Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case the reasons why WordCamp Asia is such an important event.
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So on the podcast today we have Naoko Takano.
A few days from now, from the 17th to the 19th of February 2023, to be precise, the first in-person WordCamp Asia will take place in Bangkok, Thailand. If you follow WordPress events closely, then I’m sure that you’ve seen the excitement mounting.
Naoko is on the podcast today to talk about this important event, how it came to be, and why it matters.
We start off getting some background on Naoko and her personal journey with WordPress. She’s currently sponsored full-time by Automattic to work with the wordpress.org community and polyglots teams.
The conversation then turns to the event itself. It’s sold out, but you can still take parts by watching the live streams of the three tracks that are running.
We talk about the fact that, although this is the first in-person WordCamp Asia, it should not have been. WordCamp Asia was in the books for 2020. More or less everything was planned and prepared, and then Covid struck. The timing could not have been worse. It was heartbreaking. Naoko talks about the disappointment felt by the community, and how they’ve managed to maintain their commitment to making the event happen.
The team that is putting on the current event, contains some people from the cancelled 2020 event, but there’s new members too, and they span many Asian countries. So there’s a real diversity in the organization.
Towards the end of the podcast, we get into the important question of why we need a WordCamp Asia. Naoko makes the point that the other flagship WordPress events are not that accessible for some people. This could be because of the difficulty in acquiring visas for the U.S. Or Europe, but also the costs of traveling to the event, and accommodation whilst there. It’s hoped that WordCamp Asia will provide a chance for a whole new audience to attend, in a location which is closer to home.
We wrap up with Naoko explaining how WordCamp Asia aims to differ from the other events through their vision of being welcoming, nurturing, and experimental.
If you’re attending WordCamp Asia your in-person or online, this podcast will give you a new perspective on the event. And if you’re not planning on being there, maybe this episode will make you rethink.
If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all the links in the show notes by heading over to WPTavern.com forward slash podcast, where you’ll find all the other episodes as well.
And so without further delay, I bring you Naoko Takano.
I am joined on the podcast today by Naoko Takano. Hello Naoko.[00:04:20] Naoko Takano: Hello. [00:04:21] Nathan Wrigley: Very nice to have you on the podcast today. We’re going to be talking today about a very exciting subject, a very new, an exciting event called WordCamp Asia. We’ll get onto why it’s not quite as new as it may seem a little bit later. But first Naoko, I wonder if you wouldn’t mind just giving us a little potted history about yourself, about your relationship with WordPress, your history with WordPress and WordPress events, and things like that. So it’s over to you. Introduce yourself please. [00:04:51] Naoko Takano: Sure. I’m Naoko Takano based in Tokyo. I’ve been using WordPress for as long as WordPress has been around actually. So it’s been 20 years now. I started using WordPress as a personal blog platform, since I was living in the US and I wanted to have a place to write in Japanese, to communicate online. And then it, it’s a long story since then. I started building websites. Then became a front end engineer. Then became a freelancer.
Then, I actually started organizing WordCamps in Japan, Tokyo. And then I met Matt Mullenweg at WordCamp in Japan. And since then, I got hired by Automattic as a support engineer. And then, since 2019, I am a community manager of WordPress.org. I’m a full-time sponsored volunteer for wordpress.org community and polyglots team.[00:05:49] Nathan Wrigley: You really do have a very long history with WordPress. Yeah. It’s very rare that I bump into somebody who has 20 years of WordPress under their belt. That’s most impressive. Well, thank you for joining us on the show today. We are here to talk about WordCamp Asia, which is going to be happening if all the stars align, and this podcast episode is published on the date I’m expecting it to be published.
