out the door when he was saying it.

    Andrew — Aww, yeah. That was way funny, but the photo was slightly out of focus (shutter speed was 1/20)… okay, I went back and had another look and you can almost fool it in to focus with sharpening. 😛 I’ll post it.

  3. says

    Hey Kristen!

    Great to meet you on the weekend.

    Now, I don’t want to sound critical of Thesis. I have a developer license of it and have used it on my own site for now (australismedia.com).

    Also I built these two sites on it: http://www.twr.org.au and http://www.neomasculinity.com.

    I’m annoyed that I couldn’t stay for Harley’s talk and am going over to his site now to have a look at his example…

    Feel free to contact me if you want to talk further about themes and stuff. Meanwhile, I’ll try and get my butt into gear and get Vanilla closer to some sort of release.



  4. says

    Hey Alister,

    Yep, I tried to sound neutral regarding your thoughts about Thesis. Saying that it’s not a “base theme” is not a criticism in itself. I am interested in exploring the topic further, so I’ll contact you about that when I have a more solid thought pattern about it. :)

    Harley spoke really well, and you’re probably familiar with the concepts, but I know other people there weren’t and it’s really a simple way to bend WordPress to do your bidding. I love it! Maybe if we’re lucky a video will go up.


  5. says

    Ha! Well, Mark Griffin laughed at me, if that counts, but he collects Batman figurines or something like that…

    I’ve been comfortable with my nerdiness for some time. Didn’t you know geek is the new cool? 😉

  6. says

    Thanks for taking such great pictures of the tags — I’ve been pimping their wonderful design (enviro and “user experience”) via links to this post. :-)

  7. says

    pelf, they really were. Normally name tags feel a bit stupid and annoying, but these ones didn’t feel that way once!

    Hey Jeff, my pleasure! Halans took a good photo of his tags, which I was going to use, but then I thought, “Dagnammit, I might as well take my own!” Thanks for the links!

  8. says

    hybrid is a good option for those who wants to play with a free base theme …
    I have made my own child theme with it, and I am planning to release it, if possible ..
    will put it live on my blog after 2.7 is announced :)

  9. says

    omgz no mention of me. srsly kristal, i expected more from u for realz.

    Wuahaha just playing. great to meet u and we’ll terrorize the interwebs on twitter together 😉

  10. says

    Really a great write-up Kristarella. If I weren’t sold on Thesis, I’d for sure be using one of the GPL themes … glad to see all that’s being done with them.

    BTW, there is an error in the link to the Sandbox theme.

  11. says

    Thanks dinu, look forward to seeing your child theme. :) I hope to have a lay with all of these themes, but who knows if I’ll get around to it?!

    Aw, kym — It’s because I didn’t have a photo of you!

    Matt, the tickets were totally cool. Probably as inexpensive as it gets for the coolness, some cardboard and a photocopier. Awesome!

    Cheers Bruce. Yeah, even though I do like thesis I want to check these other ones out. It is a great way to see what people are doing with WordPress and to see what’s possible. Thanks for pointing out the link, it’s fixed now.