Fast times at WordCamp Dallas

My wife took this picture. Does that make it a three-way?

This is what happens when you ask to take a picture with the magnificent Lorelle

I know just enough code to be dangerous, and my wife has never even heard of WordPress. So it was with equal amounts of faith and trepidation that we loaded up the truck last weekend and moseyed over to Dallas for WordCamp 2008.

Now, I’m a communicator and my wife is an educator. Both geeks in our chosen fields. But how would we hold up in a room of 150 pro bloggers? Between talk of php, sql, seo and “link love” would we understand anything being said? Did we even want to?

My descent into social media madness will likely be detailed in another post. For now, the relevant fact is that I’m attempting to build the elusive social media newsroom for the federal organization with which I work. I chose WordPress as my platform because it’s a content management system that regular folks can figure out. It’s also Web 2.0 saavy, with a plug-in and widget for every flavor, nationality and orientation of social media. I’m a big fan of it, which brings me back to WordCamp.

I’ve been jonesing for professional development in social media in the worst way. But federal travel cutbacks, the insane cost of conferences these days, and the rural location of my hometown has limited my training to webinars. Then I subscribed to the WordPress podcast a few weeks ago. Hosts Charles Stricklin and Jonathan Bailey were talking about WordCamp Dallas. Dallas?! Four hours away. I can do that! Just 20 bucks? You’re kidding me. A T-shirt and lunches too? Then the kicker: Charles lives an hour north of me and Jonathan a few hours south, in the Big Easy. The stars were aligned. I had to go.

Luckily, the price was right for my wife as well, who is interested in exploring social media to promote the graduate program she heads. It would be our first weekend away from the princess since she was born in 2004. Cool.

At the conference, the first person we happened on was Lorelle VanFossen. She’s zany, brilliant, but down to earth and that introduction set the tone for what would be a valuable learning experience. You can watch video from WordCamp to pick up some of the valuable tips the speakers shared (the Woopra announcement alone was worth the price of admission). What you won’t pick up is the incredible atmosphere. My experience there, as a newbie, Mark "Rizzn" Hopkins asks Matt Mullenweg a question from the Mashable chatroomwas oddly the same as A-list bloggers Technosailor and Mashable’s Mark Hopkins (who was live streaming directly in front of us). It stretched us all. I found new tools for expression and they seemed to reconnect to the concept of expression beyond the tools. A strange but satisfying experience for all.

As a writer, the emphasis on good content was most gratifying. But one key takeaway for me was learning my limitations. My knowledge of code really is decidedly anemic. So it’s back to wandering in the wilderness once again, praying to the heavens that the mirage of the perfect social media newsroom (god, I can almost taste it) will shimmer into fullness just for me. Then again, social media is about sharing. And I’m finding WordPress–the platform and its people–well worth the investment.

See Lorelle in action during WordCamp Dallas

Today’s Wondering …

For the new bloggers (like me): why do you feel compelled to blog? Best guess, if you aren’t sure.

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