Iain Urquhart

{entry}

A New Order?…

20 Comments

Expressionengine has been a revelation for me; purely and simply a life changing piece of software.

In 2006 EE bounced me from producing static html sites - where I outsourced *any* dynamic, complex, database-driven work - to empowering me to feel like I could build just about anything. Really, anything.

I have much to thank EllisLab for; my career, my family’s lifestyle, the toys that my kids play with, my home, my car, a plethora of computing equipment and - most importantly - my enthusiasm for the internet.

So I’m feeling a little saddened, and perhaps angered, by the changes I’m seeing within the ExpressionEngine community. Is it dissent? Or even hatred beginning to boil for the product?

No. I think it’s just the realisation that EllisLab’s focus seems to be moving away from the little folks, and that they’re wanting to cut it in the big leagues.

Teh Noobz

The recent announcement to stop 3rd party developers distributing and supporting their wares on the EE forums has felt a little like a kick in the nuts. Those forums have seen @markhuot release his first add-on. @leevigraham threw many add-ons out there, @low, @brandonkelly, the guys at @buildwithstructure, and countless others all started out as EE noobs hacking, poking, talking and sharing.

Now, we have a line in the sand drawn by EllisLab that’s basically knocked all of this nurturing on the head. That’s how I interpret it anyway.

This is my perspective…

I make some EE add-ons, hashed together with my limited brain power. I’m not selling them, I’m not asking for anything in return. If you find them useful, go ahead, fill your boots and finish that job off. Got a problem or a feature request? Get in touch and I’ll do my best to set you right. If I can’t help, I’ll let you know without wasting your valuable time.

I’ve built this handful of add-ons out of a genuine interest to learn, with a genuine desire to give something back for the years of support I received from users on the ExpressionEngine forums. Users whose advice and interest was not included as part of my ExpressionEngine purchase agreement.

Now I’ve got to find somewhere else to provide support for the add-ons…
or do I?

Do I want to help folks out and answer their questions, or implement some code that someone contributed to my add-on?

Do I need to find somewhere to curb the level of emails I now receive, where I can provide answers to people that other folks can learn from?

Do I need to find somewhere where other users can help out folks, before I get the chance to check my inbox?

Maybe I’ll just not bother anymore, and pray to Jahova that other developers aren’t gonna do the same, because I know they can be bothered going through all this in their spare time to share their add-ons.

Spectacular.

Today, I had the pleasure of witnessing something quite spectacular… One of the most well known ExpressionEngine folks around said that it’s getting to a point where he won’t use free add-ons anymore.

Really?     Yes, Really.

How can it come to a point where a CMS community is dissatisfied with free add-ons? Where something being sold for $18USD is immediately, and unquestionably assumed to be better, than something which is free and on an open license to do what you see fit?

Am I the only one who finds this incomprehensible?

GitHub. Git Fucking Hub.

I’ve seen recent comments saying GitHub is not a good place for developers to throw their free add-ons out to. Yep, I agree that it’s a developer’s site and getting around isn’t easy. That “Download Source” button can be really hard to find.

FREE FRICKING ADD-ONS people.

Its not like we’re getting anything out of this, other than a feel good factor which you’re kind enough to piss on with your fleeting comments.

Why should anybody willing to throw free add-ons out there even bother anymore? Let’s not forget how much commercial and non commercial add-on development has assisted in pushing ExpressionEngine forward for the last two years, all while not a single, new, noteworthy, feature was added to the base product.

Now that we’re rocking 2.1, lets forget all that and start afresh. Fill your boots add-on devs, and get your wallets out Mr and Mrs paying customer because I feel this is just the beginning of a whole new era of add-on whoring.

Gimme a break

Before you jump down my throat and give me the rundown of why commercial add-ons are better than free ones… please, don’t treat me like an asshat. I know commercial add-ons are vital and that nearly every add-on out there with a pricetag is worth every dime/cent/penny.

I know because I purchase them regularly. And I post this with utmost respect to each and every commercial add-on developer out there. I’m just bitching, and feeling a little let down by the crew at EllisLab right now.

Comments for this entry


John Faulds
2010 07 20

I don’t release add-ons but my first reaction has been exactly the same as yours; will this mean that people think it’s all too hard now to release free add-ons to the community and just not bother anymore?


