In the WordPress world, we hear the term “community” thrown around — a lot. So what does community mean? How do you become an active part of a community?
As a child of the 70’s, I was raised on Sesame Street. I can still hear the song in my mind:
“Who are the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, in your neigh-bor-hood? Oh who are the people in your neighborhood? The people that you meet each day.”
Sesame Street did a lot more than teach letters and numbers. It emphasized neighborhoods. It emphasized community. “The people that you meet each day” included teachers, librarians, plumbers, and mail carriers.
Dictionary.com contains one definition of community that is widely-applicable:
“a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the):”
So, what does community mean to you?
Community might be based on locale. Or, for some, based upon a shared interest. It could also be based upon a shared experience.
Pondering this while sitting in Starbucks. Clearly, I'm in Huntington Beach which is a community, surrounded by a community of coffee lovers. I know none of these people. We are not connected. They may be in my locale but is this my community? I'm headed to my #WordPress meetup. Those people I know. Better yet, they know me. #community
The WordPress Community
The WordPress Community is a group of people who share a passion for WordPress, open-source software, collaboration, and doing good.
Depending upon skill set, your WordPress Community experience can be different. Perhaps you write Plugins or commit to Core. If you’re a blogger you may be an end user. Both ends of the spectrum can attend meetups and speak at WordCamps.
But within the Community as a whole I see it broken down in geographical terms.
The Community: Global
The global community would be the highest order of the community taxonomies. I see this as the atmosphere that contains our oxygen. It’s huge. It’s big. It may seem invisible. But it is there.
You can be part of this community on Twitter, Slack, or Facebook Groups. You may be watching shows online like WPwatercooler, WP Round Table, or The WP Crowd. You may listen to podcasts like KitchenSink WP, Apply Filters, or DradCast.
These activities ground you within the community. They give you more to talk about — a sub-community if you will. Fans of a show can chat about the topics on Twitter, in a Facebook Group, or in a Slack channel.
— Robby McCullough (@RobbyMcCullough) March 11, 2016
I’ve been a co-host of WPblab since October of 2015, and we have quite a few regulars who watch the show every Thursday. What’s neat is that when the show is live on Blab, everyone can see the icons of people currently watching. Not only that but there’s a chat box on the side.
It’s fun to watch and interact with folks from all the way from New Zealand to as near as Riverside, CA. We’re all chatting, interacting, and building relationships. Some people are watching as they’re catching up on work or even making dinner.
Without a doubt, I feel more cemented into the WordPress community because of it. I think others do, too.
The Community: Local
Speakers, sponsors, attendees and volunteers gathered for WordCamp San Diego 2016 4/25/16 taken by Found Art Photography
Without a doubt, WordCamps are an integral part of the local community. In many ways, WordCamps are great for on-boarding beginner WordPress users and encouraging them to attend meetups on a regular basis.
WordCamps gather folks from the same geographic region to highlight local talent. People in your community may not be outspoken about their talents or experience in other situations. Encouraging speakers to tell the stories of what they experienced in WordPress and how they learned from their mistakes inspires everyone to expand their own boundaries: personally and professionally.
No matter where you are in WordPress, you have something to learn and something to teach. This is how community is developed within these events. Giving. Learning. Sharing.
The Community: Hyper-Local
What’s interesting to me is that Sesame Street wasn’t about the whole of New York or even Manhattan. It was about the people who lived on one street. I call that hyper-local community. For WordPress, our local meetups would be considered hyper-local community.
The value of in-person meetups cannot be understated.
In Orange County, for example, we have several meetups to choose from: General, Developer, Designer, and Women Who WP. Those have become mini communities in and of themselves, interchanging often, but by building relationships, there is a cohesion that binds people together. You’re not alone. You’re not isolated.
The experience is valuable for several reasons.
- You gain insight into pain points.
- You learn new things.
- You meet new people.
- You strengthen relationships.
If you’re a back-end developer and PHP is your thing, then listening to people tell their stories may give you ideas for solutions and plugins to build. If you love design, you may be inspired to teach a new markup at the next meetup. Those who struggle with contracts may learn a new way to onboard their clients.
Learning New Things:
My teacher bias will show here but if you’re not learning at the meetups, you’re doing it wrong. You may not learn a new function, but you may learn how people think (insights). You may learn SVGs are accessible in addition to being less of a burden on your server. Perhaps a friend wants to build a plugin but needs an API expert and that’s right up your alley. Do you see what I mean?
Setting the stage for ideas and collaboration is what makes the serendipity of a meetup amazing. Ideas need connection to become great.
Meeting New People:
You may have seen that person on a show, chatted in Slack, or left a review of their plugin on the WordPress Repository, but that doesn’t mean they know you. Meetups are great for that official introduction.
The conversational style of the meetup, allowing people to chime in and answer questions, also facilitates relationships. A question about Gravity Forms and Salesforce integration may inspire someone to meet with an offer to help out. Or vice versa.
Information alone is valuable but information plus human contact defines exceptional communities. Google isn’t a community builder and personal relationships matter. We are certainly influenced by our peers and when we feel connected and part of a group — we all get better, together.
As an example, I first met Jacob, a front-end developer at Zeek Interactive, on WPblab. When I finally went to our General WordPress meetup, I had an opportunity to chat with him about other things (like the strategy behind using custom post types). And, of course, we got a selfie.
— Bridget Willard (@YouTooCanBeGuru) March 1, 2016
I’d say that a friendship that started online is even stronger now that we’ve had several in-person chats. And who knows? I may even sit in his WordCamp Orange County talk now.
The $64,000 question is what does it ACTUALLY mean to be part of the community?
That depends on you. How involved do you want to be? You can be community to one person who needs a mentor. You can collaborate in GitHub. You can have a heart-to-heart over coffee at a WordCamp.
Bottom line: Community means participation.
Community means giving back.
Community means relationships.
Answers from the Community on Community:
I asked a few friends, read some articles, and watched interviews on YouTube to get answers on why they value the WordPress Community and what it means.
“Community is tangible; community is cohesive; community brings people together in ways that allow them to do things they couldn’t have done in isolation.” Sky Blue
“I’m the web-mistress for a non-profit whose site was hacked (before I took over) I was able to reach out to the local WP community to get the help I needed on the site. Doing a little baking in exchange for the free help…” Iris Messina
“After spending the past 4 years in my home office I started to feel increasingly disconnected from the WordPress Community. It may sound strange because I was still immersed through dedicated WordPress Facebook groups, Slack channels, Twitter, Blab.im sessions and more. But I was missing the intimate and personal interactions I feel when attending WordCamps. Those hallway conversations you have, the business and partnership opportunities you find (or create), and more simply, the friends you make.” Adam Warner
“The WordPress community means helping each other become better … developers, designers, entrepreneurs, clients, human beings … Supporting, teaching, accepting and helping without judgement or competition. I am proud and grateful to be part of the WordPress community.” Tara Cosacchi Claeys
“If you just open yourself up to [the WordPress Community], you can have so much goodness come back to you.” Shayda Torabi
“[The Community] has helped me kind of build my own business and it’s given me an opportunity to kind of put back into the Community. If no one is putting into it, it’s not going to be good… You don’t have to be the lead organizer, you can show up and move stuff.” Alex Vasquez