#88 – Jo Minney on the State of the WordPress Community in Australia

Transcript

[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley. Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case, the state of the WordPress community in Australia.

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast player of choice, or by going to WPTavern.com forward slash feed forward slash podcast. And you can copy that URL into most podcast players.

If you have a topic that you’d like us to feature on the podcast, I’m keen to hear from you, and hopefully get you all your idea featured on the show. Head to WPTavern.com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox and use the form there.

So on the podcast today, we have Jo Minney.

Jo is the founder of a small business that specialises in building websites for organisations, mainly nonprofits and the tech industry. With a background in engineering, Jo decided to shift her focus to website development using WordPress. She was excited about the WordPress community and joined her local meetup, eventually becoming an organizer.

Jo is keen for the WordPress community in Australia to grow, and has been making significant contributions to that growth.

In this episode, Jo shares her insights on the challenges of organizing WordCamps and meetups in Australia, where the large size of the country, and small population presents some unique obstacles. If you’re used to a European or north American setting, it’s really interesting how the geography of the country presents challenges not seen elsewhere.

We discussed the importance of paying speakers and covering their travel expenses to create equal opportunities for freelancers and small businesses, as well as to give the Australian community a stronger voice.

We talk about her journey with WordPress, starting from her early days as a coder in a different field, and navigating the community online. Jo highlights the need for in-person opportunities to learn and connect with others. Especially in a global community where the time zone differences and online platforms can be limiting.

We chat about the challenges faced by the Australian WordPress community from limited resources and burnout, to the struggle of attracting new organizers and attendees. Jo share some exciting success stories, such as organizing WordPress events and hosting a successful do_action event.

We briefly get into the need for more diverse voices and the importance of fostering, a supportive and inclusive environment. If you’re interested in hearing about how the WordPress community is doing in Australia, this episode is for you.

You can find all of the links in the show notes by heading over to WPTavern.com forward slash podcast. Where you’ll find all the other episodes as well.

And so without further delay, I bring you Jo Minney.

I am joined on the podcast today by Jo Minney. Hello Jo.

[00:03:40] Jo Minney: Nice to be here.

[00:03:41] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah thank you for joining me. Jo is in Western Australia which means that the collision of the time zones is pretty severe on this one. It’s the middle of the afternoon for me which means it’s very, very late in the evening for Jo. So first up Jo, thank you very much for staying the course and being with us.

I guess my first question, as always, it’s a pretty banal one but it’s worth asking anyway. Given that we’re on a WordPress podcast, we’re going to be talking about the WordPress community in Australia in particular. Would you mind just spending a moment just telling us who you are? What your relationship is with WordPress? Perhaps a little bit about the kind of job that you have, and the role that you have and all of that good stuff.

[00:04:22] Jo Minney: Sure I can absolutely do that. So I am a small business founder like a lot of people that work with WordPress. I run I guess what you’d call a micro business. I have a grand total of three people in my team, and we build websites for mainly organizations. We work a lot with nonprofits and also a bit with the tech industry. So my background is actually engineering, and I threw in the towel and decided I didn’t want to do engineering anymore and started building websites instead.

So in a nutshell what I do now, and how I use WordPress. And when I first started using it I got really excited when I found out about the community that was behind it and things like meetups and WordCamps. And that was yes, this is so exciting and went and joined our local meetup and none had been running for the last year and a half. So that was a bit sad. And then I reached out to the organizer who had previously run them and was like, hey, what’s going on? And she’s like here you go. And so I became lead organizer and the rest, I guess, is as they say history.

[00:05:27] Nathan Wrigley: Did you find the community more or less as soon as you found WordPress? Did you have a nice bit of serendipity there? Because when I discovered WordPress it was many years before I realized that there was any kind of community. I purely viewed it as a piece of freely available software. And whilst I understood that the freely available nature of it meant that there was community involvement in building the software, I had no conception there was a community of people who would be meeting up in the real world or getting into the kind of discourse that they do, in all sorts of different directions. So yeah, to paraphrase that question, did you find the community right away?

[00:06:07] Jo Minney: I wouldn’t say right away, but fairly soon after I started using WordPress. So I had done a little bit of coding before I started using WordPress but in a very different environment, working as I said in engineering. I was really lucky that my husband, who’s also my business partner now, also works in development.

