Interview: Alex de Borba

Written by | 01 February 2015 | Published in 2015 February
On January 6th, I saw an interesting post on the Joomla Facebook group from Alex de Borba that began, "Let's start something different, shall we?". Alex was offering his help for anyone who had a question about Joomla. I read through the comments and was extremely impressed with his courteous, helpful and well-written replies. I asked him to get in touch with me if he would be interested in writing for the JCM. He did. Here is the interview I had with Alex, a bit long, but very informative. I look forward to his future articles.

Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Alex de Borba, and I am a thirty seven year old Portuguese male currently residing in Colombia. I have been involved with Joomla since back when it was called Mambo, so you might say that I am kind of a veteran regarding the different stages and transmutations that the CMS had suffered throughout the years.

I paint, write poetry and prose, often using arcane languages, practice Krav Maga and do biking besides studying and doing research about my religion, the Sumerian Mythology. I enjoy reading detective comic books (Batman mostly), watch horror, suspense, crime movies and series (The Saw, Sherlock, Elementary, Criminal Minds, Gotham). Even thus, I am not exactly the kind of individual that you might consider sociable, I would rather spend most of the time at home enjoying the sanctity of my working space and playing with my black cats, Akkadian (male) and Annvki (female) rather than engaging into the typical weekend affairs.

Why do you offer Joomla support for free?

First and foremost, I enjoy helping out, lending a hand is always rewarding. And I might say, perhaps I do not relate to the commonly known “I will help you, but…” concept that often, and sadly truly so, transpires throughout the many ways we are able to communicate with one another. Moneywise, I take into consideration that Joomla is an Open Source platform and the individuals behind it are volunteers, therefore giving me the perspective of someone with a pure sense of communal spirit. I do often offer my help and skills entirely free of charge mostly because I find it rewarding when an individual has his or her issue fixed right away instead of spending endless hours trying to find a solution online, and evently be lost among contradictory tutorials.

Regarding Administrators, I have a tight bond with many and occasionally my assistance is required to setup an entire CDN for them, as an example. I admit that sometimes the process may be a bit confusing for them, or they are clueless on how it is to be processed. For most Joomla Administrators, CDN is still something quite unexplored. However, if they are grateful and recognize the effort behind it, they can always donate funds, after all “coders are the only ones capable to turn coffee into code”, and good coffee ain’t cheap. Also by helping them entirely for free, I detach myself from the pressure of being forced to comply with their demands, however, I am pretty selective when it comes to helping or not when someone is in need. 

Why did you choose Joomla to create your music site?

On the contrary, Joomla chose me, I daresay the process did not require any kind of thoughtful election as Joomla has been always part of my nature when it comes to creating something from mere paper sketches spread all over my desk (I am aware I am quite old-fashioned) to the final online, responsive version.

During the fall of 2010, WordPress was on the rise regarding music presences and almost everyone was running WordPress to create their music portals, this mostly because of the vastly wider selection of plugins and themes available, which nowadays have increased significantly. Even though WordPress back then might have been a platform to take into consideration, it didn’t present any challenges for someone willing to create something unique, rather than explore the boredom of understanding a pre-molded “one click install and run” virtual presence.

Until this day, almost five years after it all started, I never regretted my decision. On the contrary, I enjoyed the thrill of exploring and being confronted with many challenges that unavoidably benefited my position toward Joomla. It endured my perception and made me grow wiser, by testing my patience on numerous occasions, as well as my ability to overcome issues, and foremost, my sense of organization.

You are using Gantry as your framework, why didn’t you use a pre-made template instead of investing time building your own?

To be quite honest with you, most everyone who sees the website asks me the same, and they don’t have any problem asking “where can I buy it?”. I think the question would be better phrased as “why are you not using a template like everybody else?”. Frankly speaking, I have a tremendously deep emotional disdain toward pre-molded templates.

