Sitecore 8.1 Launch

With the launch of Sitecore 8.1 yesterday, our MVP’s have already been experimenting with the new features.

One of our MVP’s Mike Robbins has already been working with the new Sitecore SPEAK framework that launched with Sitecore 8.1. He has written a blog post documenting the changes in SPEAK 2.0 and how developers can create custom components to use with the new framework.

The blog post can be read here: http://mikerobbins.co.uk/2015/10/20/sitecore-speak-2-0-component-vs-speak-1-1/ 

Also the rich text editor that he built for Sitecore SPEAK 1.1 has been completely rewritten for SPEAK 2.0 and released on Sitcore 8.1 launch day.

The source code and package are available here. https://github.com/sobek1985/MikeRobbinsSPEAKRichTextEditor

Graduating in 2016?

We love hiring graduates!

We hire a lot and we’re getting pretty good at training them…

Over 50% of our company joined us straight out of Uni. This year we have had 7 graduates join us in Development, Test and Project Management. Some of the developers we hired as graduates 10 years ago are still with us , including two of the computer scientists we first met at Bristol University, who are now Sitecore MVPs (an award given to only 0.53% of the Sitecore certified ecosystem).

So why do we love grads?

What’s not to love – They are intelligent, motivated, on message with the latest trends and they are able to soak up the information and training we provide them with. We take a mentoring approach to graduate development. Working with more experienced guys on live projects they are given real world problems to solve in a supportive environment. What better way to learn your craft.

We are kicking off our Graduate recruitment for 2016 now with the following events:

  • Bristol University, ‘Engineering and IT careers fair’ – October 21st.
  • Birmingham University, ‘Software, system and emerging technology careers event’ – October 22nd.
  • Silicon Milkroundabout – Sunday 15th November (not just for grads – but we met some great graduates there at the last event).

Come and say hello to me (and some of the team). If you can’t make any of these events feel free to drop me a line for an initial conversation about the roles on 0117 932 7700 or alternatively send a copy of your CV to: Ed.bootle@trueclarity.co.uk

More events to follow……

True Clarity at the MVP Summit

Here at True Clarity we are lucky enough to have three MVPs… all Sitecore nerds! As you can imagine the chance to visit New Orleans and be part of the MVP Summit was one we all jumped at when True Clarity offered to fund the trip. A massive thank you to the company.

Over 90 out of 167 recognised MVPs attended the event, which is a whole host of Sitecore love and brain power in one room! The impressive turnout really does show the enthusiasm all the MVPs have for the platform.

I had high hopes for the event especially after seeing the agenda for the two days. The welcome drinks, canapés and chance to network with the other MVPs the night before the summit was excellent, but the real business started on Tuesday. We were lucky enough to see Sitecore’s vision of the future and the road map for the next year or so first-hand. This really is one of the main reasons I wanted to become an MVP, to get involved and engrossed with the future direction of Sitecore in some capacity. I was not let down.

Day 1

The Tuesday sessions kicked off with an introduction by Pieter Brinkman, a video containing some captivating music and a swarm of numbers showing the appreciation Sitecore has for its MVPs, which as you can imagine got us all buzzing. Did you know that the MVPs, (a group of just 0.53% of the Sitecore certified community) contribute to over 50% of blog Posts, presentations and Sitecore modules?

The real “Strap in, hold on, because this is where the technology is going” ride started with a great talk by Todd Mitchell on xDB vNext and Brandon Hubbard who shared (top secret) plans for Speak 2.0 something, which I really feel is going to be huge when it hits the masses.

We also heard some (again top secret) insights into the next couple of Sitecore releases by Kern and Stephen Pope. Some really exciting features in the pipeline, both for developers and end users to get excited about.

I was exhausted after all that but quickly reminded we had a swamp to tour, alligators to feed, cigars to smoke and moonshine to drink – It’s safe to say Sitecore can put on a party!

Day 2

The “I attended breakfast” achievement badge (MVPs love achievements it seems) never had so much significance as it did the morning after the swamps. Everyone still turned up, not wanting to miss the final day of the summit.