And when I first said I want to learn how to use WordPress and I’m going to use it to create my website for my consulting business, which back then was still in engineering, he was like no you can’t use WordPress. WordPress is the devil. He’s come around since then. He’s actually speaking at WordCamp US. We do a lot of collaboration projects now. So he builds custom web applications and my team do WordPress websites. And we do a lot of merging the two together and integrating them.

When I first started using it I felt like a lot of the time the people that I was asking were a lot more superior at using it to me, and had a lot more experience. So reaching out online was a little bit intimidating. So I actually started looking quite early on in my journey for something that was in person, because it would enable me to kind of go and learn from other people without having to actively start asking questions on online forums, where often I was the only woman there, or I didn’t know if I was the only woman there, but I kind of had assumed in that space.

[00:07:30] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah thank you. So in terms of the timeline of all of this, you may have mentioned it but forgive me I didn’t pick up on it. How far back are we going in history? What year? 2015, 2016, or later than that? Did you reach out and find these events?

[00:07:48] Jo Minney: Yeah, so I think I started using WordPress in 2017, quite recently compared to a lot of people that are in the WordPress community. And I took over the meetup as lead organizer I think in 2019. I could be wrong it could have been 2018, but it was either 2018 or 2019. So it was only a year or so into the first time that I had actually touched the platform.

[00:08:12] Nathan Wrigley: Okay so pre pandemic you discovered the real world community. So paint a picture of what it’s like in Australia. Now clearly you’re going to be able to paint that picture better describing where you live. But if you’re able to give us more information about Australia more broadly that would be excellent as well. And maybe during the course of the next few minutes we can map out how things may have changed since 2017, 2018, 2019, to where they are now.

[00:08:42] Jo Minney: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I have a question for you in return, cause I know that you’ve been to Australia before. We talked about that earlier. Australia is pretty big. So do you want to have a stab at how big Australia is?

[00:08:57] Nathan Wrigley: In terms of square miles, or just multiples of the UK.

[00:09:01] Jo Minney: Either’s fine.

[00:09:02] Nathan Wrigley: Okay so I would imagine that you could fit the UK into Australia, I’m going to pluck a number out of thin air, 35 times.

[00:09:09] Jo Minney: I actually have no idea how many times you can fit the UK into Australia but I do know that it is about the same size as the lower 48 in the US. So it’s like 7. 6 million square kilometers, versus 8 million square kilometers for the US. So they’re pretty comparable size wise.

Do you want to have a stab at what the population of Australia is compared to the population of the US?

[00:09:34] Nathan Wrigley: Okay, so I’m going to guess Australia has 22 or 23 million people in it.

[00:09:40] Jo Minney: It’s a little bit higher than that. It’s 26 and a half, thereabouts, million. Which is less than Texas. So think it’s really important to understand that one of the biggest challenges that we face here, and you would know this from having driven across the Nullarbor, is there’s nothing in the middle of Australia.

We only live around the outside. So if you imagine the entire US but only having people live around the coastal cities and having the entire population of that whole continent being less than Texas.

[00:10:13] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah that’s fascinating. So I guess if you’re listening to this and you’re a North American, the distance that you would have to go from east to west is comparable from say going, I don’t know, from Virginia to California. They’re on the same kind of scale but the population is significantly smaller. I guess what you’re trying to say is we’re spread out.

[00:10:35] Jo Minney: Yeah, we really are. And I think if you’re in Europe, again, to travel the length of Australia or the width of Australia you’re traveling through multiple countries. Each of which probably has a higher population than what we do. So the challenge that we’ve got there is that our communities to start with, and I don’t just mean our WordPress communities, I mean our cities, the people that we have living here, are very small in comparison to a lot of other places in the world. So because our population is so spread out, it makes it really hard for us to hold in person events in the first place.

So that’s a challenge that we’ve always faced here in Australia in building our community. And it’s something we were slowly starting to overcome. And we did before the pandemic have meetups happening in, I think, five different cities around Australia. And then obviously the pandemic happened and all of that stopped.

But even before the pandemic started, in the city where I live, I mean it’s only 2 million odd people here, but we had never had a WordCamp in the whole time that WordCamps had started running.