John
2010 07 20

When i first read that announcement i was pretty much the same as you, i thought this was another game of roshambo and ellislabs have got to go first again.

However, i thought about it and to be honest i welcome the theory behind it. I would really welcome a cleaner forum area to discuss add-on dev and nothing else. I find searching the EE forums painful to say the least and i pride myself on being good at using search to find what i want.

With regards to a core place / addon/ module / whatever repo then devot-ee seems the best idea as then it a single place dedicated to that purpose where i don’t have to search a huge forum for an addon. If it exists it should be on devot-ee no matter how small it is.

Finally, the support issue. This is a thorny one for me as i have seen in the past a dev of a very high profile component just shut up shop one day and take a 5 year old forum with him. I think a central 3pd support area is needed but at the same time i see where ellislab are coming from.

Perhaps there is now a window / opportunity for someone to come in and offer another system / forum / place for 3pd stuff to be supported. Hey, you could even make money from it with ads or something…. Silver lining in every cloud and all that…


Wayde Christie
2010 07 21

Perhaps a discussion forum on devot:ee might solve the problem? Wouldn’t surprise me if it’s in the works already.


Leevi Graham
2010 07 21

Thought I’d throw in a developers point of view.

= Forums =

For me, the forums were hell to manage support through. For my free addons I felt like I was expected to answer every question which would have meant continuously monitoring the forums for new posts. Some users were angry that I didn’t respond to their requests but the reality was that I never saw them.

It was generally the EL support staff that would contact me via skype and let me know someone had posted a question.

Now that wasn’t too much of an issue in the beginning when there were a much smaller number of EE users but over the years those numbers have increased.

= Support v2 =

Recently I’ve launched my new site with an aim to tackle the support issue head on. There’s new support forms and plenty of ways to contact me. I’ve also worked really hard to create good documentation to help users help themselves.

I’ve still got a lot of tweaking to do including building out my bug tracker but ultimately my users will benefit from a less noise and more focussed support.

= Paid vs Free =

I’m not going to join the paid vs free addons debate but I will say I’m personally committed to providing free addons for the community. I generally make an addon free if there is minimal support and development overheads.


iain
2010 07 21

@leevi

thanks for your comments, I appreciate where you are coming from and I certainly see the benefits/reasoning behind what you are doing now.

The question is though, would you be Leevi Graham the add-on developer, if it wasn’t for the early fostering that the EE add-on forums gave you?


Leevi Graham
2010 07 21

Good question.

As far as learning how to code EE addons I was pretty much self taught using EE itself as a guide and the docs. I did look at some of Marks early work which did help. I do remember a couple of times I posted in the forums and got a response of the Dereks.

For noobs these days there are still many examples of well written addons out there to use as learning tools (part of the reason I release free addons). Also the move to CI will mean more documentation; Something that was more limited back in the day.

On the marketing / promotion front the forums certainly did help. They allowed me to announce my addons and get early feedback. I don’t think that will change in the future tho. The new revised forums still have a place to do that.

In the current climate you can actually get more reach into the community without the forums by using Twitter, sending an announcement to eeinsider or by listing your addon on devot:ee.


Steven Hambleton
2010 07 21

But would ExpressionEngine be were it is today if it wasn’t for the Leevis, Brandons and Lows of the world not to mention the countless other amazing add-on developers that have helped me make a successful business from ExpressionEngine development?

I feel this is just a natural progression and it’s time to let the child find a place of it’s own.

For me, I would love to see a unified EllisLab/Devot:ee membership so I can jump over to Devot:ee with the same login, purchase add-ons and get help via a custom Get Satisfaction add-on specific forum.

Devot:ee is the place to host and showcase your add-on these days and if it’s a real standout then it will get featured on EE Insider.


Cem Meric
2010 07 21

A new order is indeed in place and I’m failing to see the community spirit that we had 3 years ago.

I guess we’re all grown up now!


iain
2010 07 21

@hambo

Not sure if you’re replying to the post, or Leevis comment.

My points are around the birth of addons and the introduction of new developers on the EE forums. Not the deployment and support of mature, stable and commercial addons.