It will be just around the corner. It’ll be a matter of days, possibly just over a week before the event is coming around. There must be great excitement in your part of the world about it. Do you want to just lay out for us when and where it is. So just the nuts and the bolts of when it’s happening, where it is, and so on.[00:06:31] Naoko Takano: Sure. So, the first WordCamp Asia will be happening in 2023. Is from 17th to 19th, February. It’s a three day event in Thailand, Bangkok, Thailand. [00:06:47] Nathan Wrigley: And it’s happening at the, now, forgive me if I get the name of this wrong. It’s the True Icon Hall. Is that the name of the venue? [00:06:55] Naoko Takano: That’s correct. That’s correct. [00:06:56] Nathan Wrigley: It’s a conference center in the middle of Bangkok. [00:06:59] Naoko Takano: Yes. it’s a newly built conference hall. I think they were built in 2019, and it’s by the Chao Phraya River. And it’s part of the Icon Siam Complex and it’s very beautiful place even there in 2019. [00:07:17] Nathan Wrigley: Excellent, excellent. Now, I think it’s probably important to say at this point that if you are not in possession of a ticket, no matter what we say, don’t make plans to go to WordCamp Asia. Because my understanding is that the full amount of tickets, I think it’s 1,500, have in fact sold out. Is that true? [00:07:36] Naoko Takano: Yes, at the moment, we don’t have any plan for releasing any batch of tickets. You may be able to get refunded tickets that will be released as they come back. But unless one of the very lucky ones that will get these very few refunded tickets. We don’t have any plan on raising any big amount of tickets anymore. [00:07:58] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, well that’s okay though because if you are keen to participate in WordCamp Asia and do not have a ticket and have no plans to attend. My understanding is, and you can confirm this I hope, is that the event itself will be live streamed, in the way that we’ve been used to over the last couple of years, is that in fact true? [00:08:18] Naoko Takano: Yes. We have three tracks and all the tracks will be live streamed. [00:08:22] Nathan Wrigley: Great. Even if you don’t possess a ticket, you’ll be able to get there. So we have WordCamp Europe, these great big, I’m going to say international events. I don’t know if there’s a correct terminology for these kind of flagship events. But we’ve got WordCamp Europe, we’ve got WordCamp US, and now into the mix we have WordCamp Asia.
So obviously the first event actually happening. But there is a sort of disappointing story behind this, because if you are following the WordPress news and you have been since 2019, you’ll know that the event, tragically, I’m going to use that word, had to be cancelled more or less at the last moment due to the Covid outbreak.
Do you want to get into that a little bit? Might be interesting to hear the story. It was, if memory serves, very much several weeks away, it was really, really close, and the whole thing got pulled. With hindsight, that was probably a very wise decision. But at the time, I remember community members who, as yet, we’re unable to grasp the scope of Covid because it really hadn’t gone anywhere yet.
There was much gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes and people sort of saying, oh, what a shame. Just tell us from your perspective, because I know you were on the team for that. What was that disappointment like to suffer through?[00:09:40] Naoko Takano: So, yes, WordCamp Asia 2020 was the first WordCamp that was cancelled due to Covid 19. And that was the end of February in 2020, that was supposed to happen. And, because I think it was probably the first event that was cancelled due to pandemic of any type of situation in the world, in the whole history of WorldCamps. And we just couldn’t believe that happened. We always believed WordCamp will be planned and it will happen, you know, when the day comes.
So it was such a loss to us. To me it was like losing someone by an accident. Just lost someone, you know, or something that was so sure. That you were looking forward to. It was very, very crushing for us. At the time we didn’t understand the amount of what’s coming. So, we actually rescheduled it for the same year and we did that twice. And then after that we didn’t say anything for sure about the upcoming schedule.[00:10:47] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, incredibly disappointing. I actually do want to dwell on this for a little bit longer, if you don’t mind. Because if you’ve ever been to a WordCamp, maybe that’s in a city near you or one of the bigger ones, as we’ve just described, Europe or US. You’ll probably have understood the amount of organization that goes into it.
This is not an event which comes up and is organized several weeks in advance. This is something that takes a lot of people, a very large amount of time to organize. There’s speakers, there’s venues, there’s sponsors, there’s meals, there’s accessibility. There’s a whole host of things going. And for the rest of us, it was simply a case of, oh, it’s been cancelled. Well that’s disappointing. Perhaps I’ve got to get a refund on my air travel, or perhaps I don’t have to do anything because I wasn’t attending anyway.
The point being that it was simply a question that it was cancelled. Whereas for you and the community that had gathered together to organize it, it must have been, like you said, crushing. And I’m just wondering how easy it was to get people back on board this time around. Or whether people left the WordCamp ecosystem and decided, I’m not getting involved with that again. How’s it been?[00:12:05] Naoko Takano: So the bright side of things is that we became stronger team because of the challenges that we had to face. But situations changed for many people. You know, three years is a long time. So we did lose some people due to changing their situation or commitment level. They could promise after three years. But, we did have nice number of people who came back. I would say in the beginning of reunion, I would say probably like 80%. Everybody wanted to come back and do it again because we weren’t able to. So, yeah, it wasn’t like a disbanding of the whole community organizers, but we came back. [00:12:47] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, that’s remarkable. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I think about WordPress and the fact that this little piece of software, which began 20 years ago, which probably didn’t have any pretensions of growing to the size that it is now. Yeah, I have to pinch myself for the breadth and the depth, the amazing spread globally of the project.
