Four men and a whiteboard

What happens when you wedge four geeks in a room? Surprisingly little in tangible output, but some great codeworthy exploration and daft pictures. Find out how the North Bristol Textpattern meetup went down.

It’s June and it’s raining for a change in the UK. Despite the precipitation in North Bristol—far enough away from the motorway for the drone of cars to be unnoticeable—sits a quiet abode. The living room contains four people who have previously met on occasion yet are virtual strangers, brought together by one thing: Textpattern.

Was it a meeting of minds deciding the future of Textpattern or just four guys in a room, chatting about simpler living, alternative energy sources and the sad state of compulsory education while enjoying fine home-cooked spaghetti bolognese?

Turns out, a bit of all of the above.

Throw away your television

Here’s an interesting factoid to kick things off: among the four of us—Graeme, Jeff (jsoo), Stef (bloke) and Steve (netcarver)—guess how many TVs we own between us?

The answer you may (or may not) have been expecting is… none.

Coincidence? I think not. We all chose to free ourselves of the television shackles some time ago and are now living sans idiot box. Some have commented in the past that our code volume and ideas must be a product of being able to warp the fabric of spacetime. I like to think it’s because our alpha waves aren’t being diminished!

Bragging rights

No meeting of coder types would be complete without a sneak peek at upcoming pluginery and some swapping of ideas. I demonstrated my new rights management plugin, the revamped smd_bio, and a PayPal IPN framework plugin based in part on the pioneering work of Steve.

I hope these plugins—combined with yab_shop and smd_access_keys—will take Textpattern to new levels in the community-driven and e-commerce domains; and dream of the day that Graeme’s rewritten permanent links plugin surfaces, because it’ll certainly blow your shirt off.

A framework for all seasons

With the boasting out of the way, the conversation leaned towards the admin side and, specifically, how we envisage Textpattern 5 shaping up. Some topics were an exploration of things already known—such as how to improve internationalization/MLP support and how to phase Textpattern 5.x.y for minimal disruption while making sure we don’t miss anything.

This encompassed all manner of techie-ness, from code path analysis and testing hooks in other MVC frameworks, to questioning the proposed move to Sam’s Spark/Plug over other, arguably more mature, MVC products out there (such as Symfony, Yii, Cake, and Zend). While the others are attractive in their own rights—if occasionally heavy—we believe that Spark/Plug has some unique features that plugin authors will love. And the fact it’s pretty lightweight and developed with Textpattern in mind is all the more reason to use it as a platform.

Some things are yet to be built in: I believe the recent CSRF protection that Robert put into Textpattern 4.4.1 is one such feature. But make no mistake, Spark/Plug is a powerhouse under the hood and we’re confident it’ll deliver.

Functionality vs usability vs cool

Graeme has been living and breathing Rails and all things MVC so his input to the discussions opened my eyes to a lot of geekery I didn’t know existed. For example, Konstrukt and backbone.js which appears to have the potential to allow us to defer the rendering of widgets to the client side.

It’s an interesting proposition: from what I can gather, the server would send back details of the elements we wanted to see on the screen, and the JavaScript would handle their display, creation and interaction, only posting back what it needs to the database. Is this the future of data rendering, or just another fad? Let’s discuss its merits.

Other radical ideas such as moving Textpattern’s Sections tab from Presentation to Content—because it could be argued that it’s merely an arbitrary division of content rather than a structural device—sparked some deep thought and much head scratching. No conclusion drawn.

While minds immeasurably superior to mine contemplated Textpattern 5’s fledgling code base, I ducked out to fix my laptop power connector. It required disassembling most of the machine via 25 differently-threaded-and-sized screws and bending the casing out of the way while Steve guided the soldering iron in to reflow the dry joints.

But all hail the miracle of solder: my eight-year-old veteran laptop escaped the scrapheap once more… though I did predictably have one screw left over upon reassembly. Rats.

Promotion (or lack thereof)

This week’s hot topic on the forum has been on Textpattern’s perception from the outside world. Extending our feelers from the increasingly spammy and outdated forum to other avenues of communication seems a smart move to reach a wider audience.

A lot of sites once cherished by the community have sadly been left to rot: we felt that was bad for our image and jarred with our efforts and desire as a community to build the user base. As part of a drive to re-establish our voice, I contacted Sam Brown while at Steve’s house about with a view to bringing it under the ‘corporate’ wing (for want of a better phrase). Sam has agreed. One or two other resources might follow suit if we can get the techy stuff sorted. More details on that to follow.

