Textpattern: Generations

Among the sun-drenched skyscrapers of Olde London Town, some virtual strangers with only Textpattern in common met in a pub. With just beer, handheld devices and a network close by, what could they possibly talk about?

If there’s a common theme from meeting up with fellow Textpattern architects, it’s one of surprise. The breadth of experience and sheer passion demonstrated by people who use our favourite CMS is both breathtaking and humbling in equal measure.

With street theatre and bustling London market a mere block away, the Porterhouse pub in Covent Garden on a lovely warm afternoon was the venue for what was expected to be a predominantly UK gathering. It turned into anything but, with the international hotbed of awesome outnumbering the indigenous folk 2:1.

Representing the locals were Bloke (sporting a suitably narcissistic custom T-shirt) and Phil Wareham—author of Textpattern’s new default public side theme as well as chief designer of what will become Textpattern 5’s admin-side. Not only was event co-ordinator, content, design and documentation guru Destry also in the house, we were visited by Anton (mistersugar)—a fellow event co-ordinator from North Carolina who snuck away from his science conference to join in discussions—and two cool Canadians who have been Textpattern users from the beta/gamma days and who both knew and had worked with Dean: Les (Lazlo) and Darren (amoredecosmos).

Surely in the presence of such greatness there were going to be some hot topics of discussion, both Textpattern-related and everyday stuff? You betcha!

Modern art is rubbish

What better way to kick off discussions than to paraphrase English pop band Blur and ridicule the questionable output of Jackson Pollock, then turn to figuring out the appeal of other shining beacons of pointlessness such as the MOMA in New York and the Tate Modern a short hop up the road from us. Morbid curiosity, it seems, is the only draw to these places, since the architecture and content certainly aren’t up to much.

But architecture and content are where sites built with Textpattern continually push the quality bar. The variety of scope, layout, operation and design—each site as individual as its designer—is both Textpattern’s blessing and its curse.

Up until a few weeks ago the default public-side theme was pretty much unchanged from its modest beginnings, and almost nobody in their right mind would use it as the basis for a site. Now thanks to Phil’s work, a much smarter front-end is norm. We mused over whether that might mean more people will use it as a site baseline and Textpattern will get a ‘look’ just like the default WordPress blog theme. It seems unlikely at this moment, but time has a knack of telling.

Message in a bottle

With very little to gauge Textpattern’s use in the real world, we agreed it was time for a showcase; a platform to shout from the rafters that we have something to offer the web world. Just going round the table, we estimated there were over 75 sites designed between us, none of which had any big promotion from our central hubs. Just lost among the white noise emanating from the great bit bucket in the sky.

Clearly that’s very wrong!

The community has WeLoveTxp.com of course, and the forum Showcase your Textpattern site but neither are very much in use, nor high profile enough to capture the energy behind the talented people who design with Textpattern. So it seemed appropriate to unveil a few plans for our ongoing marketing efforts at that very table.

Firstly, as mentioned at the last meet, we have secured WeLoveTxp.com. Over the past few months, between various people’s holidays, we have also been beavering away transferring ownership of TxpMag to our servers. After liaising with Alexandra and some other cool folk, and with Robert’s hard work making a new home for it, that is now complete.

Today it might look the same, but I’ve seen the plans for its revival. Destry Wion has agreed to spearhead a complete overhaul of the site’s direction and put together an editorial team to drive fresh content into the mag. And with this new curator and editor at the helm, the mag is going to go places with a proposed quarterly, issue-based format. Other facets like Twitter will be round-the-clock, naturally.

During the Textpattern-wide content trawl that Destry is undertaking we may move a lot of the WeLoveTxp.com content over to the mag to its own dedicated section, or may spruce up WeLoveTxp.com. Or both. Things like the ageing four ‘showcase sites’ on our site may be removed to make way for a Site watch area of the mag that features the absolute cream of Textpattern sites. With focus on high impact, modern (HTML5, mobile-friendly, etc) sites, this area will be a platform for designers to totally show off, revealing stuff about themselves, their tricks, tips, design company, and so forth. Proper editorial content.

This area alone will be a fantastic place to demonstrate to potential clients and site architects the breadth of possibility that Textpattern can bring to the table. I’ll leave it to Destry to outline the plans more fully as they firm up, since it really will be his ship. Needless to say he’ll be looking out for regular contributors and people to work on the site, content, and graphics so if that’s your thang, raise a hand.

