What I’ve Learned Hosting the WordPress Orlando Meetup For Almost Seven Years

I’ve been organizing the WordPress Orlando Meetup since near the start, all the way back in late 2011. For me that was my first introduction to the idea of a community around WordPress, and that led to my involvement in my first WordCamp in 2012. Since then I’ve traveled to dozens of WordCamps, speaking, volunteering, organizing, and even occasionally attending without having all of that extra pressure ????

WordPress Orlando Organizers and Matt Mullenweg
Having Matt Mullenweg stop by your Meetup is ????????????

There are a few things that I’ve learned about hosting recurring events for people that you don’t always see outside of that community. Some of these were taught to me by others locally, some were shared from the supportive network of the Make WordPress Community, and some were those harder learned lessons, where I had to experience firsthand when things don’t always go according to plan.

I can’t say that these are the most important lessons of all, but since I’m prepping for our WordPress QA Meetup tonight, I thought I could jot down a few of the things that I find important for a Meetup.

It Doesn’t Matter Where You Are

I mean you should try to choose a place that is quiet enough to hold conversations, but not so quiet that you’re intruding on it. Ideally select a location where you won’t be a disturbance to others nearby, and they won’t be a disturbance to your group.

Libraries have been good for us for this, as well as private office spaces generously donated by supportive businesses. These are places that you can generally have a multi-hour meeting without disturbing anyone else, and if you look hard enough you can find people willing to give you space for free. We generally choose companies that are in the web and marketing space, since they would have a natural overlap with our group.

Coffeeshops and other public venues can also be used if they fit what you’re looking to do. We host a monthly coffee Meetup at a local coffeeshop near my house. I chose that location because they make the best coffee around Orlando, they are locally owned and get a business boost by us being there, and they have faster internet than I have at home. The casual environment is a good setup for our conversational Meetups, where we naturally form small groups to chat, help each other with websites, and meet new people.

WordPress Orlando User Workshop
Hands-on Workshops are a huge hit for our group.

It Doesn’t Matter What You Do

Again, have some guidelines, and certainly let people know in advance what you want to do at the Meetup so they can determine if it’s good for them to attend. You can do a variety of Meetup styles, and they don’t all have to be lectures or be the same from event to event.

We’ve hosted events that are standard lectures, deep dives on one topic, several short talks with a general theme, QA sessions, hands-on workshops, and the aforementioned coffee chats. We even hosts parties and social events, like the WordPress 15th Anniversary Party that we’re holding next week.

A group you’d love to party with

I’ve found that having different topics each month, as well as giving an idea of the level of familiarity that you should have with that topic before attending helps.

We’ve had people mention that they thought the group would be too technical for them, so we do our best to make everyone feel welcome. Indeed, our makeup of events skews heavily toward business owners and bloggers, the people that make up the largest portion of the WordPress user base by far. It’s our job and my pleasure to make sure they get something valuable out of attending an event.

It Doesn’t Matter How Many People Attend

Orlando is lucky to be situated to have one of the largest WordPress Meetups in the world. We’ve got a passionate base of attendees that show up to most events, and a healthy cycling of new members each month.

Though a crowd is always nice when you’ve got a stage!

That said, we’ve noticed attendance dipping. Not always that we have fewer people attend, although that’s sometimes the case, but that we have higher RSVPs and a higher number of no-shows. Sometimes this can be upsetting when I provide food for the Meetup that goes uneaten, but it’s worst when we’re in a venue that we have to limit RSVPs and I know that there are people who didn’t make it because someone took a seat and didn’t show up.

We’ve hosted individual events that had a handful of attendees all the way up to 100+ people who are passionate about WordPress. The size of the event doesn’t matter as long as some time can be made to let everyone know what they can do, who is welcome, and that whatever reason they chose to come will be heard.

Irina Blumenfeld, Chris Edwards, David Wolfpaw, and Adam Soucie answering WordPress Questions

Sometimes those smaller Meetups can be even more fun, since they take less planning and can have more intimate conversations. I get to learn a lot from a wide group of people who know lots about something that I know nothing about, and they can hopefully learn something about WordPress from me.