The overarching thought on this subject is that for Textpattern to be taken seriously outside the forum we need to show our human side and promote the heck out of our wonderfully flexible, powerful, lightweight, if slightly ungainly to the casual observer, CMS. Any access you may have to online mags, blogs, reviewers, tweet-fanatics, etc, will help spread the word that we’re not a has-been or an also-ran but have something unique to offer web designers of all persuasions.

Meet me by the fountain; I’ll have the rose between my teeth

Of course the other way to become noticed is to get together just like we did. Any time you’re travelling between cities, let everyone know and something might come of it. Take along a camera and post the meet shots on Flickr, blog about it, send the pics here or the Google+ community so we can publish them and talk about the meet. Whatever it takes. We know our community contains the nicest bunch of people around, so let’s prove it!

And on that note I shall leave you with eight choice photographs. Whether they inspire or frighten you is open to debate. Regardless, thank you to Steve and his family for putting up with us eating their food and using their electricity. I enjoyed the company of everyone and I’ll certainly be doing something similar every chance I get. Do join me.

This delighful bonnet is just the ticket for Stef.
Graeme deep in code land.
Suitably arty shot of Jeff contemplating Spark/Plug.
Textpattern 5 functional diagram... or maybe not.
The Textpattern rocket: to the stars! (oh alright, we didn't draw this, just annotated it).
Jeff and Graeme weaving code magic.
Is there any wonder nothing gets done around here?
Who let the coders out? It all went a bit silly from here (left-to-right): Steve, Graeme, Stef, and Jeff.


  1. Wow. That’s way cool. And the WeLoveTXP thing was a pleasant surprise. What a great opportunity.

    I was pretty surprised to open spark/plug a couple months ago and find myself wondering where “everything” was, so I understand the concern and comments about looking at other frameworks. But the guy behind it is interested in helping with TXP and I’ll bet that makes a huge difference.

    Also: I own a TV and watch it all the time, but when I invite developers over I hang it from the ceiling by the power cord and get lots of compliments on my avant garde lighting technology.

    Thanks for the updates, Stef!

  2. I woud be so happy if TXP got yab_shop integrated with not only Paypal support. It would be great to have multi-support to several gateways by adding some sort of API keys. #Justsaying

  3. Somehow it was very hard to concentrate to the textual content when the first slide was that sexy beast :p

    That bonnet is probably really comfy. Not too hot, soft and keeps nub safe from summer breeze.

    Nice update post. Photos too. Now the important question is; where I can get one those delightful bonnets?

  4. Nice hat Steve !

  5. You didn’t disappoint, Stef. Great article!

    I sincerely hope this is the beginning of a new trend in the Txp culture—people meeting up to talk about Txp. This article clearly shows one lovely way it can happen, and your suggestion about looking for opportunities while traveling is excellent.

    You guys had quite an impressive agenda. Thanks so much for sharing.

    For what little my input on this area is worth, I think the SPARK/PLUG direction sounds good. After reading your assessment, it seems like the platform most suited to Textpattern’s development philosophy.

  6. I forgot to comment to the idea of moving the Section panel. I think the arguments that could be made either way are convincing, thus I’m not sure moving it really improves anything with regards to semantics, or usability for that matter.

    More to the point of improved usability, in my opinion, would be to rename “Forms”. This has always been a confusing label for new users because of their existing notion of web forms, and understandably so. Is there a reason something like “Includes” couldn’t be used? It’s certainly a lot more suggestive and even consistent with the idea of php includes, which is the underlying code of Txp.

  7. Oh, and since I’m on the subject, “Style” should really be a plural noun, “Styles”, as the other tabs in that series are. You can make more than one style sheet, so the logic is obvious. Also, “style” can be confused as a transitive verb here (to style something), which is incorrect usage in this case, and, again, inconsistent.

  8. I have been using and loving TXP for years, but there are a few gripes I have with it as a developer that possibly put other developers off.

    Developing plugins can become a real pain when trying to debug code due to the TXP approach of encoding the code before adding it to a site. I’d rather be able to upload actual code, and make use of multiple files when dealing with larger projects (having all my arc_twitter code in one file can be a bit of a headache).

    Then when it comes to releasing plugins TXP’s approach is a bit all over the place. It would be good to see the resource site take proper responsibility of this and actually hosting the plugins’ code and handling issues.

    I’m finding handling issues and feature requests a real challenge with TXP as they get reported on my website, the resources site and the forums. Issue reporting on the forums really fails for me as long threads are difficult to traverse to see if issues have previously been reported and resolved so you find a lot of repetition, or people missing the fact that you’ve acknowledged something.

