WordCamp Pune 2015 – My Experiences

The single-day-long WordCamp Pune 2015 was held on the 6th of September, and here is my ‘Dear Diary’ account of the power-packed event.

The Chaos Theory

Just a couple of weeks earlier, WordCamp Deputy Aditya Kane, the guy in charge of approving WordCamps in this region, had this to say about Twitter chats on WordPress:

I had an inkling some chaos would show up in this event too, and it sure did!

First, finding the exact location of the venue within the large college campus was disorienting in the absence of signboards at the gates. And when I did discover the slow registration queue, I joined scores of other attendees basking in the sun.

wordcamp
Attendees queuing up for registration. Source: http://pune.wordcamp.org/2015

You could be forgiven for thinking our nerves were frayed and the attendees’ enthusiasm dampened, but you’d be completely mistaken.

We waited outside the venue on a sunny morning, but that would melt none of our enthusiasm.
We had to wait outside the venue at Modern College, Pune on a sunny morning, but that melted none of our enthusiasm.

The first-time organizers lead by Saurabh Shukla had painstakingly detailed what you must expect from this event, and how they were preparing for it — we all gave our full backing to them! From making this a fully eco-friendly event, to carrying out speaker workshops to donating tickets to the underprivileged, the highly positive buzz was on for months.

Once we managed to get into the main auditorium of the venue, Saurabh maintained everyone’s high spirits with his razor sharp wit during the intro talk, which concluded with a felicitation of the key speakers: Topher DeRosia, Mahangu Weerasinghe, Raghavendra Peri and Harish Iyer.

Designing Useful Websites

It was tough to decide which session to attend, with ongoing parallel tracks. I chose my first session with Jitesh Patil, who took us on a back-to-basics exercise reminding us to create useful and helpful sites, and not just glitzy user interfaces.

An example he mentioned was Craiglist, which is wildly popular in the US due to its helpfulness, in spite of having the worst of user interfaces.

Some more key points of this talk were:

  1. Get your customers to know, like and trust you.
  2. Provide price comparisons, details on processes, maintenance, legal matters and best practices.
  3. On your About page, do not talk about how awesome  YOU are, instead talk about your customers and how you’ve helped them succeed.
  4. On your Contact Info page, do not write just your address or place a contact form. Instead, give precise directions on how you can be reached.  Provide lots of pictures of your location too.

Contributing to WordPress

The next talk I attended was by Andy Christian.

He explained how WordPress enthusiasts can contribute code for the core software, help with design enhancements, provide translations and documentation for WordPress, among many other things, using the relevant links at make.wordpress.org.

Andy further talked about the need for photography and videography skills that would be useful for events on WordPress. Also, contributors can prepare transcripts of talks published on WordPress.tv.

Before contributing, we must ensure our work is 100% GPL compliant and honors WordPress and related trademarks.

Inspiring People through the HeroPress platform

After a wonderful lunch of sandwiches and modaks (here’s how to make them) the next session I attended was a touching speech by Topher DeRosia about his quest to build HeroPress as a means to spread inspiring stories about how WordPress has changed lives of people around the world.

Topher says you need to think smaller when it comes to dealing with problem. Often, the person with a problem can be helped by someone with the solution not far away from him.

At the core of HeroPress is the belief: “Everyone can be a hero to someone and everyone should be a hero to themselves.”

Backed by this thought, people have contributed essays about how WordPress came to be a turning point in their lives. The latest inspiring story on HeroPress was that of Sheeba, one of the organizers of WordCamp Pune 2015. There’s much more to read, including Samer Bechara’s rocky journey to becoming a reputable WordPress developer.

On Disrupting an Old, Colonial-style Education System

Mahangu Weerasinghe’s talk was the next one for me. He belongs to the club of advocates calling for a sea change in the education system in South Asia, which is a remnant of the colonial era which sought to create subservient clerks instead of out-of-the-box thinkers.

Mahangu believes in democratizing education just like WordPress has democratized publishing. Very soon into his speech, he reminded us we are living in era where information is abundant, and the several-centuries-old style of pushing instructions down school students’ throats is no longer relevant anymore.