So you’ve kindly written in the show notes a list of the countries that people have come from in order to assemble WordCamp Asia, this year, 2023. And I’m just going to read it out because it’s, it’s amazing. So we’ve got participants or volunteers, I should say, helping to organize from the following countries, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. I mean, that’s just remarkable. Very impressive.[00:13:45] Naoko Takano: Yeah. I think it’s, that’s why we were so fascinated and amazed with this community. Because, I think there’s rare chance that you get to work with such a diverse group of people around the world, around Asia. And in itself organizing is interesting and learning experience and also community building experience, I think. [00:14:08] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. If I was to assist with the WordCamp US team, I’m guessing that a lot of them would come from the US and so broadly speaking, their backgrounds would be quite similar. And although Europe is perhaps a little bit more different from country to country. You know, if you go from the southern part of Europe to the northern part of Europe there are differences in the cultures. But they’re not tremendously different, shall we say.
Whereas you’ve got from India to Pakistan, to the Philippines, to Taiwan and Thailand. That must be a really interesting collection of people, because, I would imagine that the countries that they come from are very different in very great respects.[00:14:48] Naoko Takano: Yeah, we have different culture, different style of communication. Only, I think, small percentage of us speak English as native language, or day-to-day, everyday language. So there’s big barrier around communication style. But as I said, it’s also like an experience that you can’t get outside of this community, especially as a such tight group that you talk to every day.
So that’s the difference between other type of contribution in WordPress. WordCamp organization is very interesting in experience that we get to learn about each other very deeply.[00:15:29] Nathan Wrigley: Can I ask how you do, do the organization? We’ll come into how long you’ve been preparing this event in a moment. But what are you using? I know that typically things like Slack may involved. But also are you, broadly speaking, communicating in English across the team? How is it working? So what tools are you using and what language have you tended to default to? [00:15:52] Naoko Takano: Yeah, so the communication tool that we used the most is Slack. And we are on it, the same Slack, separate from Make WordPress. And then we use English. But there are channels that are used by local members. For example, we have a Japanese channel to do some chit chat or ask question in our language. And local team has Thai channel to communicate with each other. But the overall language is in English. And we use Zoom to have meetings. So it’s like work.
work If[00:16:25] Nathan Wrigley: I was somebody living in, let’s say, I don’t know, just to pick one off the list, Nepal, and my English was not sufficient, let’s say to carry out the tasks that may be needed by a volunteer. What happens there? Is there any encouragement or any, anything that can be done, or is it essentially you would need a modest amount of English in order to participate, in order to communicate with the team? Or could somebody from say Nepal, work with other Nepalese people speaking the language that they have, Nepali, I believe it is? I’m sorry for my ignorance there. Nepalese, I apologize. What do you do around all of that? If somebody doesn’t have the mastery of English, that might be needed to communicate over the whole project. [00:17:08] Naoko Takano: So we don’t require a mastery of English because that would be very hard barrier to participate. But we do select, we do vet organizers based on their community involvement, in their local community. And also some English is of course needed. But you don’t have to be able to speak fluently as long as they can communicate. While on Slack, you can use translation tool on your own. That’s okay. So as long as you can communicate on Slack, we would like to see active community organisers regardless of English fluency. [00:17:46] Nathan Wrigley: I understand. Yeah, thank you. Okay, so it’s a silly question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. Why do we need a WordCamp Asia? We have lots of events. I’m imagining there’s lots of WordCamps spread throughout Asia. But at some point, WordCamp Europe came along and WordCamp US. Why did the community feel there was a need for that? And I’m really just offering you that question so that you can answer it. I don’t actually think, well, why do we need a WordCamp Asia? That’s not the intention of the question. [00:18:18] Naoko Takano: Yeah, thanks for asking because I like to share why we are so enthusiastic about holding WordCamp Asia in person in Thailand. This might be little known, but there are very unique barriers to attending existing flagship events for residents in Asia. Like visa, obtaining visa to go to US it’s very, very hard for many people.
For some people Europe, it’s also not easy to travel in terms of cost and time. And then also for people attending online, watching streaming in real time. Time zone difference is very hard, both in US and Europe, to participate in real time. So we want to cater this event to Asian residents to have the same kind of experience that many of the organizers had experienced in WordCamp Europe, WordCamp US.
And we want to bring this great feeling, great communication, connection to Asian community. So that they can easily attend in an affordable price.[00:19:29] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, that’s interesting. The affordable thing speaks for itself, I suppose. But in terms of the visas, that’s a really interesting one. Obviously it’s completely outside of WordPress. It’s a political thing, but my understanding is that in some jurisdictions it is very difficult to get a visa, let’s say, for the United States.
