Monthly Archives: November 2009

Small pieces loosely joined - to a ski hill

I’ve always been a fan of the “small pieces loosely joined” approach to building simple web apps. A little bit of something from here, hook it up to there, and voilĂ ! Sometimes something useful can spring into existence.

With the coming ski season (which I’m really excited about) I was spending some time on the Whistler Blackcomb website checking out the conditions, and I happened to notice a few public data feeds. One of these feeds contains the status of all the lifts on Whistler and Blackcomb, so of course, I had to hook it up to Twitter. The WhistlerBot updates its twitter stream every time a lifts status changes, and from my visit to the ski hill last weekend, it seems to do so in pretty close to real time.

When I was on the hill, I turned on mobile notifications for just this account (so I don’t get distracted with other Twitter noise) and now my pocket will vibrate whenever the Peak chair changes from standby to open, for example. No one likes to ski in a tracked out bowl, right?…

While I was at it, I also threw up the slightly hilarious, but still useful isthepeakopen.com and gave the WhistlerBot its own home.

Hope other folks find these useful too.

Posted on: 09.11.17 | no comments

Is Magento right for your next ecommerce project

I recently launched a new ecommerce site using the open source package Magento. This is the first site I’ve worked on that uses Magento, so I thought I would jot down some of my early impressions.

- Tried the online demo, and loved the user experience and admin dashboard. Very polished UI for an Open Source project. (+1 for Magento)
- Huge download (-1 for Magento)
- Convoluted download process and scant details for the SVN checkout (-1 for Magento)
- The Zend framework. Magento is built on the Zend Framework, and in my opinion, the Zend Framework is like a hole in the head. Everyone has their favorite flavour of ice cream, so this is really just my personal preference, but coming from something like Rails to the Zend Framework is like running full speed into a brick wall. Does one really need an XML configuration file to point to the location of other XML configuration files? Yeeessh (-2 for Magento)
- Decent web admin tools to add products and create a catalog. Clients could (mostly) grok it. (+1 for Magento)
- Pretty straight forward to theme, although it could be easier. (+1 for Magento)

Totally subjective and largely meaningless score: -1 (Magento’s weaknesses slightly outweigh positives, in my opinion)

So in summary, Magento is a large, (overly?) complex code base with a great admin and frontend user interface. It’s fairly easy to skin, but I found developing custom functionality a drag. Keep in mind, this was the first Magento site I’ve built, and there’s always a learning curve for every project.

My biggest complaint though is something that I have trouble even articulating. It’s a “vibe”, if you will. Having worked on the Drupal project for a number of years, I have seen first hand how an open source project can (and should) be run. The Magento team could learn a lot from looking at the development processes that projects like Drupal and WordPress employ. For example, with Magento extensions, in most cases, it seemed to not be possible to download actual source code, but rather, you had to enter a key and then Magento would download the package for you. In almost all cases, it feels like the actual source code is kept away from end users. Where is the place to file, and track bugs against various extensions? Where can I browse the source code online? How can I contribute bug fixes? To me, an open source project should be more then trial ware, with an option to upgrade to a premium edition. Open source software is largely about community development, and I don’t see an active developer community hacking away on Magento.

Other alternatives: (open source) Ubercart, Spree (Monthly fee) Shopify, FoxyCart

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