WordCamp New York City 2009

November 14–15, 2009
...was awesome!

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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.

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.

Newbie Track Is FULL!

FYI, the Newbie track has sold out, and it’s no longer an option when signing up for tickets.

Miscellaneous Updates

Hi everyone. A bunch of updates:

Name Badges. The name badges are being printed today, so time is up for asking for fixes to company names, twitter IDs, etc. If you provided the wrong information when you signed up, you’ll have to just write over it with a sharpie or something at the event.

Competition. If you submitted a theme or plugin by the end of November 11th, NYC time, with an allowance of an hour for Daylight savings timestamp since we didn’t manually update the settings for standard time, then your submission is being looked over. We’ll get in touch with the finalists on Saturday and let you know that you’ll be on stage on Sunday. If you don’t make the top 3, we’ll let you know that too.

Refunds. If you bought a ticket but can’t make it, we’re sorry, but the site clearly states that tickets are non-refundable and non-transferable. Please consider your ticket a donation to the cause, and catch the sessions on wordpress.tv in a couple of weeks.

Unconference. If you’ve ever been to a BarCamp, you will be familiar with the “wall of sessions” concept. We’ll have the same thing, and people will indicate interest in unconference sessions by marking on the proposal sheets. We’ll allot rooms to the proposals with the most marks. Due to concern that people would miss out on things, we will not do any unconference sessions on Saturday (8 tracks of content should be enough, yeah?), so ALL unconference planning will happen live at the event Saturday, for sessions to occur Sunday morning.

Emails. If you didn’t receive the attendee email yesterday, you probably made an error when you entered your email during signup. If you are listed on the Attendee page, just show up between 8-9, and we’ll steer you in the right direction. If you are not listed on the Attendees page, it could be that your PayPal payment didn’t go through, or that you entered an invalid email address (which would mess up the script generating the Attendees page) (you didn’t think we were updating that by hand, did you?). If you send an email to say you signed up but don’t see yourself on that page, SEND YOUR PAYPAL RECEIPT. Without proof of payment, we can’t look you up. Bear in mind, what seems like an emergency that must be dealt with RIGHT NOW to you, may be lower on the priority list for us, as we have to get many things done today and tomorrow to be ready for Saturday, so please be patient if you don’t get a reply right away because there are other things more crucial to making sure the event happens. If you don’t get any reply, just show up Saturday morning and we’ll figure it out.

WiFi. We have very recently discovered that WiFi at Baruch is not all-encompassing as we thought, but is actually very limited. There will be a WiFi username and password for WordCamp NYC people to use, but there are limited access points and each one only supports 20-45 people surfing the web at a time. In addition, we’ll be sharing these access points with regular classes and other events in the college, so unless you are giving a presentation, don’t count on internet access at the event (presentations will have wired connections). If you have EVDO, bring it. If you have an iPhone, use 3G instead of WiFi. Or be a rebel, and realize that the point of WordCamps is to spend time with people face to face, and leave your laptop at home altogether. You can google them later.

***A repeat warning from the email that went to all attendees yesterday***

The access we do have is very limited. Please do not attempt to stream audio or video or download/upload torrents over the WordCamp NYC WiFi. If you do, and it clogs the network, we will shut down the username and password, and NO ONE will have web access. Please respect your fellow attendees and limit your internet use to light web browsing. Note: You will not be able to send outgoing SMTP mail over the WiFi as all ports are blocked, per Baruch.

Drinks. Just in case you didn’t get the email yesterday or you’re a late sign up, the deal on an afterparty is that there is no afterparty. No official afterparty anyway. All the money is being spent on the actual event. That said, we’ve scoped the local bars (most of which are small), and found one that has enough room for us and will offer WordCamp people the “game night” drink specials from 6-8. So if you want to go out after Saturday’s sessions, it’s not a sponsored event, but we recommend going to Tonic East, on 3rd Ave at E 29th St.

