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26 Jun 2024

Wagtail Space US 2024: Beating the heat with cool code

With three days of talks and sprints, Wagtail Space US was a great way to escape the summer heat in Philadelphia.

Meagen Voss

Meagen Voss

Wagtail community manager


As a heat dome formed over Philadelphia and tried to bake our feathers, the Wagtail community gathered in the brisk air conditioning of the Van Pelt Library for Wagtail Space US 2024. We kept cool together with talks and sprints and sharing our passion for working with Wagtail CMS.

Pre-conference cookout

Before the official Wagtail Space event kicked off, many members of the community joined Wagtail core team member Tim Allen at his house for a cookout. There was even an ice cream cake to celebrate Wagtail's 10th birthday!

Five Wagtail community members standing under a tent at a cookout

Day One: Talks

On the first official day of Wagtail Space, we had six talks followed by a panel discussion about 10 years of Wagtail and some fun lightning talks. The morning featured an eagerly anticipated talk on the State of Wagtail from Tom Dyson of Torchbox. In his presentation, Tom covered the past, present and future of Wagtail exploring both opportunities and challenges. In particular, he talked about the growing pains that most open source projects go through and how those changes can lead to a "moat" around the project that makes it harder for new people to contribute. The talk sparked a lot of good discussion about how the Wagtail community could build a "drawbridge" that will help more people cross the moat.

Kara Gaulrapp presenting a talk on accessibility.

Next, Michael Trythall from Lincoln Loop shared his approach to effective content modeling and how to incorporate it early in Wagtail projects. Then Kara Gaulrapp from the University of Pennsylvania went over the challenges of making complex web components accessible in the user interface of web applications.

After lunch, Vince Salvino from CodeRed told stories in the style of Scheherazade about what he has learned from building over 1,000 Wagtail websites. Then Dawn Wages from CMD lines/Microsoft and Mira Gibson of demonstrated approaches for incorporating 3D image technology like XR into Wagtail. Josh Marantz of thelab presented our last talk of the day with a case study on combining the Reactivated library with Wagtail.

Everyone at Wagtail Space US standing on the famous button statue outside of the Van Pelt Library.

To round things out, Meagen Voss took Tom Dyson, Kalob Taulien, and Dawn Wages on a trip through time looking back on the past ten years of Wagtail as an open source project. Then there was a round of lightning talks featuring doorknobs (yes, doorknobs), an argument for switching to WEBP, an introduction to XR, and a wicked fast talk about pyromania (the Python package, not the Def Leppard Album).

Day Two: More talks and a walking tour

On the second day, we gathered in the library for more talks. Jacob Topp-Mugglestone from Torchbox shared some inspiring demos of Wagtail AI and went over how AI can be sensibly incorporated into CMS projects. Then Anthony Garcia, who spoke at Wagtail Space for the very first time, shared a proof of concept for how Wagtail can be combined with bots to help support affinity groups like the ones that his daughters participated in over the years. His eldest daughter Alyssa was even in the audience to see her dad speak.

Anthony and his daughter Alyssa posing together after his talk.

Will Barton and Chuck Sebian-Lander of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finished off the morning with a talk about auditing years and years of content. Their story was both harrowing because of the amount of unescaped HTML it involved and hopeful because of the useful solutions they eventually achieved.

During lunch, Tim Allen gave the in-person attendees an impromptu walking tour of the University of Pennsylvania campus. He showed off ENIAC, the very first digital computer, which was the machine Grace Hopper first coined the term "bug" on. He also took everyone over to the art museum to see one of the largest sphinx statues currently on display in the United States.

Tim Allen showing off the ENIAC machine.

The afternoon session began with a talk from Meagen Voss of Torchbox, who gave everyone a crash course in how writers and editors tend to work and showed some simple code examples for helping them do their work better. Scott Cranfill of NASA JPL followed her with a practical talk on how developers can support editors better with custom validation. Cesar Benjamin, who traveled all the way from Mexico to speak at Wagtail Space for the first time, showed off his approach for incorporating geospatial data into Wagtail.

The last talk on the schedule was a panel discussion led by Tim Allen on the thankless and fabulous job of maintaining packages. Panel members Vince Salvino, Jacob Topp-Mugglestone, and Will Barton shared their experiences of maintaining packages and provided some insights into how more people could get involved in creating packages for Wagtail.

Many people stepped up at the very end of a Friday to share their passions in a final round of lightning talks. We heard about a book title with functional JavaScript that caused some mild chaos at the University of Chicago library. We also heard about fascinating translation quirks, the origins of QWERTY, Philadelphia tourist destinations, a useful Wagtail tool, how to stop spam, and why giving editors a full color picker in a CMS isn't a good idea.

Day Three: Sprints

Jacob and Ryan collaborating on code together over a laptop.

On the final day of Wagtail Space, a dedicated group of people came together in the Wharton Research Data Services offices to collaborate on contributions to Wagtail. Some of the newer folks were introduced to the Wagtail contributor guide and provided some invaluable feedback on their first-time experiencing it. There was also some solid progress made on a new approach to JSON validation and updating some packages.

We all had a fantastic time getting to know each other despite the sweltering heat outside. Everyone who attended left with some new connections and inspiration for their future Wagtail projects. Videos of the talks will be posted to YouTube as soon as we have a chance to edit them. In the meantime, please enjoy this photo album of images Tom Dyson captured for us throughout the event.