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This Week in devot:ee #27 - July 20, 2012

July 20, 2012
by Ryan Masuga

This week we migrated to a new server, and a few words about EllisLab.

Community Expressed Concerns

Stephen Lewis, a well-known ExpressionEngine community member, respected developer, and part-time Spock impersonator, wrote an article this week titled EE’s Bugs Are Not My Problem (Or Yours) in which he talks about how EllisLab has seemed to go off the rails recently with the number of bugs in the product. This article resonated with EE users on Twitter - and with us. In his article, Stephen wrote:

"The ExpressionEngine community is incredibly loyal, in this case to a fault."

"Just because we want to see ExpressionEngine succeed doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold EllisLab to task for its failings."

We agree with these statements because they're both true.

Anyone that has looked at the EE Bug Tracker recently knows that it is growing, and there are numerous bugs that haven't even been looked at or assigned. Some of the bugs are posted by EllisLab's own team members. Some seemingly simple-to-resolve bugs have been hanging out for months. The state of the bug tracker coupled with the company's self-imposed radio silence are maddening, especially for us, as we make out entire living off of this CMS in one way or another.

We don't know what they're doing "wrong" these days, or why, but from our perspective, we see the brand suffering and the goodwill of the vaunted "EE Community" slowly eroding. The community will only take so much of this before they invest the time into looking at other solutions. The number of other solutions in this CMS space is growing day by day, and some of them are developed or contributed to by EE community members, and even former Reactor team members.

On the Other Hand...

"Dying isn't dead" – Brad Parscale (Giles Parscale, DevDemon)

We have to remember that the company and the product are two different things, but that the product ultimately refects the company, its culture, and its passion. If EllisLab is struggling internally and losing its way, so too will the product. We here at devot:ee do not want to see this happen. We have too much time and effort invested into ExpressionEngine development and helping the community at large to want to see ExpressionEngine fail. We value this community too much to see it fade. We are not planning on going anywhere, so long as ExpressionEngine is around.  

We hope to speak with at least some members of EllisLab when EECI comes to Texas in October. Maybe some face-to-face communication with the company would be good. We hope that if you make it to EECI in Texas this October that you take the time to introduce yourself to EllisLab and to voice your concerns.

ExpressionEngine is EllisLab's product, but the community of developers surrounding it belongs to all of us.  Let's do what we can to see it continue.

Recently Rolled Out

Our Move to an EngineHosting VSC

This week we were migrated to an EngineHosting VSC plan, which has been on the radar to do for some time. We were moved to one of their VSC preferred plans. You can see their plan breakdowns for preferred Virtual Server Clusters here.

Some of the initial reactions on twitter:

We hope that you have found that the site is easier to use as well. Thanks to Nevin and his team at EngineHosting for their help with the migration.

This Week in Add-ons

  • BrilliantRetail SagePay Form Payment Gateway ($, for EE2) by Glenn Jacobs
    Adds support for SagePay Form to BrilliantRetail. Let SagePay handle the PCI compliance and take payments.
  • Escape (for EE2) by EpicVoyage
    Provides variable escaping for SQL or HTML output
  • Unrelated (for EE2) by EpicVoyage
    Allows access to regular parent entry fields within {related_entries} and {reverse_related_entries} tags.
  • Router ($, for EE2) by Isaac Raway (Airways)
    Router is a regular expression based routing system for ExpressionEngine requests. It allows you to define any custom URL route you like, without needing to worry about template naming and without using large conditional checks.
  • Postmaster ($, for EE2) by Objectivehtml
    Postmaster is the definitive solution for emailing channel entry data within ExpressionEngine. Easily create beautiful email templates using the live preview, and impose extremely fine levels of control to send emails exactly when you want.
  • devot:ee Sales Export (for EE2) by Derek Hogue (Amphibian Design)
    Built for EE add-on developers, this module lets you export CSV reports of your add-ons sold through devot:ee, including net profit calculations, filtered by add-on and date.

7 Comments:

ErikReagan 07.20.12

[Disclaimer: I’m on the EE Reactor team but have little-to-no more insight into EllisLab or EE bugs etc than most others]

Ryan,

Great work on the EH migration. The site is feeling snappier :)

I’m glad to hear you say you want devot:ee to be around as long as EE is. The way you discuss EllisLab and ExpressionEngine on twitter really doesn’t give me that impression. I definitely think that discussions need to be had and wakeup calls are necessary (EllisLab has hit snooze a few times…) —  but overall your twitter commentary seems more destructive than anything.

