Steve Burge

“Mastering Mambo” – New Book About the Mambo CMS

{amazon_product}1904811515{/amazon_product}"Mastering Mambo" is a new book for people running and building websites with the Mambo Content Management System., It was written in an awkward time, when the Mambo CMS was in the process of splitting from Joomla, but because the codebases of both projects is still so similar, "Mastering Mambo" is a relevant book for both Mambo and Joomla users.

Initially, I was a little confused about the target audience for this volume. The same publisher (Packt) also has a book called "Building Websites with Mambo" that would be more appropriate than for Mambo beginners. The authors, Tobias Hauser and Christian Wenz, describe this book as being for "dministrators, designers and developers" which encompasses a pretty wide group of people with diverse skill-levels.

The first part of the book begins by covering the most basic features such as how to logon, install components, change templates and so on. It would suit someone building a site for the first time with Mambo.

As it progresses, the book becomes more complex. There are chapters on Mambelfish, VirtueMart (called PHP-Shop here) and DocMan as well as chapters that summarise options for people wanting forums and galleries. By the time it gets to page 180 out of 250, the authors are describing how to develop your own modules and mambots. This is done in a clear way, with Mambo’s functions and variables explained quickly and concisely.

That completed, the third part of the book describes ways to complete a successful Mambo deployment. The Search Engine Optimisation chapter is OK, but could do with more information on producing a Google-friendly template rather than just human-readable URLs. The Accessibility chapter could also do with more Mambo-specific advice.

However, there are two excellent chapters in this final section. The chapter on security is very useful. It covers cross site scripting, SQL injection, unexpected user data and more. It offers smart advice and is reasonably detailed. Finally, the performance and caching chapter is short and sweet, particularly in its coverage of the uses that Zend software.

Overall, the book is well-written and has a lot of useful illustrations. Nonetheless, it suffers from two weaknesses. One is the unavoidable problem that software development moves more quickly than publishing process and some of the information here is inevitably out-of-date. The second is that although I liked "Mastering Mambo", I’m unsure who to recommend it for. Rather it is an all-round effort. Administrators can use the first part of the book. Developers new to Mambo will benefit from the second half.

You can buy "Mastering Mambo" via Amazon.com.

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How to Sell on the Web

E-commerce has been around for more than 15 years now and people are increasingly comfortable opening their wallets online. However, I still come across a lot of websites that are a real turn-off to customers. Hopefully yours isn’t one of them, but just in case, here are my top four hints for making your website sleek, speedy and secure:

1) You need an SSL.

That stands for “Secure Socket Layer”. What does it mean? It means that a special form of encryption is used to protect the details of everyone who sends you information via your website. If you go to any big site such as PayPal.com or Amazon.com, look for two things. First, the http:// address will become https://. Second, there will be a little yellow padlock at the end of the bar that contains the website address.

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SSLs cost between $70 and $150 per year and you can buy them from nearly all web-hosting companies. For this small price you protect your customers` information and you protect yourself. Without an SSL, your company could well be legally liable for costs resulting from the theft of people’s personal data.

2) You need an online merchant account.

PayPal.com is the most widely accepted, but 2Checkout.com and Authorize.net are also strong contenders. They can handle the invoices and recipts automatically for you. If all you have is a form on your site to collect people’s data, then you will have to create all the paperwork yourself. On average, these merchants take around 3% of the payment but the ease-of-use make the cost worthwhile.

3) You need an Open-Source Shopping-Cart.

What does Open-Source mean? It means that the code needed to make the cart run can be viewed and changed by anyone. That means that if you decide that if you want to change from web designer that you are working with, it is easy to find another who can help. If you go with a shopping cart that is sold by just one company, then you will find yourself working with them forever after. Best of all, open-source software is free.

So which ones do I recommend? OSCommerce is the cream of the crop. Over 100,000 stores have been built with this software and it has the widest available number of extras available, including code that can integrate it with QuickBooks. Also good are ZenCart and VirtueMart. All three are well-documented with community forums to help you find answers to your questions.

4) You need a niche.

I find it hard to imagine people making money by opening a general store on the web. You don’t want to find yourself competing with Amazon.com and WalMart.com. However, one smart businessman from Marietta has made millions of dollars by just selling banjos (banjo.com) and unicycles (unicycle.com). Focus on whatever it is that you’re good at and don’t try to expand until after you’ve become successful.

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How to Make a Killer Real Estate Website

In March, I talked about the Open Directory (www.dmoz.org), which is one of the most important places on the web to get your site listed. It is also one of the most difficult. In fact, a few people wrote to me after the article came out and agreed that it had been almost impossible for them to get listed in the Open Directory. Several of these people were realtors and when I was doing some research to help them out, I ran across this statement from someone who judges sites for the OD:

“there is one type of site that is becoming increasingly difficult to list: local real estate agents.”

The writer went on to explain that this was because most real estate sites nowadays were just bad, and for a number of reasons. So, for those who e-mailed, and for others out there, this month’s column can simply be titled: “How to Build a Great Real Estate Website”.

1) Do make your site personal. Have the contact details and a photo of the agent selling the house at the bottom of every listing. You need to associate yourself as closely as possible with your product.

2) Don’t use templates. Your company doesn’t have the same logo and the same staff as your rivals and so you shouldn’t have the same website. Also, the photos of the houses at the top of the template are often taken in California, Las Vegas or another part of the country. You are not selling those kinds of houses – you need photos of houses in North Georgia on the front page.

3) Do add a complete biography for all your agents. People want to see what you bring to the table. Often people who use templates will change one or two words in the biography and leave the rest untouched. I’ve seen one agent’s photo and life story repeated on multiple sites.

