In 2012, I was lucky enough that the main UK WordPress conference was held in my home city of Edinburgh. I went along and had a terrific time. I missed out on the 2013 Lancaster offering, so was determined this year to get to this year’s conference in Bournemouth. I last visited the town as a 1-year old, which naturally enough I can’t remember. This year’s trip proved to be more memorable.
Day 1: Saturday 12 July
The two-day event began on Saturday 12 July. While getting coffee, I met up with Graham Armfield of Coolfields Consulting, who I’d met in Edinburgh. It was good to catch up, especially as we’ll be working together on a project soon. The conference kicked off with Tony Scott giving a short introduction to the event and speakers.
I chose first to attend Ngaire Ackerley’s talk on creating a starter theme. There are several good reasons to do this:
- It saves you time
- It lets you take on lower budget projects
- It’s easier to make theme changes
- You can code in the style you like, as opposed to another developer’s.
Ngaire explained her approach was to design on paper first, then create wireframes and templates before beginning coding. She doesn’t design mobile first. She uses Sass to create CSS files in a modular fashion. As well as testing herself extensively, she advises getting another developer to look at the code to make sure it’s a stable and reusable theme.
Next I went to Mike Pead’s talk on securing your WordPress website. This is a topic which interests me a great deal, and Mike delved into it deeply. His interest in site security began 3 years ago when one of his own sites was defaced.
Mike explained that most attacks were automated, and presented some research by Wordfence showing that many WordPress site requests resulting in 404 errors were for the login and registration pages. The core of WordPress is fairly secure if kept up to date; most attacks come via plugins or insecure hosting. (For example, it’s been recently reported that a bug in the MailPoet newsletter plugin may have put thousands of sites at risk.) Mike went through some basic security steps which we should all be doing, such as keeping WordPress updated, only using trusted plugins and themes and taking backups regularly. He then went into more detailed topics involving the use of theiThemes Security plugin, configuring .htaccess files, password protecting the wp-admin directory and changing folder permissions. All very serious stuff, but certainly a good idea if you’re setting up the likes of an e-commerce site, where any hacking attack could cost time, money and loss of reputation.
Following lunch, where I chatted with Neil Rabbitts, my choice of talk was Michael Killen of Devon Digital Design’s presentation on finding more high quality clients. This was also an eye-opening session. He explained that it’s a good idea to qualify clients by asking them questions before agreeing to work with them. Asking their budget early on is a key question to avoid tyre-kickers. He also suggested having short meetings through Skype rather than committing to face to face client meetings. It’s easier to limit the time spent on the former and it saves on travel time. Also key is defining success for the client by asking where they want to be in a year’s time and promising to make it happen. And I liked the idea of giving the client something tangible such as a USB stick when their site was launched, as it makes it more memorable. Even a heavier weight business card will make you stand out!
- Slides from Michael’s talk on Finding More High Quality Customers.
Kirsty Burgoine was up next talking about getting the most out of sales meetings. She says she still finds them difficult but has learned how to manage them better with experience. She had various tips:
- Get as much information as you can before the meeting.
- Know what you’re worth.
- Project confidence. You can practice apower pose, as recommended by Amy Cuddy.
- Have an agenda.
- Have some examples ready to show the client.
- Tell the client things they can buy into.
- If you don’t know something, admit it. Don’t promise something you can’t give.
- You can say no to a project.
You can also construct quotes by the type of work – what the website will look like, what it does and how if does it. It’s also a smart idea to have some kind of online signoff on a proposal, as clients don’t always read proposals in full.
Kirsty finished off by asking for suggestions for naming “Robot Dude”. And the winning name…? Bolt On.
Jonny Allbut of Tanc Design gave the last main presentation of the day on Designing with Data. I must confess my energy was beginning to flag a bit here, despite consuming a large (and very welcome) chocolate cookie. So I can’t tell you a whole lot about this one – except there was a lot of code in it. (Sorry, Jonny!) The main point that stood out was that Jonny isn’t keen on using the Advanced Custom Fields plugin and thinks you should build your own custom fields. Have a look at the slides for the presentation in full:
The lightning talks finished the day’s proceedings.
- Kimb Jones spoke about his experiences running web/WordPress-related events. Main takeaway – find the venue first, then the other things will fall into place.
- Jason King talked about working in the nonprofit sector – “they’re good at paying”.
- Mike Little scared us all by explaining us how we needed to use minimum 12 character passwords online, as it’s too easy to hack shorter ones. You can test your password security at the How Big is Your Haystack? site. Mike also recommended using a password manager such as LastPass.
- Nathan Roberts presented 8 time saving plugins, including Disqus, Duplicate Posts and Broken Link Checker.
- Herb Miller gave a poetic talk on problem solving.
