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  • I have been "playing" with MODx for a few days now and here are a few observations so far.

    Quick Background: I am a photographer professionally but I am now also designing websites. I am into Web Standards and can build appealing sites using valid (STRICT) XHTML and CSS. So far all my sites have been static pages except for one Wordpress install. I wanted to learn how to build dynamic sites and thus set up a local testing environment on my Mac. I downloaded Joomla, Drupal, CMSMadeSimple and then MODx.

    Right from the beginning MODx appealed to me as it seemed like a platform that would allow you to make your own HTML and CSS creation and then add the dynamic CMS functionality to it. Systems like Drupal looked like they had a much tighter structure: in order to create a custom look meant designing your own "theme" or backwards engineering someone else’s work. MODx also looked like it would be easier to take existing static designs and convert them to a CMS system.

    Tools I bring to the table are: design & layout skills, Photoshop, typography, XHTML, CSS, validation & browser issue awareness etc.

    Tools severely lacking: CMS experience, PHP and MySQL. I have zero PHP knowledge.

    Getting into MODx:

    The site overview made the system seem appealing. Installing MODx was very easy, in fact it seemed the simplest and quickest of all the CMS systems I installed. Great! But once installed the bubbles began to leave the champagne...

    Overall my experience has been rewarding and frustrating, or rather there have been periods of thunderous frustration and then a reward. This cycle continues to repeat itself. There seems (to me at least) to be a wide chasm between the installation and obtaining a firm grasp of how it all works. Finding good descriptions of how new users should proceed requires patience and detective work. Getting resources installed and functioning has been a major challenge.

    The good news is that there is an active Forum. The Forum is split into various topics and there is a search function. Using the search takes time. Entering "install problem" queries yields threads on complicated code issues etc.

    The online documentation lists all the features of MODx and explains the Editor pretty well. What is lacking is a well written guide that would explain to new users how to approach MODx from the install onwards. What’s all that stuff in the MODx folder? Where does your HTML files go? Were do you put your CSS? How do you plan and implement the dynamic content? There are answers to some of these questions. Some are in the Wiki and some are in a downloadable PDF file(a year old though). Some of the specific instructions are very brief. I had a huge hassle installing MaxiGalley into MODx running on MAMP. Reading some of the instructions was like trying to decipher a coded puzzle.

    Folks on the Forum were very helpful. Susan took the trouble to install MaxiGallery on her local MAMP install and noted the steps involved. These I followed and it worked in seconds. She did a far better explanation of explaining where the folders went etc.

    I then moved on to installing eFORM but I can’t get that to work either. I have struggled with browser issues with MaxiGallery and styling the text for Weblogin etc.

    Reading the Forums I came across this great quote: "The documentation is a tad bit geared towards more advanced users, but if you poke around it enough and "wrap" the stuff around your head, it becomes a lot easier..."

    To me this sums up the whole experience of getting comfortable with MODx: you have to struggle, dig, dig and learn to live with the frustration. I am sure there is a nice flat plateau to rest on once it all makes sense.

    All computer systems present hurdles and frustration for "newbies". How experienced users handle bruised "newbies" is a critical factor. I understand that its a lot more rewarding for experienced users to chat about deeper and more challenging topics than it is to handle endless "I can’t get this to work" pleas from frustrated new users.

    This is why a new Beginners Guide would make sense: these new user "crises" questions would not have to fielded as often...

    I know there is content there already, but how about a new guide focused on the absolute beginner that covers:

    * Install locally vs install on a server?
    * Install terms: what’s a "root", what’s an "archive?" etc.
    * Any install issues or gotchas for Mac users? Unix users?
    * You have MODx installed: now what?
    * What’s in the MODx folder? What can I edit and what should I leave alone?
    * Setting up/ planning your site’s page hierarchy.
    * Where do your files/pages go?
    * Where does your CSS go?
    * How do you link your CSS to the pages?
    * Static content vs dynamic content?
    * Previewing your pages?
    * Careful explanation of how to create your first Template.
    * Easy to understand differences between Templates, Variable Templates, Chunks and Snippets.
    * When to use a Snippet and when to use Chunks?
    * What is a snippet Call?
    * How do you write a Snippet Call?
    * Where do I find Snippet Calls?
    * Better, slower, more in-depth Snippet installation instructions.
    * Using the new snippet for the first time.
    * Cache: what is it? When to turn it on and when to turn it off? Snippet cache?
    * Testing dynamic content
    * How do you adjust the styling of your installed Snippets?
    * Where is the CSS for the Snippets?
    * Browser issues? How to trouble shoot them?
    * How do you best back up your work or Snippets etc?
    * Adding users, accounts, forms and email etc.
    * Blogging?
    * Groups?
    * eCommerce?
    * How to upload a finished project from a local install to a live server?
    * FAQ’s
    * Definition of Terms


