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The UK's first ExpressionEngine conference has taken place in Manchester in August 2011. I provide a report on the event itself and the surrounding activities.
The first ExpressionEngine conference in the UK
I first considered going to the EEUK11 conference when it came up in a discussion at one of our LondonEErs meetup sessions. I had seen a few tweets about the possibility of a UK conference following the superb EECI event in Leiden in 2010 run by @RobertEerhart but I honestly didn’t think it would amount to much. I am very pleased to have been proved wrong on that first assumption as the EEUK event was fabulous. I bought my ticket, booked a hotel and after checking the prices for travel realised that a first-class advanced booking seat on Virgin trains was only a few pounds more so went for that as well. As it was I got to use the Virgin Lounge at Euston and Manchester Picadilly including their WiFi and power. On the train, I also had free WiFi, power at my seat, a sandwich, biscuits, plenty of tea and a refreshing beer. That all set me up in the right frame of mind when I arrived at Manchester where by chance I met @MarmaladeToday who was staying at the same hotel so we wandered into the centre of Manchester.
I have never been to Manchester before and the Victorian industrial visage they opened up before me was a delight. Street names such as Whitworth (key mover in industrial revolution standards — and hence a forefather of modern web standards — kind of) resonated with me. I felt comfortable despite the recent riots (though I was travelling up from Croydon). The hotel was good — nearby to the venue and in the middle of Manchester. As we walked into reception there was @RobertEerhart relaxed on a couch tweeting away waiting for the others in the hotel.
After checking in we popped out for a swift beverage in the Waterhouse (Wetherspoons) up the road where we were joined by the delightful ‘nut bag’ known as @mrsflinger and @johnhenry_ie. then we set off for the night’s venue — Dukes 69. This appeared to be a set of old warehouses surrounded by canals. It was a lovely venue but was packed with Manchester nightlife — I don’t agree with 6-month-old babies being in a noisy wine bar even if their mums do want a night out. Despite that we had a good time — pizza was consumed along with White Witch beer. The speakers decided they would go back to the hotel at about half nine as they had all had ideas to further enhance slides — mainly jokes at the expense of each other, so I tagged along as I fancied an early night. We met several groups of EE’rs on their way down to the bar and pointed them to where the remaining contingent were located.
After a good night’s sleep and hearty breakfast, I arrived at the venue which is absolutely awesome. Manchester Town hall is a gothic masterpiece and well worth a visit if you ever pass by Albert square. Badges were collected, goodie bags picked up — with a We are Hippo sponsored T-shirt, pen and Pixel and Tonic coaster in an EEUK11 bag. Tea and coffee were waiting in the anti-room with many old and new friends to chat to. It is always great meeting up with people you follow on Twitter — though I am always a little awkward at first! Then we moved into the main room for the conference. I regret not having taken my camera as the conference room had a gothic fireplace with minstrels gallery above it. Ian kicked off the show with a big thanks to the sponsors and I will repeat them here as they all deserve some link love:
- Pixel and Tonic
- Brand New Box
- Better Workflow (Electric Putty)
- and of course, DesignKarma who put the show on.
Here are my fuddled notes of the conference:
So first up and opening the conference:
Joel Bradbury: 101 ways to skin a cat
There is a tendency to learn ExpressionEngine by diving — usually in due to time scales /deadlines / enthusiasm / ADS or not wanting to read the manual.
Anecdotes of really badly built site using PHP to do base EE functions — done by someone with good PHP skills but had not read the EE manual.
Suggestion by Joel is that we need conventions to build sites which we do for HTML and content but perhaps neglect the build part.
Joel mentioned the dry style templates garnered from the John Wells blog post on template “partials”
put some structure into variable names
type marker, channel marker, field name, language marker
- only real flexibility is the field name
strict prefix examples
gv_global variable etc
All in all an excellent talk and got everyone thinking about how they name elements in their builds
Leslie Flinger: Freelancing as an EE Developer: Tools of Success
175 pro members
598 directoree listings
1,000 sites at showee
20,000 members at the ee forums
The EE community is really good at helping each other
How people are making EE work in their business
Most EE agencies < 5 people <20 sites per year
1 top business software — freshbooks
Mac Freelance — Flinger preferred
2 Budget and scope
phone, face, Skype and always email follow up, always.
