Dot One Conference Recap: Craft Comes to Melbourne


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Earlier this week, we had the pleasure of attending Dot One Conference in Melbourne — the first Craft CMS conference to be hosted in Australia. Craft is a modern, secure and performant CMS that allows easy management of highly-customised content, and we’re excited to be adopting it for some new projects in 2019.

The conference was perfectly timed for us, and a great opportunity for us to hear how other developers, agencies and project managers use Craft CMS. We also learned about where Craft is heading in the future, and found there are a lot of exciting features on the roadmap that help validate our early adoption of what looks to be a quickly-growing platform with a fantastic developer environment.

The Present & Future Of Craft

The conference was hosted by Pixel and Tonic, the developers behind Craft — and so there was some good insight into how well the platform is being adopted, and how this is driving future development. In short, the present is impressive and the future looks promising. Currently, there are 50,000 licenses in use for over 65,000 websites, and there’s impressive year-over-year growth for new licenses.

Further, there’s evidence that Craft is being used on larger and more important sites, with the amount of Craft websites in the web’s top million growing at a rate of 30% per year.

In terms of a feature roadmap, they unfortunately couldn’t present us with any work-in-progress demos; but they did just deliver an extensive 3.1 update, so we’ll cut them some slack. (Among other things, 3.1 brings project config YAML files to aid in development and deployment, and a Soft Delete feature which will be a boon for administrators who want more control over their content and some security from accidental deletions.)

Looking further ahead, localisation and accessibility are both tentpole features for upcoming 3.x releases, with an aim to meet WCAG 2.0 compliance and make it easier to create multilingual sites and customised experiences. (Also, following in the footsteps of every tech product in the past year, an official Dark Mode. Be still, my beating heart!)

Even further in the future, in forecasted versions 4 and 5, Pixel and Tonic are planning some exciting new features around automation, extensibility, and an emphasis on REST APIs for system administration. Naturally, there was less detail offered for these enhancements, but it’s a good sign to see that there’s an overarching strategy and that the platform is in active development — thanks, in part, to the nature of Pixel and Tonic offering Craft CMS as a paid product to ensure ongoing longevity and future support.

Of course, when considering all of these new features, an obvious question is: where do their competitors currently stand, and are they still a young platform playing catch-up?

It’s a difficult question to answer without becoming experts in each platform and trying to solve the same problem in each — which no time-poor developer is going to do. The crucial factor is determining if the platform, as it currently stands, offers enough functionality to achieve the work you need to do — and not whatever work might be made easier by some flashy feature in a competitor’s product. This reality, of course, goes both ways.

There’s no reason to choose Craft over, say, WordPress only because you’re really excited by a dark mode UI or in-built nested matrix fields. The primary reasons to use Craft are its high security, fast performance, and its friendliness toward administrators managing large amounts of highly-customised content. These core strengths alone — even without the niceties that appeal to developers — provide a compelling use-case for Craft CMS in a lot of applications, and we’re excited to see how the experience will become simpler and more powerful with the new features promised to us.

How it’s Being Used

A recurring theme in the talks presented — and one I didn’t expect when going in — was how little emphasis there was on using Craft CMS. We heard exciting stories about developing an end-to-end ticketing solution for a popular Australian music festival, and received insights on how to become a design-focused team and deliver the best experience for our clients, but in many of these talks, the platform itself was often an afterthought or at least not the most important aspect.

To be honest, this actually helped validate our decision to adopt Craft CMS at a time when we’re also investigating future technologies and product-based design work. By seeing Craft CMS used in the context of one component in a much larger ecosystem, it’s easy to imagine the different applications it could be used for and how it’s easily able to integrate with many different tools that may already be in use across an organisation.

A recurring theme with client work is how well a solution can fit with existing tools and workflows.

While WordPress has a strong ecosystem of plugins and developer support, we learned that Craft makes it easy to both develop your own plugins and also to bypass the CMS directly in some instances, to make some more elaborate and purpose-built solutions.(The talk about the E2E ticketing system by Judd Kirby was particularly enlightening, and involved a fair bit of custom work that I wouldn’t think feasible in a WordPress-based environment.)

Adam Brock, of Tundra, gave an interesting talk on how his agency built an EDM-composer in Craft CMS, and rapidly cut down on the manual effort required to create email campaigns. Craft didn’t have any specific features or tools to enable this — but it offered an environment where the solution could easily be used by content creators and managers, letting the developers work on more exciting problems.

Tony Sambell, from Spicy Web, gave us an alternate viewpoint — as one of the few non-developers presenting (or present), his focus was much more on how their clients, and the CEOs and stakeholders he meets with, are increasingly curious about Craft and how important the platform is becoming for new sales opportunities. If you’re reading this as part of your research into why Craft CMS would be a good choice for your organisation, it would seem you’re not alone.

The day was rounded out by some more lightning talks around individual use-cases, an update on Craft Commerce 2, an in-depth discussion on SEO and content strategy, and an entertaining talk about design systems by James Noble of Carter. While few talked to features of Craft directly, they all shared an enthusiasm for the platform and shared a common thread of it becoming increasingly popular for new work. I feel that, as we start to adopt the platform in 2019, we’re in good company and we’ll be well supported by the developer ecosystem in Melbourne and beyond.

Closing Thoughts

We’d like to thank Pixel and Tonic for hosting this first Dot One conference in Melbourne, and for bringing such a diverse range of agencies together to share their experiences and advice. We’re looking forward to getting more of our own experience with the platform and sharing what we learn with the wider community.

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