A wall of art with a screen to the left that reads State of the Word

So, State of the Word happened last week. Just in case you don’t know, State of the Word is the annual address given by WordPress Co-Founder Matt Mullenweg. It’s where he prepares a bunch of statistics and demos that provide a high-level review of the past year for WordPress and a sneak peek at what’s coming in the next year.

So far, everyone and their mom has provided their review, their thoughts, their feelings. I have even already reflected a bit on my episode of the Underrepresented in Tech podcast with Michelle Frechette.

If you want a really comprehensive overview, please check out this review by Courtney Robertson. It’s really incredible and took a lot of work to compile.

I’m not here to give you that. This is partly to join in on the recap fun, partly to chronicle my feelings and memories for myself, and partly to rant. So here are my personal highlights – do with them what you will!

The whole thing had that priceless WordCamp vibe that I miss so very much.

WordCamps are such precious experiences. They are so unique to any other type of event I’ve ever attended. This tiny get together felt like a micro-WordCamp in all the best ways. From David Bisset’s live tweets, to an impromptu Bingo game that popped up on Twitter, to the fact that I couldn’t/didn’t speak to everyone I wanted to talk to. I even cried a little when someone handed me a bag of swag, because it took me immediately back to my favorite WordCamps.

If nothing else, I was glad for the iconic WordCamp Warmth that I felt throughout my entire trip. Right down to drinking a little too much at the after party and needing to fly home hungover.

The actual content of the address was pretty cool in a lot of ways.

I don’t have a mind for a lot of things that are discussed annually in the State of the Word. A lot of it goes over my head, partially because I don’t follow WordPress news that closely throughout the year. (Also I still don’t know/care what NFTs are.)

But certain things in the talk really did stand out to me. I wonder if they stood out to you, too?

  • So much of the WordPress ethos is about owning your own content. So the addition of OpenVerse as well as the WordPress Photo Directory are really interesting to me. Just more opportunities for people to create and share content with WordPress!
  • #WPDiversity has seen some record numbers in the past year. I am so honored to be a very small part of that group!
  • 43% of the web. I mean, come on. That is almost double what it was when I started using WordPress in 2015. (Also I’m still waiting for a company to reach out about sponsoring my next tattoo!)
  • I did really enjoy the demos, including some familiar voices like Anne McCarthy and Michael Pick. Seeing what the Twenty Twenty theme will look and feel like is incredibly exciting and I cannot wait to play with all those features myself.

My Q&A session question actually left Matt a little bit speechless!

The first time I saw Matt live was in 2019 in St. Louis at WordCamp US. He delivered the State of the Word to a gigantic auditorium and the whole thing felt massively informal and honestly kind of dry.

This time, in a minimalist high rise space with only about 50 people, the vibe was very different. I felt comfortable enough to get tup and ask a question. (I was still nervous enough to have it written out on my phone, though.)

Allie Nimmons stands at a microphone while asking Matt Mullenweg her question.

My question was this, “What advice would you give to those young people who are looking to inherit this world that we are leaving them. What advice can we give them as far as using WordPress as a tool to improve what we’re leaving them?”

You can hear the full question and answer at 1:48:52 in the recorded livestream below. I was tickled by his initial response, which was to stand silently and stare at the ceiling for what felt to me like an eternity.

His answer came down to this:

  • Crafts can be developed well when you focus on one area and the internet makes that easier than ever to do.
  • Things we use and love are created from people not that much different from us – the accessibility of WordPress makes that real.
  • It’s easier than ever to contribute to this new digital economy and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, so long as you do it.
  • Younger people have more time than they realize, so try to invest your time in your passions.
  • Consume and absorb as much as possible.
  • Since you can’t take a deep dive into proprietary software, take advantage of open source as a way to learn.

Following his answer (which was as meandering as any reliable Matt Mullenweg answer) I got a bonus answer! Josepha Haden Chomphosy stood up and gave her own response.

  • Through the WordPress community and the internet as a whole, there are active and passive ways to learn important workplace skills that WordPressers tend to be good at.

