WordCamp New York City 2009

November 14–15, 2009
...was awesome!


WordCampNYC Finances (or, Ode to WordCamp Organizers)

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the amazing news: WordCampNYC was able to donate $28,069.25 to the newly formed WordPress Foundation! In hindsight, this is quite remarkable, considering we were in the red, at least on paper, for most of last year. Planning a WordCamp is incredibly hard work, and equally rewarding, but when you’re responsible for the money, your stress level can really rocket.

When I first took over WordCampNYC at the beginning of 2009, I consulted my lawyer about taking on responsibility for such an event. He recommended that to protect my company and family from any legal issues stemming from a public event, I should create a separate DBA for WordCampNYC against my own company, SlipFire. Though this protected me, it also left me open to a new issue: my company would be responsible for any unpaid expenses.

Back in the planning stages, we tossed around a few different venues. Our original spot, which held fewer than 200 people, didn’t cause me to lose much sleep. I could handle those expenses if necessary. Even our second venue option, which housed a slightly larger capacity, still let me sleep. Once Jane came on board, she really believed we could set an attendee record with WordCampNYC if we could just find the space… I mean this is the greatest city in the world,right!? So when Baruch’s 1,000+ venue came through, I jumped up and down in delight, but also found myself staring at the ceiling long after my wife and daughter had said good night. A 1,000 person event! That’s a lot of money!

You see, I have never planned an event of this size, and honestly, had no idea how to budget it. And how could I, knowing that the much of the money needed was to come from sponsors, and not many sponsors were, well… sponsoring. When you have 70+ speakers and volunteers working for gratis, you start out $2,500 in the hole. And when attendees started registering like crazy, it really was a double-edged sword. While registration was beginning to reflect the fruits of our labor, and the hype was building, my little budget spreadsheet was blinking red with every registration. I was laying out money for shirts, bags and food, and the sponsors weren’t showing up.

Now, if you add up the numbers, and divide by the number of attendees, believe it or not, the $35 a head we were charging actually covered most of our costs, but we didn’t know that at the time. We were also lucky since we received the venue as a donation, and got a really great deal on food.

To make things a little bit tougher, two weeks before the event, I noticed PayPal wouldn’t let me transfer money out of our account. They had locked us up because of the influx of registration payments. We went from $0 to $15,000 very quickly and they thought we were a scam website. The scam part got cleared up quickly, but they still wanted to hold $12,000 for 30 days AFTER WordCampNYC in case there were refund requests. I was able to talk them down to $5,000, but still, that’s a lot of money when you have limited funds to work with. As it turns out, no one asked for a refund and we were able to get the $5,000 back in the middle of December.

These details are all to say: yes, WordCamps are a serious undertaking. And also a labor of love. And labor it was.  But if you found yourself skimming above, here is the Reader’s Digest version of what it takes to run a 700 person event. This list is by no means conclusive or definitive, but should help would-be organizers nonetheless:

Event Insurance: I wouldn’t hold an event without it, and neither should you:

  • Event Liability Insurance: $550

Food: Breakfast and lunch for one day. Organizer tip: find a place that will pick up extra food and donate it. Make sure to contact them a few weeks before your event.

  • Breakfast: $970
  • Coffee: Donated
  • Tea: $520
  • Lunch: $3,600

T-Shirts and Bags: I must say, Jane did an excellent job with the t-shirts and bags. WordCampNYC has one of the coolest shirts around, and a great bag to match.

  • $9,400 for both shirts and bags. Shirts were long sleeve.

Gift Cards: What’s a WordCamp without speakers and volunteers? And WordCampNYC had the best of both, so we sent them Amazon Giftcards as a token of our gratitude.

  • Gift Cards: $3,500

Misc: Other stuff you may forget to budget for:

  • PayPal fees
  • Food for volunteers during pre-event activities (folding shirts, packing bags, etc)
  • Food for pre-event party
  • Special Services
  • Office Supplies
  • Cabs
  • Parking (when using car to move supplies)

Additionally, I want to provide some general tips for Organizers:

  • Plan early.
  • Don’t do it yourself: WordCampNYC had two organizers. If you can find more, I highly recommend it.
  • Rally Volunteers: Without them you will not have a successful event.
  • Venue: If you can’t find the right location keep looking, and don’t despair (easy for me to say, now). We didn’t sign up Baruch as the venue sponsor until five weeks before the event.
  • PayPal: If you will be using PayPal, my understanding is that unless your event has a history with them, they will probably want to hold on to some money until after it’s over. You might want to call them first.
  • Sponsors: Large corporate sponsors don’t just write checks. Paper work needs to be filled out, and approvals need to be signed off. One of our largest checks didn’t clear until after WordCampNYC had ended.
  • Get event insurance.
  • You may have to layout some money in the beginning, or at least ask vendors for terms.
  • Be on the lookout for “WordCamp in a Box”. We spent over $300 on supplies (pens, markers, clipboards, tape, extension cords, etc) and had a lot left over. I gave the box to John Eckman who organized WordCamp Boston, with the request that he pass it to another WordCamp when he’s done.