Name Badges

WordCamp NYC name badgeThis is what the WordCamp NYC name badges will look like. What they’ll have:

  • Your name in large enough letters for people to read surreptitiously if they’ve forgotten your name in the 10 minutes you’ve been chatting in the hall.
  • Your gravatar so people can recognize you from your online identity (let’s face it, some people are better with pictures than words).
  • Your company, if you included one when you registered.
  • Your blog/site URL.
  • Your Twitter ID so people can follow you right away when they meet you.
  • How long you’ve been using WordPress.
  • Which track you’re attending.

So as you can see, if you don’t have a gravatar, your name badge will not be very pretty, because it will have a default “mystery man” icon, and if any of the fields are too long, they’ll print on top of each other.

Please take a minute to go to the attendees page and find your name. If you don’t have a picture, please go to Gravatar and upload a photo to associate with the email address you used to register. Look at the company name printed below your name. If it is more than one line and wraps, it will do that on your name badge, too. To be safe, your company name should be 25 characters or less. If you need to shorten yours, send your updates to jane at wordcamp dot org. People whose company names are too long may find they’ve been abbreviated to fit. If you didn’t provide a company name, URL or twitter ID when you registered, that space will be blank on your badge, and you can write in whatever you like.

Are you psyched?! Three more days!

Deadline Extended for Plugin/Theme Competition

We’re shocked. Really, we thought people would be crawling out of the woodwork to have Matt Mullenweg, Mark Jaquith and Brian Gardner review their plugin and theme submissions. We thought people would be trying really hard to be in the top three to get a chance to present their work onstage in front of the entire WordCamp NYC audience. And we really thought people would enter b/c the winners will be announced on the WordPress.org development blog, which gets millions of views.

But there was only 1 theme submission and a couple of plugins. Come on, where’s your competitive spirit?

In the interest of making the theme/plugin judging portion of the Sunday program more interesting, we’re extending the deadline for submissions to November 11. You have three more days to finish a theme or plugin per the contest rules.

Have the mad coding skills, but no ideas? Fine, here are a few ideas you are free to borrow:
Theme Ideas

  • Travelogue theme. Use custom fields for things like where you stayed, who you met, where you ate, photo galleries, etc.
  • Resume theme. Create a nice resume theme that fits an overview on one page and links to different templates for personal profile, educational experience, specific job descriptions, portfolio.
  • BuddyPress theme for a regular membership-based group site. Make it look like a regular web site, not like a social network, while still making it clear that the members of the group can use use these features to communicate with each other. Examples: a church site with blogs for various interest groups, a company employee site, an alumni network, a neighborhood site, a babysitting club.
  • Videoblog theme. Display one video per day with author intro post and video transcript, with separate directory section to browse all videos by date, title, tag, category, etc.
  • Gallery theme. Work some magic for displaying groups of photos or images.

Plugin Ideas

  • Update the QuickPress module on dashboard to be configurable so user can choose which elements to include (title, post, tag, category, media files, sticky post status, etc.)
  • Change the way the results are displayed when searching for plugins from the admin, so that the name of the plugin does not link to an external site, but instead brings in the information about that plugin from the repo.
  • Create a customizable twitter widget that can display @name and #topic updates mingled in one thread.
  • Anything you can think of around comments, stats, etc.

Okay, so, creative juices flowing? If we don’t get at least 3 eligible entries for themes and 3 for plugins, we’ll pick the top 2 themes and top 2 plugins for judging instead.

Get cracking, only 3 days left to enter!

Calling all geniuses

With WordCamp NYC 2009 only a week away, it’s time to round up the WordPress geniuses.

Since the genius bar at WordCamp San Francisco was such a great success the past 2 years, we have decided to bring the show on the road! This year, WordPress geniuses will be available at WordCamp NYC from 9 AM – 5 PM on Saturday. Thanks to the generosity of Baruch College, we should have a great space this year for question answering. The idea behind the genius bar is a place where you can come to ask your toughest (or easy) questions to members of the WordPress community and get great answers. Whether you are having a problem with your WordPress theme or want to know the best place to find a new one, have a question about a plugin or two, or just want to know the best way to get started with WordPress – we are there to help! This year, I would like to put a special emphasis on WordPress upgrades.