General Notes

Just a few things that didn’t fit into the above sections:

  • Maintaining some sort of online presence is useful to keep people connected outside of events. Our website, Facebook group, Youtube, and Slack team, are resources for all members with notes from our previous Meetups and new discussion.
  • Having some way to remind people how they can reach you is important. We have a banner that we bring to each event, so that someone can snap a picture of it to remind themselves of our URLs later. I shortened them with redirects from our main website to make them even easier to type in.
  • Having a Code of Conduct is super important. We haven’t had too many issues where we had to enforce ours, but they’ve happened. Having some sort of guiding document is a good start to ensure discussions flow around inappropriate behavior.
  • Having a few organizers helps to stop burnout. Each event involves booking a venue, setting dates, getting refreshments, arranging speakers, and ensuring all of the little things around those go off without a hitch, like say ensuring the venue isn’t locked (happened multiple times), that people have the right date and address (same), and that speakers aren’t stuck without the right laptop adapter (yup)
  • Have fun with it! This is a volunteer group with all volunteer driven events. I try not to let it consume all of my time, and try not to go overboard on fancy venues and food when it’s coming out of pocket. Survey after survey have shown us that people come for the content and community, and that everything else is secondary.

If you want to start a Meetup in your area or get involved in an existing one, do it! It doesn’t have to take a lot of time and energy to get started, and the Make WordPress Community can provide additional resources, including funding for venues.

WordPress US Contributor Day
Seriously, these people are amazing!

A Starter Child Theme For Genesis

While my last post about a theme was for my my first Gutenberg-ready theme, Malik, I do a good portion of my work with the Genesis Framework, and often use the custom themes that StudioPress sells.

I like to save time and repurpose code wherever I can, and several years ago I decided that I needed to build my own starter theme. This theme would be a Genesis child theme, and it would incorporate many of the features that I use over and over again for client sites. I put the code up on Github, so you can download or repurpose my Genesis child theme used for Orange Blossom Media projects.

Overview

I will clarify now that I haven’t updated this theme in a few months, and I clearly need to give it some TLC this weekend. For instance, I’m still loading version 4.7.0 of FontAwesome, when the superior version 5.0.13 (as of writing) is even better and easier to use. I’ve included it already, but I need to update the maintenance version and remove the unused, older files. Likewise, I need to remove the favicon which has been replaced with a WordPress customizer feature.

In addition to providing an icon font, the theme enqueues a login stylesheet, as well as some functions that allow you to change the login page title, icon, and layout. This makes it easier to add client information to the WordPress login screen, making it feel more custom to them.

I also pre-include a few scripts that I use for a lot of sites. This includes Sidr, a script for pull out menus which I use for responsive site menus. I have another script that will load a different type of menu, depending on the use case. Finally, there are some Modernizr scripts included to help integrate with older browsers, and a Javascript file with some modifiable scripts included.

There are a few includes that load on initialization, including a PHP based mobile detector in the event that I want to selectively run some server-side code. Functions that run on the admin side of the WordPress dashboard are loaded in a separate file from frontend code, and includes lots of hooks and filters to manage dashboard display and Genesis features, making it easier to toggle them on or off as needed. I’ve been slowly moving some of these functions to plugins that I load on client sites in the event that they change themes, but I kept them here for ease of use.

There are some customizer defaults that get loaded, as well as custom front-page.php, page-landing.php, and single.php. These handle a homepage separate of the latest posts, a page template that removes the header and footer, and an individual post, respectively.

Finally, the functions.php file defines a lot of sane standards, includes more hooks and filters to toggle as needed, and allows some quick repositioning of Genesis actions on specific page types. The stylesheet likewise makes assumptions of how the site will be designed, allowing you to modify as opposed to create from scratch each time. This should still be updated (for instance to be mobile-first), but it’s a familiar standard for me, and for everyone who’s modified a StudioPress theme already.

Why Spend Time on This?

Initially I put extra effort into creating this starter over building a specific client site. I even spend some time now reviewing it and making minor changes over time. Why would I spend time that I could be using for productive work doing something like this?

The investment of time and focus on planning and making templates and defining standards is a long-term gain. I’ve created a collection of code that can be reused over and over again, and set myself up for success every time I start a new site. It’s almost not a joke when I say that I activate this theme and half the work of building a client site is done for me.

By using the same codebase over and over again, I’ve allowed myself mental shortcuts that overall make me more productive, and allow me to provide better value by not reinventing a feature or layout every time I get started. It turns out that time was well spent, as I’ve been able to repeatedly apply this code.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss how I made this process just a bit easier, and learned some new things along the way, to create a theme generator.

For now, download the starter theme here if you want a leg up on building a custom Genesis themed site! 


https://github.com/davidwolfpaw/obm-genesis-child

My First Gutenberg Ready, Mobile First Theme

tl;dr you can find the code for this theme and download on my Github profile.