    A proper issue tracker on the resources site would be fantastic. It would centralise everything and bring TXP more inline with other well established CMSs.

  9. Oh, hope that comment didn’t come across as too negative as I do love TXP for many reasons; one being its great community, but I feel the approach taken with plugins could really be improved upon to help outsiders see TXP as a serious choice of CMS and to encourage more developers to work it.

  10. Stef – kind of early for me to be tossing this in (sowing seeds), but I’d recommend moving only those thread comments from forum to .org that are relevant to the current state of the plugin. You know what I mean? If a plugin thread is 100+ pages over 20 versions of the plugin, don’t move all that baggage over.

    Love, love, love the “flag” idea for good comments. (Kind of like a “like” button.)

    Another idea might be to introduce some kind of gamification angle to encourage curating the good bits. For example, the wiki has the contribution scores. Maybe plugins could have some simple listing of registered users who contribute to plugin documentation somehow. I’m not sure what the mechanism would be just yet, but I think there’s something there to consider. It’s like rewarding those who curate the most helpful bits and keep them organized; they get recognition for their efforts, which in this case would be huge! That kind of idea.

  11. just finished my first txp project (will go online july) and found it a wonderful flexible cms!

  12. Thanks for update gentlemen. It’s nice to hear about the evolving enhancements planned for TxP.

    Having just finished my fifth TxP website I am starting to feel more comfortable with it. But still struggle on other aspects of it.

    I applaud the initiative to roll in the WeLoveTxP to the “corporate” home. It will be much easier to Brand TxP as a great CMS if newbies to txp could easily find all the resources ( or at least the core ones) from one site.

    Great work and we look forward to the new features planned for TxP!

  13. “Build your own rockets with Textpattern, because Textpattern ain’t no rocket science.” said the four mad scientists at unison.

  14. @Stef: Good! That’s even better. I think I misunderstood the first time, but I see now you simply mean moving the discussion operations over to .org, not actually moving the content of the discussions. :)

    Clean slate! Always a nice start.

  15. @Guillaume regarding the hat: Thank you! Homemade stuff is great.

    @All: I think my daughter’s sketch shows remarkable insight into the inner workings of TXP for a 5 year-old :)

    Was great to meet up with all (actually there was another mystery guest who turned up too, but who will not be named here.) Hope others from the community plan more of these get-together occasions — and throw away your TVs.

  16. Like!! :)

    Oh, and some quick statistics from this page (in order of appearance):
    * TXP: 22
    * Txp: 4
    * TxP: 5
    * txp: 2

    Isn’t it time to issue a directive? ;)

  17. Way too technical for me… but it all sounds good (I think)

    I dunno… I have a feeling that this is the start of something very promising… how could it be anything else (especially looking at the last photo :)

  18. Sounds like you’re moving things in the right direction. Any chance the discussions mentioned custom content types and better custom field integration ala Drupal 7?

  19. That’s great news and I’m really looking to seeing what TXP5 will be like. And, until then let’s help keeping the most elegant and flexible lightweight CMS alive and kicking.

  20. I am anxiously waiting for TXP 5. I hope e-commerse will compete with that of Drupal, Joomla or WP with time!

  21. As a non-developer a lot of the significant stuff here I just don’t get but.. TXP5 will rock because a) TXP rocks and b) all new releases have rocked :)

    So I’ll comment about the ‘Promotion (or lack thereof)’ bit.

    Before I do so, though, my assumption is that a more widely used CMS will benefit the TXP economy – more work for those who use it and even more advertising dollar coming via banners on this site (why not?).

    TXP needs to be positioned more strategically and ‘sold’ to the right set of people. For example, the thousands of non-programmer web designers that feel restricted by WP’s capabilities.

    When this is crystal-clear messages need to tailored accordingly. ‘A flexible, elegant and easy-to-use CMS’ may sounds lovely but does little to explain TXP’s unique features and strengths. And we can all help to spread the word.

    I’m talking about a bit of a PR strategy here. Not to make TXP sound what it’s not, but an exercise to try to reach the right people who use TXP if only they knew about it.

  22. @Stef, I don’t have anything in mind… and I’m not the best copywriter either :)

    Before putting pen to paper, though, I think it’s worth coming up with lists of typical TXP users (eg… can code HTML / CSS, use photoshop but has no clue about programming) as well as the features that distinguish TXP from the rest of the crowd.

  23. Dear all,
    This is my first day in TEXTPATTERN and it’s my opportunity to come here to share your fresh events!Welcome to my zone and kindly to join you!:)

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