After nine thrilling days in Austin, Texas, I’m back home beginning to sort through the mass of information, people and activities still swirling in my head. This year marked the first time Gridwork was able to partially fund attendance for three people. As a very small company, this was a pretty big deal, so we were there to make the most of it and hopefully inject some new energy into becoming better at what we do.
Without a doubt, the single most important reason I went to the conference was to preview the upcoming major upgrade of our favorite content management system, ExpressionEngine. A huge part of our business relies on being experts at this system, so I wanted to educate myself as much as possible before the official release. So in addition to attending EE-centric parties and chatting up some of the best and brightest developers, I also forced myself to get up early for a breakfast demonstration with the people behind the code, EllisLab.
I was surprised at how radically improved the new system is for end users while still acting like an iterative release for developers (no major changes to the coding methodology). There are certainly some lovely new additions (better file uploading, picture editor, whizzy forms), but most of the changes will help us work faster and more efficiently.
For instance, we often obscure the control panel completely for content management, especially for group blogs or clients with low tolerance for technological learning curves. This gives them a seamless transition from navigating their site to publishing or editing content. The problem with this solution in EE 1.x is that we end up replicating dozens of forms and bits of functionality which is time consuming and difficult to upgrade. EE 2.0 will allow us to make radical alterations to the design of the control panel so we can essentially rebrand the administration functionality for each individual client, omitting unused features and streamlining tasks into fewer and fewer pages. And this is the tip of the iceberg. There so much attention to detail, you can understand why it took so long and why the wait is worth it.
Of course, the conference was about much more than software and talking shop, it was about getting out from under our antisocial rocks and meeting people. And the one overarching value that I keep thinking about is how important it is to participate in dialogue. Everyone is obsessed with their blog and Twitter and Facebook and iPhones because they are great tools to foster that dialogue. It’s so easy to hate on whatever is trendy, to opt out because you’ve seen some shallowness, or because you’re self-conscious, or unknown, or intimidated. I know I’m in some of those groups, lurking on the EE forums and posting twice yearly blog entries. For all the talk about the artificiality of social networking, it only takes one offline interaction with a formerly online-only connection to realize the value of chiming in and participating, regardless of which medium you want to use.