The real highlight of the summit for me was on day two. Fan favourites Kern and Stephen Pope were back for a talk on the future of the core of the platform. Following the common theme of ‘top secret – please do not share anything’, I’m going to stay vague but I was blown away with the plans Sitecore (and in particular Stephen and Kern) had for the future of the platform. The amount of time afforded to listen and discuss the MVPs opinions was also fantastic – I think by the end everyone in the room was on the same page and thinking “Wow this is going to be great… but let me have it now!”

Other highlights included the opportunity for us MVPs to have round table discussions with Sitecore staff about specific requirements or wishes we had for the platform. I think we managed to convince Stephen to include about two hundred ‘essential’ features into the next release (he did have his fingers crossed) but it’s great to see the platform moving in the direction it is following feedback from the MVPs – feedback Sitecore obviously value.

Being a MVP newbie myself (first year as an MVP) the summit completely convinced me (not that I really needed to be) that Sitecore continue to move in the right direction. These are exciting times for a number of different areas within the platform. The benefits to developers, marketers, content editors, well… literally every Sitecore user has the potential to be huge, and it was amazing to see and be involved in these plans first hand.

Thank you Sitecore!

Building Personalised Experiences with Sitecore

The Conservative Party is the current party of government in the United Kingdom, having won a majority of seats at the General Election in May. As part of their election efforts, we used Sitecore to build a personalised map that helped undecided voters understand how the party’s policies had helped secure a brighter future for people across the country. By entering their postcode, users could see exactly what that meant in their area.

We integrated various electorate information systems APIs to render the map information based on the content in Sitecore. The Conservative Party managed all of this content in Sitecore and placeholders were used to pull in the relevant numeric stats and personalised data. True Clarity knew that Conservatives.com would be one of the first places undecided voters would go to find out about the Party’s policies in the days leading up to the election – and on polling day itself. Therefore, it was imperative that the site focused on helping people understand not just what those policies were but what they meant for them, their family and their area. This is a great example of how Sitecore can be used to enable personalised experiences for customers.

https://www.conservatives.com/yourarea
Map of Data for True Clarity’s London Office

View your own personalised area map here.

Another Valuable Addition.

We’re super excited to announce Mike Robbins joined the True Clarity team today. He’s been working on Sitecore for over four years and was recognised as a ‘Most Valuable Professional’ by them this year.

Having Mike on board means we now have 3 MVP’s in house – two more than any other organisation or Gold Partner in the UK. (Not bad eh?)

To put that into context, there’s nearly 30,000 Sitecore developers worldwide, and only 141 were awarded technical MVP status this year.  14 of those are in the UK, with only 4 of them working for Sitecore Gold Partners.

Sitecore Gold Partnership

WE’VE STRUCK GOLD. (AGAIN).

In recognition of our sheer technical brilliance and ongoing enterprise development on Sitecore our Gold Partnership has been renewed for a second year running. Here’s the official line from Sitecore on what it all means:

Sitecore Gold Implementation Partners deliver on our complete vision for customer experience management. They can provide complex digital marketing solutions and educate customers on the evolving digital landscape. Sitecore supports these partners by creating joint business references, marketing and enablement plans. Gold Implementation Partners also benefit from access to a dedicated point of contact and early release information on new features and product roadmaps.

Put simply, it means Sitecore have given our work a golden stamp of approval and we’re in a great position to feed that early release information into our client work.

Sitecore Gold Partner

Winning the Digital Election with Conservatives.com

“True Clarity’s impressive team helped us – again – to deliver a website of the highest possible standard. Thanks to their input, Conservatives.com played a key part in helping undecided voters understand exactly how our plan would secure a brighter future for Britain while also empowering supporters to help the campaign in a number of ways. True Clarity’s commitment to responsive design meant that the site worked seamlessly across all devices, and their hard work in the months leading up to polling day meant the site was both stable and secure in those crucial final days.”

Craig Elder, Digital Director, The Conservative Party

What was needed

5 years is a long time in politics. In 2010, we helped the Conservatives build what was widely recognised as the best of the UK political parties’ websites but for 2015 we needed to adapt to a changing digital landscape.

