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SXSW: Expression Engine 2.0 - Total Domination

Next Gen Publishing from CodeIgniter and ExpressionEngine

This was one of the sessions I was most looking forward to. We've been using ExpressionEngine for the last couple of years for a lot of our web development projects. EE 2.0 has only recently been released and is still under 'Release Candidate' status. Personally, I've found it pretty unusable at this stage but I have no doubt it'll be a big hit once a few niggles have been ironed out and third party developers start building extensions for it. The panel was made of five EE advocates (four of them from the US development company Happy Cog and one other. Note: There was not official representation from EllisLab (developers of ExpressionEngine and the successful PHP framework CodeIgniter ) itself.

Panelist 1. Kenny Meyers

Big EE community member Kenny Meyers kicked of by giving an overview to EE for those in the room new to the application. He talked about the main elements of the CMS and particularly some of the changes in labels from 1.6 to 2.0 - i.e. Weblogs to Channels - as well as discussing Categories, Templates, Fields and Field Groups.

Panelist 2. Ryan Irelan

Ryan Irelan went into a bit more depth, talking through an example EE site that included specific controls for an events based site. It was still fairly basic stuff, but it showed a nice use of the custom 'Status' parameter. It also showed some good examples of pulling in Twitter content.

Panelist 3. Jenn Lukas

Jenn Lukas then talked about some solutions for streamlining repetitive configuration tasks with EE. She took us through a site that she's setup to act as clean base to begin EE projects with. Starterfiles.com contains likely templates files you're going to need, and builds on templates found on ExpresionEngine.com but goes a bit further adding CSS and JS - all available to freely download. And with improved template creation in 2.0 (templates no longer have to be created from within the CMS, as it can automatically read external template files) these can easily be plugged-in to any site, instantly.

Panelist 4. Mark Hout

Mark Hout talked about a specific new feature of EE 2.0: Accessories. Accessories are predefined popup blocks within the control panel of the CMS. They allow developers to add extra features cleanly and distribute them across certain pages and to certain users. Mark showed off some nice examples including Google Analytics, Addon Updaters for Super Admins, as well as After Sales Features, Screencasts, One-off Controls, Support Form and Site stats. I can't wait to use these.

Panelist 5. Brian Warren

Brian Warren then went into more detail about the API setup for EE2.0. Much of the development of 2.0 has been about taking away some of the headaches when using the API. From what Brian explained the changes should now mean that as EE develops, the API can remain the same. This should hopefully benefit Ellislab and third party developers as there should be less of an issue with backwards compatibility. Again lots of exciting stuff here, that should hopefully means we've only seen a little of 2.0's potential. As I said this was one of the panels I was most looking forward to and, thanks to Kenny Meyers' compering, it actually turned out to be one of the most entertaining - it certainly had more life to it than the Drupal session that preceeded it. Whilst the panelists covered a broad spectrum of issues surrounding EE and had something for all levels of users, they didn't go overboard in trying to sell it. This I guess is a good thing, however, most of the questions at the end were from non-EE users and I don't think the panel had enough time to do justice to some of the best features.

Why we like Expression Engine

For front-end development it's beautiful: it leaves you to write perfectly clean HTML before adding tiny amounts of code to pull in dynamic data from the CMS. The CMS itself is lightweight, and it's easy to bolt-on custom extensions and other third party apps - especially given that 2.0 is now built entirely on CodeIgnitor. The core build features a variety of custom fields that you can add to sections of your site. As a designer I love this because it means I get to style content before it exists and I can adjust the amount of formatting under the control of a site's administrator so there's not lots of excess stuff that they don't need. Here are the slides from the Panel ...

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