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Samples, and Templates, and Themes…oh my!

February 19th, 2009

I’ve been using glFusion for the last couple of weeks, trying to get the hang of it, figuring out its strengths and weaknesses, being a pain in their discussion forums.  So far, I think I like more than I don’t like, but one of the suggestions I made early on in the forums (one that the dev guys behind it had already started to address) was to remove all the sample content that gets installed by default every time you setup a new glFusion site.

The default install (default theme is called Nouveau) for glFusion shows some off some of the features and capabilities

In an effort to help new users quickly understand some of the key features and capabilities of the system, the developers included several “stories” (the glFusion term for articles or blog-type entries) and “static pages” in the install.  That’s cool the first time you install it, which for me is the time I’m just checking it out and seeing whether it’s something I want to use.  Unfortunately, that means that every time I install it on a new domain, I have to go delete all that sample content or somehow otherwise disable it so it won’t show up on my new site.  That becomes a bit of a pain about the 3rd time you have to do it, especially because the method to delete each static page or story involves several clicks and scrolls.

So I asked in the forum whether they could:

  1. make it easier to delete sample pages, stories, etc (i.e., single-click delete on the list of stories/pages)
  2. change the install procedure to at least make it optional to install sample data

One step ahead of me
As I said above, luckily the developers had already begun to address this based on other requests from users.  They’re currently working on a new 1.1.2 version and they incorporated an option to install (or not) sample data into the installation script.  Great…but as I started to dig deeper into glFusion, I realized that the issue is a bit more complex than that.  See, I’ve used (or at least tried) a bunch of Content Management Systems (CMS) over the last several years, and I think I’m beginning to develop a feel for what I like and don’t like about them.

Some systems (Joomla, Drupal, etc.) tend to focus on community-driven and/or blog-style sites.  That’s not to say you can’t use them to setup a simple store-front or info-only site, just that by default they install as a full-fledged community/news/blog site.  Other systems (CMS Made Simple, ModX, etc.) seem to be very good for setting up a more static (info-only) site, but those systems make it a bit harder to setup blogging, news, and community features.  I find glFusion to be a pretty good compromise between those two.  It has features built-in for community and blog/news, but it can also be stripped down to be a simple static site.

What now?
The more I started to synthesize all my thoughts around this, the more I realized I’ve been searching for the perfect open source CMS, one that can be all things to all admins and users.  OK, I admit…that’s a bit unrealistic and maybe too much to ask of free software.  But I’m going to keep searching.  Better yet, I’m going to continue to get more involved in the development communities for some of these systems and suggest/request ways that they can become more (if not all) to more (if not all) admins and users.

I’m also thinking about a set of criteria that I can use to determine for each site I want to setup what type of CMS I want to use.  Here’s a very high level first attempt at classifying sites based on the way you expect potential viewers/visitors to use the site.

If you expect visitors to be… …you might want to use
Consumers
[visit your site only to find out more
about your organization, company,
service, etc.  No need for specialized
or customized content]
CMS Made Simple, ModX
Interactors/Members
[Some customization of content
based on membership.  Limited
participation in forums, subscription
to news categories, etc.]
glFusion, ModX
Contributors
[Highly customized content based
on membership.  Members able to
add articles, media, etc to create
true collaborative community site.]
glFusion, Drupal, Joomla, etc

I’ll develop that further in another post. For now, I’ll just close by saying I think glFusion can easily become that be-all system, but it’s going to take some adjustment on the part of the glFusion dev community, as well as some compromise from me and other users.  One such compromise might be the use of templates/themes to make a given site act/feel the way I want it to without requiring the underlying system to change its focus or features.  In other words, If I want a community-driven site, I need a theme that has community-type stuff on the page (i.e., a Login block, Who’s online, polls, forum/news posts, etc.).  If I want a static store-front site, I need to use a theme that is mostly blank except for navigation, header/footer sections, and a main content block.  glFusion is sadly lacking in ready-made themes, so maybe that’s the first and most obvious place for me to start to contribute.  It would be for my own good and, I hope, for the good of the glFusion community (devs, admins, end-users) as a whole.

Have I found my new favorite CMS?

February 17th, 2009

I’ve used TONS of content management systems (CMS) over the last several years. There are usually things I really like and things I really don’t like about each of them. Until now, the one that I’d pretty much standardized on was ModX. I found it was harder to setup a site that had blog, community, forum, etc features than some of the ones geared specifically for that, but I think it’s great for setting up an info-only or store-front style site. It really gives you great flexibility in setting up such a static site.

But, when I started to use it to setup a site for my church, I found it was just unnecessarily difficult to add some of the features I thought we wanted (blog/news, discussion forums, media gallery, etc). I also decided it was just a bit too quirky and difficult for a non-technical user to go in and create content. I really hate the WYSIWYG HTML editor they include by default (tinyMCE) and hate that I have to manually install one I actually like (FCKeditor, for example).