I do respect the companies and individuals that stand behind templates working hard to provide their members with something unique and rather different (I know how complicated it is to spend sleepless nights creating and struggling to bring out something different). However, the uniqueness and creative standouts that a pre-molded template may offer quickly vanishes after thousands of websites are unleashed online thereafter, using the very same template and “quick start” packages with slightly, minor modifications.

Often I find myself looking at a website and quickly identifying the template and the modules. My observations aforementioned are precisely the main reason in which I have decided to “outcast” myself from the norm by spending time almost daily doing changes to the current template, perfecting the setup, tuning its performance and implementing new features.

In general, it is a challenge as I have to create and maintain it myself, rather more fascinating than resourcing to a company and quietly waiting for them to provide me with an update, answer a ticket, or bring something new so that I can catch up with my sleep.

Regarding Gantry Framework, it was after testing everything else that I came to the conclusion that Gantry Framework would better suit my needs as it is robust, quite open to be extended, and above all, solid. The Gantry community behind it are also volunteers and very open to help and contribute either via GitHub or Google Groups. Unlike what everyone else claims, it may be heavier, I concur, nevertheless it all depends on the way you choose to compress, minify, and optimize it. Therefore, it’s not for everyone.

What is different about the way your site is setup?

First and foremost, I have to take into consideration that the site is mostly heavy metal driven. Most people do not understand, but the heavy metal audience is perhaps one of the biggest and most active in the world. There are massive events taking place every month around the world and they actively seek information.

The major difference between heavy metal audiences and hip-hop audiences, is that heavy metal listeners share, and re-share information about their favorite artists independently of being new or not. They have a sense of support unlike anything else, this while on the other side of the fence, hip-hop fans are more driven to what is new, and don’t have as many shares as heavy metal fans do, they are more restrained to read and comment.

This is besides the fact that I have one of the very few websites of the genre that writes original content (more than 90% of the content published by other websites of the genre are mostly copy and paste of press releases or slightly rearranged content) with over 50,000 pageviews, and 3,000 shares on a daily basis, performance is certainly a top-notch priority.

With this said, it runs more than one CDN, blending MaxCDN, CloudFlare, Amazon S3 and Google Cloud Storage altogether as a single source of entwined connections that allows the website to speed up, as well as Google Page Speed and Memcached thanks to the handcrafted expertise provided by SiteGround. The categories are organized in a manner that makes articles relevant to subsections, interconnecting different divisions (television, radio, and magazine) so that the visitor may explore a bit more of what the website has to offer.

It is green, which stands out for the difference as most websites on the field are either blue, black, orange or red (I have chosen green after doing some research for colors and come to the conclusion that green designs tend to make people spend longer on the page, it gives them some sense of tranquility), and has a clean, mod-flat design rather than a cluttered design as often occurs with websites of the genre.

Since we are sponsored by a few companies, affiliated with many others and tied to diverse advertising agencies, it runs advertising strategically placed in and out of the content on a non-intrusive manner (unfortunately, none of the extensions I found managed to provide a suitable alternative to Revive Adserver), that switches according to the devices used to access the website. I believe that one of the most intriguing differences between the website and others, is that it is fully implemented and connected to Google Apps... This amongst too many things to mention, and that I would rather keep in the abyss for now.

Which custom built extensions have you developed that are not available on the JED? Would you make them available?

I have developed a plugin that pulls events in an organized manner directly from Bandsintown, which is one of the largest music events promoters in the world. As a comment system I tried for a while and noticed that having a comment system that forced readers to register was somehow a badly executed strategy, as the feedback was very few and too close to non-existent. Therefore I opted by using Disqus and created my own plugin that is less heavy and allows me to customize notices prior to the comment area, as well as to add advertising below.

The Author boxes was also something that continuously evolved, as I didn’t wanted anything standard but wanted it to be integrated with Gravatar and PayPal. A streaming audio module was also created to display the data regarding the songs currently playing over Wavestreaming. The module pulls the data directly from their streaming servers avoiding me to recode it each time there are changes, this not to mention that I can position it anywhere I find more suitable.