4) Don’t use the content provided by the company that you are working with. Search Engines such as Google and Yahoo, plus listings directories don’t like sites that are cookie-cutter versions of other website. Oh, and did I mention that customers also hate to see the same text and the same articles everywhere they surf on the web?

5) Do invest in your website. 2 out of every 3 homebuyers is looking online for houses and 2 out of 3 homebuyers are using the Internet to research their new home and find a real estate agent. A 2002 Realtor.org study revealed that these Internet Homebuyers spend more money and make their buying decision quicker than non-internet users. For less than price of one billboard by the highway, you have the opportunity to generate a lot of quality leads.

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How to use PunLA

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Some quick tips and tricks to get you started with the PunLA forum:

  1. PunLa installs like any other component. Simply click and upload.
  2. Login as Super-Administrator and the admin options will appear at the top of the forum.
  3. Make sure you have the correct version – PunLA (for Joomla) or PunBO (for Mambo).
  4. Only seems to work with localhost database currently.
  5. Make sure that everyone registering with your site uses the PunLA sign-up module. Unpublish the standard login module.
  6. The forum has a very clever skinning option here, although PunLA doesn’t yet guarantee that styles other than Vershire will work.
  7. Futher support for the component is provided at: http://www.punla.profbh.net.
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Web 2.0

Lately, there has been a lot of buzz about something confusingly called Web 2.0. It made its debut on the front of Time and Newsweek in March, but it still seems somewhat obscure to people I talk with. Does it come in a box? What was wrong with the old web? What’s different about this new version? Bear with me for two minutes, while I try to explain.

When I was a kid I loved to read a lot of books. Looking back I have to be honest and admit that most of them were pretty forgettable, plodding novels – I wasn’t reading "War and Peace" at the time. However, the kind I liked most were a genre called "Choose-Your-Own". At the bottom of every page, you would have a choice:

  1. If you want to jump over the cliff, go to page 64.
  2. If you will stay and fight the tiger, to go page 37.
  3. If you will swim across the shark-infested river, go to page 88.

Eventually I even started to try and write books. The less said about that the better, but you get the picture. Those old forgettable, plodding novels I read are Web 1.0. The books where I got to take control are Web 2.0. This is not a revolutionary concept at all. Having a family, playing a sport, going to a bar and meeting people Рall of these are Web 2.0, or in other words, interactive. Watching T.V., reading a book, sitting in a traffic jam – all of these are Web 1.0. The new websites that are exploding in popularity are those that allow people to interact with the web in new and useful ways. Let me give just a few examples:

Zillow.com

Ever have those flyers from Real Estate agents that say: “In the last year, 1 house was sold in your neighborhood for $150,000. The housing market is booming!”? Go to Zillow.com and you can view whole towns and cities. Every time you move your mouse over a house, its tax-assessed value appears. Most of the homes currently listed are in big cities, but the potential is easy to see.

30Boxes.com and Tadalist.com

Most business people have a calendar on the computer or PDA, but how can you share that with other people like your colleagues or family who need to know what you are doing? The answer is simple, sign up for a free group calendar at 30boxes.com or Tadalist.com, which allows you to keep group to-do lists. Both are completely free.

MySpace.com and Facebook.com

The leading tracker of big websites (Alexa.com) commented that if you go to MySpace, "you will probably walk away with the impression that it is a joke – some kind of junkyard of personal pictures, blogs and random stuff clumsily plopped on the web."

Don’t be fooled by that. In the course of two years, MySpace has gone from nothing to being among the top five websites in the world. What it does is allow people to share whatever they can put on-line. MySpace is dominated by teenagers, while Facebook is its college equivalent. Both are worth around $2 billion.

Now some people might say that Web 2.0 means that all the good domain names are gone and we are going to be stuck visiting sites like Xanga.com, RubyonRails.com. and Orkut.com. Indeed, I’d love to have a dollar for every stupidly named site that came across my screen. Others will conclude that this interaction is the future of the web and why so many people are turning off their T.V.s and spending more time online.

What does this mean for you and your website? There are some simple rules you can take from these sites:

  1. Most websites are too complex. They have too many features, too many buttons and too much to look at. Figure out what your website’s purpose is and make it as easy as possible for visitors to understand that. Web 2.0 is as much about ease of use as it is about technologically-advanced interactivity.
  2. You can piggy-back on the success of Web 2.0 sites. If you run a real estate website, why not include a little explanation about Zillow.com and then link there? Your visitors will thank you.
  3. Finally, why not start using Web 2.0 yourself? There are some excellent business tools out there, such as Basecamphq.com (Project Management), Campfirenow.com and Skype.com (chat) and Backpackit.com (organizational tools).
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Joomla URL Week Part 6 – Conclusions

Joomla URL WeekIn Parts 1 and 2 of our survey, we talked about default Joomla URLs and default Joomla SEF URLs. We decided that both were poor choices for a website.

Fortunately, over the next three days we analyzed the three components that allow you to produce Search Engine Friendly URL and found that each one offered potentially significant improvements.

Today, its time to answer the question:

"What is the best URL setup for Joomla and why?"

Continue reading “Joomla URL Week Part 6 – Conclusions”

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Joomla URL Week Part 4 – Open SEF Review

Open SEFAlthough we are reviewing OpenSEF because of its ability to create Search Engine Friendly URLs for Joomla, this extension has many more features.

 

This component is a whole suite of SEO tools that include scripts to create Google Site Maps, manage URLs for multiple sites and check for thing such as broken links, Google Page Rank and keyword density.

 

Does such a wide-ranging feature set make OpenSEF the best choice for Joomla SEO, or does it simply make it bloated? Read our review and find out….

Continue reading “Joomla URL Week Part 4 – Open SEF Review”

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