The Bob Bloom Show #39: Why I Came Home To Joomla and Tienda

Thursday October 6th, 2011


Welcome to episode 39 of The Bob Bloom Show. My name is Bob Bloom from Toronto, Canada. Today is Thursday, October 06th, 2011.  Provincial election day for my fellow Ontarians.

Today I talk to  you about why I came home to Joomla ecommerce in general, and to Tienda in particular.

Really, isn’t it more interesting to talk about the technology, and not so much the journey?

Well,  apparently not, because people are undertaking a similar journey. At the last Joomla! Users Group Toronto meet-up, this topic was raised.  The LinkedIn “Ecommerce and Online Marketing Experts” group has a topic “Which is the best Open Source eCommerce platform in terms of features, flexibility and scalability?“. The second comment sums it up very nicely:

There’s no silver bullet though, obviously, each platform has its own set of pros & cons.

There is no silver bullet. The first thing you have to know is yourself. What’s your plan? Then find the solution that best matches your plan.

My own point of view is not to run ecomm sites for myself, but, rather, to specialize in ecomm technology as a consultant, for clients.

I started out with Joomla ecommerce, with Virtuemart, in 2006. Earlier this year, I looked at what else was out there. Other Joomla carts.  Drupal, WordPress, and independent PHP carts.

Sure, the lure of greener pastures was strong. But the pastures are not greener. Each cart has its own pros and cons, and many times it seemed that I would be substituting one set of problems with another.

See, I knew where I was coming from: Joomla, Virtuemart, Tienda. Joomla extensions, Joomla templates. And I have a vision of where the future of Joomla ecommerce is going too — yes I do! Listen to my podcast Emergence of Nooku Framework Based Joomla eCommerce.

I travelled distant lands, only to appreciate where I came from even more.

The free independent open source PHP carts are similarly organized to Joomla and the Joomla cart projects. Each of these independent carts has their own community, their own core software, their own way of releasing their software, their own cottage industry of add-ons and consultants.

Some carts had kick-ass feature sets. For features that were lacking, for customizations, it was the same type of chase as for Joomla. Ultimately, what difference does it make that I have to chase different things down for different carts? I still have to spend the same time. No cart offers the “ultimate portfolio” of features that would save me from spending time chasing down add-ons, or poring over the code to find out how to do the customizations myself.  By the time I learn the ins-and-outs of a particular cart, the players, the outstanding third-party devs,  I could be advancing Joomla ecommerce.

I selected fifteen independent PHP carts to look at. Plus Drupal & WordPress.

Tomato Cart made quite an impression, but it is way too nascent.

My Media site is WordPress, and in specific scenarios WordPress with the ecommerce plugin work out well. But beyond these specific scenarios, I’m not so convinced. Drupal was an adventure, having looked at it for my Media site and for ecommerce, but personally it is not my cup of tea.

We are really blessed to have these three outstanding  free open source projects in our midst: Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal. They are outstanding. But, I also use Anahita for my Discussion site, and Anahita is outstanding too. Things are changing and Anahita is pointing the way. And, of course, there’s the Nooku Server, which is nearing Alpha 4 and is outstanding.

Since no single cart fit all scenarios, I should  specialize in a portfolio of carts. Match the cart that best fit my clients’ business plans, and then install/manage those sites. I already have my Joomla-Virtuemart specialty. Add Tienda to that. I have years working with WordPress and actually have a site using an early version of the WP-ecommerce plugin. Then add Prestashop, Magento, and OpenCart.

But let’s be realistic here: to what extent can I specialize in six individual carts. Am I really a Solutions Provider, or am I specializing in a technology.

Am I the guy who attracts clients, matches ‘em up with the cart they need, and then sub-contracts the roll-up-the-sleeves work to others? Is my business really acquiring clients, owning the cash inflow of that client, and then parcelling out the technical work at a cost below my billings, and pocketing the difference? If so, I better remake myself into a marketing machine and acquire clients! I can flat-out tell you that this is not where my talents, passion, and inclinations are.

Am I the guy who maintains a portfolio of clients, does the roll-up-the-sleeves work myself, and manages my clients’ sites throughout their website life-cycles? If so, my clients are end-users, not other consultants. So, I better have a way of acquiring clients, and familiarizing myself enough with these various carts. However, with many clients using many carts, there’s only so much under-the-hood work I will be able to accomplish. There’s no doubt I’ll need to outsource custom work, and that poses risks.

I own my client and their revenue. So, I don’t want programmers who make themselves indispensible. A wide-awake client will discern who is doing the “real” work, and then dump me for the programmer to spare themselves the mark-up. Another risk: to depend on a small group of individuals so much that a programmer going on holiday or off-line can put my billings in jeopardy.

It is important build a multi-tiered portfolio of sites & clients. So, then, my business would really be to acquire and maintain a multi-tiered portfolio of sites & clients; and, to maintain a portfolio of at least somewhat fungible sub-contractors. Which puts me pretty well in the first category I rejected: that of “the guy who attracts clients, matches ‘em up with the cart they need, and then sub-contracts the roll-up-the-sleeves work to others.