So if you think about someone who’s just coming into the WordPress community for the first time, and they learn about all of this stuff and then they find out actually we’ve got no meetups running. We’ve got no WordCamps running. We don’t actually have a community here. It can be really sad, and really soul crushing I guess.

That’s kind of where I was at. So I got it in my head, I was like that’s it, I’m going to be the person that organizes the first WordCamp here in Perth. And to do that I reached out to a lot of the other organizers from around Australia, who are fantastic people. And some of them have been doing that for a really long time.

And that’s probably the second challenge that we have which is burnout. And I know that this is not something unique to Australia. I know this happens everywhere. When you’ve got meetup organizers that are volunteers it’s not just rocking up for the time of the meetup and ordering some pizza. It’s organising speakers, it’s growing the community and actually making sure that people come along to it. There’s a lot that’s involved with it.

And often it falls on one, maybe two, people to do that. And we really struggled to get more organizers, to get attendees, to get speakers. And when you look at that compounded with the fact that we have such a small population compared to the space we have, you can see how very quickly it becomes a challenge.

[00:13:04] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. I guess in Europe, as an example, the population density is extremely high. I’m guessing per square kilometre it probably is even higher than in the US. I don’t actually know if that’s true or not, but I’m imagining it is.

The point being there’s lots of people. So the reservoir of people who may stumble into the community within a hundred miles of where I live there are likely to be a dozen, two dozen, a hundred, whatever that number may be. Whereas where you are, that number is going to be significantly lower. And so if somebody steps into the community but then gets that burnt out, or just gets fed up, or moves on, or just doesn’t wish to contribute to those events, there really isn’t that pool of people that you can dip into which would be present in North America or other parts of the world, Europe and so on.

So if somebody moves on there’s often somebody that will take that role on again. And I know that in the recent past there have been discussions about whether or not, even in Europe and other places, the burnout and the replacement of people is more and more challenging. But I guess where you are it’s really acute.

[00:14:13] Jo Minney: Yeah absolutely. And I think another thing that became a challenge for us is, you mentioned earlier a mutual acquaintance of ours, Cameron. And he moved to the UK. He wasn’t the only one. We actually had two of our other organising committee who we had spent the last couple of years trying to build up that community, and they also moved either interstate or international.

So I am back to being the only organizer now for our local meetup. And we’ve now got three meetups around Australia running. So Sydney is definitely the most recovered. And a big part of that is because it’s got Will spearheading it who is phenomenal. Who mentors WordCamps and stuff like that, and has a lot of contacts. And also just because Sydney has the biggest population of any of our cities in Australia.

Brisbane started up again. For anyone who doesn’t know Australia which is most people in the world, they’re in the the top right. So in the northeast of Australia. And our biggest WordCamp that we’ve ever had before the pandemic so it was November 2019 I think or maybe a bit earlier than that, it was in 2019 anyway. That was our biggest WordCamp we’ve ever had in Australia and that was 450 people.

[00:15:29] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah that’s really interesting as a contrast, the last WordCamp London that I attended, which I think was in 2019. So that’s a subset of the events which go on in the UK. I think that event was about 600, something like that. WordCamp Europe is usually touching about 3,000. WordCamp US, although the numbers have been much smaller recently due to pandemic restrictions, you know eclipses 2,000 as well. So the magnitude, given everything that you’ve said, I guess we’re expecting the numbers to be lower.

Were you saying 400 as the big flagship event in Australia, the Sydney one? Were you saying 400 because you thought that was a small number, or were you just saying it because that is the number?

[00:16:11] Jo Minney: A little of both. 450 was actually in Brisbane. So I think actually a lot of the speakers at that had come from interstate, and that’s something that definitely we’ve noticed. Every WordCamp that we have in Australia people travel to it, because they’re so rare here. Even though it costs us an absolute fortune, we still have people flying to Brisbane, flying to Sydney, flying to Port Macquarie.

And an interesting thing that I noticed was that a lot of the speakers were the same across multiple WordCamps in Australia because again, it comes down to that not having a huge population and we struggle to find speakers for our meetups. So you can imagine it’s equally hard to find speakers for WordCamps.

So that’s a challenge there. Since post pandemic it’s become even harder. I know I’ve had the same conversation with the Brisbane organisers and the Sydney organisers. And I don’t know if this is something that other communities have experienced, but all three of us have found that our communities are essentially started from scratch again.