- Matt Radford talked about DRY theme development, recommending the Roots starter theme.
Then it was time for dinner, and after walking to the seafront and finding every restaurant we tried there full, my dinner companions and I found an Italian restaurant that had space for 7 (yay). I acquired some nice WP badges thanks to Kimb. The evening social was at the Inferno pub. I was able to chat to Jason about his work in the third sector, and met Iain Taylor, who had also travelled from Edinburgh and has just set up the new WordPress Edinburgh Meetup group (so if you’re local, please join!) I bowed out at 11pm, but the party went on until after 3am.
Day 2: Sunday 13 July
Next morning, I went to Kieran O’Shea’s Secure from the Start, for two reasons: (1) it was interesting subject matter, and (2) it would have been rude not to, as we were sitting next to one another at dinner the previous evening. The talk was a follow on from a similar one in Edinburgh, and complemented Mike’s talk from the previous day. After mentioning the recent Heartbleeed bug, Kieran talked about different attack vectors such as ransomware – hacking in and encrypting a user’s files and then blackmailing them to receive the encryption key. Social engineering can also have nasty results – he explained how a Wired employee found that his iPhone, iPad and Mac were wiped thanks to an iTunes password reset that was facilitated by personal information available publicly.
Kieran also discussed security measures such as SSL (Start SSL provide free certificates) and two-factor authentication (something you have plus something you know.) The Yubikey device can be used for this purpose, along with a one time password. There is also a Yubikey WordPress plugin.
I elected to go to Graham Armfield’s talk on WordPress & Web Accessibility 2014, as accessibility is one of my interests, and it was more advanced than his Saturday talk. Graham had delivered similar presentations in 2012 and 2013.
There has been a bit of progress in the last year with WordPress themes – the ‘accessibility-ready’ tag for themes now exists. Themes that bear this tag have been reviewed to meet a set of accessibility guidelines. There are still only a small number of themes with this tag, but hopefully it will grow. Unfortunately, there is no similar requirement for plugins yet.
When it comes to WP-Admin accessibility, Graham said that WordPress 3.4 had numerous problems. He raised a lot of tickets and many issues were fixed in 3.5. There have been improvements to the custom menu builder, Quick Links and Tiny MCE editor. There is still an issue with keyboard accessibility of the Add Media panel, which will probably be sorted in version 4.0. Graham recently visited the Digital Accessibility Centre and worked with disabled users there, who uncovered more WP-Admin accessibility obstacles. One thing that everyone agreed on was the need for clearer instructions for the admin area.
Presently, the Make WordPress Accessible team champions the accessibility cause within the WordPress community. The ideal scenario would be to have an accessibility lead within the team of core WordPress developers, and it would be great if Matt Mullenweg raised the profile of WordPress accessibility by blogging about it.
Jack Lenox was next, introducing Underscores, an open source starter theme which has contributors from 16 countries (more are welcome!) It’s designed to be lean – so minimal styling – and follow good coding practices. Some new accessible themes have been developed using Underscores, and Microsoft have built their official blog using it. In the near future it will integrate with Sass, Grunt and Gulp. I’ve now downloaded Underscores, and am looking forward to trying it out.
After lunch, Kimb Jones was back with his WOW! Plugins talk, which has become a fixture of the conference. What makes a Wow! plugin? It must be:
- Well written and coded
Kimb listed a whole bunch of plugins fitting this definition. As he will no doubt post the talk slides, I won’t list them all. Some interesting ones were:
- Menu Humility – forces plugin menus down to the bottom of the WP-Admin menu.
- Front End editor – allows you to edit text on the front end. Still being developed.
- CMS Tree Page View – creates a tree view of pages and custom post types.
- Imsanity – automatically resizes large images when uploaded. You need to use a quality setting of 70-80 for best results.
- Jarvis– helps you find anything in the back end.
I liked the video demos of the plugins when Kimb was talking – it saved time and was a nice touch. He invited the audience to propose useful plugins too. One interesting suggestion isn’t a plugin, but a useful tool called BugHerd, which allows clients to submit feedback on any visual element of a site. It costs $29/month but there is a 14 day trial. Bounce is similar and it’s free. These both look really useful.
- In third place was Chris Witham with a “shock David Coveney” game.
- Second was Matt Northam with TweetFace II: the Revenge.
- And the winner was Frank Martin with his Mr Olympia weightlifting game.
I managed to pick up a spare T-shirt – kudos to Harrisment Design – and then headed for the Christopher Creeke pub up the road to chill out before the journey home. It was good to chat again to Graham and learn about his music career (hidden talents, eh?)
All in all, WordCamp Bournemouth was a fun, informative and enlightening weekend. I got a lot from it and hope to make it to many more WordCamps in the future. Many thanks to all who made it a reality.