Contract and scope sent
3 begin work
Ways to cost
- per template
- per hour — estimate and Flinger preferred — time tracker shows you how long you take
- per task
4 typical hours estimated
- CSS and 5 template html build = 15 hours
EE back end set up (channels fields etc) 20 hours
template integration 8 hours
content — 10 hours
Browser testing — 3 hours
John Henry adds a shopping list to the quote for extras — new channel, new firm etc.
depends on a detailed proposal to act as the legal agreement.
always ensures written approval via email before beginning work.
6 tools for production
7 when is it done
1 use the scope provided
2 Offer a stage /phase 2
3 Shopping list
4 written confirmation that you are complete
5 provide a number of revisions on the agreement
6 offer a maintenance package/retainer
find a niche
don’t start a project without a deposit — freelancers — not agencies because of short term relationship (normally)
communicate with clients often
learn to say no
Great talk as ever by MrsFlinger — she knows her stuff.
John Henry Donovan: Faceted navigation for expression engine
John Henry talked about an unusual aspect of ExpressionEngine builds that I don’t think many of us have had experience with — or have needed to understand so his talk about multifaceted ways of navigating content was very interesting.
Users searching for an item — all facets of that item are a potential entry to the item.
Not aparametric search (users specify search terms)
amazon is a good example of faceted.
categories, author, published dates etc.
use when you have good meta data, when content naturally forms facets, when users understand facets, when you have large amounts of content.
duplicate content is a big issue — crawl depth is important and shows only single URL for each item piece of content.
Cruft free URLS
/template-group/URL/title is preferred -
mentioned switch — new article on EE insider last night
Solspace Super Search
a very complex way of doing search.
Complex talk by John Henry and I don’t think I understood some of it completely!
Then we had a superb buffet lunch in the anti-room all laid on in the ticket price and a good chat about what the talks that morning. Electric Putty gave a demo showing their yet to be released ExpressionEngine add-on — Better Workflow. I have already seen a couple of early demos of this at LondonEErs and this is the extension that I think will potentially take EE into the corporate realm. Authorization and workflows are a big must have for any CMS that wants to be used by corporate’s or even SME’s where they need structured approval loops in their work procedures. Ian then produced a toy bingo machine to call out some numbers for prize winners — each of the 82 delegates had a chance of winning one of the 67 prizes (think I may have been one of the unlucky few!).
Then back to our seats for the afternoon’s talks:
Stephen Lewis: Commercial Add – on Development for Clients
Profitable Add on development
do an environmental check list
Apache or IIS
EE version etc
3rd party add ons
Add ons requirement check list
Client competency list
Does the client know EE from a hole in the ground?
Write the documentation first — rather than a tech-driven spec.
describe how to use the add-on
exposes missing requirements
Done when it works as documented.
Build an Add-on builder
pkg.io: ok but very generic and needs tweaking
custom templates and scripts: difficult to manage
Custom Add-on builder: Custom fit hits the ground running but more upfront effort.
Addonis add-on builder (his programme)
Sets up all the base files you need for an EE plug in — can be loaded up into EE as an extension and all set up ready to go — then you just need to build the plugin inside it!
I don’t build commercial addons but I might need some building for me in the future so this was interesting stuff as its obviously really easy and quick to build add-ons so they should be dirt cheap.
Lodwijk Schutte: Parse Order Pro
expression engines parse order PDF — quite famous apparently.
Takes document and basically find and replaces markers and values (variables, tags, data)
Early v late parsing
Input before tags
output after tags
Global — parsed early (Snippets, config variables and segment variables)
-Parsed late (user-defined global, standard global variables))
Passed during tags
simple (only work with early pass variables, one per and, without if:else
advanced (anything not in simple — parsed after the tags) Most conditionals are advanced.
special (parsed during and by the tags)
module or plugin
single or pair
example — he has recently rediscovered preloads.