AddThis integration consolidated with Bitly short url was also something I came up with, that displays via plugin buttons and options to share the content wherever one may chose with a Bitly custom url generated only once per article via API, for instance, in articles one of the AddThis option to share content is below the image, which is pretty uncommon (I daresay that I never found a website with this kind of display until now).

For CDN I created a plugin to “look and pull” Amazon S3, Amazon CloudFront, MaxCDN and ultimately, hook the IP on CloudFlare. There are plans to develop another extension sometime soon that will bridge the Media Manager to external Cloud FTP. Regarding media extensions, there are both plugins that support Vimeo and SoundCloud as well. The latest allows us to customize the colors and displays of the media players in full.

None of the extensions I have built are available via JED, they are however, safeguarded on private Repositories via GitHub... Neither do I have plans to add those to JED. The reason behind it is that when the extensions were coded, the main focus was to make it display nicely inside Gantry Framework, using their custom PHP/CSS references as guidance and not the standardized version of Bootstrap.

Besides this, I cannot afford to provide support to others as my company already requires much of my attention, since handling the CEO daily duties, I am also the CTO of the company, meaning that my time is quite limited enough to provide others with the support they might require. I know it might sound a bit selfish and self-centered, but I am not by any means a freelancer neither do I intend to get involved into something I cannot commit to 100% such as supporting extensions.

What extensions are you using, and what is missing?

Over the four years the list of extensions I have used underwent extensive cahnges. This past year I decided that it would be best to sit down and to release myself from multiple extensions that were contributing to archive one single goal. The task was overwhelming but not impossible, however it required a considerable investment as I didn’t want to keep free extensions as paid ones had better features, above all, I wanted professional support and developers to be reliable and feel “forced” somehow, to make it work.

Currently we are using JCH Optimizer Pro to compress and minify the website loading as well as to connect to MaxCDN and reduce the weight of all the images we publish. The setup however, was partially done by me and their developers, as obviously, there were some glitches that often became annoying, but the outcome is quite satisfactory. JHC Optimizer not only made me remove up to seven extensions that were no longer needed, as they have what I consider to be, a very professional posture and quick turnaround when resolving issues.

AdminTools Pro, which is quite a mandatory extension if you want to keep your website well-tuned and protected. After restoring the website a couple of times due to hacking, it became vital for us to upgrade to the Pro version. I have tied WAF firewall available on the extension together with CloudFlare Pro additional WAF features, adding to the website a extra layer of security. It also helps to keep MySQL clean and optimized, considering there is over 5,000 articles, MySQL performance becomes vital. Since then, my spirit has enjoyed some peace of mind.

Akeeba Backup Pro together with Watchfulli secures our backups automatically and creates restore points each time there’s either files, folders, or content changes. Watchfulli becomes quite handy to synchronize backups via Cron Jobs automatically besides sending me an email alert each time something has been changed on Joomla.

Akeeba backs up to Amazon S3 keeping our backups stored outside the server, just in case the machinery fails, I have out backups always at hand, this not to mention that I reversed a bit the setup to have it done also to GitHub, instead of compressed, it backups uncompressed, making it easier for me to use GitHub Repository to verify changes and fix “Issues” reported by the staff.

Ark Editor and Ark Media Pro allows us to have more options as to format our content as well as to manage our media files in a more extended manner. Taking into consideration that our Joomla! is content driven, and it is run by a staff of journalists, having a more complex and “free” editor was a natural selection. 

Dropfiles Pro is something that recently was installed because I have decided that we need a cloud storage that would allow us to hyperlink documents for download. By using Google Drive and Dropfiles to connect and synchronize with it via API, the files and folders intended to share display inside our Ark Editor, easing the workflow of the staff.

sh404SEF Pro runs all of the urls and I believe it does not need further introduction. My setup is pretty standard but complete thanks to their support that numerous times pin-pointed me to setup fixes. However, it is backed up with a very extensive, straight to the core modified .htaccess file kindly assisted by the folks at SiteGround.

