What is Business Catalyst v3?

- Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hello BC Partners!

I am Bogdan Ripa, running the Business Catalyst product together with Alexandru. I complement and enhance Alexandru's vision, defining and implementing the BC product strategy - basically I make sure we build the right product. It was a pleasure meeting some of you at MAX this year, and I really look forward to similar opportunities.

Only a few months ago you have probably seen Alexandru's blog post about his new role with our product, and I hope you've started to feel that the energy and passion is back! We're right in the middle of executing and expanding that vision -  because we believe in our product and platform, and we are proud of the exciting results that we see coming out of your hands. And for that, we thank you all, Business Catalyst partners.

We think the future is even brighter! At Adobe MAX, I presented a sneak peek of Business Catalyst v3. It's not necessarily an exact roadmap, because I want to maintain agility as we adapt to the market changes - but it's more of a vision, a collection of high-level improvements and innovations. It does begin with a UI redesign, but we are going to take this much further.

We've prepared a small video highlighting some of the improvements in v3:

UI v3

We have been working for a while now on a new Admin Console UI, focused on the usability of the common workflows. I am glad to let you know that the new UI v3 is released in Alpha, available today to partners. We've created the new UI infrastructure first, and are still conducting UI and usability reviews and listening to your feedback, before releasing it to everyone in Public Beta. When we do this, we'll make sure that we still let you switch back to the existing UI for a period of time while getting used to v3.

If you want to play with the new alpha UI today, you just have go to http://mysite.com/adminconsole instead of mysite.com/admin on any BC website. On the right side of the interface, you'll also find a "feedback" link that will let you share with us your concerns or praise our work (yes, our engineering team thrives on positive customer feedback :)

As I said, the UI redesign isn't everything. We will invest in improving usability, screen by screen. We will take the most used screens and improve them to provide a "perfect" user experience. Managing customers, orders, editing web pages or e-mail marketing campaigns are high on this list.

Of course, we'll continue fixing all those annoying bugs and wishlist items. Little hassles like the inability to add special characters to product names, and import products challenges will be a thing of the past.

To get us there, I've asked one of my product owners, Cristinel Anastasoaie, take the lead on this project and drive it to completion. Expect to see more progress report from him in the near future.

Liquid Markup

Your productivity on BC is paramount - so we're investing a large chunk of our engineering team taking BC's markup language to the next level. Earlier this week, Marius announced BC's support for Liquid Markup. Liquid gives you all the flexibility you need to create the most amazing websites out there. We're received many wishes asking for yet another Web App list template or adding the "cart view" text to resources, and instead of fulfilling them piecemeal, we took a leapfrog approach and decided to give you total customizability of all BC websites with Liquid Markup.

As it stands today, we have Liquid support implemented for the majority of our eCommerce modules, and Lucian's team is working hard to make sure we finish off eCommerce as soon as possible. Soon (within the next few weeks), we'll open this up to our Prerelease community, and enable our cutting-edge users to start playing with it.

Once we're done with eCommerce, we plan to enable Liquid Markup for Web Apps. Imagine what that will enable you to do... Liquid isn't the only enhancement planned for Web Apps. Once we've enabled Liquid Markup, we will also work on enabling more robust relationships between Web App items, letting you build truly relational Web Apps.

We aim to finalize the Liquid Markup implementation for all of Business Catalyst (Web Apps included) by mid-2012. I have asked Marius Andreiana, one of my Product Owners, take on the lead role for this project. Let's wish him good luck in achieving this and expect more updates from him on this blog!

Enabling Productivity

BC v3 will also help you be more productive while developing online businesses. 

Simple tasks like importing an existing site and converting it to a BC template, or extracting a BC dynamic menu from a simple <ul> <li> structure are already possible! (check out our MAX sneak to see how). We want to take this even further, and let you extract web forms from existing HTML <form> elements, or automatically create a BC blog (including templates and content) when importing a site that already has one. Of course, we have to ensure that a reliable implementation of this is technically possible, but we're optimistic. A detailed announcement will come next month.

Another request we've been hearing is for a more robust file manager and code editor in the cloud. We envision support for editing multiple files at once, line numbering, tab support, syntax highlighting, and code hinting. This is all part of the v3 vision - and we will continue improving the BC Admin for partners to really accelerate your speed of new site authoring.

Integration with your favorite code editing tool, Dreamweaver

Based on what you told us in our most recent Partner survey, the vast majority of our Partners use Dreamweaver to build their BC sites. We are working hard with the Dreamweaver team to enable Liquid Markup and a new module insertion concept - and if you watch my MAX sneak, you can actually see me using a prototype of this. We are doing our best to make sure this will make it in to the next version of the BC extension, available for DW CS 5 and 5.5, but we expect to have the best integration built-in to the next version of Dreamweaver. (that will also include a better support for managing BC sites natively in Dreamweaver).

For the Coda die-hards, all the APIs you need to develop a plugin are available today and documented on the prerelease site. You'd be rich and famous (well, famous among BC partners at least, and rich in adulation) if you developed such a plugin and released it to the community.

Web Forward

One of our product principles (more to come in a future blog post) is "web forward". This translates to the fact that our platform should really lead the web revolution (HTML5, CSS3, etc), and not follow it. Today, I am not proud of the fact that not every Business Catalyst site validates on http://validator.w3.org/, especially since I've been serving web developers for more than 10 years. Not only will we change this, but we'll invest in bringing the future of the web to BC users now.

One example worth mentioning here is LessCSS. I am happy to let you all know that in the near future, you will be able to upload your .less files, and BC will automatically compile them to CSS on the fly when accessed through a browser. You will still be able to see the source of the file through FTP or through the Admin Console interface - but this will bring new capabilities to BC templates and template skinning.

Many of you know that being a multi-tenant SaaS product, it's hard for us to let you run your custom code on our servers - which is an important limitation of our platform. We're looking to fix this - through libraries such as Node.js, and enable you write custom code in a language that almost every BC user is familliar with (JavasSript), directly on our servers. There are tens of thousands of use cases our modules won't support - but you'll be able to write a custom module to fill that gap code that adds a custom watermark whenever someone uploads an image, listing information from the disk, connecting to custom payment gateways, or a nightly task that synchronizes your inventory. We're imagining a reinvention of Web Apps that, on top of data structure definition, HTML templates, and some client-side scripts, will also add server-side code that validates, processes, or maintains the data as well. This really opens up endless possibilities and we're excited exposing this to you.

While we are very excited about Node.js, to be frank, we won't be able to work on implementing this until late-2012. Still, you should know it's on our radar, and this is where we'll take Business Catalyst.

I hope you guys are as excited as I am about the future, and I am really looking forward to next year.

2012 will be the year for Business Catalyst!

If you want to learn even more about BC V3, sit back and relax while you watch the our Adobe MAX sneak peek. you might see I'm probably not the greatest presenter on Earth :), but in terms of passion for BC, technical depth and web vision, I am your man :).

- Bogdan