The Joomla! Community Magazine™

Dropping the Joomla! Torch

Written by | Sunday, 01 December 2013 00:00 | Published in 2013 December
I've long believed in the virtues of Open Source. I'm not well known in the Joomla community, I haven't spoken at any Joomla events or worked on the core project, but I've always tried to do my part: proselytizing Joomla, providing free (anonymous) tech support to new users, and donating beer money to promising developers. But there was always a blind spot. I'd like to tell you about the time I failed Joomla and didn't even know it.
Dropping the Joomla! Torch © qbparis

A couple years back I offered to build a website for a non-profit at no charge. I was happy to contribute my time because I believed in the cause. Trying to please the committee, however, began eating up an enormous amount that time. In a hurry to move on to a paying gig, I put all my focus on the design and none on the administration.

In the end the website looked nice and the organization was very pleased. While the outside was clean, the inside was especially not. The site had excess extensions, leftover demo content, poorly named modules, and much of the configuration used default settings – causing an overall lack of automation.

None of this concerned me. I knew the web admin was experienced and capable, and that they would manage with ease. The website I provided them with was still better than the one they had, and if they were willing to invest the time they could finish up themselves.

So off I went, chasing the almighty dollar.

Recently, I was contacted by the group's new administrator. They had taken over and had questions... about a million of them. I talked the new admin through some basics, and sent them some learning materials (keep in mind, I never made a dime on the job and at this point it's been nearly three years).

When I emailed last week to see how things were going I was expecting to hear: "just fine, I understand everything now, thanks for asking". Instead the admin replied with: "It's a mess, Joomla is a terrible platform. I'm looking at alternatives."

I wasn't sure how to respond, so I didn't. After dwelling on it for the day, thinking back on the project, realizing the many mistakes I made, I was struck by a harsh and undeniable truth... 'He was wrongfully blaming Joomla for my poor implementation.'

I felt awful. Mistakes like mine misrepresent Joomla. They contribute to a growing stereotype that Joomla is too complex for unexperienced web admins. Worst of all, in this case, my cluttered backend killed someone's interest in our CMS completely. I failed Joomla.

Designers and developers who use Joomla to build websites for third-parties are self-appointed diplomats. We carry the torch for Joomla, but we never stop to think of its importance. We need to make every first impression refreshing and impactful. It's up to us to deliver a complete experience, tailored to our clients. The out-of-the-box, one-size-fits-all approach doesn't just hurt your business and your reputation, it brings down the Joomla brand.

I've learned my lesson. I will never again cut corners. I will build custom content types – allowing an admin to publish material with ease and consistency. I will perfectly configure news publishing modules and menu systems - ensuring automated content displays. I will properly label everything, using notes and completed descriptions – giving them effective browse and search capabilities. I will not leave behind excess extensions and left over demo materials.

This isn't a vow to the client. This is a vow to Joomla. To the people who work on the core, who squash bugs, who build awesome extensions, who offer support and spend their time promoting open source philosophy. I owe this community more than I could ever repay. They make Joomla great, and they don't deserve to have their efforts devalued by poor implementations.

I ask that other sitebuilders join me in this vow and hold the Joomla torch high.

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Tagged under Feature Stories, English
Gene Page

Gene Page

I'm a web designer.

I've been working with Joomla since the early days of 1.5.

I'm obsessed with Seblod.

I love Sci-Fi.

I wish the English language had more contractions.

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Don't be so hard on yourself. There are no web applications you can tailor to an organization's actual users, goals, and workflows without a major time investment on your part -- and theirs.

Often an organization will need training not just in how to use the software but in what a content strategy is and so much else. They will generally need ongoing, long-term support and some type of managed hosting. If they aren't thinking about long term costs of ownership, then even a well-built site won't be sustainable.

It sounds like this organization went on assuming for years that the site you built them could just sit in place and be taken over by new staff members without any direct or hidden costs. The new site admin may have realized s/he had a raft of obsolete software installed with no clear upgrade path. This would be the case with many other CMSs too.

I'd say the biggest disservice was the one you did to yourself (and the client and to Joomla) when you agreed to work for free. Instead you should have told this organization that neither you, they, Joomla and the rest of the internet could afford the long-term costs of another "free website." You have to level with them and yourself how expensive "free" can get down the road. Rather than dig themselves into a big hole, most people realize the value of paying for quality service to get up and running and to keep running.
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You have hit the nail on the head with this article. I believe the Joomla community loses Joomla websites every day to WordPress because people have been set up with bad Joomla sites and someone has "told them that WordPress is easier". I can't tell you have many times we've been approached to "fix" someone's Joomla site because of this very reason. People are usually very upset with Joomla when in reality it is not the platform but the developer's approach by not treating each website as a project.

Now to be fair here we've all take on those "consulting" (meaning free) jobs to help out a friend or cause and then realize we've taken on way more than we expected. It's really hard to do the right thing. But the right thing is to treat it as a paying job with a project plan, wire frames, requirements (expectations) and a sign off. If they balk at any of these steps then just say "No, if I can't do it right then I won't help. I don't want to set your organization up for failure when your website is integral to its success"....and then walk away if needed! If they go forward, you have everything you've agreed to do already planned out so you will have the ability to create a great Joomla website that they will be happy with for years to come. It's a win for all involved.
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Gene, good story. I totally agree.. also I sometimes 'go to fast' and forget about the ones authoring and administering the lot.

