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Eric Lamb on the EllisLab Changes

This is the first installment of a new column by Eric Lamb covering the world of ExpressionEngine add-on development. Eric will regularly join us here on the site and chime in on whatever is on his mind. For this first installment, Eric gets honest with you about the changes EllisLab made this past weekend. We don’t know what to call this column but we’re open to suggestions. Have a good one? Email us. –Ryan

Recently EllisLab made some HUGE and sweeping changes to pretty much everything. They killed free official support, changed their pricing model, replaced the CEO, consolidated the main product sites into a single presence, and even killed the ExpressionEngine Pro Network. Lots and lots of changes that happened, seemingly, overnight and with little warning (outside of the support changes).

It appears that a bunch of people in the community were taken completely by surprise and are taking these changes pretty hard. For some agencies and developers, the support was a huge asset that they relied on and now that it’s no longer included they’re feeling less secure with ExpressionEngine as a product for their business. A bunch of smarter people than I have written their thoughts on how this affects consumers so I’m not going to dig too deep into it outside of saying that, to me, if these changes hurt your business, likely you have much bigger problems to address.

That said, I believe most of the changes EllisLab made have very little negative effect on add-on developers. I mean, sure, if these changes end up killing the entire platform there’d be some negative effect on add-on devs. But outside that, and I seriously doubt that’ll happen, there’s very little to worry about with any of those changes. In fact, I think some of them are pretty sweet for add-on developers specifically.

Now, if you weren’t at EECI this year, know that it was a big surprise to a lot of people to learn how much of a burden free support is for add-on devs. Both Solspace and Pixel & Tonic, arguably 2 of the most successful and respected add-on shops around, admitted to mostly breaking even due to the costs of free support. More though, others, like me (mithra62), are actually working at a loss due to free support. No joke people; unlimited free support is a killer if you’re trying to build a profitable business around ExpressionEngine add-on development.

But with the changes EllisLab made, it opens things up for add-on developers to help cover the costs of support. Like it or not, EllisLab does set the tone for how add-on devs are expected to operate so, with them going to paid support, add-on devs can do the same without ruffling as many feathers. Sure, some devs could have gone cowboy and done this without them (and I know of 2 that have) but EllisLab being first does make things easier for everyone I think.

Another thing that’s pretty interesting is the switch to focusing on Enterprise level customers. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what that means so I’m making a couple assumptions here but, in my experience, this should be really good for add-on developers. Enterprise customers are the companies who have little to no problem paying for above and beyond support and may even open up additional revenue streams for add-on developers. Plus, considering how small the existing market for add-ons is anything to help that grow is good.

In terms of the Pro Network going away I’m actually pretty ambivalent there. I’m not sure the Pro Network did much for everyday developers in any real way and I’m even less sure it helped add-on devs. It was a list of people with little to no moderation outside of initial profile creation. Big deal. I’m surprised anyone found any value there outside of personal ego. Hearing the complaints, I’m likely wrong, but honestly; I just don’t get it.

So, for me, as an add-on developer, I’m pretty encouraged by all this. I know a lot of people in the community seem to have taken these changes personally and are lashing out. I know they don’t affect me as a website developer or add-on developer. Frankly, I just don’t think there’s anything to worry about with any of this.

Oh, and if the free official support going away bothers you get on the Stack Exchange and get community support that’ll likely be faster and more helpful than otherwise.

Eric Lamb is the developer of professional and enterprise grade ExpressionEngine add-ons. Founded in 2009 Eric’s company mithra62 aims to be a leader in ExpressionEngine add-on development and has a reputation for stability, usefulness, and being highly configurable.

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 by Eric Lamb

Filed Under: EllisLab

Tom H.17:37 on 11.28.2012

You have some valid points there. That support will not be free anymore by EllisLabs is one thing, and understandable. Yet nuking the wiki / forums / community is another one.

Especially because half of the time it’s unclear wether the problems are bugs or your own fault. Most of the support, was actually done by the other forum members.

I don’t know. $299 is a fair price for the product. Most of the sites need addons, so you’re looking at a $1000 per site, without having started anything of your own time.

Ideally, ExpressionEngine would ship a bit more complete: good commenting system, playa, tags, asset-like addons included. And then charge $499.

I don’t know, all this seems to be alienating the low-profile freelancers.

Derek Jones18:25 on 11.28.2012

Hi Tom, just letting you know that our forums are still alive, and in fact we’ve added tools to make it easier to find accepted solutions as well to for people to identify who needs help.

Wiki articles that still had accurate information will eventually find their way in the user guide itself.

But I don’t want to derail the comments entirely from Eric’s post, so I’ll leave with:

More though, others, like me (mithra62), are actually working at a loss due to free support. No joke people; unlimited free support is a killer if you

Dan18:30 on 11.28.2012

I worry that if add-on developers start charging for support as well as Ellislab I don’t see that market growing, quite the contrary, there will be a lot of smaller web shops looking for another platform solution to build their businesses up on. There will be those that tell these people to charge more, but often those people work in a market where that just isn’t an option.

Ellislab maybe fine with that and be guiding their ship towards the enterprise market but I wonder how many add-on devs would care to stake their business on Enterprise customers being their bread and butter. Not too many judging by the noise made around the Pro Network recently.

