Posts Tagged ‘lessons learned’

Content management systems (update)

September 8th, 2007

I previously wrote about my initial experience with choosing a content management system. I’ve now had a day or more working with Joomla,, and RadiantCMS . My conclusion: none of them is appropriate for a hacker like me. The answer has been in front of me the entire time: Why?

Joomla has a lot of nice templates, and I was able to get a mock site up (eventually). It’s pretty damn complicated though. I wanted to embed some code and do a form submit and I ended up beyond my depth. If you are more tenacious or have slightly better skills than I have, this is a possible solution. But it’s just a little too complex for me.

Drupal was a complete disaster. For all the great attention it gets around the web, I couldn’t find a single practical guide for how to use it. Way too much touting its superior “framework.” In the end, I wasn’t even able to figure out how to post content in different categories. Not at all a solution for a hacker like me.

RadiantCMS is elegent, but it’s definitely targeted at programmers. It’s also new, so there are no cookbook or templates available. I got an installation up and running but that was it. If you are a ruby on rails nut, this for you. If that last sentence didn’t make any sense to you, forget about radiant. For my more advanced project, I finally caved in and hired a developer who may actually use this CMS as a framework.

WordPress is simple. And there are a nice number of easily installable plugins that so far have worked just as advertised. I recommend checking out this post for ideas. I used many of them (Akismet, Subscribe to Comments, WordPress Database Backup, WP-Cache, Add This, FeedBurner FeedSmith, Google Analytics, Google Sitemap Generator). I also found a template that I liked which is working adequately for me on this blog site.

If you are starting your own mini-site project or blog, hope this helps, and good luck!

1. technology

Spy vs spy: Seven sites on your side

September 6th, 2007

I found this link of 40 sites to bookmark that you don’t know about on (I was invited to see the preview site, so I had to go check it out.) But the theme I discovered was spy vs spy: sites designed to fix intentional flaws in other services.

Here are seven sites that provide ways to foil sites that may be requiring things you don’t like:

  1. allows users to find out working registration creditials for sites that (unnecessarily) require logins, like newspaper web sites. I’ve found it to be useful.
  2. lets you get discount codes and coupons from online retailers that are searchable. In fact, they have a plug in that will alert you as you shop to available coupons. I haven’t used this service yet, but it reminds me of a service that I use to find deals on computer equipment called or TravelZoo for travel and DailyCandy for new restaurants in NYC and other cities. Rather than letting retail companies decide what and when you buy things, this helps consumers stay in charge.
  3. they navigate the phone tree, and then call you back when there is phone operator. You don’t have to waste your time dealing with the crummy automatic system.
  4. PhoneZoo: let you convert your own mp3’s to ringtones. I have no interest in this, but it never ceases to amaze me that other people spend $1 or more on ringtones.
  5. PriceProtectr – tracks items you bought online drops and notifies in case of price-drops so you can request a refund.
  6. mShopper – instantly check up on the bargain deals for any product (or even order) right from your mobile phone. Video demo.
  7. get automatic credit for a lower price on airline tickets if the price goes down.

Phew, I hope I’ve made my point. I’d say the second most common category of service are community/self-organizing sites, and you can see a couple of those kinds of services in the list above (e.g.,

Cautiously, remember the lessons of spy vs spy: your defenses can backfire (recall the old collusion trick of the “lowest price guaranteed“) and the other side is thinking of even more nefarious ways to get you. More hopefully, can these services convince businesses to make sites that are not broken on purpose in the first place?

Update: iTunes is a service that is broken in two key ways: (1) you can’t load music off your iPod to your computer and (2) you can only store it on as many devices as Apple thinks you should. Here are two bonus sites that allow you work around these intentionally crippling of your music: how to get your music off your ipod and how to free your iTunes purchases

1. technology, 3. et cetera ,

Choosing a content management system…

August 29th, 2007

On a different project, I wanted to have a simple sales web site. My web host,, seems to have a nice suite of available tools that you can install with a single click. The top three that I have been experimenting with are: Joomla, Drupal and WordPress. I also wanted some simple form processing, and the ability to integrate some strange vbscripts that I found.

What a mess! Joomla and Drupal are *very* complicated. They are essentially frameworks, which means that they supposedly can do lots of things but none of them easily. I really wonder if it wouldn’t just be easier to start from scratch with the elegant Ruby On Rails or even a hacked PHP solution. WordPress is probably ok, for example, it powers this web site.

But my friend David, a real developer, suggested radiantcms. It looks like the right level of complexity for my needs, so I’m going to give it a go. Again, I’ll post an update with my experiences…

1. technology

Choosing a web designer…

August 29th, 2007

Recently, I conducted a search to find a web designer to redesign our Voter Guide Toolkit web application. My ideal situation was to find a free-lance designer who had experience making sleek “web 2.o” apps, preferably civic-minded, possibly local. It was a frustration process, but I think it has a happy ending now.

I had a three-pronged attack. My first instinct was to place this uninspired posting on craigslist. Second, I sent it to three developers I know to send on to any designers they might now. Third, I conducted a web search.

So, here’s what happened. The craigslist posting was a waste of $75; I only received generic responses from recruiters, design shops, people seeking full-time rather contract work, etc. Word of mouth at first yielded no results. In my web search, I came across this great resource that is a central listing of designer portfolios worldwide called coroflot.

Before things got better, things got worse. By looking at hundreds of portfolios, I figured out that the real core competency I wanted was icon design. (We have a pretty good handle on the user interface design.) I found this interesting site, and as a bonus the designer lived in San Francisco. He responded with a nice email, and I hired him. But after a week or so without any real progress, he begged out of the project because his dog died. So back to square one.

Finally, I got a response from a neat shop called TurboMilk based in Samara, Russia. I liked their sensibilities and process, all of which is documented in their blog. They use basecamp to manage interactions. It is necessary to have something like that, because we are 12 time zones apart and essentially never available at the same time.

I’ll post a follow up when the project is completed so you can see the results for yourself!

1. technology

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