Enterprise support has come for ExpressionEngine, The Pro Net smothered, but at what cost?

Today EllisLab the makers behind the popular ExpressionEngine announced 2 things.

First the Pro Net, which was the officially EllisLab approved developers network, was abandoned in a move which looks permanent, but being reconsidered after feedback has come from these members.

Secondly in a move which there had been talk of for some time was the announcement of paid support. Plans range from $49 per month to $1999.

What does this mean?

The Pro Network took in next to no enquiries for Media Surgery, although it was nice to be on! (whatever that means). Rather be on it, if it existed than not, but no great loss.

From the Media Surgery stance, the official support forums are rarely used for support, I think the last time was in 2011 for anything more than chatter. From a pragmatic approach, this therefore makes no difference. The support package is optional, and of course the software is still for sale at $299.

The support plans will however rule out the vast majority of small agencies even looking at ExpressionEngine initially. Many rule it out anyway, because of the cost, but this will further strengthen this stay away, “I can get something similar for free anyway” attitude.

ExpressionEngine is not something that can be learned over night, and by far the most questions come from when you start using the software. You are absolutely blind into the power and flexibility, other than people telling you it can do these great things. With this announcement it will put off not so many experienced developers but the people initially looking at it as an alternative to other options. This will stagnate new user uptake considerably and that's a worry. As part of the community of course I want it to grow.

From the Media Surgery point of view I personally have invested many years building sites with it and it's great software to work with. Far from perfect, but what makes ExpressionEngine is the third party add-ons and the support that they provide. Ellis Labs support, as mentioned is rarely if it all used.

Other options?

By the looks of Twitter this moves really has a lot of developers and agencies up in arms (although the storm will calm) and many mentioning about jumping ship. The competition in the CMS space is heating up considerably. WordPress (not really a CMS) has already over 10% of the web and just seems to be going from strength to strength. There are numerous other hot new CMS's arrived in Statamic( yet to try but looks good) and the announcement of Blocks, being produced by the hugely popular and most used (EEUK 2011 Stat) ExpressionEngine add-on developer Pixel and Tonic. There are of course the other very popular and established open source packages such as Joomla, Drupal and ModX all with staunch followings.

What will potentially initialise a more thorough and intentional look at some of the other options, is if these developers stop supporting and developing these add-ons. The innovation and development with ExpressionEngine has not come in recent years from EllisLab but from the third party developers. What really has 2.5.3 given us that version 2.0.0b didn’t have apart from less bugs? Yes, ok, there are a few things but nothing that has genuinely made the community go “wow”.

If i* was in charge of EllisLab the Enterprise support move would go ahead as a bolt on but i'd invest a lot of resources into a additional free support for people and agencies trying to get over that “aha” moment and heighten them to a level of competence till they need little support. Therefore becoming the CMS product with undoubtedly the best choice of support: lightening quick, superior answers and incredibly helpful, all with a feel of community. Now to these 'newbies', there is absolutely no support but a huge paywall of fear and doubt.

ExpressionEngine is still loved and a great product but if we were looking for another CMS option now, the barrier would be to much to explore and find out about its very special powers.

* Disclaimer I of course no little about the inside workings of EllisLab, there could be huge divides or financial troubles but comment as a notion of free speech and this being.... a blog :-)