Weapon of choice

As the beer flowed, the conversation became more animated and it was wonderful to behold the fire people hold for Textpattern; in Les and Darren’s case since the early part of this century as they were probably the first people besides Dean who tried it.

There are areas for improvement and we all know that. Some things really need to die, other things need tweaking, and some things totally don’t make sense. Like that curious setting in preferncess labelled “Ping textpattern.com”. Nobody—me included—knows what it does or where that ping ends up (if anywhere). It hits an RPC endpoint somewhere on the Textpattern site and that’s where the trail goes cold. From a marketing standpoint, it would be great if we could resurrect it; if only to give us some indication of Textpattern usage. Otherwise it should be removed.

Darren also brought up some excellent points about the comment system and threw some curve ball ideas about offering integration—either via a plugin or in the core—with other comment systems like Disqus. After all, it could be a barrier to adoption for people who may be itching to get away from another CMS but don’t want to lose their comment base or would feel hampered by Textpattern’s, arguably limited, commenting scope.

One interesting thing was the fact that all of us at some point had successfully managed to convert people from almost all other Content Management Software out there after demonstrating Textpattern’s simple workflow and tag-based approach. People had been converted from Joomla, Drupal, MovableType, Blogger, even Textpattern’s closest relative ExpressionEngine… but hardly any from WordPress. That probably says more about the loyalty of the user bases than I can imagine, yet proves that Textpattern does have something unique that captures the imagination of designers. We just need to get the word out.

Digital love

With the pub’s free Wi-Fi overheating from all the fruit-based devices around the table, Phil showed off some of the first mock-ups of Textpattern’s proposed new interface. Still in keeping with the light, breezy and unobtrusive UI that makes Textpattern what it is, we’ll be focusing more on getting stuff done from more places; for example, adding categories from the Write panel instead of having to switch tabs halfway through editing an article.

It seems the old textpattern.org chestnut remains a bone of contention by all and is still a mess. While I demonstrated the new look and workflow to some favourable comments, it needs the undivided attention of someone with a better eye for style than me behind the scenes, so please shout if you want to be part of it: I’ll give you a peek beneath its broken wing with the goal of helping nurse it back to health.

The pub itself became rowdier as the rugby got into full swing, and Anton made the mistake of tweeting his location; his science conference buddies were then onto him and demanded his safe return from our clutches.

Even as the pub filled, the conversation zig-zagged effortlessly between design methodologies; template systems; harnessing the power of Google Forms; anecdotes on dealing with those difficult clients; and airport design. As evening approached it seemed there just wasn’t enough time to get through everything we wanted to chat about. I could have stayed there for hours more. After all, it’s not often I get to rub shoulders with people who have a Kevin Bacon Dean Allen number of “1”—and the fact Les had organised his holiday so he’d be in the country specifically for the meet was just astounding.

Although we didn’t mention The Daily Mail at all (ahem, no, honest) and I never got to drop my favourite math-based joke…

Bartender: “Is that your pint, Mr. Heisenberg?”
Heisenberg: “I’m not sure.”

…we did get a few photos, so I’ll leave you in their capable hands instead. Please consider organising meet-ups in your local area or when travelling. I cannot recommend highly enough how cool it is meeting like-minded people face-to-face: it’s a fascinating way to spend an afternoon. Good health to all. ?

No prizes for guessing which one's Bloke. Yup, the one drinking cider.
(left-to-right) Destry, Les, Darren, Stef, a laptop, some ale.
It's the mistersugar show.
Tuning out Stef's monodrone, Phil prefers the comfort of his iThingamybob.
Darren pretends he enjoys being photographed.
The US and UK culture gap is lessened through the medium of beer.
While in the red corner, we have Vancouver.
The one and only Destry Wion in full effect!


  1. Coolest Guy award and Best Name award, both go to Destry Wion.

    What about airport design? Any new trend?

  2. Thanks for the update Stef. Wish I had been there. I am very curious to see the new admin side of TXP. In my opinion, and based on anecdotal feedback, it is the number one reason why people love Wordpress … the admin interface just looks pretty.

  3. Well done, Bloke. Well done. I’d recruit you for some journalism if I didn’t already know you had a thousand things to do.

