Will TYPO3 Neos be competitive from day one?
September 26, 2013
On the TYPO3 Neos team, we often get the question – when will Neos be capable of doing the same as TYPO3 CMS? In other words: Will Neos be competitive from day one? This article aims to answer the question but it also targets another, potentially far more important question to the TYPO3 community surrounding the Neos project.
Different demands – one product
TYPO3 Neos must be highly usable by clients with extremely different needs. It’s not until you really dig into the details that you discover what kind of challenges this fact gives the CMS. Everyone in our community who has been involved in the details of building TYPO3 CMS knows this intimately. I personally think we are doing a really good job in TYPO3 CMS on so many points. But outsiders often focus, quite naturally, on the type of website or other digital form of publication they work on themselves. It often leads to thinking that their demands are probably similar to the everyone's needs. One of the main reasons why every CMS-building community or vendor takes its time introducing radically new technology is that client demands are much more different than most people not involved in the details tend to think.
A university needs a very different set of features than a marketing-driven enterprise – and likewise, a media organization have other demands than the small, tech-savvy internet startup. The examples are many and if you dive into the specific requirements, you will quickly discover just how great some of the differences are – of both technical and editorial nature.
Just think of the university opposed to a camera producing company. The university needs a lot of their content to be stored and distributable – not just for a couple of years – but essentially for centuries. They have to plan for that. On the other hand, the camera company need quick campaign sites with good language support – yet, on the websites they control themselves, their content typically doesn’t need to last too long. In many cases, they might even want to make sure their old content is not available.
The need for a new mindset
The feature-set in TYPO3 CMS is so great that the CMS can be bend to meet virtually any need. Neos naturally doesn’t pack that multitude of tools from the beginning but if you think about it just a bit more you discover that this fact can actually be a good thing – especially for the main group of projects where TYPO3 has always been strong; the technically challenging, complex assignments.
Being worried about the lack of features in its first coming versions is a fundamentally wrong mindset to approach the new product with. Neos will, in every possible way, be planned with a framework mindset. Even the UX/UI part is planned and designed to be a framework. From all parts of the Neos core development, we keep it as generic as possible.
we're laying out a software landscape that's eagerly waiting to be filled out by its new inhabitants – with great content, wonderful extensions, social features and powerful editor-directed analytics to help them serve their own end-goals
Neos is designed to be a software space that allows anything to flow through it – and be integrated in any direction. The interface aims to give developers highly structured pointers to where to put different types of modules, fields, editing capabilities, analytics, social features and so on. But we strive to restrain ourselves from making too many "spikes" in the interfaces coming from the core. Instead, we're laying out a software landscape that's eagerly waiting to be filled out by its new inhabitants – with great content, wonderful extensions, social features and powerful editor-directed analytics to help them serve their own end-goals.
The extensions can be produced on modular basis where an agency, a freelancer or a client produces whatever they need. But what’s probably more interesting is the idea of editions or some level of distributions of TYPO3 Neos.
From the core side, we’re doing everything to make sure that it will become accessible to produce editions of Neos. On top of the core, a marketing edition could be constructed with all the modules, plugins and configurations that make it insanely awesome for that particular segment. Those editions could be led by distinct product visions. Likewise, editions could be put together for education, media, government and so on.
Whoever wants to grow their business (or whoever merely wants to develop creative and mind-blowing extensions) can come together to make such editions. If you want to use Neos to compete with Adobe Web Experience Manager – feel very free to start planning how to construct the edition on top of the Neos core that will do so. Likewise for any other kind of segmented, targeted or process-focused business goal that needs very specialized CMS capabilities.
All this means that TYPO3 Neos in its core form should be pretty lightweight. Larger features that are only used by one type of organization should not drag down the product experience to those who’ll never user that feature. Why should they be troubled by our features when they don’t need them? It is far smarter to make a smaller CMS core built on a strong application framework – and make it highly extensible.
That’s why I also personally think it doesn’t make much sense to come up with one global strategy for what Neos should or shouldn’t offer all of its client segments. It would have made perfect sense if we had chosen to target Neos to a particular segment or type of organization or process. That’s just not the strategy.