Tip for Sponsors:

If you’re planning on becoming a WordCamp sponsor, why not do it early in the process? You already know that WordCamps rock, and you’re reaching a targeted audience, so why not invest early? Help out the community and you too shall benefit. Our first sponsor wrote us a check a week after I announced I was taking over WordCampNYC in January 2009. That sponsor was on our website for almost a year, and benefited greatly from the exposure. As a sponsor, getting into the schwag bag is great, but having your logo and link on the official website for months is pretty awesome as well. You want link juice? The WordCampNYC home page is still a pagerank 7, and the sponsor page is a pagerank 6… two months after the event. And for the two months prior to WordCamp, September and October, we had 25,000 pageviews (57,000 in November). Not bad, huh? Plus, you’ll feel good knowing the organizers are getting their zzz’s.

So why did I write this ridiculously long post?

Well, when I realized we were going to have a surplus, I thought back on the the stress I felt when the bills were piling up, and thought maybe we could help other WordCamp Organizers. I remembered reading about WordCamp Portland donating to WordCamp Seattle and mentioned it to Jane. She loved the idea, and immediately thought that the WordPress Foundation would be the right vehicle to distribute these funds.

This post is dedicated to all the WordCamp organizers around the world. I salute you, and hope our contribution to the WordPress Foundation let’s you sleep a little better.

Show Me the Money!

WordCamps take a lot of effort to produce, and NYC was no exception. With 8 content tracks, around 60 speakers and over 700 attendees, I think everyone who came was aware of how big an effort it was to produce WordCamp NYC. We were pretty happy with the event, though there are always things you learn along the way that you think, “I’ll do that different next time.” One of these things is planning around money.

Next time? Earlier deadline for sponsor payment delivery. Why? This year, one major sponsor payment came too late for us to cash their check and use for the event, and the largest sponsor payment actually arrived after the event. Add that to the way PayPal froze a sizable chunk of our account to cover possible refund requests for 30 days, and there were tens of thousands of dollars that we’d intended to spend that we didn’t have. It all worked out fine, of course, and we were able to cover our basic expenses, but we did cut things due to fear of not having the cash.

So then what? PayPal unfroze, those sponsor payments cleared, and come December, we had those tens of thousands of dollars at our disposal. It would have been nice to hang on to the money for next year’s event, but for tax reasons we needed to get rid of the money before the end of the year.

We were very grateful to Baruch College, and specifically the Bernard I. Schwartz Communications Institute, for hosting the event, and for picking up costs like security and janitorial service when we were short of funds. To say thank you, we donated $5,000 to Baruch, earmarked for the Institute. Thanks again, Baruch!

For the rest of the money, we thought it would be good if we could help fund other WordCamps, but then it seemed like it might be weird… what would make one WordCamp more worthy than another? And would there be an IRS-approved paper trail? Since I knew the WordPress Foundation was very close to being born, we worked with Matt Mullenweg to determine if the Foundation might be a good place to donate our surplus. We thought maybe then the Foundation could use it to make grants to WordCamps that came up short of cash, or act as a guarantor if promised sponsor funds hadn’t arrived in time. I don’t know if that will happen, or if we’ll go with something more specific toward the Foundation’s mission of education, but there are lots of ideas being considered. One promising idea is to sponsor video streaming/recording of WordCamp sessions, one the things we weren’t able to do because we didn’t have the money to pay for it.

You might be thinking, “Sure, Jane, that sounds great, but let’s face it, how many things can you fund with a few thousand bucks?” Well, you’re right, a couple thousand bucks doesn’t go very far in this economy. But almost thirty thousand dollars does.

Ha! That’s right, WordCamp NYC donated $28,069.25 to the WordPress Foundation with the request that the funds be used to expand the reach of WordCamps worldwide. That’s right:


You already knew WordCamp NYC was awesome, but you just fell in love with it a little bit more, didn’t you? (You can admit it. We won’t laugh.)

So, to sum up: Thanks to all our sponsors, volunteers and attendees for making WordCamp NYC a fantastic weekend in November. And thanks to the circumstances in the universe that seemed like bad luck at the time, but have enabled us to make even more of an impact in the larger WordPress/WordCamp community. And now, WordPress Foundation, go spend our money and make us proud!