I’m with Brad on this right now. Regardless of the current state of the bug tracker, EE continues to be a wonderful source of projects and thus income for Focus Lab. The bug issue is just a symptom of a potentially big problem but only time will tell truly.

EllisLab spoke too soon way too many times with the EE 2.0 transition. They learned from that and went to the complete opposite by saying next to nothing. My hope is that they find a happy medium between the two — and soon.

I also have hope with regard to the new efforts they’ve mentioned over the past year or so (the private support and more). My guess is that they’re currently having a hard time balancing getting a stronger support structure in place and keeping up with the product itself.

Erik

Jacob Russell 07.20.12

Jacob Russell

Erik,

Point by point, although I’m not ryan -

I’ve found Ryan’s twitter commentary, and the intent of my own, to be honest, not destructive.  For me, there comes a point where putting a nice coat of paint on serious issues becomes counterproductive.

There are still many great sites and projects coming out of EE.  The biggest concern is not about right now, it’s 2-5 years down the road when traction gives way to a series of problems and concerns, not just bugs, that have been systemic for quite some time now.  As far as talking too much or too little, I honestly think too much is being made of the talking side of this.  The issue before was that they talked way too much and produced too little.  The issue now is that they talk too little and produce too little.  The common thread there is production.  Bugs, worthwhile, exciting new features, features that aren’t already bested by community add-ons, advancing the core code past the state it’s been in for years - these are all important.

Regarding private and enterprise support - that’s what Marcus was hired for 18 months ago, it was the major focus of his introduction post.  ‘Having a hard time finding balance’ and not being able to roll out even private support when full scale enterprise support has been in development for nearly 2 years is more than just a balance issue.  If the load is becoming too much for them to keep up, then they either need more people, better people, or better leadership of the people they have.  I tend to think it’s the first and last of those three.

Finally, being with Brad on ‘Dying is not dead’... is that really what we’re shooting for with the platform we build our businesses on?  I hope we can aim for better than that.

Oh, and one quick disclaimer so I’m entirely clear - the weekly post represents devot:ee’s stance.  Anything I post here or on twitter is my own, I am most definitely not the official voice of devot:ee, but will personally stand behind anything I say.

Ryan Masuga 07.20.12

Ryan Masuga

Erik -

Thanks for the feedback.

Let me set this straight first: NO ONE wants ExpressionEngine to improve or the EE community to scale up to even a fraction of other CMS’ size than I do.

I certainly don’t mean to come across as “destructive” on twitter when talking about ExpressionEngine, but I am baffled, nonplussed, exasperated, miffed, annoyed, and just a little bit angry about where EllisLab and EE have gone in the last six years. I expected more out of the product and the company. Maybe in my mind I set the bar too high.

I’ve been way into this community and this CMS since 2006. I had a few thousand forum posts in the EE forums (all meticulously written with reference links, formatted text, code samples, and almost half of which were lost in EllisLab’s Great Forum Purge), and was making a living building websites as a freelancer using nothing but ExpressionEngine. The forums were a lively place. Seemed like everyone knew everyone else. Seemed like you could communicate even with EL’s top brass.

In late 2008 I started working on devot:ee, which launched in 2009. EllisLab announced EE2 at SXSW in 2008 (and I sat through the session twice and got to introduce myself to my EllisLab heros; I was in nerd heaven).

After that SXSW, things haven’t been the same. Like you said, their communication has gone from too much to pretty much nothing. I think they don’t know how to communicate, and have just never found a good way to do so. The Forecast page came and went. But to QUIT communicating is doing no one any good in my view (and the Friday Round Up doesn’t count as communicating).

They lost key people (Aker, Allard, etc.). The product seemed to stagnate a bit. Even if that’s not entirely true - that was the perception. The years 2008-2011 were the Age of Apology and Damage Control at EllisLab. Now the perception is that bugs don’t get fixed and that development is notoriously slow, and they don’t talk about anything. To be fair, EllisLab doesn’t have to talk about anything. But I believe they should. The silence doesn’t feel good or instill trust.

