It is a week since I returned from WordCamp Europe 2016 in Vienna, Austria. This was the second European WordCamp event I had attended and my second WordCamp event overall.
Those of you who read my account of last year’s event will know that the event in Vienna had a lot to live up to.
Did it live up to the hype?
Yes it did.
The trip was fantastic. There are some ways in which I believe the event was better this year and some ways in which I think they got it better last year. That has to be expected as every year it is different people organising the event.
If you want a quick overview of my view of the trip, please check out the video below.
If you want a more comprehensive account of the trip and my own experience at WordCamp, keep reading on :)
My journey to Vienna started around 2.30 in the morning on Thursday 23rd June. I had went to bed early the night before, however I lay in bed talking to friends about Ireland’s win in the Euros. So I had to struggle through the journey to Vienna on only two hours sleep.
I was exhausted, however the breakfast and coffee at the airport kept me and my girlfriend Lisa going.
It was great having Lisa there. I felt bad leaving her at times whilst I was away talking to people at the event, but she kept telling me she didn’t mind and she understood this was a business trip.
Before I went to Vienna I had plans on recording the event for all of my followers. One of the problems with this is that I did not really plan for doing that. I just decided to wing it whilst I was there.
So despite having an hour or so at the airport to kill, I forgot to record a video until I got on the plane. That resulted in this short video being uploaded to YouTube before our plane took off.
Vienna was hot. Very hot. We got the airport train into the city centre and walked out to the sun baring down on us hard.
We were only a fifteen to twenty minute walk to our hotel from the main train station, however my mobile phone provider Virgin Mobile was not giving me data and the GPS on my phone was not picking up a signal. What a pain.
One wrong turn close to the hotel contributed to us getting to the hotel much later than we should have.
When we arrived at our hotel at 1pm we were tired, sweaty, and hungry. Unfortunately, we could not get into out hotel until 3pm so we dumped our bags at the hotel, found a little restaurant, and had a beer in the sunshine.
We finally got into our hotel Derag Livinghotel An der Oper. It was full of paintings and antiques and expensive decor; quite fitting for Vienna.
After a quick shower and nap we went for dinner at a great little restaurant called Asia Time that wasn’t too far from our hotel.
After dinner we had a few beers and then met up with Simon and Colm from CommerceGurus; two good friends who I had a great time with in Seville the year before.
The next day we awoke to find out that the UK was leaving the EU and the pound was crashing at a ridiculous rate. It was something I was scared was going to happen as Simon had noticed that bookmakers had started dropping odds of it happening the night before.
WordCamp Europe 2016 was held at the beautiful MuseumsQuartier in Vienna, Austria. It is a huge building that dominates a couple of blocks in the heart of Vienna.
Simon and Colm stayed at the same hotel as us so we all took the ten minute walk up to MuseumsQuartier together.
In any other city, MuseumsQuartier would be the centrepiece of the city, however in Vienna it is one of many breathtaking buildings that seemed to be on every street of the city.
This year’s venue was bigger and more beautiful than the conference centre and hotel that was used for last year’s event in Seville. The main area boasted extremely high ceilings and one of the three tracks where talks were being held was in a museum.
Despite this, I couldn’t help but feel that the location in Seville was better for mingling and networking. The plaza outside MuseumsQuartier was stunning and although the venue inside looked amazing, it felt a little too crowded and a little claustrophobic inside. There were many occasions when I missed friends who were standing just around the corner.
I need to emphasise again how beautiful the venue was, but I do think something more open plan may have worked better.
The city of Vienna is gorgeous. The whole city is full of history and culture. You can’t help but smile when you are walking around the city. It was a great choice as a venue for WordCamp Europe.
I noted earlier that there were some ways in which the event was managed better in the previous year, but I couldn’t help be impressed with how everything was organised. To organise an event that thousands of people will be attending takes a lot of work and the organisation team has to be commended for the how smooth everything ran.
The WordCamp Event
The first thing you need to do at WordCamp is register. You say your name and you get the nametag that hangs around your neck for the next few days.
