12 months ago this week, I was in Detroit for the ExpressionEngine conference. It was my third EE conference in 4 years and I was excited to be speaking to a community that I felt at home in, supporting a product I loved using, and have done since the days of ExpressionEngine 1.4.
Next week EEconf 2017 rolls into Denver, CO for 3 days of workshops and talks, but I won’t be there. In fact, some of you will have noticed that we’re sponsoring the inaugural Craft CMS dotall conference in Portland, in 2 weeks time. So why the turnaround and change in support?
ExpressionEngine has been a fantastic platform for us over the years. Since we chose to make the platform our CMS of choice some 7 or 8 years ago, we’ve got to know it inside out, warts and all. It made good sense to our clients and our business model to work with one platform and get to know it really well, so we could deliver the best web solutions for our clients. It wasn’t perfect, but let’s be honest, no platform is and never will be.
When I went to Portland in to 2013 to my first EE conference, Brad Parscale of Giles Parscale has just taken over the running of the conference. It was a multi-day, multi-track event, with lots of choices for talks covering every aspect of running an agency, working freelance, hosting and of course, EE itself. The full team from EllisLab were there engaging with attendees, and excitement and enthusiasm for the platform seemed high. While I don’t have exact numbers, I would estimate there were about 200 attendees, many of whom I’d previously connected with on Twitter, and even the EE forums which by this point were pretty much abandoned. It was a great event, fantastic community and lots to take away from the talks.
12 months later in Washington DC, the event was slightly smaller (single track over 2 days), with fewer numbers, the anticipation had moved on to the release of ExpressionEngine 3.0. It was still a great conference, but a noticeably different atmosphere to the year before.
By the time EE3 was released in October 2015, the conference had turned into a one day event, completely focused around EE3. On the face of it this was perfect timing, but a one day conference meant it wasn’t feasible for many to travel (and certainly not from the UK). Needless to say, I can’t comment on how the conference went or the value people took away from it.
With EE3 firmly established by the time the 2016 conference came around, when the call for papers was released, I submitted a proposal which was accepted. I was really excited to see friends from the community and hear stories of a reinvigorated platform and growing community support. However, with numbers in the auditorium around 50, and Brad Parscale in the midst of supporting Trump’s election campaign, sadly, it was ultimately a disappointment. It wasn’t so much the organisation of the event, but the lack of community support was a worry for the future of the platform. There were still great talks from great people, but the overall numbers seemed to match a corresponding decline in developers supporting or releasing EE add-ons and a general shift in confidence away from EE.
I was asked to support the 2017 conference, but to be honest, I felt a bit of a fraud. We hadn’t chosen EE for any of our new projects following the 2016 conference, instead favouring Craft CMS which was on fire – the complete opposite to what we were seeing with EE. We were late to the Craft party, and if truth be told, I felt hesitant to move away from a product that had been good to us over the years – we felt comfortable and confident, but that had now changed.
Today our ExpressionEngine work is really only supporting existing sites that we’ve built. We've built a dozen or so Craft sites in 2017 so far and we feel more confident than ever in terms of how we can make an impact on our client's businesses. Where a CMS is the primary requirement (and even commerce), Craft is our platform of choice for lots of reasons. We’re not ruling out ExpressionEngine in the future, but Craft supports our business, and we want to support them.
I genuinely wish the EllisLab team and the community that has organised the EE conference this year the very best of luck. The speaker line up looks excellent and I’m sure their efforts will be rewarded; there’s nothing personal in us making the switch. Ultimately we’re in business to support our clients, and in doing that, we need to offer them a platform that offers the best in ease of use, support and maintenance, as well as flexibility for future scale and growth. We feel Craft is the platform that allows us to do this.
I really hope EE’s popularity will rise again, and conference numbers in the EE slack channel look stronger this year than they did in 2016, but the Craft equivalent still shows almost twice that (although of course not every attendee will necessarily be using Slack). I’ll miss the conference this year and hope it’s a really successful event – congratulations to those involved on having the courage and commitment to take it on.
If you’re running an EE site and are curious about whether Craft would be a good alternative, then please get in touch. We’d be delighted to help, but we’re not solely about moving from EE to Craft – at least not unless there’s sound reason or value in doing so.
If you’re just curious about why we use Craft for our CMS projects, then fire us an email and we’ll be happy to show you how it can benefit your organisation.