WordCamps, can we get a Case Studies Track?

I’ve always been of the opinion that WordCamp is about everything that happens outside of the presentations. Whilst that is still the most important to me, I do find myself occasionally looking at the presentation schedule and not feeling particular excited for a number of sessions. Why is that?

I’ve pondered over this question during the past few events and have come to the conclusion that sessions which focus on general knowledge as opposed to specific experiences simply interest me less (full disclaimer: I’ve been guilty of incorporating some of those elements in my presentations too).

Characteristics of such “general knowledge” presentations could be summarized as such:

  • Regurgitating Tutorials / Codex
  • List-based Presentations
  • Product explanations

Said differently, if a few simple searches on Google cover 90% of the talking points, there’s little value (regardless if you’re a beginner or an advanced user). There are so many resources online covering the area of WordPress “general knowledge” that a person can effectively find pages that match their skill level within minutes.

Case Studies

Let’s look at a few presentation topics that keep popping up at WordCamps and see how they could potentially become more interesting:

  • Introduction to Custom Post Types or How we used Custom Post Types & Google Maps to create a University Campus Map
  • WordPress and SEO or WordPress, SEO and how we boosted Donations for our Charity by 361%
  • Introducing SuperEpicPress or Everything that went wrong releasing our Premium Plugin

The fundamental difference here, is that domain expertise by itself doesn’t pique my interest, much less get me excited about an idea. Domain expertise mixed with successes, failures, lessons learned and real experiences however does. It can transform a bland presentation into something that inspires, motivates and further ignites lengthy discussions. More than anything though, these sort of case study presentations add real value and depth to the WordPress ecosystem, especially when we’re already all sitting in the same room.

To further help describe the idea, here are some talks I thought fit this concept of a Case Studies or Lessons Learned track particularly well:

Proposal

In a nutshell, if your WordCamp is a multi-track event, I propose cutting out the linear or general knowledge presentations and add a “Case Studies” or “Lessons Learned” track. Here are some ideas to get the process moving:

  • Before WordCamp, ask attendees to reflect on the past year and to seek out their greatest successes, failures or lessons learned using WordPress.
  • Shoot for 20-30 minutes talking with 5-10 minutes for questions (though insightful presentations always prompt more questions).
  • Smart Snippets: Talk holistically about specific code, but include links to full code Gists within the relevant slides. This way both beginners and advanced users are satisfied.
  • Profit.

Your thoughts?

Do you agree with the overall idea or have a completely different opinion? Any takers? Vote and discuss.


  • SiobhanPMcKeown

    I’d love to see something like this. I thought Michael Kimb Jones’ presentation on the failure of WonderThemes was particularly good at WordCamp UK. Those types of presentations are memorable and they stick in your mind. Also, you can see why and how something actually works, rather than just being told what it does.

    Would need a better title than “Case Studies” though.

  • http://twitter.com/chzumbrunnen Christian Zumbrunnen

    Although you’re generally right, I don’t necessarily agree with the statement that talking points that are covered by a Google search are not interesting for participiants. It’s easier to get the points, if they’re presented live as if one needs to read or watch them on his own. (At least that is my experience.) Also it’s often not that easy for a non-geek to find out, if an article, slide-show or video is up to date, best practice and of good quality, while at a life conference there are ways to discuss, to ask questions etc.
    So although case studies are great (and should be part even of a “general knowledge” presentation), that doesn’t disqualify the later. I still would prefere a “Introduction to…” presentation over a presentation on the same theme that seems to be a mismatch of what I’ want to use the custom post types for (to stay with your example).

  • http://twitter.com/chzumbrunnen Christian Zumbrunnen

    Although you’re generally right, I don’t necessarily agree with the statement that talking points that are covered by a Google search are not interesting for participiants. It’s easier to get the points, if they’re presented live as if one needs to read or watch them on his own. (At least that is my experience.) Also it’s often not that easy for a non-geek to find out, if an article, slide-show or video is up to date, best practice and of good quality, while at a life conference there are ways to discuss, to ask questions etc.
    So although case studies are great (and should be part even of a “general knowledge” presentation), that doesn’t disqualify the later. I still would prefere a “Introduction to…” presentation over a presentation on the same theme that seems to be a mismatch of what I’ want to use the custom post types for (to stay with your example).

  • http://twitter.com/no_fear_inc Mario Y. Peshev

    Christian’s point is pretty valid IMO, my observations lead to the conclusion that general topics are extremely tricky and could bring a great or no value to the audience. Few of the top sessions I’ve attended or watched online have been very general, for: post types, performance, scalability, security. However, top quality speakers could deliver an enormous amount of precious information in a remarkable manner without falling into some niche notes.
    Also, this hides a risk for a great failure due to the lack of any sense for a topic such as: “Didn’t get the point at all”.

  • http://www.noeltock.com/ Noel

    Thanks for the comment. In theory, I agree. In practice, I feel as if there are a couple arguments to be made:

    - “General” topics tend to also be popular ones. For instance, “Custom Post Types” is popular and always presented. That popularity is reflected on the web, through up-to-date and highly linked to tutorials. Other more specialized topics will get less visibility, but are also not often presented at WC’s (or are often already in the form of a Case Study, which happens by “accident” many times).

    - Regardless what skill level is being taught in a “general” presentation, the listener will need to go through all of it again. It’s much harder to retain and remember code/snippets then it is a story. A story also keeps the conversation going after the presentations are over and well into the night.

    On the flipside, I do feel presentations such as custom post types would be much better suited in the form of a Workshop as opposed to a presentation. I’d see incredible value in that.

    So maybe what I’d like to see is a cleaner specialization/segregation of these broad technical presentations. Case studies for stories and workshops for learning.