So, I started looking around for a new CMS…I quickly landed on glFusion, and while there are still some things that I think need some work, I think it just might be the best compromise of features I want, ease of use, and expandability. I’m still learning some things, and I’m trying to work with some features I don’t like (the way they do themes/templates seems really odd to me), but I think it’s very usable.

Only time will tell, but I’m hopeful this will become the standard CMS for all my sites.

Thank you, Firefox

December 13th, 2008

Microsoft: Hole exploit endangers all IE versions

Need I say more?

yeah, but…

November 13th, 2008

Matt Asay has an interesting little article on news.com about how open source drives innovation and shortens the effective “patent monopoly” period for proprietary software.  While I completely agree with most of what he says, I have just a couple of small caveats.  Yes, innovation is usually a good thing, but it can lead to multiple standards (oxymoron, I know), fractured development/user communities, and increased upgrade costs for licensed users.

Competetion can obviously lead to innovation and provide useful features and a general improvement in user experience.  And yes, I think the consumer can be the winner in such scenarios.  But it also means that licensed users of proprietary software could be on a continual upgrade treadmill, forced to keep up with the latest updates to the software they already paid for.  What’s more, software updates often bring changes to file formats, dividing users even further into open source vs proprietary camps, as well as old version vs new version camps.  And let’s not even get into the increased security concerns with updates and features that are rushed to production in order to meet deadlines.

So what’s the answer?  Moderation…cooperation…cohabitation…probably at least one other kind of -ation I can’t think of right now.  There’s got to be a happy medium for everyone involved.  Users need to be able to make the most of the software they pay for without being forced to upgrade before they need or want to.  Vendors need to figure out there are ways to make money from software without resorting to the perpetual upgrade path.  Better yet, vendors could make use of dual-licensing strategies and allow an open source development community to drive innovation into the company’s non-free software.  Finally, the open source community needs to realize that just because they can produce a free alternative to a specific piece of software, that doesn’t mean they have to.  Choice for the sake of freedom is a good thing…choice for the sake of division isn’t.

There is definitely still a place for proprietary software, just like there’s a place for open source alternatives.  It’ll be nice when we find the balance between the two that’s so desperately needed by users and vendors alike.

“…choices are exploding”

October 27th, 2008

The number of choices we now have for purchasing music online is encouraging.  I still buy CDs at times, but I buy most of my music at amazon.com because they cost the same as iTunes but they sell you an unrestricted MP3 file which I can put on my network and multiple iPods or other MP3 players.  I don’t share my purchased music with others, and I don’t listen to music I didn’t purchase…I just like to have the freedom to do what I want with my music.  But while iTunes doesn’t give me that, I’m not saying it shouldn’t exist.  You see, choice is a good thing, and (usually) the more choices you have, the better.  Stephan Jenkins, the lead singer for the band Third Eye Blind, finally got around to saying that, but not before he really kinda confused the whole thing.

According to this news.com story, Jenkins was the keynote speaker at the SanFran MusicTech Summit (what, you’ve never heard of the SFMTS?) where he talked about his feelings for releasing singles, apparently through iTunes and other online music download services.  He said things like “I don’t think (the album) is necessary or useful,” and “The album is an arbitrary concept. It’s not something that has to exist.”  So let’s see if I understand…Stephan doesn’t like albums and thinks today’s single-download-centric music marketing scene is a good thing.  OK, fine.  I happen to disagree, but I’m OK with him feeling that way.

Well, then Stephan apparently got a lot of flak from other folks who disagree with him and he felt the need to respond in an email mea culpa of sorts.  To start off, he addresses a critic who apparently heard him speak at the SFMTS.  “…to the person putting me down because I have a speech impediment…you are just mean.  I bet you watch Fox News!”  Oh Stephen, you don’t have to stoop to some idiot’s level…now you’re mean too!  Anyway, the rest of his email is all about how he grew up listening to albums and how he believes the album is the “most vital and compelling art form.”  Huh?  Now I’m confused.

Eventually, Stephan gets to a position I can agree with.  There’s room for both single-centric and album-centric marketing in the music industry.  Amen, brother…can’t we all just get along?  I also understand where Stephan is coming from when he says a band’s website can be their album, providing lyrics, liner notes, etc for conusumers who have presumably bought individual songs off of iTunes, Amazon, etc.  However, I like the fact that some artists continue to package a group of related (either by theme or time) songs together into one artistic offering.  Unlike Stephan, I just don’t think a website — which can and really should change on a regular basis — can offer the kind of stability I’m looking for when, years from now, I get ready to listen to a CD and want to hear the songs in the order the artist intended.  So, like the author of the CNet article (and apparently like Stephan himself) I like the choice of buying a single when I want/need to or buying an entire album when I want to.  Give me choice or give me silence!