To a degree, I was pleased with the answer I got. But it left me wanting. A lot of Matt’s presentation relied on trying to emphasize the need for contributors. Which I totally get. If I’m not mistaken, the number of core contributors over the past year has dipped due to the pandemic.

But I think there is an almost painful tone-deafness to this message. We do not currently and fully appreciate the privilege that comes with being a contributor, nor do we have an adequate on-ramp for new/young contributors. And so the entire time, Matt was preaching to the choir and his wider message was drifting into the void.

Joe Casabona give a remarkable and insightful analysis of this problem. It’s incredible and I happen to agree with every word of it.

We first must use our time and creative energies to get ourselves (or our company) into a financially stable state where we actually have the time and resources to give back. Then, and only then, should we contribute. Not a moment sooner.

Joe Casabona

We cannot reasonably ask the next generation to give their time toward a system that has not proven to be worth their time. I know WordPress is worth it. But that’s because it has already changed my life for the better and I have decided to help make that possible for others.

I would really love to know how you would have answered my question. Please reply here or tweet it at me!

My village keeps getting bigger.

As an only child of a single parent, I was raised by a village. My mom made sure I was aware that a lot of people who helped bring me up did so out of choice, out of love, and out of kindness. It was a diverse motley crew of “aunts” and “uncles” who made me who I am.

I got to hang out with Aaron Campbell, of whom I am a huge fan. And I got to sit down and have a really interesting discussing with WordPress Executive Director, Josepha Haden Chomphosy!

I don’t think I will ever fully think of myself as a “complete” adult. I still feel like a kid, learning and absorbing from people who are older and smarter than I. And I am still aware of the village that is helping me grow… out of choice, love, and kindness.

It was such a blast to be able to hug those people and spend a couple more days learning from them. Y’all know who you are.

So what’s the point of all of this?

WordPress is changing. It’s always changing, which is kind of the point. The format of this event, the adaptability, was really impressive to see. All the changes that are coming as the Block Editor grows and evolves into something people actually want to use, is even more impressive.

But it’s not just the software or the block editor tools that are changing. Or at least, I hope so. As I use the State of the Word to reflect on the past year and look forward to 2022, I have to hope that more change is coming.

We need to change the way we think about contribution. It is not the best way to learn WordPress, but it is the best way to network.

We need to change the way we create WordPress educational content. The end goal should not be to create more members of the WordPress ecosystem, even if that is a fortunate possibility. Matt’s dream is to grow WordPress and it’s market share. But end goal for educators should always be to provide people with a tool they can use to accomplish their own goals.

We need to see the trees for the forest and check our penchant for exclusivity. I was happy to see great WordPress companies and contributors called out by name in the State of the Word. But we need to remember that inviting new people in is going to be more beneficial in the long run that continuously.

We all know how I feel about the ignorance, intolerance, racism, and sexism that still exists in this community. We need to change our tolerance for intolerance.

And, as always, we need to sustainably address the lack of diversity. How many black people attended the State of the Word? (I saw 3 and I don’t think any were invited.) How many acquired companies were POC or female owned? How many of the new core committers for 2020 and 2021 were POC?

It’s nice that #WPDiversity got a footnote in the presentation. But the reality is, “diversity” in the WordPress space is currently just that: a hashtag or a footnote. It’s a glaring problem that we seem very comfortable to ignore while WordPress is doing so well in terms of market shares and acquisitions. But I believe it’s one of the main reasons we don’t attract young people. The young millennials and older Gen Z’s who are joining the workforce care very much about seeing themselves represented. WordPress does not provide that right now.

My view from the front row of State of the Word 2021.

A lot of us have some pretty intense rose-colored glasses on when it comes to WordPress. My goal here isn’t to be a Negative Nancy or devalue anything that has been accomplished. Rather, I want to be critical in a way that is healthy and honest.

As I move into building new educational content for WordPress, and as I think about ways I can help bring young people into the fold, I feel like I’m building a skyscraper on a beach. It’s hard and my foundation keeps shifting. But I’m still gonna build the damn skyscraper.

3 responses to “State of the Word 2021: Allie Edition”

  1. Jack Dakasic Avatar

    We can’t really do more than “hey, here is a job, apply for it”.