No, I’m the rare breed: the specialist. The guy who knows the technology. The guy other consultants and end-users seek out to “do things” with the software.  This is what I’m well suited for. So, forget about knowing a bunch of carts well, but not deeply, I have to select the single cart to specialize in.

So, naturally, the answer is the one with the biggest market share, and then carve out a niche for myself. Problem: today’s hot cart has its day in the sun, and then the new kid on the block with the shinier toy comes out, and poof goes my speciality. So, I have to “roll over” my  specialty every so often, flitting from hot cart to hot cart.

Would it not be the smart play to specialize in a cart that has both market share and staying power? And for that, there is one single cart bar none: Magento.

But before I get into Magento, let me continue about the independent PHP carts.

You’ve had peanut butter cups? The combination of peanut butter & chocolate together is pretty good. Just ask my children. But independent PHP carts? It’s like getting the peanut butter but not the chocolate. A cart without the CMS really stinks.

Menus, modules, articles. I just take it for granted, because I am steeped in Joomla & WordPress. Oh boy, most of the independent PHP carts, forget about it. It didn’t take long before I was researching Joomla integration for each cart. And, it was very interesting to see in the forums that others were doing the same thing. I would actually give up sexy cart features if I could get the mundane Joomla menu & module & templating functions.

If you want a blog or a forum to go with your cart, you have to install Joomla or WordPress or something too. If your Joomla forum needs login to comment, then now you have separate logins for Joomla & for your cart. My client is going request single sign-on, of course, and such integration is not trivial.

My clients need both chocolate and peanut butter.

A reseller program is an important thing. I specialize in the technology, I suport my clients for that technolgoy. But who supports me? Where do I go for training? Where do I go for help when I have a problem? Look, a strong community is important. But, who is supposed to help me when the chips are down. Community forums with unanswered threads, email listings prefaced with “no support provided”, and a hodge-podge of third party devs & consultants doing their own thing does not cut it when my client is all over me and my billing is imperiled.

A reseller program is a formal thing. A consultant pays the technology company a fee. In return, the consultant gets access to the technology to resell to clients, along with support and training. Sometimes, training is mandatory – after successful completion the consultant can add the technology’s logo to their materials indicating to the buying public a minimum standard of proficiency with that technology. Also, it is understood that the technology company has given their seal of approval to the reseller which boosts confidence among the buying public, who may know the technology but not the reseller.

There’s only one reseller program (did I miss any): Magento.

So, why did I forsake Magento? Mabye I could carve a niche building Magento add-ons on top of being a reseller. Magento has market share, and reseller programs — there’s room for me. And, eBay bought out Magento lock, stock and barrel, and is forging ahead with XCommerce, which sure looks interesting.

Magento is not a silver bullet; and, it is getting crowded. Now that it’s a corporate behemoth, maybe I should check out the other behemoths and upstarts too.

Not that I want to be part of a corporate behemoth. That entails certain benefits and risks. And Magento being subsumed into a huge public company, I think, augments Joomla ecommerce, not hurts it. Why? Because Joomla ecommerce has an important place in the ecommerce pantheon.

For those that want to bootstrap their own ecommerce sites, Joomla offers tremendous power, lots of freedom of choice, ease of entry of price and technology, and a bullish future.

Joomla is hotbed of technology. Joomla ecommerce is at an inflection point of advancement. Virtuemart 2 is on the verge of being released, Tienda is racing to version 1.0, Anahita is just sitting there waiting to be integrated with ecommerce, Nooku Framework & Server are maturing, the hot Joomla development activity now is the platform and we will see a very interesting upcoming Joomla Long Term Release.

Now is the time to come home to Joomla.

Tienda is a full featured Joomla cart extension that has been out for nearly two years. There is a unified vision of what the code is supposed to look like, which is quite an achievement. The code is Joomla MVC. Tienda is designed from the ground up to be customized and extended without touching the core.

Tienda is a professionally managed project. It’s groundbreaking Redmine Projects site is actively maintained.

There is a commercial outfit behind Tienda that offers paid support, which means that there is access to the team for support. There is a “partner program”, which is not designed as a reseller program per se, but it is on the right track.

I’ve actually had fun digging into Tienda’s code, and doing my Tienda Distro & components.


Bob (closing):

Having traversed the PHP ecommerce world, I’ve come home to Joomla ecommerce, and to Tienda.

Joomla ecommerce occupies a sweet position in the ecommerce pantheon.

This is Bob Bloom, signing off, wishing you a profitable week.

You have been listening to a production. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of SouthLaSalleMEDIA dot com, nor of the organizations represented. Links and materials discussed on air are available in the Show Notes for this show. Information contained herein have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but are not guaranteed. Podcasts are released under a creative commons licence. Some rights are reserved. Email correspondence to the attention of Bob Bloom at info at SouthLaSalleMedia dot com.

Monthly commentary and interviews about websites, technology, and consulting. Produced by Bob Bloom, founder and developer of LaSalle Software.

Produced 57 podcasts from 2010 to 2016.

Currently on hiatus.

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