Getting to grips with Umbraco 8

February 2019 saw the release of Umbraco 8. The first major Umbraco version release in five years was met with much jubilation and had the Umbraco community nose deep in their rhyming dictionaries coming up with as many talk titles that rhyme with ‘eight’ as possible. I witnessed this celebration via Twitter, but couldn't join in as I wasn’t yet working on projects built on V8, that is until very recently…

The year was 2017. I’d spent a cold November day at the Barbican Centre attending the Umbraco UK Festival. Earlier that day there had been a huge rush to see Stephan Gay’s talk on V8, but I hadn’t been that interested, V8 still seemed very much like a work in progress, and something I thought I wouldn’t need to worry about just yet, so instead I attended a more ‘Project Manager friendly’ workshop on change management. At the end of the day I found myself in a comfy front row seat ready for the last act of the festival - the keynote delivered by Niels. And that is where I first saw (an early version of) Umbraco V8 in action.

Between that first sneak peak of V8 in 2017 and Christmas 2019, a lot has changed in my life. I’ve moved to a new house, moved jobs and even spent a little while working in a non-Umbraco agency, with whispers another CMS. But earlier this year I found myself back at an Umbraco focussed agency and back working with my good pal Umbraco V7.

I’ve always loved V7, it was the CMS that I used when I first moved into project management and I spent many months content editing multi-lingual websites. V7 is simple to use and I know exactly what to expect from it. Knowing the CMS so well helps me when briefing in new features for development or working with a client to see how their content needs can be met. I think it’s fair to say - I’m a big fan of V7, so I was very happy to be back and working with something that I was so familiar with again.

Fast forward a few months, and I was tasked with the project management of a brand new Umbraco 8 build, and my first thoughts were of apprehension. This new version looked so different, and I’d seen so much on Twitter and heard so much about it being a different beast to develop with. I just assumed that the same could be said about the content editing experience. All of this meant that I went into the project with the assumption that the friendly CMS may have got a tiny bit less friendly.

When I first logged in to the new V8 back office for myself, a few things were obviously different at first glance, these were things that I was already aware of having seen screenshots and presentations on V8 before. The content, media, settings and other tabs now lived at the top of the screen. The internal search bar was a lot fancier and overall things looked and felt a lot smoother. It may sound trivial, but colourful icons, the ability to add emojis and a sleeker look and feel puts Umbraco in the same league as other ‘enterprise’ CMS. Although I never thought that V7 looked ‘bad’, comparing it to this new shiny V8, I could see that they were worlds apart. My first impressions were positive, one point to V8! But looks aren’t everything and I wondered what I would make of the other new features.

I had of course heard of the three new ‘content’ features of V8 - language variants, infinite editing and content apps, but there’s only so much that a demo or screenshare can show you. It’s only when you begin to work with a feature yourself that you can truly gauge and understand the value or limits of a feature.

Language variants

When I think back to the start of my career, content editing multi-lingual websites, I know that I would have absolutely loved V8’s multi-language support.

It’s particularly useful for editing dual language sites like ‘Canada French’ and ‘Canada English’ that have the exact same content, but just translated. It would have proved a saviour when tasked with editing the content of a product for all of the countries it is sold in. Instead of having to traverse through multiple site nodes, locate the product and then locate the text that needed updating, the V8 multi-lingual feature cancels out the need for this manual work, and lets you update multi-lingual content at the click of a button.

Infinite content editing and the removal of tabs

The ability to make as many changes related to the page you are building without losing the context of the page you’re building definitely gets the thumbs up from me, it makes content editing faster, and means that you don’t get lost digging around in folders.

Speaking of getting lost - I’m not sure if this next point falls under the ‘infinite content editing’ remit, but one downside that I’ve found with V8 in comparison to V7 is the removal of tabs when adding content. At first, I thought this wouldn’t be a problem, and I actually thought this helped with the sleeker look and feel. It’s definitely fantastic when creating a page from scratch, as you can flow through all of the fields that need to be input uninterrupted. But when I need to go in and change only one piece of content on a page - like an SEO title, it’s not always easy to locate the information, and I have found myself scrolling up and down long pages before I am able to find the title I need to change.

I know this has been a hot topic and there are packages available to restore that V7 tab feel, so I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily an absolute blocker to using the CMS, but it’s definitely one of the areas where I find myself missing V7.

Content apps

I cannot think of a single web project that I have worked on where performance or quality of content don’t need to be monitored. Whereas the other two features I’ve discussed directly impact the content editor experience, content apps are a powerful tool that not only helps editor experience, but also helps sell in Umbraco 8 to stakeholders as it offers a clear way to improve content within the CMS.

All websites use KPIs to help measure successes, there are a multitude of external products such as Siteimprove and Google dashboard on the market dedicated to this. Being able to manage analytics, spell checks and accessibility checks in the same place as your content keeps things neatly tied in the context of Umbraco. It saves the step of logging into an external product and instead relies on Umbraco guiding you instead. Measuring the success and quality of your site is paramount, so V8’s ability to bring this data closer and directly in view of content editors can only lead to better content making out into the world wide web.

My journey with V8 has only just begun, and although I embarked on it with trepidation, I now look forward to seeing where V8 will go. I'm slowly learning that all of the quirks and familiarity I felt with V7 are also there with V8, it's just a matter of discovering them as I embark on more projects. V7 will always be my one true love, but seeing as it’s Christmas, I suppose I can make room in my heart for V8 too.

Nisha Mehta

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