Grade 1 to 12, he says, are marked by upwards of 30 students per classroom, overworked teachers and excessive exam focus. Finally, after a student’s university education, he is labelled “unemployable” and considering lacking in confidence.

As a measure to bring about change, Mahangu calls for:

  1. Targeting teachers with your product ideas, rather than schools’ administrative bosses
  2. Scaling both ways — this includes ensuring your tools work in a webless environment.
  3. Focusing on localization — speakers of English in India  make up just 12% of the population.

The complete slideshow is here.

Running a Multi-Author Blog

Irrepressible technology blogger and owner of Trak.in, Arun Prabhudesai, spoke about managing multi-author blogs, referring back to his experience of getting millions of hits every month on his flagship blog.

Here’s a list of helpful plugins Arun mentioned to help run multi-author blogs:

  1. EditFLow
  2. Capability Manager Enhanced
  3. Revisionary
  4. Co-author Plus
  5. Post forking
  6. Adminimize
  7. Multi-author AdSense
  8. WP User Frontend
  9. Scheduling Calendar

Arun advised looking for the best motivating factors to retain authors.

Panel Discussions

A panel comprising of Pune’s leading WordPress businessmen and programmers arrived on stage to discuss the ups and downs associated with WordPress careers and businesses.

Another panel which included the lead organizer and Andy Christian discussed about how to organize a WordCamp in your city.

Conclusion

WordCamps are supposed to be a great benefit for anyone using WordPress in their lives, from coders to social workers, and WordCamp Pune 2015 has successfully preserved that reputation.

I haven’t been able to (and can’t) capture everything that was said at the event, but fortunately, all videos are going to be up on YouTube after processing. Some of them will make it to WordPress.TV as well. I’ll share those links as soon as they’re published.

The organizers did a great job setting the right trend by steering India’s WordCamps from the more gimmicky to events of real substance. Many thanks to the team for pulling this off!

Further Reading:

  1. Topher’s account of his experiences at WordCamp Pune 2015.
  2. Aditya Kane writes about his feelings at the event.
  3. A perspective on the WordPress community in India, by Saurabh Shukla.

WordCamp Pune 2013: ‘The best WordCamp so far in India’

If I’m asked to choose one word to describe the recently concluded WordCamp Pune 2013, I’d pick ‘enriching’.

It was the second time I’d been to a WordCamp, the first one being Cuttack last year, where I spoke about my blogging journey.

A couple of key speakers at the event aptly dubbed this the ‘best ever so far’ in India. Majority of the speeches had more substance than platitudes.

In this article, I’m going to try and capture the most significant happenings of the 2-day event.

Day 1

The first day’s sessions were aimed at developers. It began with King Sidharth talking about the need for responsive designs.

This is his slideshow:
Savita Soni talked about the power of WP_Query. Below is the complete slideshow: I found Saurabh Shukla’s talk the most inspiring. He described his journey towards building plugins for WordPress. Saurabh later pointed out that there are few WordPress plugin developers in India, and that he hoped to motivate his listeners to take up the practice. Here’s the complete slideshow titled Developing open source WordPress plugins: The art, science and Zen (fonts are bit messed up):   Gaurav Singh spoke about WordPress security, a subject which was dealt with again the next day by Rohit Srivastwa. This is his slideshow:   Aniket Pant talked about Metaboxes:

Thinking of getting your theme into the WordPress theme respository? Take a look at Nisha Singh’s presentation:

Vireendra Tikhe presented his views with a presentation titled “Responsive and Responsible Themes” :

Day 2:

The second day was aimed at bloggers and marketers.

It began with Arun Prabhudesai, owner of Trak.in showering praise on WordPress, while presenting key use cases for the platform. One of the top highlights was the advice that one can “start selling within 24 hours of installing an e-commerce plugin”. Arun, by the way, is a person I respect as one of my top blogging mentors.

The next session by Ronak Thakkar had a similar theme, with the title ‘Leveraging Your Business with WordPress’. Ronak did a fine job by getting the audience to participate early on.

His own accounts of the session and day are a must-read.

Further in the day, cyber security expert Rohit Srivastwa of ClubHack presented vital tips on securing a WordPress site.

