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  • Simon Cox

EEUK11 report

The UK's first ExpressionEngine conference has taken place in Manchester in August 2011. I provide a report on the event itself and the surrounding activities.

The first ExpressionEngine conference in the UK

I first con­sid­ered going to the EEUK11 con­fer­ence when it came up in a dis­cus­sion at one of our Lon­donEErs meet­up ses­sions. I had seen a few tweets about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a UK con­fer­ence fol­low­ing the superb EECI event in Lei­den in 2010 run by Robert Eerhart but I hon­est­ly didn’t think it would amount to much. I am very pleased to have been proved wrong on that first assump­tion as the EEUK event was fab­u­lous. I bought my tick­et, booked a hotel and after check­ing the prices for trav­el realised that a first-class advanced book­ing seat on Vir­gin trains was only a few pounds more so went for that as well. As it was I got to use the Vir­gin Lounge at Euston and Man­ches­ter Pica­dil­ly includ­ing their WiFi and pow­er. On the train, I also had free WiFi, pow­er at my seat, a sand­wich, bis­cuits, plen­ty of tea and a refresh­ing beer. That all set me up in the right frame of mind when I arrived at Man­ches­ter where by chance I met @MarmaladeToday who was stay­ing at the same hotel so we wan­dered into the cen­tre of Manchester.

On the train on the way to EEUK11 by - Thu, August 25, 2011: Updating the EEUK11 'Tweets From' page using my ipad and bluetooth keyboard
On the train on the way to EEUK11 by - Thu, August 25, 2011: Updating the EEUK11 'Tweets From' page using my ipad and bluetooth keyboard

I have nev­er been to Man­ches­ter before and the Vic­to­ri­an indus­tri­al vis­age they opened up before me was a delight. Street names such as Whit­worth (key mover in indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion stan­dards — and hence a fore­fa­ther of mod­ern web stan­dards — kind of) res­onat­ed with me. I felt com­fort­able despite the recent riots (though I was trav­el­ling up from Croy­don). The hotel was good — near­by to the venue and in the mid­dle of Man­ches­ter. As we walked into recep­tion there was Robert Eerhart relaxed on a couch tweet­ing away wait­ing for the oth­ers in the hotel.

@RobertEerhart by - Thu, August 25, 2011: Twittering before EEUK11
@RobertEerhart by - Thu, August 25, 2011: Twittering before EEUK11

After check­ing in we popped out for a swift bev­er­age in the Water­house (Wether­spoons) up the road where we were joined by the delight­ful ​‘nut bag’ known as @mrsflinger and @johnhenry_ie. then we set off for the night’s venue — Dukes 69. This appeared to be a set of old ware­hous­es sur­round­ed by canals. It was a love­ly venue but was packed with Man­ches­ter nightlife — I don’t agree with 6-month-old babies being in a noisy wine bar even if their mums do want a night out. Despite that we had a good time — piz­za was con­sumed along with White Witch beer. The speak­ers decid­ed they would go back to the hotel at about half nine as they had all had ideas to fur­ther enhance slides — main­ly jokes at the expense of each oth­er, so I tagged along as I fan­cied an ear­ly night. We met sev­er­al groups of EE’rs on their way down to the bar and point­ed them to where the remain­ing con­tin­gent were located.

After a good night’s sleep and hearty break­fast, I arrived at the venue which is absolute­ly awe­some. Man­ches­ter Town hall is a goth­ic mas­ter­piece and well worth a vis­it if you ever pass by Albert square. Badges were col­lect­ed, good­ie bags picked up — with a We are Hip­po spon­sored T-shirt, pen and Pix­el and Ton­ic coast­er in an EEUK11 bag. Tea and cof­fee were wait­ing in the anti-room with many old and new friends to chat to. It is always great meet­ing up with peo­ple you fol­low on Twit­ter — though I am always a lit­tle awk­ward at first! Then we moved into the main room for the con­fer­ence. I regret not hav­ing tak­en my cam­era as the con­fer­ence room had a goth­ic fire­place with min­strels gallery above it. Ian kicked off the show with a big thanks to the spon­sors and I will repeat them here as they all deserve some link love:

Here are my fud­dled notes of the conference:

So first up and open­ing the conference:

Joel Brad­bury: 101 ways to skin a cat

There is a ten­den­cy to learn Expres­sio­nEngine by div­ing — usu­al­ly in due to time scales /​deadlines / enthu­si­asm / ADS or not want­i­ng to read the manual.