So the number of people that have come back from pre pandemic communities is basically zero. So we had one person at our first meetup when we restarted that had attended a meetup before, ever. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s still a thing. And it’s something that I think has also become a challenge because it means that there aren’t people who are experienced with running events and that sort of thing. And how to put the word out, and what’s involved in organising them, and speaking with who is around to help out with that load.

[00:17:43] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. It’s interesting. In the UK there’s several factors which are making it more difficult to get that community engagement back up to the levels that it was pre pandemic. The first one is obviously just related to people’s desire to go out. They may have dropped out of the community. So there’s the process of, as you’ve just described, starting from scratch. So that’s one thing.

But also the cost of ever so many aspects of life has gone much, much higher than it was prior to the pandemic. Particularly the cost of venue hire. Venue hire over here has become significantly more expensive, orders of magnitude more expensive. And so something that may have cost X 5 years ago, or 3 years ago is now possibly 3 or 4 or 5 X for the exact same building, for the exact same duration. So there’s all sorts of circumstances contriving to make it as hard as possible I think. And if you’re starting from scratch, that is even more of an obstacle.

[00:18:48] Jo Minney: Yeah absolutely. And I am sure that London is probably about as expensive, maybe even more expensive, than Australia. So one of the things that I think is very different here, so those WordCamps that I talked about, even our biggest ones have always historically been at educational venues. So we’ve always used universities.

And the one that we were planning locally here was at a TAFE, which is a technical institute. I don’t know what you would call that in places that are not Australia. That’s sort of always the kind of places that we’re looking at and we’re not talking about flashy hotels and things with 2000 people or conference centers. We’re talking about a university during their down times. So even trying to keep those costs really low, it was actually a real struggle for us to be able to fund. And I say us, I wasn’t actually involved in the organising committee for the last one, because I was still fairly new to the community at the time.

But speaking to Will and some of the other previous organizers about it, A they have to wait until the end of the year to find out the availability for those venues. So it makes planning kind of a challenge. And B, one of the things that WordCamp limited us to, or really pushed for, was for us to keep the ticket prices down at 50 Australian. Which is like 30 Euro or 30 US. So trying to do that and then cover the rest of it, even using a really comparatively cheap venue like a university, was really a struggle still to meet the budget.

And on top of that, in 2019 that was the first year that we’d had three WordCamps in Australia in the same year. So before that the most that we’d ever had was two. And I think that had only happened once. And what we found is that the organizers for those WordCamps were actually competing for funding. So the sponsors were like, oh I don’t want to fund WordCamp Sydney because we just funded WordCamp Brisbane, and it’s all the same people that are attending.

So that’s something that has really been something that we’ve noticed, and it’s something that we’re keeping in mind when we go into the future planning WordCamps. While we know that they are historically encouraged to be very local events, that’s something that we’ve got to keep in mind. We are potentially competing against other cities for that attention where we don’t want to be. We want to be helping each other grow because there’s not enough of us to be in competition. We’ve got to be helping each other out.

[00:21:15] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. It speaks to coordinating at a higher level doesn’t it? The idea that, let’s say there’s three or five, that they were A spread out geographically, B spread out over time so that you weren’t trying to compete in the same month for a WordPress event. And that obviously, you’ve got to go a little bit higher up the pecking order to figure out all of that stuff.

But from everything that you’ve said you sound fairly, I’m going to use an English colloquialism, you sound fairly chipper. Which means you sound fairly upbeat.

[00:21:47] Jo Minney: Optimistic. Hopeful.

[00:21:49] Nathan Wrigley: Exactly. But I want to probe into this, if you’re willing. How do you really feel about this? Because I can imagine that with all these setbacks and no shows, people coming in smaller numbers, the feeling that the community is dwindling. Do you get moments where you just think, oh this is really hardly worth my time anymore? Do you ever get those moments where you just want to throw in the towel?

And if that is the case, I wonder if that is another problem which has to be dealt with, you know, people just getting fed up and moving on.

[00:22:17] Jo Minney: Yeah. I won’t lie. There’s definitely been times where I’ve been like, is it really worth it? I am the only volunteer contributor that I’m aware of, other than my husband who is fairly new to it, in my entire state.