After registration everyone heads to the booths that sponsors are operating in order to get some swag. The items on offer were pretty good. I got three or four t-shirts, notepads and pens, socks, and a drinks container. It’s hard not to get caught up in it all when everyone is going around grabbing free stuff.
There was not a lot of time to wait around as we had to attend the opening remarks by Petya Raykovska.
The opening remarks welcomes you to the event and explains what you can expect for the weekend.
Talks were held in three different halls. The first talk I wanted to watch was in the same hall as the opening remarks so we got in there early.
The first talk we watched was by Mike Little. Mike is famous within the WordPress community as he co-founded WordPress with Matt Mullenwegg. His talk was entitled “Mike Little: WordPress – The early years. A co-founder’s view”.
It was fascinating hearing how WordPress began. Mike comes across as such a nice guy and is very humble about what he has did.
You can watch Mike’s talk in the video below.
After Mike’s talk we went out to grab some coffee. We had arrived at the event tired, but coffee wasn’t available when we first got there so by the time Mike’s talk had finished we were all dying to grab a coffee.
This is an area in which the organisers improved things since the previous year. In Seville there never seemed to be many drinks or enough water so there was always a queue for food and drink. In contrast, food and drinks were in abundance in Vienna. You could grab a drink at any time and they were putting delicious Viennese pastries on tables quicker than my greedy face could eat them. No waiting around at any time.
Outside the event we got to meet Wapuu for the first time; the popular WordPress mascot that everyone loves.
Ellen from the photo WordPress plugin company Pixel Rockstar was outside the main halls with a huge cuddly teddy of Wapuu. She was taking pictures of everyone with Wapuu using a Polaroid camera.
It was by far the most ingenius marketing stunt I have seen at a WordPress event. Everyone got a great memento from the event and we all got to know more about what Pixel Rockstar offered.
Check out the video below to see how much everyone loved Wapuu at WordCamp.
Unfortunately, the buildings in Vienna are not really designed for hot weather. I am not sure whether it was the fault of poor air conditioning or everyone leaving the doors open, but sitting in the halls watching talks was uncomfortably warm. It was quite crowded between talks outside the halls too.
The plaza which sat outside in the heart of MuseumsQuartier was great. It was very spacious and there were lots of bars and cafes dotted around the place.
Walking around anywhere in the middle of the plaza would have melted my pasty white skin into the tarmac, so we were always looking for shade.
Perhaps it’s because I come from a country where we get miserable weather most of the year, but I always find it interesting how good weather brings out the best in everyone. Everyone was smiling and having a great time.
My original plan was to record some videos whilst I was at the event. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.
Recording was difficult. There was a little wind noise outside in the shaded areas and inside the noise from people talking drowned me out. I had to delete one or two videos because of this. The only place I could really talk was in the halls, but I could not record anything there as talks were going on.
Publishing was a pain too. Poor upload speeds in my hotel and at the conference meant that videos that were only a few minutes long took more than three hours to upload.
As a result of these problems, and partly because I was too busy enjoying myself to spend all day talking to a camera, I didn’t manage to record videos for everyone like I had hoped.
In hindsight, this was not a bad thing as I wanted to spend more time participating at the conference.
The Leopold building featured a museum and the third hall in which talks were held. It had great air conditioning, however the room where talks was being held was too small so you could never get into a talk as the room was full.
I hung around the museum for an hour chatting to James, Simon and Colm, and the guys from HYPEStudio.
The lunch setup in Seville was good last year as there was a large buffet with lots of hot dishes. You could also get beers.
This year everyone got their lunch via a cafeteria and packed their lunches in lunch bags. Whilst I missed the opportunity of having a beer in the sun, I was really pleased how they treated vegetarians like myself and others who have dietary requirements.
A lot of us hung around the area between the lunch area and the conference area as it was in the shade.
The questions and answers section with WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg is one of the most popular talks in the whole conference. Held on the first day, the chat is hosted in one hall and streamed in another. We opted for the hall that was streaming the talk as it was quieter.