When I decided to revamp my blog, I knew that I’d want to start with a fresh theme. I’m not much of a designer, but I appreciate themes that are minimal, make decisions for the display of content, but allow some customization options to let others make it their own.

With Gutenberg around the corner, I also knew that I’d want to take advantage of the content layouts that the new WordPress editor provides, and future proof the theme a bit for both that editor and the variable screen sizes that visitors would be coming from, making it a mobile-first theme.

With that in mind, I took a look at some of the existing resources for Gutenberg theme development, including articles like this introduction to adding theme color palettes by Brian Gardner, and plotted out some of the features and settings that I’d want to include.

Introducing Malik Theme

This new theme is named in honor of Om Malik, a long-time blogger, friend of WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg, and founder of the sadly changed Gigaom. While I’m using the theme with a header on top of the page, I’ve created a layout similar to Om’s personal blog, with a left sidebar displaying the site title, menu, and information.

I’ve added a few settings that the site owner can modify, and am considering what new features to include or default for anyone using the theme. The existing settings currently include the following:

  • Header Location – You can choose to put the header on top or on the side of the site
  • Hide Header on Scroll – Make the header info disappear on scroll
  • Hide Header Menu on Scroll – Ditto for the header menu
  • Font Pairing – I used some font guides to select good pairings for typography-illiterate people like myself
  • Night Mode – Let visitors toggle night mode to make the page darken for low-light reading
  • Read Time – Display an estimate for how long an article will take to read
  • Article Progression Bar – Show a progression bar for how far you’ve scrolled in an article
  • Author Info – Choose whether to display the author picture, display name, and description at the bottom of articles
  • Post Meta Header – Display info such as author URL, comments, tags, categories, post time, and post date via shortcodes before articles
  • Post Meta Footer – Display info such as author URL, comments, tags, categories, post time, and post date via shortcodes after articles
The sidebar header layout of the Malik Theme
The sidebar header layout of the Malik Theme

These features were built with blogging in mind. I use night mode on apps like Pocket and Twitter, and having the option available on a website is something that I would like to see more frequently.

Night Mode is a useful feature for reading in a darkened room

Speaking of Pocket, I appreciate how it gets out of my way while reading by hiding menus on scroll. Read time and progression bars are available to give an indication of article length, which helps me determine if something is going to be read right now or added to Pocket for later reading in the first place.

The theme is still under active development, but you can see it in action right here on my personal site. If you want to try it out, you can get the code on Github. If you find a bug or have suggestions for new settings or features, I’m always looking to improve!

Note: Gutenberg itself is in active development as well, so if you use this theme, be sure to watch it for updates!

Installing Vagrant, Virtual Box, VVV, & VV On Mac

I’ve been using Vagrant with VirtualBox for local development for over a year now, after introduction to the tools on top of Varying Vagrant Vagrants at a WordCamp. It’s become my default standard for starting new WordPress sites, and it’s more highly accessible than I realized at the time that I first tried it, though it can also be a bit of a black box from the outside.

Throughout the post I’m going to cover a quick install guide (though by no means exhaustive), and borrow heavily from a guide that I put together and am keeping updated on my Github page. I also discussed this at a developer meetup for WordPress Orlando last month, which you can check out if you want to give ServerPress or MAMP a try too.

Note, I’m coming at this from a Mac, which used to drive me bananas in guides, so apologies if you’re on Windows.

Installing Virtual Box, Vagrant, VVV, and VV

First, let’s talk about what we’re setting up here. The outcome of this post should give you a local development environment for WordPress sites that you can start and expand upon rapidly, making it easier to build new sites for yourself or your clients. We’re going to start by downloading and installing VirtualBox, which is by far the largest part of this project. I use Virtual Box because it is free and accessible for a wide variety of platforms, but VVV supports Parallels, Hyper-V, VMWare Fusion, and VMWare Workstation as well.

After you’ve downloaded and installed VirtualBox, you’ll want to ensure that you have Vagrant installed. This can be installed a wide variety of ways, but the most straightforward is going to the official download page and installing the version that matches your computer. After Vagrant is installed you should be able to open Terminal and type the command vagrant and see a list of flags that you can use.

You’ll also need Git for some of this, so if you don’t have it, download here and install it.

Vagrant installed on Terminal

Next, you’re going to install vagrant-hostupdater with the command vagrant plugin install vagrant-hostsupdater, then install vagrant-triggers by typing vagrant plugin install vagrant-triggers into Terminal too. These tools will allow Vagrant to automatically set hosts for you, which are a pain in the butt on your own, and allow triggers to run, which lets other programs (say VV?) attach their own events to Vagrant.