Final Shirts

Hey everyone. Sorry this took so long, I got sidetracked by a car wreck and the flu. Shirts! While most people got their WordCampNYC shirts at the event, there were a few people who did not because we ran out of their size. If you were one of these people, please email me today so I can get a count and place one last shirt order for the two sizes we ran out of.

Note: I know about how many we were short, so if I get 300 emails asking for shirts, that’s not going to fly. It will also be suspicious if you request a shirt size that we didn’t run out of, which is most of them. If you got a shirt, please do not email and try to get another one. If you were a walk-in attendee, please mention that in your email, as I’ll have to check a different location for proof of your registration.

Email me at jane/wordcamp/org asap, since we want to place the order before Dec 31 for tax reasons.

P.S. Let me know if you got a bag, too. If you got a shirt but not a bag, email and tell me that. We weren’t planning to print more bags, since those were a bonus and not something we offered with the cost of registration like the shirts, but I found a couple of extras, so depending on how many people ask for them, we’ll see.

Lightning Round Speakers

A few people have asked that I publish the names of the lightning round speakers from Sunday afternoon at mason Hall. I guess they were a little too lightning fast when they introduced themselves! Here’s the list:

Round 1
Andy Peatling: Intro to BuddyPress
John Hawkins: Canonical Plugins
Lin Chen: Harvard Gazette (CMS Use)
Jeremy Clarke: Using IDE
Scott Kingsley Clark: Complex Content Types/Pods Plugin
-Also, “WordPress as CMS” song

Round 2
Jim Doran: jQuery and Themes
Ted Mann: Hyperlocal Journalism with BuddyPress
Daisy Olsen: Making a Child Theme in 4 Minutes or Less
Daryl Koopersmith: Intro to Elastic Theme Framework and WYSIWYG Child Theme Generator
Brad Williams: WP Security
Beau Lebens: Intense Debate Plugin

Round 3
Stephane Daury: My Favorite Feature (Press This)
Raphael Mudge: After the Deadline
Andrea Rennick: WordPress MU
Mushon Zer-Aviv: Open Source Design
Noel Jackson: Advanced Theme Development (P2)

Fifty Sites, Ten Months, One WordPress CMS

Photo of Jamie Trowbridge

Jamie Trowbridge

Want to find out how to take WordPress beyond blogging and use it to publish a full-fledged, media-rich website?

Dan Goldman and Jamie Trowbridge discussed how WNET.ORG (Channel Thirteen in NYC) and Tierra Innovation, a leading strategy, design and technology firm based in NYC, collaborated to customize WordPress Multi-User as a CMS for WNET.ORG’s network of high-traffic websites. This groundbreaking project helped WNET.ORG to cut costs, streamline their Web publishing process and improve the user experience across their network of sites. Before the new CMS, WNET.ORG could only launch 1-2 sites per month. Now, they have the capability of rolling out 5-10 sites per month for a fraction of the cost.

Our newly launched Tierra WordPress CMS Toolkit site offers the best of the plugins (all FREE and more coming soon!) that we developed for WNET.ORG, examples of live sites, plus developer services and support; check it out and let us know what you think! The slides from Dan and Jamie’s WordCamp presentation and a one-sheet overview about the Toolkit are also posted on the site.

Editor’s Note from Jane: Thanks again to Tierra Innovation for their Bronze Sponsorhip of WordCamp NYC!

Theme/Plugin Competition Finalists

These teams will be on stage at Mason Hall today to get their entries judged:

1. A fork of the Thematic Framework (by Ian Stewart) and an original child theme.
– Daisy Olsen http://wpmama.com/ (Metro NYC)
– Ron Rennick http://ronandandrea.com/ (New Brunswick, Canada)

2. Italic Smile. This theme helps travelers or photographers easily create a site to share their journey.
http://italicsmile.com (with theme test data)
– Jake Snyder http://labs.jcow.com/ (NYC Resident)
– Tim Bowen http://CreativeSlice.com/ (Tucson, AZ)

1. WP Manage Plugins. An easy way to give you more control over the plugins section of WordPress.
– Matt Martz: http://sivel.net (Baltimore, MD)
– Brad Williams: http://webdevstudios.com (Metro NYC)
– Brian Messenlehner: http://webdevstudios.com (Metro NYC)
– Scott Basgaard: http://webdevstudios.com (Metro NYC)

2. Badge Grab. This plugin is designed to make it easier for bloggers to offer image link code that other bloggers and websites can place on their own sites to link back.
– Daisy Olsen: http://wpmama.com (Metro NYC)
– Lisa Boyd: http://www.lisaboyd.com/ (North Carolina)

3. We’ve created a plugin that attempts to spur conversations. This plugin allows you to prompt your readers to comment by asking them to answer a question specific to that post.
– Brandon Dove: http://www.think-press.com/ (Tustin, CA)
– Jeffrey Zinn: http://www.think-press.com/ (Huntington Beach, CA)
– Andrew Christian: http://www.pharmcountry.net/ (NYC, NY)
– John Hawkins: http://www.johnhawkinsunrated.com/ (Las Vegas, NV)

Finalists, be at Mason Hall (17 Lexington Ave, at E 23rd St) stage at 12:45.