I really enjoyed the talk, however I thought the whole thing felt a little too prearranged. It felt like a planned discussion on a talk show rather than a true questions and answers session.
Questions had been screened and when they opened up questions to the crowd four minutes from the end there was only time for two questions. The first one Brian stated had been prepared and the other one was from a lady who worked at Google Search.
Essentially, it was a Q and A section without the Q.
I guess I can understand why they took this approach as in Seville one or two people asked some difficult questions. However, I still would have preferred if there were more questions from the crowd as it would have been a more interesting discussion.
I did however still enjoy the talk and I recommend you watch it yourself via the video below.
After the talk with Matt Mullenweg we all remained in the hall and watched the talk entitled “Editing Text at The New York Times” by Eric Lewis and “Seven Times Faster : A Study in frontend Optimization” by Peter Wilson.
Peter’s talk was by far my favourite talk of the weekend. He talked about the problems developers faced optimising their products and showed examples of how these problems can be resolved.
The rest of my day one was spent hanging around chatting to people outside the halls.
At night myself, Lisa, James, Simon, and Colm, headed into the city centre of Vienna for pizza and beer. It was an enjoyable and relaxed night in the heart of a city that was buzzing.
Despite getting to bed at a sensible hour, I couldn’t get to sleep after the first day. Perhaps due to the bizarre pillows that were on my bed (I still have problems with my neck from an injury) or perhaps because the air conditioning was too cold. Regardless of the reason, I didn’t get to sleep until 7am and I inevitably slept until 11.30am.
We arrived at MuseumsQuartier just in time for lunch.
On the second day I did not attend any talks. Instead, I hung around outside the two main halls and caught up with friends I had made at last year’s event.
After they announced that WordCamp Europe 2017 was going to be held in Paris, everyone went outside for the traditional group photo.
After trying to photobomb one of our photos, a lovely lady called Wendy jumped into one of our photos. It was a funny moment.
Around this time I decided to take my camera out again for another short video.
After the large group photo took place, we all started heading back to the hotel. This was around 6.30pm at night and the WordPress after-party was starting at 8.30pm.
I must admit that I enjoyed the second day at WordCamp much more than the first. I do enjoy sitting through some talks, but what WordCamp is really about is meeting other people from the WordPress community and I got to do that more on day two.
The WordCamp Ball
The “WordCamp Ball” was being held in the main hall of the conference. The organisers had encouraged people to get all dressed up for the event. It was not something we even considered due to us only taking a carry on bag with us on the flight over.
We managed to get showered and ready for going out at night in only forty-five minutes. Surely a Guinness world record.
We opted to go to Asia Time for dinner again as the service was so quick. We had hardly even drunk the top of our beers when our food arrived.
At the event we met up again with James from LlamaPress.
When we walked into the ball we were given one token for a drink. This got you one beer. You needed two tokens for a spirit so if you did not like beer you were screwed.
Many WordCamp attendees turned up with handfuls of tokens for drinks before they had even walked into the building. I can only assume that tokens were being provided to them by sponsors.
The WordPress community recently discussed whether alcohol should be at WordCamp after-parties. I believe issues like this exclude people more than anything else. We were all standing there with one token and everyone around us walked in with pockets full of tokens and ordered multiple drinks.
We walked into the main hall as we were advised to get a beer there.
I know it took a lot of effort to organise the ball, but I must admit I didn’t like where it was held. We were in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the ball was being held in a dark room that had no-air conditioning. It felt like an over-crowded school disco and it felt a little bizarre returning to the place where we had been hanging out all day.
After grabbing a beer downstairs at the ball, we walked outside and stood in the plaza and chatted with Rodolfo Melogli from Business Bloomer. It was great out there. It was a lovely temperature and you didn’t have people bumping into you every three seconds.
When we went back to grab another beer we found out that you could buy tokens in the foyer area. I was a bit surprised at this as no one at either bar advised this of this previously. Are we always the last to know?
We decided to move on to a fantastic little bar restaurant called Amerling Beisl we had been to two days before. It was a great night; chilled and lots of laughs.