Anec­dotes of real­ly bad­ly built site using PHP to do base EE func­tions — done by some­one with good PHP skills but had not read the EE manual.

Sug­ges­tion by Joel is that we need con­ven­tions to build sites which we do for HTML and con­tent but per­haps neglect the build part.

Joel men­tioned the dry style tem­plates gar­nered from the John Wells blog post on tem­plate ​“par­tials”


  • put some struc­ture into vari­able names

  • news_​body

  • blog_​body

  • page_​body

Strict style

  • {cf​news​body_​en}

  • type mark­er, chan­nel mark­er, field name, lan­guage mark­er

  • only real flex­i­bil­i­ty is the field name

Strict pre­fix exam­ples

  • cf_​cus­tom vari­able

  • sn_​snip­pet

  • gv_​glob­al vari­able etc

All in all an excel­lent talk and got every­one think­ing about how they name ele­ments in their builds.


Leslie Flinger: Free­lanc­ing as an EE Devel­op­er: Tools of Success

  • 175 pro mem­bers

  • 598 direc­toree list­ings

  • 1,000 sites at showee

  • 20,000 mem­bers at the ee forums

The EE com­mu­ni­ty is real­ly good at help­ing each other

How peo­ple are mak­ing EE work in their busi­ness

Most EE agen­cies < 5 peo­ple <20 sites per year

1 top busi­ness soft­ware — fresh­books

  • Mac Free­lance — Flinger preferred

2 Bud­get and scope

  • phone, face, Skype and always email fol­low up, always.

  • Con­tract and scope sent

  • Final approval

3 begin work

  • Ways to cost

  • per tem­plate

  • per hour — esti­mate and Flinger pre­ferred — time track­er shows you how long you take

  • per task

4 typ­i­cal hours esti­mat­ed

  • CSS and 5 tem­plate html build = 15 hours

  • EE back end set up (chan­nels fields etc) 20 hours

  • tem­plate inte­gra­tion 8 hours

  • con­tent — 10 hours

  • Brows­er test­ing — 3 hours

  • John Hen­ry adds a shop­ping list to the quote for extras — new chan­nel, new firm etc.

5 con­tracts

  • depends on a detailed pro­pos­al to act as the legal agree­ment.

  • always ensures writ­ten approval via email before begin­ning work.

6 tools for production

I completely missed writing down what all the useful things were!

7 when is it done

Snag lists

  1. use the scope pro­vid­ed

  2. Offer a stage /​phase 2

  3. Shop­ping list

  4. writ­ten con­fir­ma­tion that you are com­plete

  5. pro­vide a num­ber of revi­sions on the agree­ment

  6. offer a main­te­nance package/​retain­er

Final advice

  • find a niche

  • don’t start a project with­out a deposit — free­lancers — not agen­cies because of short term rela­tion­ship (nor­mal­ly)

  • com­mu­ni­cate with clients often

  • Invoice often

  • learn to say no

Great talk as ever by Mrs­Flinger — she knows her stuff.


John Hen­ry Dono­van: Faceted nav­i­ga­tion for expres­sion engine

John Hen­ry talked about an unusu­al aspect of Expres­sio­nEngine builds that I don’t think many of us have had expe­ri­ence with — or have need­ed to under­stand so his talk about mul­ti­fac­eted ways of nav­i­gat­ing con­tent was very interesting.

Users search­ing for an item — all facets of that item are a poten­tial entry to the item.

  • Not apara­met­ric search (users spec­i­fy search terms)

  • ama­zon is a good exam­ple of faceted.

  • cat­e­gories, author, pub­lished dates etc.

  • well​-formed​-data​.net/​e​x​p​e​r​i​m​ents/

use when you have good meta data, when con­tent nat­u­ral­ly forms facets, when users under­stand facets, when you have large amounts of content.

dupli­cate con­tent is a big issue — crawl depth is impor­tant and shows only sin­gle URL for each item piece of content.

Cruft free URLS

  • template-group/template/URL=title

  • /tem­plate-group/URL/ti­tle is preferred -

men­tioned switch — new arti­cle on EE insid­er last night

Sol­space Super Search a very com­plex way of doing search.

Com­plex talk by John Hen­ry and I don’t think I under­stood some of it completely!