In particular, the huge shift towards consumption via mobile devices meant we’d have to approach the election with a “mobile first” mentality, and work to deliver simple user journeys that worked as well on a phone as they did a desktop.

We also had to focus on delivering a tightly-focused website that gave two key audiences what they needed: helping undecided voters understand exactly what the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan meant for them, while also giving Conservative supporters the tools they needed to get more involved in the campaign.

And of course, we had to achieve all of this while ensuring the site could cope under the huge amount of traffic we could expect during the busy election period (and on polling day itself).

How we tackled it

A responsive site for a mobile-first audience

Working with the Conservatives’ in-house design team, we created site templates that worked responsively across all devices – be it phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. This had to be achieved without compromising site editors’ ability to quickly add, edit and remove copy, content and widgets as required.

Giving undecided voters the information they need

Just as it was in 2010, we knew that Conservatives.com would be one of the first places undecided voters would go to find out about the Party’s policies in the days leading up to the election.

Therefore it was imperative that the site focused on helping people understand not just what those policies were – but what they meant for them, their family and their area. We worked with the Conservatives to produce a series of interactive pages throughout the site that allowed users – upon answering questions on location, salary and so on – to find out exactly how the Conservatives’ plan would help them.

We took this approach as far as making the 404 page on the site an interactive “find out what our plan means for you” page to ensure even users who couldn’t find what they were looking for could learn what the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan meant for them and their family.

Making it easy for supporters to support

Of course, one of the other key audiences for a political party’s website is its supporters, and it was important that Conservatives.com gave them the tools they’d need to make the campaign a success. We worked closely with the Conservatives’ team to optimise three key user journeys – membership, donations and volunteering – to ensure supporters could complete these actions as quickly and easily as possible. This was a huge success, with the donation page in particular seeing a huge leap in conversion rate, leading to the Party raising more money in small online donations than at any previous election. In addition, the new Volunteer page played a huge part in helping to assemble the ‘Team2015’ volunteer army which played a key part in winning the election.

Finally, we worked with Dynamic Signal to put gamification at the heart of a new ‘Share the Facts’ section of the website, which rewarded Conservative supporters every time they shared campaign images and videos on their own social networks – significantly increasing participation and reach for each piece of content.

The Value

Conservatives.com played an important part in the Party’s overall election efforts, which saw them win 331 seats and an overall majority – confounding the predictions of pollsters and commentators alike.

The Party raised more money in small online donations than ever before, and also assembled a 100,000+ strong ‘Team2015’ volunteer army thanks to people signing up via the website.

‘Share the Facts’ was hugely successful, helping Conservatives supporters reach an additional 3 million people every week – over and above the direct reach of the Conservatives’ existing digital channels – by empowering people to quickly and easily share campaign content.

And perhaps most importantly, the site performed seamlessly on polling day (just as it had in 2010), meaning voters in key constituencies all around the country were able to get the information they needed.

http://www.conservatives.com

ASOS – Sitecore Award Best Use of Mobile

We collected our 6th Sitecore award in 3 years last night and this time it was for the amazing results from moving ASOS’s mobile site into the Sitecore Experience Platform.

SitecoreASOSawadsitecore-experience-awards14

Since the Sitecore solution went live, unique visitors to mobile have gone from 7.8 million to 8.5 million per month, an increase of 10%. Conversion of visitors who read articles has now increased by 10%.

Have a read all about it – http://www.sitecore.net/customers/experience-awards/2014-finalists-uk.aspx

TrueClarity, Sitecore

Using Cloudflare as a CDN – a review

Recently one of our clients was experiencing an increase in site downtime. During our investigation of the outage incidents we discovered that the site was increasingly becoming a victim of DOS (denial of service) attacks.

From the data we looked at it appeared the ‘hacker’ would trawl the site, honing in on pages which had the longest response times and then repeatedly hit those pages with requests using up resources on the site and eventually causing the CPU on the database to max out and the site to go down.

Our client hosts with Rackspace who offer a security solution so we asked them for pricing.  They suggested that their managed service would be rather expensive  for our needs and recommended we take a look at Cloudflare.

