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Modular Blocks CMS gears up for beta

Dev claims Blocks offers an unprecedented level of content flexibility

Developer Brandon Kelly has revealed an upcoming CMS called Blocks. Known for his ExpressionEngine add-ons, Kelly told .net Blocks has been in the works at Pixel & Tonic for two years.

The main emphasis behind the CMS appears to be flexibility. "The name stems from the biggest feature, Content Blocks, our name for 'fields'," explained Kelly. "Every site has different content requirements, so out of the box we only supply the bare minimum of content-y fields—titles for entries, first and last names for users, etc. From there, the choice is yours. Sections, pages, users, and assets all get their own sets of content blocks, where you get complete control over the content you want to associate with them."

Blocks will have a freemium business model, in order to "get it out there and break the barrier to entry," and Pixel & Tonic will make money with upgrade features. By default, Blocks Core provides one user, one section and unlimited 'static' pages, which will suit many personal websites. For sites that require multiple users, multiple sections, versioning, and multiple languages, paid-for packages are available. "We took the modular approach because every site is different. We don't want people to have to pay for features they don't need, nor have to deal with unnecessary workflow complexity," explained Kelly, noting that someone building a simple portfolio shouldn't have to deal with author fields and translation settings. "In effect, Blocks can be both a big and a small CMS—it's up to you. And in the event that your site grows in scope down the road, you can rest assured that Blocks will be ready to grow with it."

BYO HTML

In terms of use, Kelly remarked that Blocks is 'BYO HTML': "It was built for web designers and developers who like writing every last HTML node by hand, and wouldn't have it any other way." However, the CMS itself has been designed to be simple to use, and Kelly promised clear documentation and plenty of examples would be available on release, to ease the learning curve.

According to Kelly, it's looking likely that version 1.0 will be released during the first half of 2013. Self-described server wrangler, web monkey, pixel nudger and ExpressionEngine wrestler Steve Abraham told .net Blocks looks extremely promising, and noted it's important to think of it in context with Kelly's other work: "He's best known for having created many ExpressionEngine add-ons at Pixel & Tonic, which have become part of pretty much every site some of us build—they're that good." With Blocks, Abraham said it looked like Kelly had "taken a checklist of annoyances with ExpressionEngine and built a system that solves them".

The system, he noted, is similar to ExpressionEngine's 'clean slate', with you subsequently deciding what content is needed, how it's stored, and how it's presented on the front-end. "Nothing is imposed, nothing is assumed." But the 'out of the box' capabilities, including one-click updating "that's a biggy for ExpressionEngine folk", coupled with Kelly's design work had Abraham suggesting it "could be a complete game-changer for bespoke site builds". Abraham added that the modular system is particularly interesting, starting with a free core and adding paid-for options "so the cost can be scaled per client, depending on their needs," and he added that if Blocks turns out as good as it sounds, "it will become our preferred platform, replacing ExpressionEngine completely".

NineFour owner Nathan Pitman thought similarly: "Blocks, along with the likes of Perch and Statamic are going to slowly erode the developer commitment more established output-friendly systems like ExpressionEngine have. As a long-standing ExpressionEngine developer, I’m particularly excited by the prospect of Blocks because I suspect Brandon Kelly has intentionally targeted all the things that frustrate him and others about the system."

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