WordCamp Europe 2015 in Review- Day One

This is the third year of WordCamp Europe and an event that began with fairly humble beginnings in Leiden has now transformed into something that could eventually rival the bigger WordCamps like Miami and San Francisco. WordCamp Europe was held in Seville Spain at the Barceló Sevilla Renacimiento, a five star venue that provided WordCampers with a beautifully catered lunch and elegantly served snacks at each of the breaks. The hotel allowed us use of the pool for the duration of the conference which was a good thing as temperatures were amazingly high all weekend reaching up to 50°C (122°F).

There was a plethora of crew at the event, more than I have seen at any other and the organisation was impeccable. Each of the conferences had simultaneous translating that allowed for Spanish speakers who wished to listen to the conferences in their own language. There were the usual problems with the WIFI which may have impacted the live streaming but the option was still available for those who could not attend the conferences in person. Another new feature was that comments were enabled on each of the speakers pages.

Friday began with a talk on by Rian Rietfield called The Accessibility ready Tag for your Theme How and Why. It was an incredible thing to see a packed room early in the morning on a talk about Accessibility. Rian’s talk was effective in that it put faces to special needs. Audience members were asked to raise their hands if they met any of the considerations for disabilities, including age (over forty) colour-blindness, trouble hearing… She introduced us to Amanda Rush, a blind genesis developer, and her tools and gave specific pointers for achieving the accessibility-ready tag for a theme.

On the heels of WordCamp London where Lorna Mitchell enticed WordPress users to use PHP 5.4+, Zeev Suraski, a co-author of the PHP language, spoke about the history of PHP and PHP 7 which has performance benefits comparable to HHVM (used by Facebook) and allows for 4 times fewer CPU uploads as PHP 5.6. making a WordPress site using PHP 7 almost twice as fast as one using PHP 5.6 and more than four times faster as one using 5.4. We learned that WordPress is actually the standard performance benchmark so there is plenty of data to support this argument. We should be begin seeing PHP in mid November of this year and there is hope for its adoption even by smaller hosting companies as performance benefits are enormous and therefore in their best interests.

Another talk by Jenny Wong who is hugely involved in both the PHP and WordPress communities spoke about bridging these communities and others including those of other CMS’s like Drupal and Joomla.

The Q and A with Matt Mullenweg was a little less jovial than the previous year. As might be expected in a European conference, there was a lot of mention about Multilingual functionality and the Rosetta sites which are the WordPress.org sites in the various languages. Matt noted that as English is only the third most popular language in the world, it did make sense to pay more attention to these sites and that he would look into making it easier to contribute to them. He also maintained his position that multilingual functionality does not belong in WordPress core but rather in plugins where it is currently. Matt added there is currently no data to back up the need for it. Once in core it is hard to reverse. He advised those who wanted it to get involved and to gather data to make the case. There was also mention of some drama between GlotPress and the core team which Matt admitted he had not followed and would look into.

Another trend in the questions was about third party theme marketplaces which can at times give WordPress a bad name and degrade the user experience for WordPress as a whole in the case of poorly constructed themes. Once again the GPL licence was cited as a potential solution to this problem as themes distributed on WordPress.org do not limit freedoms. Many of these themes are comparable to those found in third party marketplaces without some of the problems with security and lack of support.

There was an announcement that Nikolay Bachiyski who gave a talk on Security would be the new Security Czar for WordPress.org. When asked about problems with WordPress security Matt admitted that security issues do come up in the news from time to time. He agreed with Nicolay that fundamentally security is a question of education and that a site is only as secure as its weakest link saying “WordPress can be as secure as anything else in the web.”

Inevitably the question of backward compatibility also came up and Matt retorted that “PHP’s end of life strategy does not align with our end of life strategy.” and shared the hope that PHP 7 would propel hosting companies to make the change to more performant and secure versions of PHP. The WordPress stance on compatibility requirements are to remain the same as for as long as needed as “WordPress 5.2 still powers 1% of the web which is still a huge amount of people.”

The idea of following other CMS’s in using a Symphony 2 stack in other CMS’s provoked an explanation of the policy of refactoring code in major releases. “WordPress doesn’t always follow the trends and always work from the principals first.” Another question asked about visual site-building tools, comparing WordPress to Squarespace. Matt answered that the Customizer is some of the most important work going on at the moment and will open up WordPress to an entirely new audience. He urged us to “Keep an eye on the customiser I think it will do an even better job than Squarespace or the others in time.” He also repeated the need to test themes and plugins on mobile devices which are more predominent in developing countries and to imagine users who only have mobile devices saying “Try it out. Let someone else try it out.”

Editoral disclaimer: I have not mentioned all the presentations that took place of the first day of the conference. This mainly because I did attend them all but also because my brain was melting from heat and fatigue. Please feel free to correct any misinformation in the comments below.