Cloudflare offers a low cost (entry level plans are free) Content Delivery Network which enables you to save bandwidth and reduce requests to your server by caching some content. In addition (and this was the feature we were most interested in), Cloudflare offers built in security protection to guard against DOS attacks.

Both the caching and security settings are highly configurable through an easy to use interface, help documentation is clear and well written and support is good (support tickets are prioritised according to the plan you’re on – support for clients on paid plans get priority over those on free plans which seems fair).

Cloudflare is amazingly simple and low risk to implement. The most simple way is to simply delegate the top level domain DNS e.g. example.com to Cloudflare who take over the management of your Zone file. You can then choose which of your zone file entries you want to send through Cloudflare and which you don’t. You can set Cloudflare up ready to go with all services in ‘pause’ mode which means when your DNS does initially point to them they don’t do anything other than relay requests.

If you (or your IT department) aren’t happy to delegate the entire DNS for your domain (maybe you have internal systems running on that domain) then it is possible to get a CNAME record setup by Cloudflare for a sub domain e.g. http://www.example.com. This is the route we needed to go down for our client and this option does require you to be on a paid for plan (we went for Business at $200 per website per month).

The steps we followed for implementing Cloudflare were as follows:

1) Setup Cloudflare account and add card details for paid for plan
2) Requested CNAME record from Cloudflare support (we got this in 24 hours)
3) Given a TXT record from Cloudflare to add to the DNS for our example.com domain to allow them to take control
4) When that was done, Cloudflare gave us a CNAME record for the DNS record
5) Client reduced the TTL on the domain
6) We setup all the configuration of the http://www.example.com domain in Cloudflare but set it to ‘pause’
7) Client added the CNAME record to the DNS and once we’d waiting for the TTL to expire we did a tracert to see that we were actually pointing at Cloudflare
8) We then did the cool bit which was pressing the ‘unpause’ button and sending users through the CDN

We gave the site a smoke test and everything seemed to be working as expected. During the day we then proceed to ‘tune’ Cloudflare by gradually turning on the various options that allow you to cache static content (Cloudflare provide a handy list of file extensions it sees as ‘static’ files and you can use page rules to bypass these or to cache more file types).

Each time we made a change we checked the site and made sure everything looked OK before making the next change. We also checked that real traffic wasn’t being blocked by looking at Google Analytics to ensure there wasn’t a sudden drop in activity and asking Rackspace to ensure that all Cloudflare IP addresses (again there’s a useful list) were whitelisted.

At the end of the first couple of days of using Cloudflare we had enough data to see that it was making a difference. It had saved lots of requests (almost 50% of all requests were coming from Cloudflare cache) and had blocked over 100 threats (with the security setting on ‘low’).

dashboard2

dashboard1

The website ‘felt’ much, much faster from a user perspective although our external monitoring wasn’t reflecting this which somewhat confused us. This must be something Cloudflare get asked about on a regular basis and they give a very clear response to this at http://blog.cloudflare.com/ttfb-time-to-first-byte-considered-meaningles/.

So the site was faster, we were blocking some hacking attempts, we were saving bandwidth all looked good. However we looked at IIS logs and could see that we were still getting some bad http requests (PROFIND, COOK, OPTIONS requests for non-existent URLs) and attempts to do some XSS and SQL injection. Our site/code was rejecting these requests as our IIS filters and security settings meant the hackers weren’t getting anywhere but we ideally didn’t want these requests hitting our server at all and wanted Cloudflare to catch and block them.

We then took advantage of the Cloudflare WAF (Web Application Firewall) and this is now blocking most of the ‘dodgy’ looking requests we’ve seen in our IIS logs. We’ve raised a support ticket with Cloudflare support about the few remaining dodgy requests and they’ve responded very promptly to say they will add a WAF rule to block those. If they come through on that promise we’ll be very happy.

wafrules

All in all, Cloudflare appears to deliver on it’s promises, is incredibly easy to setup and configure and support seems good.  There are lots of options we’ve not explored yet such as using their API to automatically clear the cache on a publish from Sitecore which would enable us to cache more than static content.  For a relatively low cost it certainly seems to offer a good alternative to Akamai.