And so you are, really it’s an up hill struggle if you want to attend those events. And I’m expecting from what you’ve just said, that the relationship between Asian countries is more open. So as an example, a visitor coming to Thailand, I’m guessing there’s less barriers to actually applying for and successfully getting those visas.[00:20:11] Naoko Takano: Yes, relatively speaking, especially Bangkok. We chose Bangkok as the first city, host city, mainly because visa accessibility and also flights from main Asian cities. So that’s into our consideration for sure. [00:20:29] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, there’s lots of, amazing options in terms of flights, isn’t there? But also Bangkok itself is such a, an amazing and vibrant city and has absolutely heaps of accommodation options as well, doesn’t it? It’s a really good place to kick it off for WordCamp Asia. Speaking of kicking it off, how did it all get started?
I mean, obviously there was the event which was destined to happen in 2020, so we’re going back before then. Were you part of the team? How did it actually all begin and how did you assemble this event? Because you can’t just suddenly announce, we’re going to do WordCamp Asia. There must be an awful lot of backwards and forwards, perhaps talking to people at Automattic and various other organizations to get it all started. Do you know about how it all began?[00:21:12] Naoko Takano: Yes, so the direct event that led to WordCamp Asia application was the contributor day at WordCamp Bangkok 2019. I wasn’t attending actually, but a group of community organizers who had been traveling to go to different WordCamps outside of the country met in person and they decided to apply at that time. But the same, or some of the same, people had been traveling since, I would say 2014, 15 and going to each other’s countries or flagship events and making connections and becoming friends. And then from that kind of connection, this idea came around and it came to, came to happen, yes. [00:22:00] Nathan Wrigley: And so how much time and well, effort is harder to measure, but in terms of time, how long have you, you and the team, been working on this version of WordCamp Asia? So the 2023 one. How far back do we go before you decided, yep. A, we’re going to go for it, and B, it’s going to be in February, 2023. How much time have you been spending on this? [00:22:23] Naoko Takano: So yeah, at the end of 2021, we reunited on a Zoom call and started talking about restarting this effort, because we always wanted to find the time to come back to Bangkok. By the time of spring 2022, we started actually working on the event organizing. And through 2022 we’ve worked and now it’s getting really close. We are very excited about it. [00:22:51] Nathan Wrigley: Nice. Now, in terms of the event itself, obviously the location is new and interesting for a whole selection of the audience, I imagine. Perhaps many of them have never been to Thailand in particular. Perhaps never been to Asia. We’ll wait and see how that all goes. So there’s obviously that, it’s going to be different because it’s in a, a new and interesting part of the world for these flagship events.
But in terms of the event, from your perspective, what is the vision? What’s the thing that you talk to people about when you say, okay, this is going to be great, this is going to be new and different. What’s the vision that you are, you are letting everybody know about?[00:23:32] Naoko Takano: So yeah, as a WordCamp Asia organizing team, we didn’t want to make another event that’s just like WordCamp US or just like WordCamp Europe. That wasn’t our intention. We wanted to make a unique event. We have three visions that are welcoming, nurturing, and experimental.
So we wanted to create an event that’s true to our culture, which is inclusive and diverse. And then also we wanted to have this event because we wanted to nurture the community in Asia. Not because we wanted to have this big event just because. We all came together because of WordCamps. We became friends and community builders because of other WordCamps. So we wanted this event to ignite more communities in Asia.
And also we wanted to do something different. So that’s the experimental part. And we want to do the first event in Asia that’s flagship. So we want to, while people with our creative activity, our design teams doing a great job. And I like to see how people feel when they come.[00:24:44] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, it’s going to be really interesting seeing what people’s reactions are. You’ve got 1500 attendees. I don’t know exactly how many people are involved on the, the organizing side, but it will be, it’ll be interesting to see what the conversations are like in the hall. How is this different? What are we enjoying about it? As much for the location, Thailand and Bangkok and all of that. It’ll be really interesting to see what people’s discussions are. So the vision can be boiled down to three words. It’s going to be welcoming, it’s going to be nurturing, and it’s going to be experimental.
In terms of, well sadly, getting back to Covid, which one doesn’t really want to, but it appears, certainly at this point in time, Covid has become part of the news cycle again. It felt, in my country at least anyway, that it had dropped off and it wasn’t being talked about. And more recently it is getting some more attention.