If anything, the global product vision, as I personally see it, is to produce a content management framework for advanced digital publishing with really strong usability in the core features of content authoring and management. I think, to an increasing extent it is wiser to think of the CMS as not just one single product or piece of software – but as a system (often made up of different products put together) that combined can deliver very different things for increasingly different scenarios.
The answer to the first question
Will TYPO3 Neos be competitive from day one? The answer is yes – as a lightweight CMS-layer on top of a strong application framework that you can extend based on your needs.
Language support will not make it into 1.0 and that will obviously hinder it from being used in many projects. But in that time from 1.0 to 1.1 (where you’ll get your languages), agencies, freelancers and clients can get to know the new product and learn its new possibilites and embedded technologies. Meanwhile, from the core team, we will dig into designing and implementing a both advanced and easy-to-use type of multi-language functionality and make sure that becomes a state-of-the-art piece of Neos. Most of the implementation of multi-language support is naturally already planned and we've made sure that Neos is entirely ready to handle that extremely well – we just don't want to postpone the 1.0 release further but rather make the product available for everyone to begin making friends with it.
Also, right now, some really interesting international clients are selecting Neos for their projects. They only do that because it is already highly competitive.
It may sound weird to some – but today it is not that uncommon for clients to build their own custom-CMS on top of application frameworks. One of the arguments for doing that is that enterprise-class CMSes have become too big and heavy. TYPO3 Neos is positioning itself right in the middle to make sure you don’t have to choose one extreme or the other.
You don’t need to either choose an application framework and do the CMS yourself – or a huge enterprise CMS that will need a lot of work to scale it down and make it easy to use for editors. You can choose an application framework that comes with a thinner CMS layer that fits right in.
The far greater question
On a lot of points, we start over with TYPO3 Neos. A lot of key extensions have to be built pretty much from scratch. And that makes me ask the question I think is the most essential for the future use of Neos:
How do we make everyone – who program and design extensions for Neos – make a better job at sharing them than we have done in the past in TYPO3?
How do we create an open source culture around Neos where agencies, freelancers and clients don’t hold on to their extensions because it’s too much trouble to share them?
I know of so many remarkable extensions made for TYPO3 CMS that are not shared – not because clients didn’t want to share them – but because it’s been way too hard and time-consuming to do it.
That’s the question we should focus on now – to make Neos become an open source platform that not only has a strong core and a modern framework but also a broad range of extensions of the highest quality.
Having worked with TYPO3 CMS for many years now, I have a lot of love for that piece of software. There are even small parts here and there that originated from myself. I have taught many editors how to use it well and helped plan projects that spun into thousands of websites running on TYPO3 CMS. Although being focused on Neos, I still strongly advocate for using TYPO3 CMS. It is so much better than so many of its competitors and should continue to be so.
The original path that was roadmapped made TYPO3 Neos the successor of TYPO3 CMS. Over the last couple of months, I've kept asking myself if that is really still such a good idea.
If you look into the Berlin Manifesto – that goes back all the way to 2008 (!), it states that migration of content must be easily possible. I couldn't agree more on that point. However, most of the other points I cannot easily subscribe to today.
I would personally prefer to let TYPO3 7.0 – and beyond – loose of the thinking that Neos is still a succesor to it. I know there are people who disagree strongly – so I encourage the entire community to debate this. In 2008, the writers of the manifesto naturally could not know what would end up happening in 2013. Even less, the group of people who did the roadmap introducing Phoenix/5.0.
We must continue to make it really easy for our clients to understand our product strategy – and to switch from one product to the other if they want or if their agency suggests they do. Yet, at the same time I believe we also have to channel as much innovation into TYPO3 CMS as we are able to do in TYPO3 Neos because we don't need to think about a vast existing user base. In a world of such extreme differences of client demands, I could easily envision a future of 2 parallely driven CMSes that respond differently to those different needs. TYPO3 CMS has this great advantage right now that it has so many existing users. From a user experience, information architecture or content strategy point of view – that is a tremendous thing to have – to test new ideas in real-life scenarios with real content on real websites.
Should we make it as easy as possible to switch between the products? Absolutely. I would just love to see energy, innovation and commitment be freed up everywhere in our ecosystem. We need to debate how to do that and not be bold about the future of the entire TYPO3 community embracing all 3 major products.