Then we had a superb buf­fet lunch in the anti-room all laid on in the tick­et price and a good chat about what the talks that morn­ing. Elec­tric Put­ty gave a demo show­ing their yet to be released Expres­sio­nEngine add-on — Bet­ter Work­flow. I have already seen a cou­ple of ear­ly demos of this at Lon­donEErs and this is the exten­sion that I think will poten­tial­ly take EE into the cor­po­rate realm. Autho­riza­tion and work­flows are a big must have for any CMS that wants to be used by corporate’s or even SME’s where they need struc­tured approval loops in their work pro­ce­dures. Ian then pro­duced a toy bin­go machine to call out some num­bers for prize win­ners — each of the 82 del­e­gates had a chance of win­ning one of the 67 prizes (think I may have been one of the unlucky few!).

EEUK11 Bingo! by - Fri, August 26, 2011: Ian draws some prize winners for Better Workflow
EEUK11 Bingo! by - Fri, August 26, 2011: Ian draws some prize winners for Better Workflow
More Bingo! by - Fri, August 26, 2011: And more prize winners drawn using the latest up to date bingo machine
More Bingo! by - Fri, August 26, 2011: And more prize winners drawn using the latest up to date bingo machine

Then back to our seats for the afternoon’s talks:


Stephen Lewis: Com­mer­cial Add – on Devel­op­ment for Clients

Prof­itable Add on devel­op­ment

  • do an envi­ron­men­tal check list

  • Apache or IIS

  • PHP ver­sions

  • Mysql ver­sion

  • EE ver­sion etc

  • 3rd par­ty add ons

Add ons require­ment check list

  • MSM

  • exter­nal events

  • admin reqs

  • resort­ing reqs

  • data export

Client com­pe­ten­cy list

  • Does the client know EE from a hole in the ground?

Write the doc­u­men­ta­tion first — rather than a tech-dri­ven spec.

  • describe how to use the add-on

  • expos­es miss­ing require­ments

  • Done when it works as documented.

Build an Add-on builder

  • pkg​.io: ok but very gener­ic and needs tweak­ing

  • cus­tom tem­plates and scripts: dif­fi­cult to man­age

  • Cus­tom Add-on builder: Cus­tom fit hits the ground run­ning but more upfront effort.

Addo­nis add-on builder (his pro­gramme)

  • Sets up all the base files you need for an EE plug in — can be loaded up into EE as an exten­sion and all set up ready to go — then you just need to build the plu­g­in inside it!

@monooso by - Fri, August 26, 2011: Stephen Lewis giving his sophisticated talk about making more money in less time.
@monooso by - Fri, August 26, 2011: Stephen Lewis giving his sophisticated talk about making more money in less time.

I don’t build com­mer­cial addons but I might need some build­ing for me in the future so this was inter­est­ing stuff as its obvi­ous­ly real­ly easy and quick to build add-ons so they should be dirt cheap.


Lod­wijk Schutte: Parse Order Pro

expres­sion engines parse order PDF — quite famous apparently.

Parse Order

Takes doc­u­ment and basi­cal­ly find and replaces mark­ers and val­ues (vari­ables, tags, data)

Ear­ly v late pars­ing

  • Input before tags

  • out­put after tags


  • Glob­al — parsed ear­ly (Snip­pets, con­fig vari­ables and seg­ment vari­ables)

  • -Parsed late (user-defined glob­al, stan­dard glob­al variables))

Region­al vari­ables

  • Parsed eas­i­ly

Local Vari­ables

  • Passed dur­ing tags

  • more com­plex

  • vari­able parameters


  • types

  • sim­ple (only work with ear­ly pass vari­ables, one per and, with­out if:else

  • advanced (any­thing not in sim­ple — parsed after the tags) Most con­di­tion­als are advanced.

  • spe­cial (parsed dur­ing and by the tags)

Tag types

  • mod­ule or plu­g­in

  • sin­gle or pair exam­ple — he has recent­ly redis­cov­ered pre­loads. {preload_replace:pre_title=“By Cat­e­go­ry”}

Low is one of the mad EE Dutch­men, lives on a barge and drinks pear cider (it wasn’t Per­ry) that smells of cough drops. He real­ly knows his stuff about the parse order of EE tem­plates. It’s some­thing I have only ever had issues with once on an EE site and I think I avoid these issues by design­ing the con­tent in ways that I know will work in the first place — most devs don’t get that option.


Carl Craw­ley: Struc­tur­ing your EEcms build — Cre­at­ing your opti­mal build

Carl showed us a slowed down video of a shell script that updat­ed an EE site in less than a minute. I think a lot of peo­ple want that!

build this — zip it up and keep it safe


  • Images

  • CSS

  • JS

  • HTML

  • tem­plates

  • uploads

  • other ele­ments (snip­pets etc)

All go into his assets fold­er

  • They move the dbase and con­fig out of the core sys­tem to ver­sion con­trol it and edit.