By looking at Devot:ee now, you’ll see there are more commercial modules for EE2 than there are free ones.

Folks are just expecting good addons to go commercial, and with this people expect commercial support. I fear the ‘hassle’ this brings during the early release phase will kill a lot of great things before they even start.

I do hope I am wrong, but we’ll probably never know.


Steven Hambleton
2010 07 21

@iain, perhaps but support is time and time is money.

Perhaps free support will be given by new developers to make a name for themselves unless of course the product is outstanding.

I do raise an eyebrow at some add-ons that were free and are now asking for good money but if they are solid and the support is fast then I don’t have a problem with it.


Leslie Camacho
2010 07 21

Hi Iain,

The whole purpose of the move is to provide higher quality support, for free, to the people who make add-ons. We want the people who make add-ons to have an environment where they can actually help each other with development versus providing direct technical support.

When the future Leevi’s and Brandon’s start developing EE add-ons for free, they need a place where they can actually work on the development portion. That’s the goal.

The quality of developer to developer discussion dropped as the amount of add-on support by devs increased. And the more add-ons that were added the forums, the worse the support for them by devs became and the harder it became to find add-on updates or new add-ons. Then, there was the spam that we had to start monitoring.

It was a big, fat mess and we have a lot of data to back that up. It got to the point where the system was not really working at any level and the quality and the spirit were leaving quickly.

We felt a significant change was in order to preserve the focus on developer to developer discussion.

Our decision to clean house and start fresh wasn’t done on a whim and neither was it done to increase profits, or upset people.

It was done purely to go back to the primary purpose of our developer forums, which is to provide a place where developers can help each other make better add-ons.

Our hope is that devs get higher quality help from EllisLab and the community, that they have a great way to promote free or commercial add-ons for free, that people have an easy way of finding new add-ons (versus buried in threads).

If the new system doesn’t encourage better quality add-ons, both free and paid, and allow the community to easily find them, we’ll try something else.

We’re very much in it for the little guys. We think every move we’ve made since EE 2’s release has been focused on helping the little guy. That doesn’t mean we get it right every time (and maybe this is the wrong call, we’ll see) but helping the one man shops and small teams is very much our mandate.

Speaking for myself, “the big leagues” hold no interest for me. The dog and pony shows, webinars, corporate sales and support, $5k-$15k a year support contracts just to be able to contact someone on the dev team (this is what WordPress and Drupal charge)... ugh. Sickening.

MojoMotor is a great example. Do you see a $10k version of EE? Or a new $50 micro-cms for the little guys coming from us? About a $10k a year support contract just so you can talk to our dev team? Or do we make it really easy to get in touch with anybody for almost free?

Really, all we’ve done is ask people to host their own add-ons and provide their own support. We did this because we believe its the best way for add-ons to be supported and the best way to ensure that devs get the help they are looking for on our forums.

If it doesn’t work and it turns out to be wrong, we change it. Fair enough?


Michael Rog
2010 07 21

I see how devs can gain visibility for themselves and their products by releasing and discussing their stuff in the EE forums, but I also see how that has proven to be a sub-optimal solution.

An addon release in the forum starts nicely. But once multiple questions, problems, tutorials, support topics, re-releases, and feature requests all get thrown in, it becomes near-impossible to comb out any useful information or meaningful discussion. The forums are built to support one product (EE), not a thousand products (addons).

To that end, sites like Devot:ee aren’t just any old 3rd-party anymore—They’re “Community Partners” now. The very blog entry in question assures us that EllisLab will “continue to foster that relationship to increase and improve how their information ties into our site.” I agree with Steven that a custom membership base could help a lot. And integrated search would be sweet. And for mere introductions, there’s this new Community News forum.

In my optimistic view, we aren’t seeing a fragmentation of the community here. We’re seeing the development forums restored to their purpose—discussion about development. And, we’re seeing the addon-indexing site ascend to its purpose—becoming the definitive encyclopedia of addons. Both of these things are ultimately in service to *all* developers—the big boys and the newbies like me.

This structure doesn’t snub new developers or weaken the spirit of the community. Rather, EllisLabs is moving to give more complete support to their community partners. That *has to happen* if these partnerships are going to be successful.


iain
2010 07 21

@leslie

Thanks for taking the time to post here, you’re confirming why I’ll continue to use ExpressionEngine as my tool of choice.

