Software Development
Events / Web development

1 in 5 of the biggest websites online use WordPress: WordCamp Philly

The annual conference for developers in the popular open source content management system has grown alongside Wordpress itself. "[In 2006] it was blogging software," said one organizer. Now "You can build anything in WordPress."

WordPress for Dummies writer Lisa Sabin-Wilson in a Cat in the Hat costume during WordCamp Philly. (Photo for Philly)

Nearly one in five of the web’s million biggest sites run on WordPress software and the development community that supports the open source platform continues to push for its usage beyond its blogging roots.

So says Brad Williams, coorganizer of the third annual WordCamp Philly held again this past weekend, of that global web publishing trend that seeps into local meetups. (This site uses WordPress.)

Like in year’s passed, the October timing of the day-and-a-half convention showed featured speakers in Halloween costumes. But the big conversations were on the trends.

Dre Armeda, from web security firm Sucuri, traveled from San Francisco to facilitate a panel on WordPress security.

Williams, 32, now a resident from Glenside, moved to the Philadelphia area a few years ago from Indiana. The Oakland Raiders’ fan and co-organizer of WordCamp Philly, strutted around in a Green Bay Packers’ jersey and a pink tutu after losing a bet to WordPress for Dummies writer Lisa Sabin-Wilson.

Wilson, on the other hand, preferred a more studious look as she dressed in Cat in the Hat attire.

A day full of laughter was accompanied by serious conversations and networking opportunities among the 400 attendees, who varied in having limited prior knowledge of WordPress to being able to develop custom plugins.

WordPress tracks, including users, power users, developers and designers, were facilitated by 37 speakers throughout the eight-hour event on Saturday in Temple University’s Alter Hall. On Sunday, participants relocated to the Quorum in University City for a less-structured developer day, open for all to work on the core of WordPress software.

“We really try to hit every hot topic that we can,” Williams said. “I think we came up with a really good, solid list of speakers this year.”

Williams, who started using WordPress in 2006, is co-founder of Philly’s WordPress Meetup Group, along with Doug Stewart. The local meetup, which has more than 800 members now, meets once a month for hour-long presentations and discussions to talk about the evolving tracks of WordPress.

“[The WordPress meetup] has been really fun,” Williams said. “It’s been active, it’s a good group of people. And that’s also one of the reasons why we’re doing WordCamp Philly, which is pretty much like that, but obviously on a much larger scale.”

Williams said he has seen WordPress change drastically since he first starting using it, giving relative meaning to events like WordCamp Philly.

“[In 2006] it was blogging software,” Williams said. “If you wanted to blog, you used something like WordPress. Now it’s really trying to shed that blogging tag because it’s much more than that. You can build anything in WordPress.”

Williams said he also has seen a major change in the usage of WordPress. Williams attributed Matt Mullenweg, co-founding developer of WordPress, who announced in August at the State of the Word address in San Francisco that WordPress is running 16.7 percent of the Web’s most trafficked million sites.

“[That’s] a pretty huge number,” Williams said. “It’s the most used open-source content management software there is, by far…The amount of people using it really blows my mind when I sit down and think about it.”

Williams also noted a change in trends related to WordPress features.

More people now are trying to bring their communities into their website, rather than pushing viewers to other places, like Facebook, he said. This is where BuddyPress, which is basically a social network in a box on a WordPress page, comes in handy.

Williams also noticed that people now use WordPress as a means to store data.

“Twitter’s great but who owns that? Where does it go? What happens if Twitter shuts down one day and I want an archive of my tweets? They’re gone,” Williams said. “I don’t own that data, I don’t have copies of it. So a lot of people are using WordPress not only as a publishing platform but also as a way to back up their archives.”

Brad Williams, co-coordinator of WordCamp Philly, discussed WordPress security issues in a Green Bay Packers jersey and pink tutu.

Wilson, 44, who traveled from Milwaukee for the WordPress Philly event, said she started using WordPress in 2003, after years of teaching herself how to do web design. After being discovered three years later by an editor from Wiley Publishing at a South by Southwest event in Austin, she began writing her first of three WordPress for Dummies books.

Wilson often talks at WordCamp events, and named Philly as her 13th WordCamp of the year. Last year Wilson spoke at WordCamp Philly about the multisite feature on WordPress. This year, she spoke about WordPress themes.

“I speak about different topics,” she said. “I like to change it up to keep it fresh and interesting, and so I don’t get bored. Things like dressing up like Cat in the Hat helps, too.”

Wilson said WordPress puts out a new edition or new upgrade to the software roughly every 120 days. Sometimes the changes are subtle and focus on improving the user experience of the software, she said. But the biggest change Wilson said she’s seen in WordPress throughout the last year is the different available content types.

“It used to be just pages and posts that you could write with WordPress, but now there are these items called custom post types that allow the user to define different types of content,” Wilson said. “[Now] you can start writing things like recipes and format it out in a true recipe fashion or different reviews. The possibilities are endless with the flexibility that we have now with WordPress, and that’s really exciting.”

Joe Casabona, 27, a freelance web developer and author of Building WordPress Themes from Scratch, ventured from the Scranton area to speak at WordCamp Philly about theme frameworks.

The WordPress user of eight years found Saturday’s event beneficial for his personal gain in the industry.

“I went to a bunch of great talks today and then the networking opportunities are fantastic,” Casabona said. “I met a lot of people who I only really follow on Twitter, which is cool, and a bunch of people who have read some of my tutorials and stuff like that.”

People: Brad Williams / Lisa Sabin-Wilson
Projects: Philadelphia Neighborhoods / WordCamp Philly

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