  • Cre­ate new con­fig files that have 1 line of PHP point­ing to the con­fig file in Assets.

  • Remove unwant­ed add-ons — every­thing non-essen­tial.

  • Set secu­ri­ty and press — user track­ing etc

  • define your default Snip­pets and Vars

  • set your upload fold­ers

  • docs, files, images, videos.

  • Ver­sion con­trol — they only ver­sion con­trol the assets fold­er — hence the con­fig is on there. Sys­tem files don’t need it.

  • Absolute­ly no add ons on a stan­dard build! dealt with on a per build basis.

.net arti­cle Opti­mise your EE site

Joel’s tool/​plug in — Graphite — the gra­phy thing for see­ing what takes time in page rendering.

upgrad­ing EE and SHELL.

A shell script.

on upgrad­ing Carl uploads new direc­to­ries with ​version num­ber after it — so themes​222 then runs the script and the fold­ers get renamed leav­ing back up fold­ers of the old ones.

A script will be avail­able on Git.

need to exe­cute shell scripts — engine host­ing doesn’t do this.

This was Carl’s first ever Con­fer­ence speech and he was rather ner­vous before­hand but came good on the day. Carl, I applaud your efforts! Not sure I tru­ly have the bot­tle to do it myself due to the nativ­i­ty inci­dent when I was 10…


Gar­rett Winder; Going Mobile

Huge surges cur­rent­ly in Mobile web usage Pay­Pal changed their pre­dic­tions twice this year

Prob­lem is that users are increas­ing­ly using mobile devices to vis­it web­sites.

need to rethink the way we build websites

ded­i­cat­ed or respon­sive design?

ded­i­cat­ed; pros — user giv­en option to browse either. more con­trol of resources. not same front end. cons — 2 (or more) web­sites — more time to man­age, dupli­cate content.

I didn’t real­ly take enough notes on this. Gar­ret is from Texas and recent­ly joined Ersk­ine Design — this was a good talk about EE and respon­sive design which is big on everybody’s agen­das at the moment. I have recent­ly read that the major­i­ty of mobile inter­net access is actu­al­ly at home so mak­ing your site only show cer­tain con­tent based upon loca­tion (i.e. if you were a restau­rant your mobile site might only show the menu) might not be a very good idea! I had a long and good chat with Gar­ret about this at the after party.

Strange­ly there was not one Eng­lish­man speak­ing. Two Amer­i­cans, Three Welsh and a Dutch­man — that’s how we roll in EE.


Then we went off To Sam’s Chop House for the evening’s par­ty — more EE talk. One thing that Expres­sio­nEngine has that is so spe­cial is its com­mu­ni­ty. Those words have been bandied about a lot over the past few years but it is true. Years ago I watched the Mov­able type com­mu­ni­ty dis­solve into thin air after the $20m fund­ing and direc­tion change and that’s what brought me into the warm grasp of Expres­sio­nEngine. It is events like these that real­ly cement the com­mu­ni­ty togeth­er and although orig­i­nal­ly we did have offi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tion from Ellis Labs in the shape of Mrs Flinger, and no dis­re­spect to John Hen­ry, but it would have been good to see the CEO there as Europe is an impor­tant Mar­ket. I sus­pect they are con­cen­trat­ing on EECI11 in New York, but all the same, we had the same com­plaint last year in Lei­den. How­ev­er, the evening in Man­ches­ter was great fun. Friend­ships were made and cement­ed, one or two deals were done, beers were con­sumed and every­body had fun. Some may be a lit­tle too much. I bailed out ear­ly (for me) at about 01:30 but there were tweets going on till about 03:00. Splendid!

Hope­ful­ly, this event will hap­pen again. Ian did this basi­cal­ly by him­self, with some help from his love­ly wife Ali, and I sus­pect he will need a bit more sup­port next time and I am sure there are plen­ty will­ing to help if he asks. Next year should see EECI back in Lei­den and per­haps a UK event every oth­er year would not be too oner­ous. I hope to be at the next one and if you use Expres­sio­nEngine I hope to see you there as well.


And there is more...

Ian Ebden of Design Kar­ma has pub­lished his report on the event — always good to read about these from the organiser’s view!

Rob Allen has blogged about the EEUK event as well.

The Flickr stream for the event: http://​www​.flickr​.com/​g​r​o​u​p​s​/​e​e​uk11/


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