I attended WordCamp Portland 2010, a conference about blogging and WordPress. There were two sessions tracks and an unconference track.  At a couple of the session times, none of the track offerings looked interesting, but I picked one anyway.  Without fail I learned something new, interesting, and useful.  The conference was super well-organized, the food was great, and the people were friendly.

This is more of a meta post on the event and not a recap of what I learned or which sessions I liked best.

I was surprised by how diverse the audience was.  It ranged from people steeped in WordPress who do it for a living, to people interested in blogging who don’t have a blog.  There was all manner of note taking devices–more paper and pen than I expected and a strong showing of iPads.

There were also a lot of MacBooks, including the one I recently purchased. Now I understand the Apple hardware at open source conference phenomenon others have written about.  The MacBook did what I needed it to do without any monkeying around.   From 9 AM to 5:30 PM the MacBook Pro ran flawlessly and on one charge–I didn’t plug it in all day nor does it require a massive battery hanging off the back like other notebooks.  Suspend and resume did actually that, multiple times, and without a hitch–not something I can currently say about my Dell Notebook running Fedora.

Sometimes I wonder if conferences like this could have a larger sense of community at the conference itself–a greater sense of connectedness.  A lot of people, including myself, appeared to have come on their own and knew very few of the other attendees.  Some people looked really lonely and bored, particularly during the breaks as they fiddled their phones, surfed the web, or stared out into space.  At times it felt like a gathering of individual islands scattered around the room. To be clear, this is not a WordCamp problem or the result of anything that the organizers of this event failed to do. I’ve seen it at many events, including Fedora‘s.

On several occasions I made a point of sitting down at a table of people or next to someone and introducing myself.  We didn’t have incredible conversations each time, but occasionally we did.  I met a couple of really interesting people I plan to stay in contact with.  Most times I think this was because I took the initiative.

I also fully respect that not everyone attending a conference wants to meet new people or has come looking to make lots of new friends.

I’m wondering, what could we do to make it easier and less awkward to get to know the people around us and build more connectedness between the attendees?  I’m not suggesting name tags, cheesy corporate ice breakers or trust falls.

Have you had the same experience?  What are your thoughts?

Image by manu_le_manu via flickr used under a Creative Commons license.