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The WordPress Community Team has officially updated its guidelines for WordCamps to be online-only events for the remainder of 2020. The six WordCamps on the schedule through the end of the year were already planning on using an online format but the guidelines also include local meetups.

“The team acknowledges that this is not easy for the community that has been heavily based on in-person events and encounters,” Timi Wahalahti said in the announcement. “Unfortunately, the global coronavirus situation does not seem to be slowing down to a level that would allow us organizing in-person events safely at this time.”

The guidelines will be re-evaluated in the first quarter of 2021, but some organizers are already planning for online events next year. WordCamp Europe 2021 is the first WordPress event to go virtual for the coming year, with the in-person event resuming in 2022.

Moving what was once a vibrant in-person gathering to a two-dimensional online format is a challenging endeavor, especially when the world is suddenly awash in online events competing for attention. Making virtual events stand out from the crowd is a new marketing challenge.

There is something about the magic of WordCamps that gives momentum to ideas and collaboration. While you cannot replicate the chance meetings in the hallway and the priceless conversations over long dinners, online events have the benefit of being more geographically inclusive. The constraints of the pandemic are also challenging our assumptions about how online gatherings are supposed to work.

WordPress Community Team to Explore New Event Formats, Redefine Relationships with Sponsors, Temporarily Cancel Swag Spending

The necessity for virtual events has inspired discussion around some new event formats, including a new proposal that decouples online events from geography. WordPress Community manager Hugh Lashbrooke described how events might explore combining synchronous discussions with previously recorded workshops:

What if we blended those two elements into a program that provides the flexibility of online content, with the value and sense of community that comes with learning together?

We could publish workshops in a central location (on wordpress.org, for better visibility and reach) and then invite learners to join live discussion groups that cater to different timezones. This “flipped classroom” model allows people to learn at their convenience, and then come together for additional development. 

Lashbrooke suggested the workshops could be designed by people who would otherwise be speaking WordCamps and could possibly source content from WordPress.tv or talks that have been given at online meetups.

“There is also potential for longer courses, composed of multiple workshops, and a group that meets repeatedly over time,” Lashbrooke said.

So far the suggestions in the comments include introductory workshops for WordPress. These would be timely for newcomers who have recently lost work and are looking to improve their online resumes or portfolios, or start up a new business. Beginner workshops have strong outreach potential if promoted outside of the WordPress community.

During the first half of the year, the Community Team began transitioning to facilitating the needs of online events and have continued to work tirelessly to find ways for people to connect. In a recent update, WordPress community organizer Andrea Middleton explained that changes are coming for future online events, which may adopt another name instead of using “WordCamp.”

Due to the financial position of WordPress Community Support PBC (WPCS), the community team is ending programmatic support for online AV vendor expenses. WordCamps that are not yet on the schedule will be encouraged to get sponsorships if they require the use of a professional AV vendor.

“Likewise, we have paused plans to spend money on sending swag, T-shirts, or other typical WordCamp collateral,” Middleton said. “It’s important to change our frame of reference for what’s necessary to make online events, away from the WordCamp model. Just because we did things a certain way for WordCamps, doesn’t mean it’s a high priority for online events.”

Sponsorships are also being re-examined, as online events haven’t quite been able to deliver the same value to sponsors that traditional events did.

“The value proposition of online sponsor booths is shaky, and we’ve always prided ourselves in partnering with our sponsors,” Middleton said. “Looking ahead, we must examine how much funding we need to create events that meet the goals of the team, and let that determine how to best coordinate with our community sponsors to deliver value and further our mission.”

The potential for in-person events for the coming year is still uncertain at this point, in the absence of a vaccine ready for commercial distribution. WordPress’ global sponsorship program has been temporarily suspended and the Community Team plans to work with global sponsors later this year to make a plan for 2021.