We have one other contributor who’s full time at Automattic. So when it comes to the WordPress community everyone that I know is online. And that in itself can be really depressing. But it can also be really challenging for me to have a conversation with someone. And I do think that in person conversations are important, and you don’t communicate the same way online and over text and via Slack and things like that. Commenting on blog posts is what you do when you’re having a face to face conversation.

And while decisions in the WordPress community aren’t made at WordCamps and meetups and things like that, conversations are started there. And those conversations help to drive future decisions. And that is really important. And it’s sad to me that Australia isn’t part of that conversation, and hasn’t been since definitely since pre Covid, but even before then we were struggling.

So I think for me that’s one of the most disappointing things. For example, WordCamp Asia was earlier this year which was super exciting for us. There were some Australian people that attended that. There were no Australian speakers as far as I’m aware, which I don’t think is a bad thing because I think it was important for WordCamp Asia to really push for representation from Asian speakers, because that was the purpose of it. And I know if we were to ever have a WordCamp Australia in the future that we would be pushing to try and have as many local speakers as possible as well.

But then if we look at some of the bigger flagship camps there were two speakers at WordCamp Europe that were from Australia, that I’m aware of. So I did stalk and go through every single speaker to check, because what else am I going to do with my spare time that I don’t have?

So both of the speakers from Australia that were at WordCamp Europe were executives from companies that are very big. And I’m not going to name names. You can go find them yourself if you’re really interested, but they work for the Googles and the eBays and the News Corps.

And, my concern is that globally the voices that are coming out of Australia are not the ones that are doing the work of rebuilding the community. They represent big interests, not most interests. And to me that’s the most concerning thing about the lack of community here in Australia.

[00:24:51] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. There is this phrase which sometimes gets brought out that the people that can contribute to the project, there’s sometimes a feeling that it’s those that can afford to contribute to the project. So in the scenario that you just described, if your very successful company are willing to send you, then you are now sitting at the table where potentially some of those decisions are being made.

I realize that it’s far more complicated than that, but you have a voice because you’re able to go and prior success for the company that you work for, you know, it’s no reflection on that company. We want the companies to be successful but that’s just how it works. And it’s difficult for people, well such as yourself, to sort of feel like your voice is rising to the top and being heard, I guess.

[00:25:34] Jo Minney: A hundred percent. And you look at the cost of flights, for example. So it’s easy enough to say we’ll just go to some of these. Get more people and fund them to go over. But flights are like 65% more expensive now than they were pre pandemic, for international flights from Australia. That’s bonkers.

I certainly can’t afford to pay out of my own money to go over there. And even getting sponsorship, there’s nothing really in it. There is things in it for people, but it is a challenge to communicate them.

I like stats, you might’ve noticed that already Nathan. One of my favorite stats about why I think it’s important for people to start paying attention to the WordPress community in Australia? So we have the 14th largest market for eCommerce in the world. Which is cool sure. Do you know how much of the web or how much eCommerce on the web is powered by WooCommerce overall globally?

[00:26:30] Nathan Wrigley: Oh no. I know it’s a significant amount, but don’t know exact number. Yeah I realize it’s very high.

[00:26:37] Jo Minney: Yeah like everyone knows the WordPress number, right? But nobody knows the WooCommerce number. I like this because I feel like it’s a better, accurate representation of websites that are being used. Whereas the WordPress number still takes into account a lot of sort of dormant sites and that sort of thing. So with WooCommerce it powers about 24% of eCommerce sites on the web globally.

In Australia however, it’s less than 15%, and Shopify leads with over 20%. So what that tells me, and this is obviously just my interpretation of that data, but it tells me that in Australia we don’t have the same recognition and understanding of WordPress and WordPress tools as what there is globally.

And that’s an opportunity for people who are earning lots of money from WordPress. For the Automattic’s and the Yoasts and these other big companies that have combined collectively an economy that’s like bigger than Tesla. It tells me that there is value in them paying more attention to Australia and helping us to rebuild the community because I don’t think that we can continue to do it the way that we’re trying at the moment.

[00:27:45] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah that’s really interesting. That was a really interestingly presented fact because makes it, well it lays bare the opportunity that is maybe being left. The old adage of money being left on the table it kind of fits under that umbrella, doesn’t it?

