Developing on the web

August 28, 2009

I wear the hat of a Web Developer/Designer at Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC). And while I fill both roles, I’m truly a more capable web designer than web developer. I can put together a full CMS in PHP/MySQL, I can configure an Apache server, but I am more at home creating text-styles with CSS and images in PhotoShop than I am scripting functionality.

So when we started building this new website, I looked to an off-the-shelf CMS to provide the core functionality for the site. I’ve used WordPress, MovableType, and a few more obscure publishing engines in the past but this time I pushed to try ExpressionEngine. It’s commercial software so it actually costs money, but, in terms of savings in HR time and in terms of support, it’s paid for itself many many times over.

I remember the first few times I tried to skin a site with WordPress. It was an absolute nightmare. Quite literally days spend staring at confusing markup trying to figure out how to use it. I’m sure it can be done faster; with experience I’m sure I could cut that time by three quarters. But at the end of the day, WP is designed to publish a blog. Beyond that, you can extend it to do a whole lot more but that becomes progressively more complicated, and more and more of a hack.

ExpressionEngine by contrast, is a dream to work with. I can drop a HTML/CSS file into a template and in an afternoon, I can have a fully working, database driven website.

What’s more impressive is the level of support that EE boasts. Most of the support happens on their forums which I was initially skeptical about, but, I posted an issue to the technical support forum at noon. Six hours later, their support team had reproduced the bug, identified a workaround, written a fix for the bug, sent me a copy of it, and slated it for inclusion in the next release.

By contrast, when we find a similar issue with another unnamed vendor, the response to the phone call we make to them is “Right. We knew that was a bug, and we haven’t fixed it yet. We will at some [interminate] point in the future.” They might suggest some clumsy workaround, or just recommend we don’t use a particular feature.

In short: ExpressionEngine is helping us get a little closer to doing the what’s really important, and less on the technical issues that crop along the way.

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