It's the day after WordCamp Atlanta and I'll all pumped up with WordPress energy! I answered a couple extra tickets today, I write some code on the plane, and I'm sitting in a coffee shop right now writing up this post. All of this is because I met amazing people like Mika & Cory Miller and I attended some great presentations. The talks were really great but the best part of this weekend had to be the Happiness Bar.
Whenever I go to a WordCamp I always volunteer at the Happiness Bar. The idea of the Happiness Bar is to volunteer an hour of your time and help anyone with any WordPress questions they have. While this may at first sound like work it's actually an opportunity to take the pulse of the WordPress community. You have the chance to challenge your assumptions and this Friday I had a whole bunch of mine challenged.
Customer 1 – What's a Child Theme?
The first two people I helped weren't too familiar with the WordPress world but they wanted to build websites. They were just in a session about WordPress Child Themes so that was what they wanted to do.
At first I thought this was great! I showed them the child theme running on this blog which has something like 6 extra lines of CSS and they immediately put on the brakes. It turns out they were terrified of writing CSS. I told them that child themes probably aren't the best place to start. I showed them the theme customizer, which they loved, and advised them to find themes that had a lot of options within the theme customizer.
I was surprised that they were referencing WordPress terminology like Child Themes without actually knowing what they were. I assumed based on their lingo that they had more technical ability. Luckily I was able to advise them away from child themes which should save them tons of time.
Customer 2 – Sidebar Manager
The second customer was having a hard time with her sidebar manager. She was using a plugin to control which sidebar appears on which page since the theme didn't let her do that. The problem is that she's only ever used this one sidebar manager and she's never had a problem before. The other issue is that it works fine on Twenty Twelve and not in the theme she's using. This really points to some sort of theme issue and there isn't much you can do other than dig into the code or reach out for theme support. I did point her towards WooSidebars but that might have similar problems.
The interesting thing from this customer was her approach to themes. She told me she had to use this particular theme because it was the only political theme she could find. She was convinced that themes should be a one stop shop and they should include all of the functionality you need. This goes against theming best practices but few average users know that.
Customer 3 – WordPress App
Another customer was asking for help with a particular piece of functionality. She wanted the ability to share her posts on social media. I knew that Jetpack has that functionality so I told her to install that plugin. She proceeded to open up her iPad app and ask how to install one of these “plugins”. I let her know that it was impossible via the app and I told her to login via wp-admin and install it through her dashboard. Unfortunately this made no sense to her and I have to go into a discussion at length how to login to the dashboard and install plugins.
The really interesting thing here is that she didn't know about the WordPress dashboard! I can only assume someone else set up her site and only told her about the app! This is a great solution if you want to limit what your customers are doing but you have to let them know they have to reach out to you to keep things up to date and to install new plugins.
Customer 4 – Scheduled Posts Breaking
This customer had to be the one that I helped the least. She was having some issues with scheduled posts not being sent out. After some debugging we determined it was most likely an issue with her host. In her case I feel especially bad that there were no easy clues that this was a hosting issue – the only real clue is that no one else has had this issue for the past two years (according to the first page of Google).
Customer 5 – Extending Classes
After a couple very beginning users I assumed this 60 year old lady was going to ask another beginner question but she started asking me about how she extended a class and why it wasn't working! We talked about some programming principles and I pointed her in the right direction.
This assumption here was that a 60 year old lady couldn't possibly know something about programming. Woo! What a pleasant surprise – please keep challenging me 60 year old ladies, or any old person, or any woman, or anyone else who I don't assume can code. I didn't realize I made this assumption until it was challenged.
Customer 6 – Social Sharing
The last couple users wanted to know how to share posts via social media and a couple other miscellaneous questions. I love Jetpack so I pointed them in the right direction and gave them my contact info in case they needed any more help.
To me this really highlighted that it takes a while to find your footing in WordPress. Social sharing is easy once you've tried a couple plugins but until you get to that point it's all a bit overwhelming.
Overtime at the Happiness Bar
I had a great time and I challenged a bunch of my assumptions and I feel that I know the WordPress community a little bit better. While I may follow a bunch of rockstars on Twitter I can't forget that there's a huge user base that are just getting started with WordPress and can use some guidance.
The next WordCamp you go to I encourage you to volunteer – you'll learn a little about the community and a little about yourself at the same time.
I had an excellent time volunteering in the Happiness Bar, too. I plan on making it a regular thing at all the WordCamps I attend as well. Something about helping someone else out…
I love working with the people you described in the first four scenarios. They are so eager to learn, and don’t know what they don’t know. A little hand holding and comforting words go a long way!
Some of us 60 year old ladies started building sites before you knew how to type. 😉
Thanks for sharing your time and gifts to make WordPress Atlanta a huge success!!
It does feel great to help them out. It’s easy to forget how overwhelming it can be at first. You keep rocking it! 🙂
Patrick, I too am a Happiness Bar. I love helping people in there too. Glad you could be at Wordcamp Atlanta this year with us.