Up next, install Varying Vagrant Vagrants, which is thankfully shortened to VVV. You can do this in Terminal too, using the command git clone git://github.com/Varying-Vagrant-Vagrants/VVV.git vagrant-local. You’re going to move into that directory by typing cd vagrant-local, since vagrant-local is the name of the folder that you made and put it into when you cloned it to your computer.

The next portion of this is really long. Like, don’t do this at a coffeeshop or via a mobile data plan long. Probably should give fair warning that setting up VVV is a long process on slow internet. Let’s assume that you are on fast internet or have plenty of time to kill. Thankfully you can run this in the background and go along your day, provided heavy YouTube viewing is not part of your downtime. Run the command vagrant up, which is a command that you’ll be getting used to over time. The first time that you run the command it will have to download a whole box for Virtual Box, basically meaning you’re downloading and installing a new operating system that will run alongside your existing one.

When VVV is installed, you should be able to visit vvv.dev in your browser and see it in all of it’s glory!

Default VVV page
In the next post, we’ll make this page show useful information and look pretty.

Look, at this point you probably need a coffee or something. Relax, you’re doing great, and treat yourself to that caffeinated goodness.

Site Creation with VV

To make site creation even easier, we’re going to use Brad Parbs‘ cool tool Variable VVV, or VV for short. There are a few methods to install this, and while I use HomeBrew which makes it rather easy, in the event that you don’t, check out his install instructions here: https://github.com/bradp/vv/#installation.

With VV installed you can use the command vv --create to install new WordPress sites to a single VVV install with ease. I’m going to save the discussion on how to do that for the next post, since it can cover quite a bit.

Next Time on the Show!

I’m going to go through some enhancements in my next post on this topic, like using a custom VVV dashboard, how to get value out of VV, how I make VVV a bit easier to use, and some of the testing that I’ve done around squeezing performance out of VVV and making it load faster.

I hope that if you’ve stuck around for the journey you were able to successfully get going, or at least will give it a shot. If you’re having any trouble, please leave a comment and I’ll try to help you out here so others can troubleshoot too.

Workshop – Building a Business with WordPress

Last weekend I hosted a workshop for members of WordPress Orlando where we worked on websites as businesses. The event was set up like a quicker Startup Weekend, where attendees pitched ideas and voted on them to work together in groups. At the end of the day, each group shared what they worked on and what they learned during the day.

The goal was not to further the business of any one attendee, but to have everyone work together. We also sent attendees home with some cool tools, including a free year of hosting at SiteGround, to ensure that they had no excuse not to get started with their businesses.

WordPress Orlando Business Workshop

We gave groups a mandate not to focus on writing code, but instead look for tools that could help them out. This let us focus on the idea and a minimum viable product than on perfect execution, which is all but impossible in one day. They learned how to set up membership sites, newsletters, payment gateways, or even just install WordPress. They focused on the structure of a business model and website, not on the exact layout and design.

I believe that empowerment is the key feature that WordPress offers. I’m always talking about the community and how important it is to be involved and how it helps raise everyone up, but empowerment is the reason for that community to exist. WordPress can make it easy for someone who is retired, between jobs, raising a family, going to school or already employed to start a new business or expand upon a hobby. Giving someone the option to start their own business without having to wait for approval or jump through a ton of hoops is a great way to get them involved in something fun that can produce tangible results.

WordPress Orlando Business Workshop

I would say that the event was a success overall. We had about thirty attendees stay the full day to work, and we rarely had to step in to help. I think that’s the best sign of success for me – that we were facilitators and mentors, not walking people through every step of the way. We’ve already had requests to do the event again, and I took copious notes on how to improve for the future.

I can’t thank our awesome sponsors enough for the support that they gave us. I didn’t ask for money, I asked for tools for our attendees to take home with them, and did they provide! This is my blog, so I can put my affiliate code, but if you attended the event, you got some of these tools for free or at a heavy discount. 😀 Thanks again!

  • Director of Innovation for Orlando, Matt Broffman, came by to share with attendees his path to building Bungalower, a site that exemplifies many of the lessons that we aimed to teach.
  • Canvs donated space for our teams to work and eat throughout the day.
  • SiteGround graciously donated free hosting to all attendees and gave us some awesome notebooks for the event
  • StudioPress offered a discount on their themes, which I use for a lot of site builds.
  • Easy Digital Downloads  and iThemes offered a discount on their extensions to help users start an online store
  • CodeGuard and MainWP gave users free tools to help manage their sites and keep them safe and up to date.