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EE Podcast #48 with James Mathias

In the latest edition of the EE Podcast, Lea and Emily talk to EllisLab CCO James Mathias. They spent about 30 minutes talking to James about various things related to ExpressionEngine and his work at EllisLab.

James talked about how the user voting for features works and how they solicit and listen to community feedback. He even talked about some features that will be coming in the future (but you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out). All in all, it was good insight into the work that he’s doing in his first month as the Chief Creative Officer at EllisLab.

About 15 minutes into the podcast they talked about the built-in file manger and the Assets module from Pixel & Tonic. As is fairly well-known, Assets was released to much acclaim and the native file manager in EE was (justly or unjustly, depending on your viewpoint) heavily criticized online, especially on Twitter. Some of the criticism, I think, went too far. People forgot what it is like to be civilized and constructive.

With that in mind, it was interesting to hear James talk about how EllisLab views Assets (they think it’s really nice) and their approach to the file manager now that the expectations for it have been raised by the release of Assets (this isn’t just my conjecture, James says as much in the podcast).

Here are a couple of choice quotes from James during the podcast (these happen between 15 and 18 minutes into the episode). In reference to their work on the file manager for EE 2.2, James bluntly said:

Brandon Kelly’s Assets set us back a little bit.

James acknowleged that the bar has been raised but then softened that stance a little by lobbing some criticism about the user experience (UX) of Assets:

I think the way that Assets was approached is a good UX. I think there are some inherently wrong things about it, like mimicking Finder. Finder is a great tool and great UX but it’s unfamiliar to a large portion of computer users. So it’s not necessarily the best solution.

In a response to the podcast, add-on developer Lodewijk (“Low”) Schutte very eloquently described why unfamiliar doesn’t mean bad:

Lack of familiarity does not mean bad UX. It just means unfamiliar. If you take the two extreme positions, you could make a file interface either like Windows Explorer or Mac OS X Finder. Choosing either of the two will exclude the other, so no good choice could be made, according to that stance. Trying to come up with something entirely new is very difficult indeed and will very certainly be unfamiliar to all of your users. And this idea is true for any kind of interface, not just a file manager.

Low is correct here and I would agree with him that “it’s wrong to dismiss an interface/design/UX, just because it’s unfamiliar to a certain portion of your users.”

While I did describe it as “Finder-like” in my Assets First Look video, I think the calling it flawed because it mimics parts of the Mac OS X Finder is misleading and generally incorrect. There are indeed elements of the Assets “window” that do look “Finder-ish,” but the general interaction with the folders on the left and the files on the right isn’t anything specific to OS X (just take a look at this screenshot of Windows 7 ).

I would argue (and, yes, I realize I’m being pedantic) that there’s not even a lack of familiarity with the UX in Assets. The general function of a list of folders or groupings in a left pane and a detail list of files in the right pane is a common UI and UX across both Windows and Mac (and even some flavors of GUIs on Linux).

All that being said, this is only a small part of what they discussed on the show. James had a lot more to talk about new features, some things to expect and what his job entails. Please go listen to the entire EE Podcast episode over at the podcast website.

Disclosure: We are an Official Community Partner of EllisLab and Pixel & Tonic is an advertiser on EE Insider.

Posted on Jul 22, 2011 by Ryan Irelan

Filed Under: EE Add-ons, EE Modules, EE Podcast, EllisLab, ExpressionEngine 2, News

Jacob Russell11:28 on 07.22.2011

Not especially thrilled with EllisLab’s tone towards a developer and an add-on that have filled a feature need -way- better then EL has (or probably will).  This is something that EL should have done much better a long time ago (native file management wasn’t the best in EE1 either).  Now that Brandon has done it very well, the tone seems almost snide.

Derek Hogue11:28 on 07.22.2011

I found the statement that Assets “set them back” strange. Presumably, EL has had a vision for how they want to improve the File Manager for some time now, and they’ve been going down a specific road according to that vision. (The improvements have been fantastic, and already quite enough to handle the needs of most smaller sites.)

I wonder what has the release of Assets caused them to rethink that hadn’t already been made clear by users previously? Some elaboration would have been interesting.

Naturally, any add-on that P&T releases is going to outdo any similar functionality built-in to EE. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that at this point. IMO it makes more sense to encourage and promote those excellent add-ons, rather than view them as “competition”.

There’s so much exciting work to be done in terms of the functionality and interface in the CP, I hate to think that work on the File Manager is being redoubled because someone else made what some people view as a better one.

Rob Sanchez12:20 on 07.22.2011

I have to defend James on this one. First of all, I didn’t think James’ attitude was snide. I liked that he shot straight from the hip and gave honest answers. We are unfairly taking out our years-old frustration with EllisLab on James.

I don’t think that because Assets is better that they should just quit working on the File Manager. This would be like a car salesman saying, “the stock car stereo doesn’t work, but you can just go and buy this great third party stereo, right?”. When they added file management to the core of EE2, they made themselves responsible for seeing it through. And we all know that the native file manager has needed a LOT of work, since it was crappy at best, completely broken at worst. James described this succinctly, “It

Derek Hogue12:35 on 07.22.2011

I certainly don’t mean to attack James here - his interview was great, I agree. And I’m not advocating that EL should quit working on the file manager (crazy!) - but I find troubling both the idea that EL views some add-ons (that no doubt boost the popularity of EE) as direct competition (for what exactly?), and that the release of Assets has set them back in their File Manager work in some way (without further explanation).

The current iteration of the File Manager does indeed “work well” ... and I fear a potential implication in James’ comments that we may well see a third File Manager interface in the span of a year.

Graham Huber11:50 on 07.25.2011

Hi all,

I posed about this here:

James has left some comments.

Steve James19:17 on 07.25.2011

Thanks, as always, for an unbiased perspective on Expression Engine and Add-ons!