I would hazard a guess that the majority of people purchasing add-ons would be individuals/small teams that don’t quite have the dev skills to make that functionality themselves. I would also assume that these people are not building out big enterprise websites. Enterprise customers will go to the web companies that can create them custom solutions to fit their needs, such companies probably have multiple add-ons in the market place already.

I have no doubt that supporting software is a pain in the ‘youknowwhat’, paid or unpaid. I’ve often requested support just because the docs of an add-on haven’t been sufficient to answer my query. I wonder if add-on devs opened up their docs

Spamschlucker19:50 on 11.28.2012

I am following the discussions here on EE Insider about the Ellislab-changes with much interest.

Again and again I notice that almost only developers and “resellers” take part in the discussion. I get the feeling I am the only guy that is running a semi-professional business (currently 2 EE-licences, 1 commercial), developping on my own for myself.

I don’t know if I am one of many or if the EE-market (and the new Ellislab-strategy according) is just about development-guys.
Is EE still a system for guys like me?

Eric Lamb20:56 on 11.28.2012

@Dan: One of the most interesting dichotomies about the EE eco system, to me, is the attitude among website developers that they should be helped whenever and however they need it without doing a thing to help themselves first. In no other CMS is this attitude found at the level we have here (in my experience which I admit is limited).

I say that because there are quite a few resources to get faster and more comprehensive support without having to pay EllisLab or an add-on developer for their time. The community just got a Stack Exchange site setup, pretty much every add-on has some public support mechanism setup to at least read other help requests, there’s the #eecms hash on Twitter, and, as Derek mentionedm the EE forums are still there. There are plenty of options for website developers to help themselves.

Yet this doesn’t happen nearly enough with ExpressionEngine. In my experience, it’s almost a knee jerk reaction among, at least, my add-on customers, to automatically request support for issues that are well documented either officially within the product documentation or from numerous support requests and even within the ExpressionEngine docs. Hell, too many times, support requests come down to a lack of even a basic understanding of the Internet and web technologies like permissions or a lack of an encryption key.

This would be fine and dandy actually, if the market contained enough customers to sustain the interest. It does not though. I like helping my customers and it’s in my best interest to make sure the experience is as smooth and pleasant as possible but the market just isn’t there. Seriously, this isn’t a matter of wanting to make more money over less (for me); it comes down to only 24 hours in a day and too many things to do that help pay my bills.

My point is that too many support requests come down to knucklehead stuff that’s easily solved elsewhere and with considerably less hand holding. Now, if a customer wants to pay to ensure permissions are set properly, or an encryption key is set, or that the proper version of EE is being used, then that’s their prerogative. But if a simple search on the Stack Exchange or #eecms tag fixes them up quicker and cheaper then that’s even better for them.

Also, Enterprise is just a label; nothing more. It’s not like the code for ExpressionEngine is going to, all of a sudden, get 1,000 times more complicated or the cost increase to the level of Magento ($12k or so). There’s absolutely no reason that being “Enterprise” would affect the existing customers. The only thing paid support does is make it so a customer has to stop, think, and put a little skin in the game before requesting someone to help them.

mahuti21:50 on 11.28.2012

I work from about 8:30 am to about 3 am every day, so I know about free support *killing*

Working on docs is all well and good, but the more documentation I offer, the less people look at it. Honestly, we can’t guess at every potential problem, so we do the best we can. I’ve made it a mission to address the documentation when a poster points out that it’s wrong, or I realize it’s missing something, but that’s not a panacea. There are still plenty of complex problems that are totally out of my control that *need* to be addressed, and unfortunately, no amount of documentation can make someone a fiend at troubleshooting like I am, so support is important. And that’s a hard skill to give someone else as well. So

Jez Swinscoe04:00 on 11.29.2012

I work mostly with non-profits so my licence costs have effectively just doubled - a little more warning would have been much appreciated but a return of non-profit licensing would be even better.

Dan15:18 on 11.29.2012

@Spamschlucker I have no doubt in my mind that EE is still the best product for people like you and me.

@mahtu & @erik
Forgive me if my comments came across negative towards add-on developers, that was not the intention and I most certainly don’t think for one minute you are greedy. I’m merely putting across my experiences and perceptions as someone that isn’t that strong in the field of development.

I completely understand the pains and time involved with support, I do the same with my own client base. This goes for the docs too. Which is why I put the question out about coming up with a solution for others to help out with those docs. Agreed that in many cases that may not be possible, but it doesn’t mean we should dismiss it entirely.

“the attitude among website developers that they should be helped whenever and however they need it without doing a thing to help themselves first. In no other CMS is this attitude found at the level we have here”

While I agree that there are those out there that do as you say, for every one of them I’d wager that there are many others that are actually conducting searchers, finding the answers they need and carrying on without hitting the support forum(s). I do it myself all the time and only go for support when that answer can’t be found.

While there have been other support resources out there, obviously nothing has worked well or quick enough. We all know what an inefficient time suck searching the EE forums became. There was hardly any, if any at all, active members answering questions on StackOverflow or the likes. Devs had their own varied support tools, the list goes on.
Looks like the StackExchange initiative is going to work and consolidate a lot of those