The skies opened up around 2am. The rain was torrential so myself and Lisa ran home; getting soaked along the way.
The rest of the guys returned to the ball to be told that the bar was still open. Colm said at this point he said something along the lines of “Great. I’ll have a couple of beers” and then he was told that he needed tokens. So he asked to buy tokens and he was told that they had stopped selling tokens.
Seriously, what kind of setup is that?
Perhaps I have a simplistic view of the world, but does the exchange of money for goods and services have to be so overcomplicated?
I have money. You have beer. I give you money. You give me beer.
It’s a simple process, isn’t it.
All a token system appears to do is get people to run to another location to have to buy tokens and then have to run back to the bar to buy their drinks.
It wouldn’t surprise me if companies used this approach because they known that 10% to 25% of tokens that are bought are never used. If that is indeed the case, I would rather they just increased their prices instead of making me jump through hoops in order to get a beer. Bah Humbug!!!
I spoke to many people who stayed all night at the WordCamp ball and they said they had an amazing night.
We had a great night ourselves. I’m glad we went elsewhere as I really didn’t like the location of the ball, however it would have been great to chat with lots of people who stayed at the ball.
One of the people who told me they had a great night said that it was a much better location then the after-party in Seville. I thought the opposite. This just highlights how impossible it is to please everyone when organising an event like this.
Catching Up with Old Friends and Meeting New Ones
WordCamp was an opportunity to meet a lot of great people.
Jean is well known for his WordPress blog WP Mayor. He is also the owner of the RSS feed WordPress plugin WP RSS Aggregator and the WordPress podcast Mastermind. His latest product is EDD bookings; a booking add on for Pippin Williamson’s eCommerce WordPress Plugin Easy Digital Downloads.
Jean’s approach to WordCamp was similar to mine. He spent more time chatting to people than sitting in talks watching presentations.
At the end of last year’s event, James from LlamaPress came up to me and said hello. Unfortunately, he had to rush off as he was getting a flight. This year his hotel was next door to ours so we were able to hang out for most of the trip. James is a Genesis expert who mainly focuses on client work, however he is planning on releasing more themes in the future.
It was great to meet Charlie Livingston from athemes too. aThemes is a WordPress theme store that sells beautiful designs such as Rocked Pro. I write for the aThemes blog from time to time so I know the website well.
Charlie also has the honour of being the first active Rise Forums member I have met from the community.
I also managed to catch up with Timothy and Vaughn from WPMU Dev. I shared a few beers with them last year and really enjoyed their company.
Vaughn was joking that I was avoiding them as I didn’t manage to see them until the afternoon on the second day.
The WPMU Dev team had around twenty staff at the conference. WPMU Dev owner James Farmer was at his first WordPress event in several years too, but I didn’t manage to meet him. I will hopefully get a chance to meet him at a future event as he seems like a really interesting guy.
To read more about James Farmer’s journey, check out his article “Persona Non Grata – 10 Years as a WordPress Entrepreneur“.
Hanging out with Simon and Colm from CommerceGurus again was a blast. We had a great time last year in Seville and this year was more of the same.
The guys have some awesome WooCommerce themes on sale. Designs such as Storesy are selling really well. I recommend checking out their main themes page to get an appreciation of the standard of themes they sell.
It was also great meeting up with fellow blogger Nick Schaferhoff. Nick approached me after lunch and we talked about his plans to expand more into content marketing in the future. He’s a fantastic writer so I have no doubt we will be hearing more from him over the coming years.
Sightseeing in Vienna
Those of you who follow this blog will know that I have always loved travelling. I love visiting new countries and exploring new cities and wandering around historic and interesting locations.
We arrived in Vienna on Thursday 23rd June and left on Tuesday 28th June. This allowed us to do a lot of sightseeing on the Sunday and Monday after the conference.
After having breakfast on Sunday with Simon and Colm from CommerceGurus, myself, Lisa, and James walked up to meet Charlie at Hofburg Palace. The building was built way back in the 13th century and is the official residence of the President of Austria.