These were the highlights of his talk:

  1. It is better to use shared hosting with features to handle security.
  2. Most security tips and plugins related to WordPress deal with automated attackers.
  3. Make a list of bad user agents from hacking tools or bots and block them using your site’s .htaccess file.
  4. Consider using service providers that stop bad traffic, that includes botnets.
  5. Keep an eye on the log files on your server to alert yourself when there’s an attack.
  6. Use free scanning tools like the one provided by sucuri.net. There’s a WordPress plugin based on the scan provided by sitecheck.sucuri.net
  7. The free service of CloudFare is excellent in blocking malicious traffic, even though some users claim that it blocks legitimate traffic as well.
  8. A tool called websitedefender helps monitor changes in the front page.
  9. In the event of an attack, rename the old infected WordPress installation and freshly re-install everything.
  10. Use is.gd/cleanup to fix your site after it has been attacked.
  11. Never look for free versions of premium themes. They may have a catch; they could be infected, which means you’ve hacked yourself!
  12. A string of characters known as a password won’t be enough to keep you secure. Even the simplest of passwords is enough, if you use a plugin for 2 factor authentication.
  13. It is important to use SSL to prevent an attacker from breaking in with the use of sniffers.

On the subject of content marketing, I found Adarsh Thampy’s talk very interesting. Here’s the complete slideshow:

In Conclusion….

The biggest benefit derived from conferences such as WordCamp Pune 2013 is the real life networking.

I was fortunate to interact with Saurabh Shukla, Gaurav Singh, Ronak Thakkar, Arun Prabhudesai, Rohit Srivastwa, Nikhil Narkhede and Saket Jajodia.

Some of the proceedings have been captured on Twitter with the hashtag #WCPune2013. Keep an eye on tweets by @saurabhyapapaya for more substance.

And if you want to know the recipe for a successful WordCamp, don’t forget to contact Amit Kumar Singh of AmiWorks!

WordCamp Cuttack 2012: An Evergreen Memory for WordPress Lovers

The WordCamp Cuttack 2012 concluded on the 11th of March in the most positive of ways for everyone who got an opportunity to be part of it, whether as an organizer, attendee or speaker.

WordCamp CuttackI was fortunate to be there as a special guest, a result of a generous giveaway by the key initiator of this event, Soumya Pratihari. Soumya leads a locally-based web development company called iDev, which also runs a number of popular blogs that cater to several verticals.

My first pleasant experience came well before the event itself. While I was being driven to iDev, I expected the company to be housed in a more or less snazzy office block, when in fact it was a simple, two-storeyed building situated in possibly one of the quietest corners of Cuttack. Lesson: You don’t have to work in a gleaming glass-and-steel structure to attain heights!

The venue was Ajay-Binay Institute of Technology, and the vice president of the college Mr. A. Mohapatra was the chief guest.

On Super Charging Your Career with Blogging and WordPress

After the encouraging words sent out by the chief guest, seasoned entrepreneur Mohit Pawar took charge of the proceedings.

It began with several seconds of a soothing deep-breathing exercise that clearly rejuvenated all the listeners.

On the subject of blogging and WordPress, the first step, in Mohit’s words was to make a start. He strongly recommended the use of WordPress because of its ease and quickness of use, availability of plugins and their ease of modification. He stressed on the contributions of the WordPress community and their never-ending quest to make the platform better and better.

Looking for keyword rich domains is a thing of the past, said Mohit. Additionally, he was in favor of looking for a brandable domain name, and not one based on the personal name.

On of the key thrusts of Mohit’s presentation was a call to use your blog as a resume. “Written words can be easily scaled”, said the lively and humorous businessman. “I haven’t ever made a resume in my life, it is my blog that has served as a resume!” Paradoxically, Mohit’s newest venture is a resume writing service called FreshResume, that promises users to help them stand out in the job market.

Mohit gave examples of how his blog helped him spread word about things ranging from his thoughts to his latest ventures. A key example was that of a blog post titled 13 tips on organizing a TEDx event which ranks pretty high in SERPS, and attracts enquiries from all over. Another instance to note was that of Paras Chopra using his blog to promote his “visual website optimizer”.