My concern/gripe here extends to the hatchet type approach that we’ve seen over the last month or two from EllisLab.

A simple blog post, or post in the ProNet forums over your coming plans for a forum cull, or 30 days notice over a change in policy over x is all that would be required to keep a lot of us folks happy.

I realise you posted asking for feedback before the recent forum blitz, and by in large you got very little back in when you asked for it, but I think an extra step is missing here where you’d be more transparent with the changes and at least give some indication what’s happening before it happens.

Given the uproar about the hundreds/thousands of third party posts that were deleted, and now this change of policy, we’d just like some time to adjust, and let us find ways/discuss/transition from the effects of these decisions.

That’s what I mean by disregard for the smaller players, it feels you’re now making decisions and asking us to lump it.

Again, having the president of EllisLab responding directly is more than I could have ever wished for, thanks for listening and giving us your time on the subject.


Leslie Camacho
2010 07 21

@Iain - *sigh* I agree with you on that point completely. It certainly comes across as a hatchet job and that was not our intent at all. My sincere apologies to you on not doing a better job of forecasting the changes and letting things settle between major transitions.

As you can see by our response to the forum “cull” we corrected that in about 48 hours. That doesn’t excuse the poor communication but I hope it shows we’re committed to figuring out which decisions were right for the Community and which were not.

For the 3rd party support stuff, we’re going to give it time and see how it goes. We’re not going to be heavy handed in enforcing it and we’re definitely following the discussions, both pro and con, happening on Twitter, our forums, blogs, etc…. The reaction is pretty mixed, but this one needs time to see if it will actually work out, fail, or be “meh.” The latter two results won’t do.


Steven Hambleton
2010 07 21

Doesn’t it feel great to at least be having these discussions directly with EllisLab?

Try that with 37Signals. Their user base bitches and whinges all the time about the attitude shown to them when it comes to important features.


Justin Long
2010 07 21

Let me start off by saying I can see both sides. From EllisLabs standpoint it makes sense, the paid support staff is paid to support the software that EllisLab makes, and they do a great job of doing that. Now from the standpoint of a developer (I am focusing on free add-ons) support is a lot of work and time to build the tools necessary to provide great support. Which for the most part if you are providing free software is not really worth it.

I think EllisLab was wise in their decision to move 3rd Party add-on support out of the forums. They took up a lot of space and the forums were not designed for multiple products and questions about different products running at the same time. The forums were cluttered and not that useful unless you had hours to go through them. That is true for both users and developers. Users were asking the same questions over and over again. Developers would ask questions that would be buried by support request.

Trimming the forums is going to provide better add-ons being developed.

Give it 2 weeks and I am sure there will be a site that is filling in the gap that EllisLab has created. A site that is designed to offer community support and will be able to handle multiple developers and add-ons.


Bjørn Børresen
2010 07 21

At first I was like damn iain is right this sucks but then I was like man Leslie sure does make sense.


Nick
2010 08 25

Iain is right in that the forums and support is really bad at the moment. I have posted a few questions and had no answers even weeks later.

As for the developers hosting and supporting their own modules, sure I see the logic in this. The real question is why are the main modules and extensions not included in the core software in the first place? Surely they would have built the main ones in ee 2.0. Seems like they want to keep commercial contributors and other developers happy by not including key functionality in the core.


iain
2010 08 25

A few weeks on now, and I’ve found that I’m not even visiting the EE forums unless I’m looking for something in particular - in which case its an ‘in and out’ process.

I’m no longer cruising past the 3rd party dev forums to see what’s new. The community news section is evidence that things have definitely slowed down given the view counts and responses (considering it has replaced 4 old forums I believe).

Gone also is any assistance I’d give if I saw someone needing help with an add-on I had experience with, given that folks can’t ask for help now.


Paul Frost
2010 09 16

I’d echo that comment about not visiting the EE forums as much as I used to, and so not responding to requests for help.

There is a different feel to the ExpressionEngine community now. But the product is still the best option out there, so I will live with the changes and hope things will happen to bring back the feeling of belonging to a community.

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