So I’m just wondering if there’s anything that you need to disseminate in terms of masking or restrictions or vaccinations, anything like that, which Thailand may enforce, or indeed just your event is enforcing. Because that’s probably a very important component of people’s safety should they decide to attend in person.[00:25:54] Naoko Takano: Yeah, this is a frequently asked question. And at the moment of this recording, we are not making masking or vaccination mandatory. So this is based on community teams guideline for WordCamps. If that changes we will change our guidelines accordingly.
And if Thailand requirement changes, we would have to abide by that. But at the moment we are not requiring masking or vaccination. They’re both recommended. And we will provide stickers for people who like to be respected. So we ask people to stay away or wear masks around people with those stickers.[00:26:32] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. So there’s going to be some symbol that you can wear, a sticker that you can have if you would wish to have a little bit of separation between you and other people. And the hope is people will notice those stickers and give you a, a wider birth than might normally be the case. Okay, that’s interesting.
So given that your tickets have sold out. 1500 seats have been snapped up, bought, and hopefully they’ll all be filled during the event. Given all of that, and I know you won’t be able to tell me much about this, but I do want to ask anyway. Do you know if we are planning to have a WordCamp Asia 2024? I know it’s a bit early for that, but do you see that the community has rallied around and is beginning to talk about that? Because, you know, no sooner is one event finished than the other one needs to be announced. And in fact, in many of these flagship events the location of the next event is announced during the conference itself. So yeah, as much as you can say, but you may not be able to say much .[00:27:33] Naoko Takano: So yeah, in fact at the moment we have the call of host city for 2024 open. But by the time this is, we might not have it open. So we’ll be reviewing those applications and we are hoping we will be able to announce during, or the end of, the event. Yeah, just keep your excitement until we announce. [00:27:56] Nathan Wrigley: So it sounds like if the call for venues has gone out, there’s definitely going to be one, but we don’t as yet, know where it is. [00:28:05] Naoko Takano: Yes, we do have applications that came in. So, a city will be selected, yes. [00:28:11] Nathan Wrigley: So hopefully this will be a podcast that we get to repeat each year, and it will be the first of many. I really appreciate you chatting to us today Naoko about WordCamp Asia and about its first well, not that it should have been the first, but it’s first live, in-person, event. I hope it goes well. I really, really do.
Thanks for talking to us today. Just before I let you go, is there anything that I missed or is there something that you would like to have said that we didn’t say? That could be just telling people where the website address is, should they wish to have a look at that? It could be, I don’t know, a Twitter handle that you are keen to promote. Anything you like.[00:28:50] Naoko Takano: Sure, our website is asia.wordcamp.org/2023. And just wish us the best of the luck because, we need a lot of it. [00:29:00] Nathan Wrigley: From my point of view, you have all of those wishes. I really hope it goes extremely well. I would wish you the greatest success. Hopefully in a couple of months time we’ll be able to chat about how successful it was.
Naoko, thank you very much for chatting to me today. I really appreciate it.[00:29:17] Naoko Takano: Thank you for having me.
On the podcast today, we have Naoko Takano.
A few days from now, from the 17th to the 19th February 2023, to be precise, the first in-person WordCamp Asia will take place in Bangkok, Thailand. If you follow WordPress events closely, then I’m sure that you’ve seen the excitement mounting.
Naoko is on the podcast today to talk about this important event; how it came to be and why it matters.
We start off getting some background on Naoko and her personal journey with WordPress. She’s currently sponsored full time by Automattic to work with the wordpress.org community and polyglots teams.
The conversation then turns to the event itself. It’s sold out, but you can still take part by watching the live streams of the three tracks that are running.
We talk about the fact that, although this is the first in-person WordCamp Asia, it should not have been. WordCamp Asia was in the books for 2020. More or less everything was planned and prepared, and then Covid struck. The timing could not have been worse, it was heartbreaking. Naoko talks about the disappointment felt by the community and how they’ve managed to maintain their commitment to making the event happen. The team that is putting on the current event contains some people from the cancelled 2020 event, but there’re new members too, and they span many Asian countries, so there’s a real diversity in the organisation.
Towards the end of the podcast, we get into the important question of why we need a WordCamp Asia. Naoko makes the point that the other ‘flagship’ WordPress events are not that accessible for some people. This could be because of the difficulty in acquiring visas for the U.S. or Europe, but also the costs of travelling to the event and accommodation whilst there. It’s hoped that WordCamp Asia will provide a chance for a whole new audience to attend in a location which is closer to home.
We wrap up with Naoko explaining how WordCamp Asia aims to differ from other events through their vision of being welcoming, nurturing and experimental.
If you’re attending WordCamp Asia in-person or online, this podcast will give you a new perspective on the event, and if you’re not planning on being there, maybe this episode will make you rethink.