    Creating a job for just a specific race…thus excluding others…..it is racism.

    Saying we need more (insert a group here) speakers at WordCamp…it is wrong. Do you want a job because of the colour of your skin? Your gender? your…etc…….or because of the skills you bring to the job?

    If we are going to look at #wpdiversity………can you remember a South Asian speaker at a WordCamp? What about someone from any country in Africa?
    How come South Asians and Africans are not applying to be speakers at WordCamp?

    I am from a city called Zadar, Croatia. I grew up there and when I was 11, my family left because of tensions of what a few years later became the war in the Balkans of the 1990s. We eventually reached Canada.

    I have an accent. I speak Croatian with my parents. I have this fear that people attending my presentation at an event will not understand me due to my accent. I’ve been told quite a number of times to speak English. I am with my mother 12 years after arriving in Canada, we are at the grocery store going around shopping, I am speaking Croatian with my mother. Some lady comes up to me telling me I need to speak English, this is Canada. Shaming both of us for not speaking English.

    Canada is officially bilingual (English and French).

    I told her to shut the F up and that she needs to go F herself…….in French.

    50+ people staring at you can be nervous to you. I remember the first time I spoke at a technology conference………I was so nervous, 350 people in the room. I am thinking, why are all these people who are way more knowledgeable than me, going to listen to me for the next 60 minutes.

    I got so nervous, keep on drinking coffee and did #1 and #2 non-stop for what felt an eternity (that’s the nice way to say I pooped my pants, without pooping my pants).

    I do not want to EVER be selected to speak at any conference because I am Croatian, an Immigrant, etc…

    1. Allie Avatar

      If you don’t want to be asked to apply for something because of your background, that’s fine. Don’t apply/don’t accept.

      I believe that if 99% of speakers at a conference are North American, and there is a person out there from South Asia or Croatia or Japan or Honduras or whatever… I want them there. Obviously if they have the knowledge necessary to be right for the opportunity, they should be considered BECAUSE they have a different background and therefore a different story to tell. People who speak English tend to approach certain problems certain ways. WHen you speak another language, your brain is wired juuuuuust a little bit differently. I want to learn from people who are different from me, even if that difference is just where you are born.

      Racism and intolerance, like the kind you described, comes from people not understanding that differences can be valued, as well as not understanding that we are not that much different at all. WordPress is created by people all over the world. WordPress is used by people all over the world. I want my WordPress events to reflect that.

      Again, the prerequisite is knowledge and skill. You don’t want your background taken into account. Fine. I don’t think you can say your experience speaks for all Croatians in the world. Just like my experience does not count for all queer people, all black people, and all women.

      I think it’s a little rich of you to approach me to tell me that I am flat out wrong when I’ve been working with the #WPDiversity group for a few years now and have seen more than one example (to be modest) of people who are glad to be invited to the table when they see their difference of background valued. To hear someone say, “We have a lot of one voice and I want to hear YOUR voice now” can be wonderfully enriching and empowering to many people.

      “Creating a job for just a specific race…thus excluding others…..it is racism.” I’d like you to point out where I said that before you come onto my post and call me a racist.

      “Saying we need more (insert a group here) speakers at WordCamp…it is wrong.” It was 3 years before I saw a black man speak at a WordCamp. Black men in America are the most villanized and the most incarcerated group. Yet I know many black men who don’t speak at WordCamps purely because they feel excluded by how white the community is.

      Creating welcoming and inclusive environments is key to being able to perform outreach and invite people from all backgrounds to apply. As opposed to how it currently is – white men currently dominate speaker roles, and invite their other, overconfident, white male friends to apply. That’s how we end up with an inbalance.

      I’d welcome you to write your own blog post about your own experience. I’d gladly read, comment, and share it.

      But you can fuck off commenting on my post calling me flat-out wrong and a racist for reflecting on the things I see, not only personally but through the eyes of others, on a regular basis.

      Happy Holidays.

  2. Michelle Frechette Avatar

    We can’t really do more than “hey, here is a job, apply for it”.

    Yes – we can. It’s called recruiting. If you’d like I can explain that for you.

    But watching a man mansplain racism to a black woman is the height of ridiculous.

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