It sounds like you are A, you’re very committed to the community. I guess you wouldn’t be on a podcast like this if you weren’t. But B, you’ve identified that there’s a problem. So C, I guess, is what do we do about the problem? Do you have any endeavors? Do you have any thoughts? Do you have any intuitions as to how these challenges might be overcome? How you might reinvigorate the community?

[00:28:24] Jo Minney: Yeah look I think a lot of people who are much smarter and more engaged and well versed in the WordPress community than me have already suggested a lot of the things that I look at and go that would really help us. Even though we’re not specifically the target audience for those things that are being championed.

And one of those big ones is, and I know it’s probably a drum that’s been beaten to death, but paying speakers or at least covering their travel. Because as I said, I think a lot of those conversations happen at WordCamps. And even if you’re not paying people to attend them or that sort of thing, by paying speakers you’re giving the same opportunities to the freelancers and those small businesses as you are to those companies that are working for Google and eBay.

So I think that’s one thing that would go a long way towards evening the playing field, and allowing the Australian community to have a little bit more of a voice. And I know that there’s a huge amount of work that’s being done to push for that in the WordPress community by loads of different, amazing people.

And there are sponsorship options and stuff out there for people who are underrepresented in tech. But you know they have their challenges. I think that would go a long way towards helping.

[00:29:39] Nathan Wrigley: I just want to just interject there again and inject the geographical piece again. Because it’s so easy to forget that for where I live, really I can hop into a car and I can be at a local event within an hour, less. You know and typically more or less everybody in the UK could probably drive in one of the directions of the compass and find an event fairly quickly. May not be all that frequent, but at some point during the calendar year, it really is different isn’t it where you are? You know you may just drive off in the same compass direction as I do but you end up in the middle of the desert.

[00:30:13] Jo Minney: Or the ocean depending on which way you go.

[00:30:15] Nathan Wrigley: So there really aren’t those opportunities and the fact that you have to travel further, as you’ve described, the cost of airline transportation has gone through the roof. So it may be that you simply are nowhere near something. And so just having a little bit of an offset for the cost, the remuneration as you’ve said for speaking. Simply that may be enough to propel some people to have a different opinion of it, and to make the effort to go.

[00:30:40] Jo Minney: And I think the same thing goes, and it’s a similar argument, but for the volunteers who are organising. Maybe not all WordCamps but certainly flagship ones. When I was talking to Will about his experience with organising WordCamp Sydney back in 2019, he actually logged his hours for it and he logged 1,200 hours of volunteer work.

[00:31:03] Nathan Wrigley: Wow.

[00:31:03] Jo Minney: And I spoke to one of the organizers, not even the lead organizer, just one of the organizers for WordCamp Europe, on a call for the training team last week. We have like a coffee hour every Friday. Only for me it’s wine hour because I have a 12 hour difference from everyone else. And he was saying that doesn’t surprise him at all. And he definitely feels like he logged at least that much as a volunteer for WordCamp Europe.

So I think there’s something to be said at least for flagship WordCamps and for that sort of core organising committee who are essentially taking on a second full time job to give them some kind of reason to keep doing that. Otherwise we are just going to keep losing volunteers to people that want to pay them.

[00:31:47] Nathan Wrigley: It’s interesting as well because, suddenly into my head I’m thinking, I wonder if there just needs to be a different approach based upon different parts of the world. This is probably going to sound controversial. If anybody’s listening to this I’m just throwing it out there. Given what you’ve described in Australia, I do wonder if the Australian WordPress community needs a different set of parameters applied for a period of time.

Because there are different constraints, there are different problems, than say you might have in Europe. And it might be that one size doesn’t fit all, and those considerations could be different for Australia. They could be different for, well pick any part of the world, any country. They might to be judged differently. I don’t know if that would ever happen, but it’s certainly an interesting idea.

[00:32:35] Jo Minney: Yeah a hundred percent. And if you’ve got Matt’s ear, when we do manage to have our first WordCamp again after the pandemic, we’d love for him to come visit. Maybe that will help get some more people there. So we do want to make it a primarily Australian event with as many Australian speakers as we can get. But I think having the support and the ear of the global WordPress community would be important.

[00:32:57] Nathan Wrigley: Okay so you’ve given us one possible way of reinvigorating things. The idea of financial help for, for example, speakers. If there’s any other ideas you want to just float, go for it.