We were quite lucky with the weather. The sweltering heat of the previous two days had been replaced by a lower temperature that didn’t require you to change your underwear every hour.
When I first arrived in Vienna I thought that the place was huge. Once you know where everything is you realise that most of the main tourist locations are quite close together. Hofburg Palace is directly in front of the Museumsquartier building where the conference was held. When you walk through Hofburg Palace you are only a few streets away from St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
On the way to the cathedral we came across a bizarre little Pinocchio shop.
James took this opportunity to get one of the silliest photos of the trip.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna was completed in 1160. Its highest point stands 136.7 metres tall and the plaza area outside attracts many tourists.
The cathedral has a unique roof with a colourful design. It reminds me of the boosts you get in video games that speed your character up.
It’s hard to put into words how stunning the cathedral is inside. I’m not a religious person, but it is hard not to be affected by the beauty of the building when you are inside.
The cathedral has two towers: North and south.
The north tower is the smaller of the two and you get to the top via an elevator. The south tower is much higher, but to get to the top you need to walk up 343 stairs.
At the top of the south tower there are windows facing north, west, south, and east. Due to how many people were at the top and the way the windows are built into the tower, you do not get as good a view of Vienna as you would have hoped.
In hindsight, the north tower would have been better. At the top of the north tower you can go outside and get a much better view of the city. You aren’t just looking outside of a window.
The 343 stairs to the top of the south tower was a bit of a pain too since the stairs were only designed for one person going up or down. Due to this, you were always having to stop to let people pass. Going right up the north tower in seconds using an elevator would have been much simpler.
The next morning we awoke to the sight of it raining outside. The rain would continue during most of the day, but it was never more than a sun shower. It was, however, a little bit colder than previous days, so Lisa purchased a touristy hat to keep her ears warm.
Charlie left for the UK in the morning so it was myself, Lisa, and James who were left to do sightseeing.
Our first stop was the Karlskirche church that was situated just behind our hotel.
Completed in 1737, the building apparently had a direct line of sight to Hofburg Palace when it was originally built. Today, there are streets upon streets separating them.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral was gorgeous inside, however Karlskirche just blew me away. It’s difficult to put into words how detailed everything is in the inside.
The church was having a lot of renovation work when we visited it, but we still got access to everything.
The Karlskirche reminded me a lot of the Sistine Chapel I visited five years ago in Rome. The level of detail has to be seen to be believed. There are huge marble columns and sculptures at every turn.
We took a glass elevator to the top of the church.
At the top of the elevator you came out inside the top of the church dome. At this point there are another several flights of stairs to walk up to the top.
At the very top of the church there is a walkway for you to stand. We were so close that we could touch the walls.
There were more windows than the top of St. Stephen’s Cathedral so you could get a better view of the surrounding area.
Our next stop was the Belvedere Palaces. There was two palaces in the Belvedere: Upper and lower. As you can see from the photographs, the area outside the palaces was massive.
There is something about seeing gargoyle woman dog like figures with stone breasts that makes me want to take silly photographs.
Thankfully, everyone else found the sculptures as funny as me.
All silliness aside, the Belvedere was a wonderful place to visit. We decided not to spend time inside the palaces and instead just walked around the gardens.
We all had a fantastic day walking around and seeing more of Vienna. If you have never been, I highly recommend putting it on your todo list.
I am really glad that we booked a few extra days at the end of the trip. It allowed us to see more of Vienna and do the tourist things we didn’t have time to do when WordCamp was on.
What I Learned From WordCamp Europe 2016
WordCamp Europe in Vienna was an amazing experience.
Yes, the air conditioning was poor in the halls. Yes, the token system at the after party was annoying.
However, these are little things I decided to complain about in this blog post because the trip is still fresh in my mind. Ultimately, neither of the minor issues about the event bothered me that much as they were pretty irrelevant to the whole experience I had.
All in all, the event was organised remarkably well and kudos have to go to those who worked so tirelessly to put the event on.
