EllisLab and the Future of EE

EllisLab recently made announcements that mark the beginning of ... something. A redesigned site (with significant reorganization, new CEO, and the move to paid official support were among changes publicized on the company blog. The pro network ended abruptly, and thoughtful reactions are making their way to the interweb.

People (myself included) can be resistent to change, and having to pay for something that's always been free1 is a bummer if not worse. I also understand that change can be good, even essential, and I'm happy to pay for something that's valuable to me.

While I truly hope that EllisLab has refocused itself to vigorously evolve and support excellent software, I'm pessimistic about what the changes could mean for its community and how that will shape ExpressionEngine's future.

When I started using ExpressionEngine in 2007, it was an exciting endeavor. The control panel was one of very few that looked modern and visually considered, the documentation made it easy to start using powerful templating features, and the forums were already bustling with other users and EllisLab staff. I felt like I was just getting into something that did more than I needed, and where everybody was strangely friendly and had my back if I could ask good questions. (And in some cases, patient souls helped me understand how to ask better questions.)

ExpressionEngine became easier to recommend as I got more familiar with it. It worked for small clients and larger clients. I heard someone from the Huffington Post talk about caching and optimization for high-traffic sites, then helped build larger sites in the studio I worked at. It seems like the momentum just kept building, and ExpressionEngine and I kept changing at a steady pace. And it was good.

Now 2012. I rarely build an EE site anymore that doesn't use Structure. Very often Matrix, Playa, Wygwam, and maybe a dozen addons are part of a project. The ExpressionEngine forums have seemed less active and less frequented by EllisLab staff. Devot-ee is where I go to hunt for an add-on will save me hours of work. I get occasional contacts through Director-ee. The Stack Exchange initiative seems to be gaining momentum and is now in public beta. More and more of my meaningful time in the ExpressionEngine universe is outside of any official sites or support channels.

It seems like EllisLab knows this, and would like to get out of the business of facilitating community altogether, to get back to improving the quality and support of its software. It knows that it's great for large sites, and that it can thrive where budgets are big enough to include ongoing support costs. It knows that it doesn't need to appeal to the little guy anymore, that he'll look elsewhere and find Blocks Craft, PyroCMS, Laravel, Statamic, and others. It seems smart.

The EE community wouldn't exist without ExpressionEngine. I've benefitted from it, as have clients of mine large and small. What I'll be interested to see is how ExpressionEngine changes with a less diverse and centralized user base.

I'm still just as confident that ExpressionEngine is an excellent choice for large projects, though I think it's also a good time to be get to know other products that will fill the growing gap.

  1. ExpressionEngine support has never been free, it's just been included in that one-time license fee. This apparently hasn't worked out well for EllisLab. 

* * *