I wouldn’t continue to spend time on devot:ee or use ExpressionEngine if I didn’t think it was worth it. We now have four employees (including myself) and we’re looking for number five. That is nothing to sneeze at, and it is possible because of ExpressionEngine. So, I’m not interested in seeing ExpressionEngine fade away or EllisLab self-destruct or anything like that.

I just had higher hopes for the product. I still harbor the belief that it can and will improve. As for EllisLab, the company? I don’t know what the cause of their woes is. I hope they can figure it out.

(Holy cow, look at this…I broke our comment layout with the book I just wrote)

GDmac 07.21.12

GDmac

I’m almost in the same park as Masuga (but since 2007). After an initially somewhat difficult path from 2.1 up to 2.3, more of the bigger issues finally started to settle. And i expected that most of the smaller issues, that affect us on a day to day basis, would be ironed out very soon.

With 2.4 and 2.5 some general scoping ideas that really made sense were addressed (like pagination and the file module to name two), but again, many of the nagging little quirks remained.

Also when Matthias joined Ellislab, i (almost) jumped up from my seat: finally some of the long standing CP usability issues, we all are whining about, will now, really soon, get that much needed attention. Maybe i expected to much to happen in a year.

Will another “i hear you” post do? A roadmap? i don’t know. Without some communication on this specific subject, and the bugs silently remaining sitting there, we have no idea what to expect.

DavidS 07.22.12

It is the vocal and critical people who probably care most about ExpressionEngine and its community. In fact, if anyone is not concerned about what is (or rather isn’t) happening with ExpressionEngine, maybe they are working in a bubble or just harbor low expectations?

There are clearly problems and we’re seeing history repeat itself; after the agony of EE2.0, ongoing bugs and feature freeze, then #kennygate, people have been incredibly patient already. For years.

The response to kennygate was honest and creditable; we were promised more openness, more communication, bugs fixed, a more consistent release schedule, better UX, etc. EllisLab started to deliver on this and we even got to participate in a feature vote. Little has emerged from any of this and EllisLab has gone mute again. We get more info coming out of Apple these days.

The bug tracker tells its own story, the EE forums have been neutered, support seems to have been handed back to the community, and one of ExpressionEngine’s greatest assets - the fantastic 3rd-party add-on scene - has engulfed the CMS it feeds on. This in itself is a huge issue: is EE now just the glue that holds a 50% 3rd-party CMS together? This really needs some strategic thinking applied to it.

Of course, nobody has the right to tell EllisLab what to deliver or when, and while it makes sense not to talk too early about strategy, new features and ongoing development, retreating into radio silence at a time when the key product appears to have stalled for years and much of your community (customers) are disillusioned, is just going to do more damage.

I don’t want to rip into EllisLab here - talented people, great product - but there is almost a sense of abandonment surrounding the lack of progress and absence of comms.

Everyone should be concerned about the current state of play with ExpressionEngine. Maybe there is a big announcement coming and EL will take everyone by surprise: EE3 developer preview anyone… or will the glacier continue to creep silently forward until everyone has moved on?

Vu Nguyen 07.24.12

I have a feeling that EllisLab is losing money and is not pulling in new licenses to sustain their operation. Unless I’m mistaken they are not getting a cut of the extensions that EE developers are selling.

The current model is once you are a major release any updates are free. The only time you need to re-purchase is when there is a major release. If EllisLab is not selling enough current release license, they can’t pay their developers to fix the bugs.

This is just my thoughts.

Vu

ErikReagan 07.25.12

Ryan & Jacob,

Thanks for the replies. I appreciate the responses from both of you.

I see two key issues at hand, both of which we’ve all discussed. Production and communication. On the production side, the last few releases have been solid. I don’t know the details of what they changed, but something changed in the pattern. Hopefully in the coming weeks and months we’ll see that new success rate trickle down into the outstanding bugs. Goodness, I hope so at least.

With communication, I almost lean toward them needing some type of training or consulting to get on the right path. To their credit, they’ve tried a number of things to get better about communicating with the EE community. In spite of those efforts the leadership (and thus the company at large) hasn’t been the best at talking with the community effectively. I think there’s a separate between their desired communication approach and their market. Selling a digital product, especially a CMS, almost requires that you engage your market in places like Twitter. I don’t have a solution, I just know there are problems.

I appreciate your passion for the product and I’m with you on wanting the best from both the product and the company. We shouldn’t have to lower the bar for either.

Also of note, writing more than 3 sentences in this comment box sucks =)

—e

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