Low is one of the mad EE Dutchmen, lives on a barge and drinks pear cider (it wasn’t Perry) that smells of cough drops. He really knows his stuff about the parse order of EE templates. It’s something I have only ever had issues with once on an EE site and I think I avoid these issues by designing the content in ways that I know will work in the first place — most devs don’t get that option.
Carl Crawley: Structuring your EEcms build — Creating your optimal build
Carl showed us a slowed down video of a shell script that updated an EE site in less than a minute. I think a lot of people want that!
build this — zip it up and keep it safe
otter elements (snippets etc)
All go into his assets folder
They move the dbase and config out of the core system to version control it and edit.
Create new config files that have 1 line of PHP pointing to the config file in Assets.
remove unwanted add-ons — everything non-essential.
set security and press — user tracking etc
define your default Snippets and Vars
set your upload folders
- docs, files, images, videos.
Version control — they only version control the assets folder — hence the config is on there. System files don’t need it.
Absolutely no add ons on a standard build! dealt with on a per build basis.
.net article Optimise your EE site
Joel’s tool/plug in — Graphite — the graphy thing for seeing what takes time in page rendering.
upgrading EE and SHELL.
A shell script.
on upgrading Carl uploads new directories with _version number after it — so themes_222 then runs the script and the folders get renamed leaving back up folders of the old ones.
A script will be available on Git.
need to execute shell scripts — engine hosting doesn’t do this.
This was Carl’s first ever Conference speech and he was rather nervous beforehand but came good on the day. Carl, I applaud your efforts! Not sure I truly have the bottle to do it myself due to the nativity incident when I was 10…
Garrett Winder; Going Mobile
Huge surges currently in Mobile web usage PayPal changed their predictions twice this year
Problem is that users are increasingly using mobile devices to visit websites.
need to rethink the way we build websites
dedicated or responsive design?
dedicated; pros — user given option to browse either. more control of resources. not same front end. cons — 2 (or more) websites — more time to manage, duplicate content.
I didn’t really take enough notes on this. Garret is from Texas and recently joined Erskine Design — this was a good talk about EE and responsive design which is big on everybody’s agendas at the moment. I have recently read that the majority of mobile internet access is actually at home so making your site only show certain content based upon location (i.e. if you were a restaurant your mobile site might only show the menu) might not be a very good idea! I had a long and good chat with Garret about this at the after party.
Strangely there was not one Englishman speaking. Two Americans, Three Welsh and a Dutchman — that’s how we roll in EE.
Then we went off To Sam’s Chop House for the evening’s party — more EE talk. One thing that ExpressionEngine has that is so special is its community. Those words have been bandied about a lot over the past few years but it is true. Years ago I watched the Movable type community dissolve into thin air after the $20m funding and direction change and that’s what brought me into the warm grasp of ExpressionEngine. It is events like these that really cement the community together and although originally we did have official representation from Ellis Labs in the shape of Mrs Flinger, and no disrespect to John Henry, but it would have been good to see the CEO there as Europe is an important Market. I suspect they are concentrating on EECI11 in New York, but all the same, we had the same complaint last year in Leiden. However, the evening in Manchester was great fun. Friendships were made and cemented, one or two deals were done, beers were consumed and everybody had fun. Some may be a little too much. I bailed out early (for me) at about 01:30 but there were tweets going on till about 03:00. Splendid!
Hopefully, this event will happen again. Ian did this basically by himself, with some help from his lovely wife Ali, and I suspect he will need a bit more support next time and I am sure there are plenty willing to help if he asks. Next year should see EECI back in Leiden and perhaps a UK event every other year would not be too onerous. I hope to be at the next one and if you use ExpressionEngine I hope to see you there as well.
The Flickr stream for the event: http://www.flickr.com/groups/eeuk11/