    I’d like to reiterate the sentiment that you can not appreciate enough how great it is to sit face-to-face with people and be social in the real. I had a great time and I only wish I didn’t have to meander off when I had to. (We organizers are a busy lot.) Whoever you are, wherever you are, create a Textpattern meetup. It only takes two people. Take pictures. Then write about it, and share it with me. I’ll see that it gets covered. :)

    On that note, I have a few things to share about what you can expect from the magazine. I can do it as a guest post in this blog, or maybe as the last post in the Mag itself under the tattered flag of its former self…a kind of turning the page post. You can expect something, somewhere, by the end of next week. I think you’re going to like what’s in store. Stef mentioned I’ll be looking for a few people to fill specific roles. I’m already discussing things with a few souls. When that’s ironed out, I’ll make it clear what still needs filled and we can take it from there.

    About WP…I have successfully converted some WP projects to Txp, and the clients were thankful. Despite WP’s pretty admin-side and the efforts of Happy Cog a while back, clients don’t think it’s as usable as the geeks do. WP is not the bar to measure against. But I didn’t deliver the sites with the default admin-side either. An improved presentation is definitely one key (of many) to adoption. I hotly await the usability advancements for the admin-side that Stef and Phil touched upon in London, as well the underlying code changes for improved theming. Things will really go to the next level then.

    Exciting stuff!

    @Julián: Your a kind man.

  4. @Kevin There will be static HTML mockups of the admin-side interface available in due course so users can play around with it and make suggestions on improvements before we start building it into the PHP. At the moment I’m rewriting the base HTML structure, removing the table-based layout and forming a clean unified UI toolset that can be used across the whole admin side – so not much to see visually as yet.

    I also have a lot of design pattern documents to write, so people know exactly what code/selectors to target with their plugins and admin themes. That documentation will eventually appear in the wiki prior to Textpattern 5’s release.

  5. Wow nice shirt Stef. I can put my eyes, both, on the new Txp theme if any general advice is needed.

  6. You’re so sweet, all of you! You should start G+ Hangouts. ?

    A few comments on the subjects: WeLoveTxp has a useful function in my experience, and that’s one of directing customers to it and giving them an idea of what is possible. From a designer point of view, quality would be better than quantity, but a customer gets reassured from numbers, if you know what I mean.

    And, a Disqus integration is a great idea. The universal application of this platform will be an open door to many.

    Besides that, Destry, I can offer some of my time to mag-related stuff, if help is needed, though I mostly feel unprepared to “talk to the masses” on any serious subject.

  7. Great post Stef! I didn’t know anything about such a TXP meetup otherwise I would have come along. Will they be more frequent?

  8. @stef. Awesome write up. At some point I want to borrow that pause-time device of yours so I can get as much stuff done as you.

    I’m trying to pull together a West coast US TXP get together, but haven’t had much interest. Trying not to take it personally.

  9. I loved reading this post for two reasons: the writing made me wish that I had been there, and because of the oh so positive steps forward that has been enumerated!

    To Les and Darren (assuming they are in the YVR region) i would love to have a Vancouver Textpattern Meetup. I have briefly communicated with Mave and @mariepoulin about holding one, and once marie is back from vacation in late October will mostly like register TEXTPATTERN for Vancouver Meetups.

    @ mrdale If you arrange to have one south of the 49th I would be happy to attend depending on dates etc.

    I have really gotten a few clients and friends into TxP in the last year. I have to match to learn so that i can deliver the same functionality that i have learned with EEcms. I must say that once i groked ExpressionEngine i do find it easy to use. But i am really starting to learn how to deliver similar stuff using TxP.

    At the moment I am feeling very much like Mr. Scrooge: I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel; I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. “Merry Textpattern!” he called from the internet. “And a happy New Admin Panel”

  10. @Bici I could do a Vancouver, either greater or lesser.

  11. I’m thinking of moving to Textpattern, both for my own site and for the courses I teach. I’d be up for a YVR meetup sometime.

  12. Sounds like we are getting a good number in line for a YVR meeting. As soon as marie is back from vacation i’ll organize one for october!

    PS is it possible to have notifications turned on for the weblog?

  13. Ok. I have formed as Group-O-Matic for the West Coast Textpattern community. Please join via the link herein and look for an october meeting to come soon. Cheers all.

  14. Damn I just missed it! I’m just getting started with txp and it would have been great to see some experienced users working on it. Any chance the London meetup could be semi-regular?

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