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Reflections on EPiServer London Day

Well, early in the mornin’
‘Til late at night,
I got a poison headache,
But I feel all right.
- PLEDGING MY TIME

I managed to get to the EPiServer Customer and Partner Day in London on Tuesday. I presented there last year, but this year could relax and go to lots of sessions. There were over 250 people, a big increase. They’re doing rather nicely in the UK, and everywhere else. They claim to have launched 500 new sites in the last three months. Personally, I hate the number of sites metric. I wish vendors would use number of new clients. For a nice, general overview of the day read James’ blog post. I’m just going to ramble a bit as usual.

Mingling is fun

EPiServer are still moving extremely quickly, which I talked about six months ago at the Swedish event. The main goodies on the roadmap are the new Marketing Arena, and EPiServer 6. And I stayed till far too late and still have a headache two days later, but that’s a story for another time.

Yams, Yams everywhere

Yes, we’ve got Yet Another Marketing Suite. Hot on the heels of  SiteCore’s Online Marketing Suite, Tridion’s Unified Online Marketing Suite and Autonomy/Interwoven’s Optimized Landing Page Solution, our friends at EPiServer showed off their new Marketing Arena. EPiServer’s product has four main prongs (each sold separately, batteries included):

Campaign Monitor and Optimiser (CMO)

The CMO has two parts. The Landing Page Optimiser (LPO) performs A/B Testing and has a nice interface. It is an entry level product that doesn’t include demographic information in the A/B testing which, for me, is something they need to introduce before I’d consider using it. The tool needs to be able to say, for example, “Page A performs best for US customers and Page B for European customers”. It also doesn’t perform Multivariate Testing but who know what the future holds. It provides basic web analytics, but wouldn’t claim to complete with a niche analytics product. In summary, it’s a nice entry level tool.

CMO_BigScreen

The second part, EPiServer SEO, performs good static analysis of your site and provides friendly instructions about how to improve your searchability based on the ever-changing rules of the search engines. It does all the things it should, looking at sematic code quality as well as content quality. It summarises this into a single number (your Digital Visibility) in a similar way to WebSite Grader. It’s a hosted service maintained by a third party. I wish I’d known about this before an we could have tried to set up a partnership with LBi instead – we have a service that’s very similar.

One thing I don’t like is the fact EPiServer SEO also has basic web tracking, to provides things like Heat Maps showing where users focus. Other parts of the CMO already have script based tracking. Two products doing this is one too many. And another trend I don’t like – black seems to be the new white. CMO has a shiny black background on their new “funky” product, while everything else is still white. Vignette did it with their Rich Media product. What’s wrong with white backgrounds anyway?

B2B Adapt

This is cool. Using an enhanced version of the Dun & Bradstreet company database, it maps the visitor’s IP address to their company’s Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code. From this, the product can tell the vertical industry of the company, the number of employees and even the annual turnover. These attributes are then fed into the rules engine to allow you to target different content to the revelant people. For example, you could show a very different pages to a small Swedish fishing company and a large US pharma. This is a hosted service which contains both the up-to-date database of companies as well as the rules.

I’d really like to use a service like this simply to get the demographic information and then put it to use in my own evil ways. However, I’m told this isn’t legal. There are strict (and somewhat quirky) rules around how company demographic information can be used.

B2B Prospect

This is a lower-cost option using the same technology as B2B Adapt. It simply provides a report of the companies that visited your site, including contact details and other useful things.

From Zero to Hero

Those of you that are wise in the EPiWays will recognise a few of the features mentioned above. EPiServer have a really really strong development community and an extensible API, so third parties are continually adding modules and features. They’ve just taken the first step towards an EPiAppStore with the release of the EPiServer Extra directory which includes free and commercial modules created by EPiServer and third parties. Many of these modules are now in the main product. Some of the extras that have made the big time include:

AllTheEPiMore

I really like this model, by the way. All the most of the integrations are loosely coupled, and using partners like this allows the EPiServer guys to focus on the core.

What’s in EPiServer 6

The other big news is, of course, the arrival of EPiServer 6. Technically, this isn’t a massive change and the upgrade from 5.x promises to be trivial. As @rogerwirz pointed out in his closing presentation, it’s more of an “editorial training upgrade” than a technical one. I loved the comedy-act demo from @sunnaster and @mathel, sucking Tweets into the new Dynamic Data Store. I’m slightly uneasy about the Dynamic Data Store “Big Table” architecture, but I think this is because I’m old-school and fear change. But don’t get fooled into believing that this is anything like Google’s BigTable which isn’t an RDBMS and wouldn’t pass the ACID test. The EPiServer “Big Table” really is just a big bastard of a SQL table which sounds pretty hard to index. But I’m sure they’ve got it right. Something to talk to Roger about next time he’s in town.

I liked the demo of the new Dashboard (and how to write extensions for it) from @epirach and @bevan_souster. This Dashboard is based on the new EPiServer CMS Shell framework and provides good Portalesque features. However, I think it also overlaps enormously with many of the features of EPiServer Composer. So much overlap, in fact, that keeping both technologies alive doesn’t make sense. If I was a betting man (which I am) I’ll wager the heart of EPiServer Composer will be ripped out and replaced with a shiny new one in one (or at most two versions) time. At least I hope so.

Some other new features of EPiServer 6 which excite me:

  • Completely browser compatibility on the editorial site
  • Complete mirroring rewrite, which is a very good thing
  • Access rights on page types
  • Access rights on languages
  • Drag and drop page tree ordering

Final Thoughts

The thing I like most about EPiServer is their geekiness and honesty. For example, in the keynote, they happily admit which products are simply OEM’ed partner products. Some competitors will wax lyrical about how their product has won Award XYZ, which happened before they even OEM’ed it.  The final presentation was a tech demo that everyone was forced to watch. I did hear some less-technical people saying that some of the presentations aren’t slick and “marketeer” enough. Which is great. Keep it up I say.

But please use a shorter hashtag than #episerverdayuk09 next year.

Dun & Bradstreet
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5 comments to Reflections on EPiServer London Day

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