Before I went to WordCamp, I had thought about recording lots of videos at the event. As I spoke about earlier, the number of people at the event made it difficult to speak in videos.
From a selfish point of view, I am glad I did not spend all my time trying to record footage of the conference. Firstly, because there are official representatives who are doing that already. Secondly, because I know that many people do not feel comfortable when others are recording.
I may take the odd video next year so that others can see what the event was like, however I think that it will be better for me to just focus on enjoying the event itself rather than spend my time recording, editing, and uploading videos.
Vienna was my second WordCamp. I had a truly fantastic time at the event, however I did not do enough from a business point of view to go out and meet people and make new contacts. I was perhaps a little too comfortable spending time with the people I already knew well.
There were so many people at the event that I did not get a chance to speak to. This includes WordPress co-founders Mike Little and Matt Mullenweg, David Braun of Template Monster, WPMU Dev owner James Farmer, and the developers of products I have reviewed on my blog.
Thankfully, I did manage to connect to some great people.
Tobias Schutter from CodePress came up and said hello at the conference as I had reviewed his plugin Admin Columns many years ago. He was genuinely grateful for me talking about the plugin. It is not something I expected as I had talked about the plugin in the past simply because it was one of my favourite WordPress plugins (it still is).
It is easy to forget about the effect that blogging can have. Everyone who uses the internet suffers from information overload, but writing good content can still be very powerful.
When I reference WordPress themes and plugins I like, I am thinking about the WordPress user who is reading my articles. It is easy to forget that reviewing WordPress products helps out developers too and how rewarding it can be to pay it forward and spread the word of great products to other WordPress users.
After we visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral on the Sunday we came across Tobias and his colleagues David Mosterd and vd Dungen Gronovius. We had a couple of beers and they spoke about how their plugin was doing.
I’m looking forward to testing the latest version of Admin Columns Pro and reviewing it for all of you guys. Stay tuned.
A similar interaction happened the following day. I had sent a tweet saying that anyone who was still in Vienna was welcome to join myself, Lisa, and James, while we were sightseeing. Akshat Choudhary from Blog Vault responded saying that he would try and meet up with us.
Akshat did not manage to meet up with us during our sightseeing, but after we came back from the Belvedere palaces we went to James’s hotel for a bite to eat. I looked across the room and I saw that Akshat was sitting there two tables along from us. It was a wonderful coincidence.
Akshat was sitting with Amos Struck from Pixel Rockstar (the guys who brought Wapuu!). It was great relaxing with both of them and hearing more about how their services have developed.
Amos was a delightful guy who has a huge amount of experience in the stock image industry and Akshat Choudhary is one of the nicest guys I have had the pleasure of meeting. It was great meeting both of them and I hope to connect with both of them again in the future.
Connecting with the guys from CodePress and with Akshat and Amos highlighted how little networking I had did at the conference itself.
In the future I need to make more of a conscious effort to find out who is going to the event and introduce myself.
Connecting with fellow WordCamp enthusiasts is what WordCamps are all about. As a blogger, the task of meeting people and connecting with them is easier for me since many people in the community are aware of who I am and what I do. I need to take advantage of this at future events and connect with more like-minded individuals.
But don’t worry….I will still be having fun :)
Next year’s European WordCamp is being held at the Les Docks de Paris in North Paris between the 16th and 18th of June 2017.
I will definitely be attending and I hope that many of you do as well.
To find out more about the event and book tickets, please check out the official WordCamp Europe 2017 website.
I am also planning on going to the inaugural WordCamp Belfast on 1st and 2nd October 2016. My brother lives and works in Belfast so I will be able to see him and attend my first smaller WordPress event.
I have been visiting Belfast once or twice a year for several years now. It’s a great little city and very similar to Glasgow. My girlfriend has never been to Belfast so it is a good excuse to do some touristy things while we are over and meet more people from the WordPress community.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this summary of my trip to WordCamp Europe in Vienna, Austria. I would love to hear from those of you who attended the event so please leave a comment below and give me your thoughts on the conference.
Thanks for reading.