[00:33:09] Jo Minney: Yeah. So I think something that for me is really hopeful and something that I think is amazing, and I’m really excited about seeing it happen in the near future. And I’m not sure how much of this I am meant to be talking about but I’m going to anyway. And that is the idea that we’re going to have sort of a contributor tab in the latest WordPress release. Sort of about page.

And a little bit more information about that because something that has really been a challenge is that, because again, as you said, you don’t just bump into other contributors here, you have to actually seek that out. And a lot of people don’t realize that that is something that they can do. That you don’t need to be able to code to be a contributor.

And I think that the two things go hand in hand. So by contributing to something you’re feeling like you’re part of the community and you feel like you’re not just giving back to it, but also receiving from it, because you get to be a part of that conversation and the direction of where everything is going.

And if we can broaden the people who know about that and make sure that they’re informed. So your average WordPress user or developer has that information sort of plonked in front of them with, hey, did you know that these are a whole bunch of things that you can do that don’t require you to be an absolute guru at PHP?

Then I think that that’s something that’s going to be really exciting, and hopefully attract more people who historically haven’t been involved in that community.

[00:34:36] Nathan Wrigley: Great. Any other suggestions or we can move on?

[00:34:39] Jo Minney: I think they’re the main ones for me. Just trying to increase the representation in any way that we can. I like the idea of the new WordCamps but I’m not sure that anything has really come up that is the new format for WordCamps. I’m not sure that anything has really come up that has sounded like it’s going to be a super fit for us. So if anyone’s got ideas we’d love to hear them.

[00:34:59] Nathan Wrigley: Can we just dwell on that for a minute? So I spoke to Angela Jin who is the Automattician who, broadly speaking, she steers in many ways the different bits and pieces. And one of the things that we talked about on a recent podcast episode was about this new idea of WordCamp’s having a different flavor. Perhaps more localized, perhaps localized around a specific theme.

So it may be that there would be an SEO one. Or there might be something about blocks. The idea being though that rather than having an event in which everything goes, you would lock it down a little bit and encourage people to attend if they are into that particular niche, if you like. So having looked at those proposals, none of that’s jumped out. That’s curious.

[00:35:46] Jo Minney: I think one of the reasons on that for me is that there still seems like there’s going to be, maybe not 1,200 hours worth of volunteer work, but a significant amount of volunteer work to make it happen. And we’re struggling to get 20 people at a meetup. So I personally don’t have the time to put in even 400 hours of volunteer work, or even 50 hours of volunteer work to have eight people show up to an event, and be the only person who is organising and running it.

[00:36:17] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah that does make sense. Obviously you are operating in a completely different system. I think the endeavor of these new WordCamps is to try and shake it up, because I think although the Australian example that you’ve just described seems to be more severe, I think the feeling has been that over the whole of the international community the numbers have perhaps dwindled a little bit and there are challenges in getting people to come back.

And so trying new things out, the hope would be that some of it sticks and some good ideas would rise to the surface. But I do like the fact that you’re open to new ideas. And it may be that somebody in the next year puts on an event which isn’t an absolute runaway success. And it’s just quirky in some way that people like, and you may be able to borrow that example.

[00:37:06] Jo Minney: Yeah absolutely. I think two things that I would love to see happen more of in the community in general is local contributor days. So that’s something that we’ve tossed around and we’re fortunate we do have one full time Automattician that lives in my state.

So he works on Gutenberg, and while he doesn’t super love public speaking he does get up and do it anyway because he knows that there’s not really anyone else with the same level of experience and expertise as what he’s got. So super grateful for that. Tell Dan thank you. But I think having a contributor day locally would be a great way of driving more sort of enthusiasm around the community.

But to do that we need to have enough people that can help run it. And I’ve never even been to a contributor day myself, so that’s not something that I really feel comfortable running. And hopefully that will change after WordCamp US. So I will be going to my first contributor day. I’m super excited about that. So that’s something that we’re hoping to do.

And another thing that we actually did in 2020 right before the pandemic hit, that I would encourage any other struggling communities to consider as a way to, I guess reinvigorate, but also bring the community closer together. And again, it’s a huge amount of work, but it is so rewarding. And that’s the do_action events. So I’m not sure if you’ve heard of these before Nathan.