Open Graph Debugger is a plugin that I recently purchased to run the Open Graph backbone of Joomla by extending it. However I am not quite sure if I will keep using it as with time, I was expecting a lot more from the Plugin and somehow seems limited to Facebook.

NoNumber Snippets replaces the usage of K2 on the website. The website ran K2 for the first year and then was dropped and removed. K2 caused numerous problems with URL’s, was generating a numerous amount of images and in 2011 the only way to host those images without investing too much money was directly on the hosting account, which we upgraded to a VPS shortly after as it was consuming too much space.

Moving back to default Joomla Content Manager was one of the best decision I ever took, and I never looked back. NoNumber Snippets, even thus on the free version for now, does a good job if you know how to create tables with information and display it on your website.

Xmap is what generates the sitemap file that is automatically fetched via Google Webmaster Tools, Attracta and WebCEO. It pings those services and with the overall setup I did, usually any new content published is indexed by search engines within less than 24 hours.

Since I am using Gantry Framework, I have decided to make use of the RokSprocket to display random and relevant content on the website's sidebar, which is positioned on the right side of the content instead of the typical left side taking. By having the sidebar on the right, the reader focuses more on the content we write rather than a variety of different options.

I would say that missing is a lot of ground to cover. Joomla developers from my point of view, reached a level of stagnation and keep releasing extensions that bring nothing quite new, nor worthwhile for music websites in general. There are already too many Facebook, Twitter, Google+, social networking extensions on the JED overlapping one another, also too many share options, amongst others that they should drop coding, and instead invest their time on extensions that pull data from Last.fm, Spotify, Google Play, Jamendo, iTunes, Bandcamp, Grooveshark, Outbrain, Pinterest, ReverbNation, Ticketmaster, Amazon Store, Revive Adserver, Piwik, SoundCloud, Audible, Zinio, Evernote, LinkedIn, Deezer, tunein, etc.

Music website owners have difficulties in finding anything on the JED that actually can be installed and run on a music website driven without being full of libraries with Component, Modules and Plugins that require setups that would drive anyone to the point of the edge of insanity, not to mention the prices that sometimes, go way over everyone’s head.

I prefer simplicity over fully-featured Components in which half the modules are not even used, and I have discussed this many times with WordPress Administrators and they share the same opinion, they prefer simplicity which is something that they did not find on the JED and quickly resourced to the platform they are using today. Sad but true, if you go to both add-ons directories and search for any of the names I mentioned, WordPress will return results while Joomla would return nothing. This because Joomla developers are more interested on corporate websites, totally neglecting that today’s market is blooming with thousands of fresh new music websites every month.

How do you see yourself when compared to other developers?

A tricky question that arises many enigmatic and possible answers. It depends on the developers, I share respect toward Joomla core developers, and others who keep their extensions GPL and bug free, yet fully stand behind the support and make it worth the effort. I am not very fancy of developers that charge and once you pay, you find yourself struggling against a “ghost ship”. Personally speaking, I do not consider myself a developer, just someone who learned a few things on the way mostly because he got fascinated with everything Joomla!

Are there any other heavy metal websites that you are involved with that use Joomla?

I don’t know if you are aware, but Germany's biggest heavy metal website, New-Metal-Media, is run using Joomla. The curiosity that lays behind the website they run is due to the fact that all the people behind it are handicapped or disabled. They founded the website on their own around seven years ago if I am not mistaken.

Their staff is composed by people in wheelchairs and they did the website as a hobby because they wanted something to do something worthy with their spare time. Nowadays, they are the biggest website from Germany and they attend concerts trying to mobilize people to accept them and provide proper conditions for them to enjoy the shows as equals. Their Joomla setup is multilingual and they are self-taught, such as myself.

Visit Alex's website: http://www.atmostfear-entertainment.com

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Dianne Henning

Dianne Henning

Joomla enthusiast and web developer, Co-Lead Editor of the Joomla Commuity Magazine, former OSM Board Member, and Joomla event organizer. Say hello if you see me at a Joomla event!