Live Documenting WCSEA 2015

This is a meta post on how I documented the WordCamp Seattle 2015 conference by immediately posting my notes after each session.

How I did it

I prepped by creating draft posts ahead of time with titles, URI slugs, and starter categories (and threads) the day before. This took me about 15 minutes — which allowed me that much more time for transitioning between sessions and socializing in the halls on the day-of.

I even drafted this post the day before, so that all I had to do afterward was add any how-tos I came up with that I hadn’t anticipated, reflect on my stated goals and report on whether I met them, and a final proofread. (It still took me over a week to come back and post this, oh well.)

I kept my laptop’s wifi antenna powered off throughout the day except right after sessions, to publish. This conserved battery life and kept me free from distractions while writing (like popup notifications and following the conference backchannel on Twitter). Since I couldn’t write within WordPress’s native interface while I wasn’t connected (this is a pet peeve — offline first is a thing), I used to write Markdown offline, then pasted it into my post editor with Markdown on Save mode enabled. I was able to depend on MacDown’s decent live preview pane to trust my Markdown to render well enough within WordPress.

To capture featured images, I tried sitting where I had a decent camera angle and an unobstructed view of the speaker. I kept my phone out during talks long enough to get a good “action” shot or two, choosing a moment when the speaker was gesturing with their arms or standing a bit away from the podium, to make it more interesting.

When I came up with action items for myself based on what I was hearing during the session, I added them to the bottom of my notes, instead of inline (as usual). These wouldn’t be valuable for the public, so I segregated them as I went, rather than having to edit them out later.

I used question and answer time at the end of sessions to review, edit, and publish my notes. I usually find this to be a pretty low-value part of a conference session, when people in the audience frequently get on a soap-box or get down-in-the-weeds, so I felt good about tuning this part out.

I created a checklist ahead of time for steps to review at publishing time, to reduce my cognitive overhead at publish-time and reduce the likelihood of mistakes.

My goals for live documenting

  1. Contribute to the community by sharing my notes and posting this content as quickly as possible, and by going deeper than tweeting the highlights. I feel this was a success. People seemed to appreciate it.

  2. Post notes for all seven sessions I planned to attend. I succeeded. (w00t! Whew.)

  3. Own my own content. I own copyright for my own words here at This was a success. (Foregone conclusion.) Sorry you missed out this time,

  4. Be more efficient with note taking. I tend to write rough notes that I don’t get around to editing until much later. This exercise would force me to edit as I went and simplify my takeaways, which would make the notes useful more quickly, and avoid creating more low-priority follow-up tasks that would linger for weeks or months. (I have enough of those already.) This was a success. I have relatively few follow up tasks, and I don’t feel any anxiety about reviewing my notes because I know they’re useful. I look forward to reviewing them in the future at my leisure.

  5. Be more engaged during talks. I figured that having to put out a tangible digest would keep me more focused. I figured this would also constrain my tendency to start processing ideas and inspirations I get in the middle of the talks. (I typically go off on mental tangents in the middle of a talk, which is fun, but sometimes means I miss something important.) I feel this was a success.

  6. Not sacrifice hallway time. It was important to me not to be all consumed with this project all day long — I didn’t want it to completely take over my experience and get in the way of socializing, networking, etc. This was a failure. It did take a lot of mental energy, and as it turned out I didn’t end up with any hallway time — in fact I was a minute or two late to the start of most sessions because I was wasn’t quite able to publish during transition time.

  7. Bonus: Include featured images. I didn’t actually think I’d have time to pull this off, because having the presence of mind to pay attention to content while also taking a great photo would be difficult. When the content was too interesting for me to both capture notes and capture visuals, I decided ahead of time I would sacrifice the visuals. This was a failure. But oh, well — I didn’t hit my bonus goal.

Other outcomes

I learned that I need better syntax highlighting here on Alex Mills’ Syntax Highlighter Evolved to the rescue.

I didn’t think about this until the day-of, but by including the speakers’ Twitter handles in my tweets, I was recruited them to spread the word. More traffic for me, more utility for their followers — a win-win.

Final judgement

Was it worth it? Will I do this again?

Yes, it was. And yes, I will — provided my main goal at a conference is to learn as much as I can from the talks, as was the case this time. If my primary aims are to network, prospect, or socialize, I won’t have time to do this.