ACL settings help me a lot to streamline. I also use a KISS approach. Try to do as much as possible from the core features. Article Manager and MediaManager usually are the only places I allow authors.

Site admins in training start at the lowest group level and promote as they come along.. It takes some time but in the end it is worth it.

Thanks!
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Heidi Stanclift wrote:
I believe the Joomla community loses Joomla websites every day to WordPress because people have been set up with bad Joomla sites and someone has "told them that WordPress is easier".

People will switch from anything to anything else if they get frustrated enough. WordPress is not the enemy, but it is easier to work with, and far easier to support over time because of the autoupdate facility that keeps getting better. Matt quietly explained all the major details to his winning strategy in his talk at the Joomla World Conference.

Some may be interested in historical discussion of autoupdates for Joomla:

forum.joomla.org/viewtopic.php?f=625&t=586465
forum.joomla.org/viewtopic.php?f=503&t=2...=autoupdate#p1371195
forum.joomla.org/viewtopic.php?f=625&t=5...=autoupdate#p2410677
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If they've never used Joomla, of course they will face a hard time using it, especially if their first Joomla experience is a working production website. The problem is not your approach building that website, the problem is learning to drive with a Ferrari instead of buying a second hand car... you will crash in the first wall and think driving a Ferrari is terrible. They should have learned Joomla on their own, not jumping in a finished work. Do you think some modules' name and some extra demo data can make Joomla look more complex? If you think so, it means Joomla IS complex, because what you mentioned doesn't add additional complexity.
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i agree that many joomla sites are "unfinished"

but i also think that its not "someone told them the wordpress is easier"

it is just true.. look at the joomla upgrades.. after every new stable version everyone have the issues to upgrade sites with all components and themes correctly..

and i never see a this with wordpress site.. long time ago instaled and update for years without any problems..

so there is some disadvantages in using joomla for new users.. even if you named, noted a setup everyting inside..
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Hi Gene:
Awesome article, and you are to the point, i have seen developers just trying to finish the project and moving on to another joomla project, without taking any security steps. Many times the default username was "admin" still there even after website going live. Lots has improved in the latest version of joomla. And extension like Admin tool, Akeeba Backup has made things much easier and more safe. Bad extension are the number one culprit here. I have seen many joomla websites getting hacked and client shifting/migrating to wordpress because of this. One more problem I haven noticed is most of the joomla websites are on shared hosting which are vulnerable to hackers.

Suggestions:
Some official guidelines should be available to all the joomla developers before making the website live.

Take care
Thanks and Regards
Amit Patekar
CEO, IT Design Lab
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We have a name for sites like that in my company: We call them "Joomla!-Janitor jobs."

We've made a lot of money on Joomla! Janitor jobs.

The story you outline has analogues in every CMS community. Like Heidi says, Joomla! probably does lose sites to other CMS's because of installations like that, but trust me, there are plenty of people who've had terrible set ups of WordPress, Drupal, Expression Engine, etc who've called us saying they want out.

The good thing is that you stuck with Joomla! long enough to know how not to repeat early mistakes, and to help be a Joomla! janitor yourself. I'm glad you're around and doing skilled work.
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As suggested by others, don't beat up on yourself. You have simply made the classic mistake all young people make (not just programmers). That is, you have LIMITS. Limits are good things, they put a fence around our becoming what we will in life so we can measure our own development. Understanding limits is a mark of maturity, you obviously now "get it".
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I am happy that you have approached this topic, it has been one of the things that has been on my mind for many months. My bread and butter is Joomla! and I do my best not to drop the torch!

However, Joomla is getting a terrible reputation amongst the communities that should be embracing it. I can't think of a nice way to put this, but this is completely the fault of the website developers/builders, and more specifically - well at least in my experience - freelance developers.

Currently, Joomla! is a free lunch to anyone who can boot up a PC and install a CMS on a hosting provider, the rest is 'cut & paste' at a higher hourly rate than a Wordpress site builder.

I can't see how this daily damage being done to its reputation can be stopped by anything other than official certification and rigorous promotion of it amongst not just the developers but the end users, the non-profits, public institutions and the like.

As the other posters - Heidi and Sully - have noted, if you check out the job posting on freelancer sites the ratio of 'Convert my site to Wordpress/anything other than Joomla' is exponentially higher than 'Convert my site to Joomla'. The people who are making that decision, at the management level are one of the communities that have been left out.


This conversation has been going on in the Joomla forums, there is a lot of concerned people, I hope it gets picked up and the certification projects gets a higher priority than it currently seems to have.
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Kristina Petkova Friday, 03 January 2014
Nice article! I had similar case - a site I made was hacked twice and the people hated Joomla instead of me. But still I am the one who loves Joomla and I'm making another site now - I will do my best with security now, though. So I think everything can be done better, but it also could be done worse and Joomla is a platform that allows you to do very very good things if you do not satisfy yourself by "it works".
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Well spoken! I know it to well - that feeling. A lessen learned. But just some other say's, don't be so hard on your self :)
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Article exelent!
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