Do you have a WordPress blog not running 2.8.5 and need help upgrading?

Come to the genius bar and let us help you! We will show you the best way to backup your blog, upload your files, and install the latest and greatest version of WordPress. If your blog is running a version older than 2.0 you get bonus points!

* If you do want us to help you upgrade your blog, you will need to know the username and password to access your hosting account via FTP, SFTP, control panel, or whatever you use to edit your website files, so please bring that information with you.

Providing all of this help isn’t easy, so we are putting out a call for volunteers! If you would like to help WordCampers with their WordPress blogs and are attending WordCamp NYC, please consider volunteering an hour or two to work at the genius bar. We already have a great group of folks who have volunteered, but are in need of more. If you are interested in volunteering at the genius bar, please contact me and let me know what time slot you are interested in, and I will put together a schedule later in the week.

Again, the genius bar will be open from 9AM to 5PM on Saturday only, but I’m sure there will be people around on Sunday as well to answer questions in an informal, ad-hoc manner.

Accessibility Update: Thanks Again, Microsoft!

You may remember that a while back we were very excited to have secured the donated services of a CART provider to enable a deaf attendee to experience WordCamp NYC in person. Sadly, that donation fell through and we had to start our search again. I’m very happy to announce that we’ve got a new plan in place now, and that a new sponsor will be picking up the costs: Microsoft to the rescue again!

When we were unable to find another CART provider to donate services to the event as a sponsor, we decided the best course of action would be to simply hire a local provider and find a sponsor to cover the costs (around $1600). As Microsoft had already decided to become a sponsor of WordCamp NYC, it made sense to work with them around sponsoring accessibility, especially given their own extensive work in this area. Their position:

Microsoft Accessibility logoAccessibility makes it easier for anyone to see, hear, and use a computer, and to personalize their computer to meet their own needs and preferences. For many people with impairments, accessibility is what makes computer use possible. At Microsoft, our mission is to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential. We consider our mission statement a promise to our customers. We deliver on that promise by striving to create technology that is accessible to everyone—regardless of age or ability. Microsoft leads the industry in accessibility innovation and in building products that are safer and easier to use.

When people think of disabilities or accessibility, it usually summons images of wheelchairs or references to screen readers. However, there are a number of disabilities that require accommodation to ensure accessibility, including hearing disabilities. According to the National Center for Health Statistics of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 34 million Americans have a significant hearing loss; of these almost six million are profoundly deaf (current U.S. population is estimated at 304,059,724, so that’s about eleven percent with significant hearing loss, and just under two percent with profound deafness). Within the web community, the numbers are a bit higher, possibly owing to how much computers have helped the deaf to communicate with the broader population. According to Microsoft’s Accessibility division, among adult computer users in the United States:

  • 1 in 4 has a vision difficulty
  • 1 in 4 has a dexterity difficulty
  • 1 in 5 has a hearing difficulty

Hearing difficulties can range from slight hearing loss to total deafness. We have only one deaf attendee in need of assistive technology services at our WordCamp, but clearly hearing disabilities need to be considered, especially with the proliferation of video and audio content on the web (to be accessible, information must be delivered visually as well, such as with transcripts).

Please join me in thanking Microsoft for their commitment to accessibility and for sponsoring assistive services for WordCamp NYC. Thanks, Microsoft!

Footnote: Yes, we will have a deaf attendee who will be accompanied to sessions by a transcriptionist. Because the live  transcription process requires special equipment, I’d like to make certain that our deaf attendee and her transcribers can get a seat in each session attended. So if you see two women looking around a crowded room holding computers and trying to find a seat, please consider offering yours if you’re able to stand or cop a squat on the floor. Thanks!

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