Vote for your favorites!

We have a chunk of time tomorrow at Mason Hall for lightning sessions from today’s most popular speakers. Want to nominate a speaker you thought was awesome, or one you were super sad to have missed? Let us know in the comments who you want to see tomorrow.

Writing secure plugins

Photo of Mark Jaquith

Mark Jaquith

WordPress plugins are infinitely powerful. This power makes WordPress great, but it also gives plugin developers the ability to shoot themselves (and the users of their plugins) in the foot. This technical and code-heavy presentation will teach plugin developers the skills they need to write plugins that will never be a security liability to their clients and users.

You’ll learn the functions to use, when to use them, attitudes and best practices to avoid security holes, as well as explanations of why they are holes — which will hopefully help hone your sense of skepticism so that you can stay ahead of the curve and start protecting against tomorrow’s attack vectors. I will also be holding an unconference workshop session on plugin security where we can go through your plugin code and identify problem areas. I normally charge lawyerly rates for this kind of code review — you should definitely take advantage! I’ll announce the time and place of that workshop session during the main security talk session, which is at 1:30pm on Saturday.

Using WordPress as a Research Blog

Photo of Jeremy Boggs

Jeremy Boggs

In October, I attended the Digital Humanities API workshop at the University of Western Ontario. Almost all the workshop attendees generally agreed that, for any scholars to work with APIs and web services in general, we needed to create tools that make it easier to work with those service. It’s not enough to just create an API for a project; we also need to offer examples, provide working code that’s easy to customize for specific purposes. This is particularly true, I think, if we want to use blogs as a more serious and useful medium for sharing research. In addition to common reservations about sharing ongoing research among academics, there is also a very real technological barrier for most researchers who simply want to, say, add a citation to a blog post from their Zotero or Connotea library, or insert a bibliography they’ve already created somewhere else. Its even more difficult for the average researcher to set up mechanisms for returning relevant information while writing a paper or blog post or online article.

To use weblogs to share research, we need solutions to fully integrate the collecting/sorting/note-taking aspects of researching with the writing and disseminating aspects. We need to provide the tools to researchers to bring their citations, annotations, starred items, tagged items, et cetera, into their writing spaces. In doing this, we can make the process of research more transparent and participatory. The result would be in some ways akin to Jim Groom’s idea for “a domain of one’s own,” a place where researchers of any level (high school freshman to emeritus university professors) could establish a digital identity around their work, collaborate with other researchers, and more generally make meaningful use out of the stuff already collected. We can make it possible for any researcher to create their own online workspace, an atelier that contains all the things they have collected, from whatever services and APIs, in order to critically reflect on them and create something new out of them.

I think WordPress provides a fantastic platform to accomplish many of these goals, and I’m excited to present these ideas at WordCamp! I plan on talking for about 10-15 minutes, which will generally:

  • Reflect on the research process, specifically the role of current web service in research.
  • Discuss what is needed to better integrate weblogs into the research process, and the benefits for doing so.
  • Elaborate on some potential solutions, and provide some previews for my next ScholarPress plugin, tentatively called Atelier.

What I’m most looking forward to, though, is talking with the audience! Like most academics, I could probably drone on for hours about this topic, but I’m planning to leave the last 15 minutes for discussion. Feel free to leave questions or comments here, or send me a message on Twitter @clioweb.

EDUCHUDS: the Gentrification of Web-Based Education

Photo of Jim Groom

Jim Groom

Given that web-based education has been dominated by proprietary software companies through more generalized visions of the horror of the open web, this presentation will use clips from such NYC film classics as The Warriors, Escape from New York, Image of CHUD PosterC.H.U.D., Fort Apache, the Bronx, and several others to illustrate how the insidious process of corporate gentrification in educational technology is orchestrated through a logic of fear. What will be traced throughout this presentation are the shadowy contours of a global conspiracy against the socialist ideals at work in open source communities, which are increasingly being watered down by the iron fangs of capital. And believe you me, those protracted canines are ever-poised to pierce the neck of any attempt to re-imagine the digital landscape of education outside the profit motive we are slaves to. In effect, I will argue that there is a C.H.U.D. under every institutional sewer cap, and they’ll devour more than your puppies—they want your soul!

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