So we ran a do_action event back in January of 2020, and it was so fun. So much chaos. We built eight charities websites, theoretically in a day. I ended up finishing off most of them over the following six months. But just for the rewarding experience of bringing that community together and seeing a hundred volunteers in a room, trying to use WordPress to help these charities was phenomenal. And I think it’s probably, when I look at what’s happening and I’m like, oh, is it really worth it? I think back to that. And that’s the thing that keeps me going.

[00:39:08] Nathan Wrigley: During the last few years, has the community, I know that the real world events have been on hold, but have you got a thriving online event set up? Are there things that are going on in these cities which are online and regular and what have you? Or is it really just that even the online stuff has gone away as well?

[00:39:30] Jo Minney: Will did run some online stuff. There’s a two and a half hour difference between Sydney and Perth, so our community didn’t attend a lot of that stuff, but I know that he did have some good attendance for a while. I think post pandemic, a lot of people got burned out with Zoom. They just didn’t want to Zoom all the time. And I get that, a hundred percent get that. I’m on video calls pretty much all day, every day with my clients. And I think it’s great that this technology opens up so many doors, but I can also understand that it can be exhausting.

In terms of things like Slack, we have really struggled to get our local community to use Slack. We actually have a WP Australia workspace, so that has started to bounce back. But it was essentially dead for a couple of years. And there was basically no conversations happening on there.

Locally, what I’ve found, we tried a bunch of different platforms. People don’t go to Meetup. We struggle even to get people that come to our meetups to use Meetup. So, the one that we’ve had the most success with, which is, sucks for me because I don’t use it, is Facebook. So we’ve actually got a local community group on Facebook, and I log in like once or twice a week to check for comments on there, and that’s the only time I use Facebook, so if that’s where people are, then that’s where I’ll go to try and get them along. But yeah, online not great either, so.

[00:40:58] Nathan Wrigley: Well, I think probably we’re just approaching the amount of time that we’ve got. So I will just ask that if anybody is listening to this who feels that they could help, obviously if you’re in Australia, that would be, I guess, an added bonus. But you know, even if not, if there’s some way that you feel that you could help. Jo, where would we contact you? Is there an email address or a social handle that you use?

[00:41:24] Jo Minney: I’m Jo Minney on most socials. I am recently on Mastodon, because I got mad at it being rebranded on the bird, that’s no longer a bird. And if people want to email me all of my stuff, all of my contact details are on my website. So jominney.com is my personal blog, and always happy to have a chat.

[00:41:45] Nathan Wrigley: Jo Minney, I really appreciate you chatting to me today about the state of the WordPress community in Australia. Thank you so much.

[00:41:52] Jo Minney: Thanks Nathan. It’s been very fun.

On the podcast today we have Jo Minney.

Jo is the founder of a small business that specialises in building websites for organisations, mainly nonprofits and the tech industry. With a background in engineering, Jo decided to shift her focus to website development using WordPress. She was excited about the WordPress community, and joined her local meetup, eventually becoming an organiser. Jo is keen for the WordPress community in Australia to grow, and has been making significant contributions to that growth.

In this episode, Jo shares her insights on the challenges of organising WordCamps and meetups in Australia, where the large size of the country and small population present some unique obstacles. If you’re used to a European or North American setting, it’s really interesting how the geography of the country presents challenges not seen elsewhere.

We discuss the importance of paying speakers and covering their travel expenses to create equal opportunities for freelancers and small businesses, as well as to give the Australian community a stronger voice.

We talk about her journey with WordPress, starting from her early days as a coder in a different field, and navigating the community online. Jo highlights the need for in-person opportunities to learn and connect with others, especially in a global community where time zone differences and online platforms can be limiting.

We chat about the challenges faced by the Australian WordPress community, from limited resources and burnout, to the struggle of attracting new organisers and attendees. Jo shares some exciting success stories, such as organising WordPress events and hosting a successful do_action event.

We briefly get into the need for more diverse voices, and the importance of fostering a supportive and inclusive environment

If you’re interested in hearing about how the WordPress community is doing in Australia, this episode is for you.

Useful links.

WordPress Perth Meetup

WP Australia website

WordCamp Brisbane

WordCamp Asia

do_action events

WP Australia Slack

WP Australia on Facebook

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