pMachine is now Expression Engine

Given that MoveableType has become the virtual gold standard in the world of blogging, the release of any new CMS hardly merits much attention. However, there is this new blogging software, Expression Engine, that has been released by the same team that brought to us PMachine. Infact, as Rick Ellis, the brains behind this effort explains it, this is the next generation PMachine. Now like others I found that PMachine was a bit difficult to use, and moreover tough to customize from a design perspective. MT in comparison, once you got over the installation hassles was a breeze to do design mods.

I have been playing around with the beta software of Expression Engine for a while, and I have to say, this one is easy as it gets. While it is not for most of us who use TypePad, but it could be the low cost option to people with high end content management needs. Why? because it already does a lot of things MT 3.0 hopes to do. It has built in RSS feeds, email posting, Multiple categories (for multiple weblogs, where each weblog can have its own independent set) and it allows you to create editorial workflow. (Define statuses like “first draft”, “pending”, “revision”, “final edit”, etc, in order to enable multiple authors to contribute to content.) Many pro-users would love this CMS, I am pretty sure of. Here is a tiny interview with Rick Ellis, the man behind PMachine, which is now based in my second favorite American state, Oregon.

OM: Tell us a little bit about your early career
Rick Ellis:
My early career pursuits were in music. From my late teens through my mid twenties I played in lots of bands in L.A., hovering on that fringe of “making it”. Since you don?t make any money playing original music, to earn a living, I played covers in night clubs six nights a week. I even played in places like Cancun, Mexico at the Hard Rock Cafe. I played guitar and sang (although I was a pianist while earning a degree in music). But over time I got really burned out from living in smoky bars six nights a week, so I decided to go to recording school and get into audio. A year and a half later I moved back to L.A. and got a job as an assistant engineer at a recording studio.

In 1996 I fell in love with the internet. As a computer geek I felt totally drawn to it and ended up spending most of my spare time exploring it. I started making web sites for myself, then for others, then it became a real part-time business that I did when I didn’t have audio projects.

OM: How did you drift into the world of blogging and writing software?
pMachine came about almost accidentally. I was in Tokyo in 2001mixing some shows for Tokyo Disney. Since I was sequestered at the Hilton for three months, to spend my evenings productively, I started working an a simple content management system for Nancy Sinatra’s web site. I was just starting to tinker with PHP and it seemed like a good project to help me learn it. When I got back to L.A. I implemented the system on her site and didn’t
think much of it after that.

Then 9/11 happened and the L.A. entertainment industry came to a screeching halt. There was absolutely no work in audio for anyone I knew. Fortunately I had some money in the bank so I was in a position to ride out the lull.
To keep busy I thought I’d try to improve the little CMS I had written and continue to learn PHP. Three months later, I still didn’t have much work, so I decided to release pMachine (which in early development was called Powertip) and see if I could make a little side income. I released pM 1.0 in January of 2002. One thing has lead to another and I am now totally sustained by my income from pMachine.

OM: Come on, you make it sound easy.
It wasn’t quite as easy as I just made it sound. I’ve put in 80 hour weeks for the last year working on this project. Software development is incredibly time consuming. Factor in the 6 hours a day I spend on tech support, plus all the ancillary stuff, like site maintenance, ongoing business concerns and telling my life story to magazine editors and it’s more than a full-time job. Not recommended for people who want a life.

OM: Take us through what happened next.
To my excitement, it began attracting attention immediately. But due to the work load associated with running a fledgling software company, within a few months I was forced to make the scary decision to pursue it full time. I was making a pretty decent living in my other life, so in the short term, the decision meant taking a drastic pay cut and watching our savings dwindle. But I believed there was a great opportunity here, so with the support of my wife, we decided to go for it.

In order to reduce our living expenses to allow me to work on pM full time, we decided to sell our house in L.A., pay off all our debts, and move to Portland. In truth, my wife always hated L.A., so she was thrilled to bug out of town, despite the fact that it involved a big leap of faith. At the time, the money was barely enough to support us, even in Oregon.

OM: Has the company grown since then?
Since that time, we’ve been growing a brisk rate. In January of 2003 – six months after I decided to do this full-time – I took on my first part time employee, Chris Curtis, who handles most of our tech support. A few months later, Paul Burdick came on to help with software development. He is now full-time (as the CTO), and my hope is to bring Chris on full-time later next year. I also launched a web hosting company with a partner a year ago. This coming January marked the two year anniversary of pM. And now EE.

OM: Tell me about the business opportunities for EE?
The potential of the new system to meet the needs of many other markets, like education, business, and web communities, is fantastic, so I believe our future is bright.

OM: So no music for now?
I have no plans to go back to my previous life. The future for dynamic systems looks very bright so I’m excited to grow pMachine into what I hope will become a decent sized company.