wapuu’s world domination

Part of the fun for me is finding out the stories behind the wapuu designs. I was lucky enough to meet/talk with Simon at our company meetup and once I heard his story I knew I had to share it with you. Here is Simon telling us how he started a chain of events that led to wapuu taking over the world.

Simon Dickson, a veteran of the UK WordPress community now working at Automattic, has been credited with bringing wapuu to the world’s attention. Here’s how it happened.

wapuu first came to my attention in 2013, in the unlikely surroundings of a Netherlands concert hall. It was the first WordCamp Europe: and one of the presentations was by Naoko Takano, sharing her experiences working within the Japanese WordPress community. It was a real eye-opener, in several respects.

WordPress, it turns out, was big in Japan. Very big. Japanese was the most popular language for WordPress installs, after US English. Japanese WordCamps were huge: Tokyo had more than a thousand attendees in 2013. And WordPress was being used by national and international brands for all kinds of websites.

simon_talk Oh… and then there was something called wapuu. I love the Japanese tradition of mascots for products, companies, cities… everything, apparently. And guess what? The WordPress community had one too. We had to tell the world! – so I tweeted about it. Almost nobody noticed.

All of this blew my mind. I’d been living and breathing WordPress for several years, but its success in Japan had completely passed me by. Weird, huh?

At the time I was running a WordPress development agency in the UK, Code For The People. One of my first jobs after WordCamp Europe was to organise the company Christmas card. So I asked our designer, Scott Evans to craft something. It was fantastic.

holiday_cardScott and I both live in southern England; and we were both involved in the organisation of WordCamp London. We wanted to use iconic London imagery for the event’s creative. The first year, we used London Underground as our inspiration. The second year, punk rock.

I’ve always felt that Open Source has a lot in common with punk. It was born of frustration with the mid-1970s music business: disco, prog rock, and the like felt more corporate than creative. Open Source came from the same emotional place, but our nemeses were tech companies like Microsoft and Oracle. A punk-themed WordCamp seemed apt.

It was the day before Scott finalised his artwork. Everything was well on schedule. So I dared to throw a crazy idea into the mix. I had been keeping an eye on the Japanese community ever since Naoko’s talk, and had seen each event having its own wapuu design. Could we do the same? Could Scott knock up a wapuu with a Mohican haircut, and DM boots?

I admit, my motivation was partly selfish. But I also saw an opportunity to reach out to the Japanese community. WordCamp London was going to be a big event. I hoped that word would reach Japan, that they would see us embracing ‘their’ concept, that we knew they were there, that we were all one big global community.

Plus, it felt like a fun way to demonstrate the GPL in action: wapuu didn’t just represent Open Source, he was Open Source.

punk_swag Scott’s creative for the event was a big hit. He was interviewed by WP Tavern, about the genesis of wapuunk. Within a couple of weeks, there was a wapuunk t-shirt in the WordPress swag store; and if you’ve been to any WordPress events lately, you probably saw someone wearing one.

And then it started to get just a little crazy. WordCamp Belgrade had a wapuu. WordCamp Maine had a wapuu. WordCamp Philadelphia had three. Suddenly it seemed like every WordPress event had a custom Wapuu, reflecting local culture or gently mocking local stereotypes. (On vous regarde, la France…) And all within a matter of weeks, or so it felt.

To the Japanese community: Thank you for creating wapuu. Thank you for making him GPL. And thank you for letting the rest of the global WordPress family share your fun.