Furthermore, Mohit suggested direct advertising as preferable to AdSense, initially, and said the distraction of revenue when starting out would be mostly detrimental.

On the frequency of blogging, he advised making a plan and putting up posts more often in the beginning. He also advised the audience to network with people with the intention of helping, and not winning favors from them.

The conclusion: Write blogs, if you’re looking for opportunities!

The information-filled presentation included interesting glimpses into Mohit’s own blogging-cum-entrepreneurship journey. The man started his first business at age 16 with a small sum of money, and moved on to gain tremendous experience. He admitted to have made the mistake of cramming together too many tasks in his early days, and now believes single-tasking is a far more efficient way of life. On those lines, he stressed on focusing on one domain and then moving on.

He talked about a post titled 17 businesses you can start with little or no money, which looks like a must read for budding entrepreneurs and anyone convinced that blogging can supercharge your career.

‘Google and Facebook are Stalking You’

Sanjib Parida, Co-Founder and CTO of Muvi.com, was the next to take charge. He spoke in detail about better strategies and tactics to rank higher in Google’s SERPS.

Sanjib expressed dislike for the excessive use of SEO, which essentially involves gaming the system to beat competitors. He instead emphatically talked about the use of branding to build trust in the minds of users looking at search result pages. A good example he gave was that of StackOverflow, which is loved by programmers around the world. A programmer is likely to click through if he or she see a StackOverflow result, even if it isn’t at the top.

Sanjib was intensely dismayed at the massive data collection being carried out by both Google and Facebook under the pretext of improving user experiences and presenting more relevant ads, with the frightening reminder, “Google and Facebook are stalking you!” However, he essentially indicated that the pervasiveness of these services made us accept the loss of privacy as a reality of life.

When I asked him about the influence of advocates like Richard Stallman in the fight for web privacy, he was highly skeptical about it and quick to point out that the software freedom pioneer’s supporters had to rely on these ubiquitous services to spread word, which defeated the logic of fighting privacy.

It was interesting to hear this speaker’s view that SEO needs to be a more programming-oriented activity, that will tailor websites better for search-engine-based visitors.

Another statement that caught my attention was the one about gaining the early mover advantage by making the most of the newest bubbles. The fact of the matter, he highlighted, is that we are living in the social bubble.

More Speeches, Followed by a Workshop

I too got a chance to speak about my perspective on WordPress and blogging. I reiterated the views expressed by Mohit and basically had three immediate benefits of blogging to highlight:
1.The learning experience from collective knowledge.
2.A chance to share your knowledge and views.
3.A chance for new opportunities to come knocking on your door.

It’s a good idea to follow role models, and the best I could think of were the key organizer Soumya himself, Arun Prabhudesai of the business blog trak.in, Jeff Atwood of codinghorror.com (a must read for programmers!) and Amit Agarwal of Labnol.org.

Post-lunch, the next speaker Rahul Banker spoke to the audience via Skype, the main essence of his talk being to give up the obsession with money when blogging away your thoughts.

Web entrepreneur Jaydip Parikh, also connecting remotely, spoke about how to choose content for your blog. Jaydip stressed on quality content being the king, not just content. He had some fine suggestions on where to look for the best content that would have the potential to turn viral. Here’s the complete slideshow:

Next, a workshop was conducted by Amit Singh, the director of AmiWorks. He touched on topics ranging right from those concerning fresh starters to the advanced use of WordPress, and was pleased by the enthusiasm exuded by the participants.

Concluding a Memorable Day

Quick contests were conducted by Soumya and T-shirts given away, and the glow in everyone’s faces appeared to promise to spread awareness about WordPress.

Blogger Puneet Jain launched BlogWorkshop.org via video and was aptly applauded.

The concluding moments included a ‘30 seconds of fame’ session in which participants talked about their interests, with one of the most pleasing comments being “I’m now going to blog regularly!”

I’m immensely grateful to the iDev team, the attendees and fellow speakers for having done everything that made this event an evergreen memory. Were you at WordCamp Cuttack 2012, or following the proceedings via Twitter? Feel free to comment about your experiences!