    A great TUTORIAL would cover most of these steps: creating a "project" for the most common type of dynamic website. The tutorial would build a full featured example site from scratch: well worded set that covers step by step instructions on installing MODx, setting up a site hierarchy, establishing Templates, Snippets, Chunks, adding HTML, adding CSS to build a starting HOME page. Written in straight forward ENGLISH. Often tutorials assume users know programming or the special terms involved. Then move on to step by step instructions for adding new pages while introducing Template Variables. Pictures illustrating the steps along the way would be great. Then introduce some added Snippets; for instance downloading, installing, and using MaxiGallery and eForm (all demonstrating actual samples). Then include procedures on backing up your work. Then show how to use the Editor and upload text, files and images. Maybe walk through all the steps involved in creating eCommerce and Forms etc, etc, etc. <Obviously a MODx tutorial is not the place to teach XHTML and CSS.>

    I see a TROUBLE SHOOTING Guide as a big plus. Maybe list common errors, error codes, Snippet call mistakes, caching problems, browser issues, operating system differences etc and what to do about them.

    I know this would be a big undertaking. But having this kind of "blank page to finished novel" guide would go a long way of gaining traction for MODx and eliminate much of the "how do I get this to work" frustration that new users go through when installing MODx. Overall I find some of the documentation is useful. But some of it is very inconsistant when viewed from a new user point of view. This is true of many computer system instructions: some instructions are very detailed and others zip through critical steps: like having detailed instructions on how to open your vehicle’s hood and prop it up but then saying "once the hood has been opened and secured you then change the engine..."

    If I ever get comfortable with the system and have a few MODx sites under my belt I would gladly participate in writing such a guide...


    • I totally agree with you Photowebmax, but the honest truth is that MODx is not targeted at newbie at the moment. As you rightfully observed, MODx was created to let folks create a CMS around their content, not the other way around. While that might not apply as much today, we still think it does a very admirable job in this respect. Even though we’re not targeting inexperienced new users, we welcome them with open arms but ask that they have patience, dig in and learn stuff.

      There’s a tremendous amount of work going on behind the scenes to shed a lot of baggage and cruft we inherited when starting this project. Accomplishing that will make documenting and developing MODx better, more scalable and more consistent. You should see some core recommedations and best practices emerge and a clear distinction about what the "core" really is and what all the "add ons" are.

      Once the new core is in place making MODx "behave right" and documenting "normal stuff" will be a priority, but I don’t see that happening until the end of next year at the earliest. Given that though we sure welcome anyone’s contribution in writing documentation like you mentioned. The core team’s priorities lie pretty much in putting food on the table first, working on the next code base, then fixing/documenting the existing legacy code.

      For now MODx is probably best for folks that click with it, for those determined to use it and for developers and web professionals doing this stuff for a living.
        Ryan Thrash, MODX Co-Founder
        Follow me on Twitter at @rthrash or catch my occasional unofficial thoughts at thrash.me
      • Ryan,

        Thanks for that.

        I really like what I see, so please don’t think I am one of those who want it all, want it perfect and want it free...

        I began my "hmmm, how do I build a website" odyssey some years ago. I fiddled with Frames, Tables, Dreamweaver, borrowed javascript etc and never got anywhere until I discovered Modern Web Standards design practices and CSS. Separating the presentation from the content and making all the code as clean and lean as possible just "clicked" with me. This was a huge revelation for me, so much so that I am now designing sites professionally.

        Searching for a CMS system has been a similar odyssey: stumbling around and trying different systems. I felt like I did not get anywhere until I stumbled (by accident) onto MODx. At its core I see its main attraction as being a CMS solution for folks who know XHTML & CSS design but want to expand from static brochure sites to interactive dynamic sites. Sort of like starting with the skeleton rather than the skin like most CMS systems do.

        So, in my case I am not a newby when it comes to building sites, but I am having a tough time getting to where I want to be with MODx. For instance getting a photo gallery to work on my Mac seemed so hard. My wife, tired of my frustration, burst out laughing when I told her that a grandmother in Israel (Susan) had to "hold my hand" and walk me through the steps to getting it working. Am I this stupid or is the roadmap a little vague?

        I totally get the "food on the table" concept when it comes to moving this project forward. Still, when the time comes it may be beneficial to have some additional input from a writer rather than just the programmers when producing the documentation.

        I plan on sticking around: chipping away at it, learning, failing, succeeding, etc. Who knows, maybe down the road I could contribute something along these lines?



        My main site is at: http://balmainphotography.com/
        • Quote from: Photowebmax at Dec 21, 2007, 09:40 PM

          Still, when the time comes it may be beneficial to have some additional input from a writer rather than just the programmers when producing the documentation.
          Anyone who’s ever read my descriptions of things can attest to that...
          • Thanks again Max. I appreciate everything you say for sure! We’ve avoided to date what I dubbed the "YAPS" syndrome: Yet Another Portal System, focusing instead on the underlying guts that enable YAPS to be YAPS. Along the way we’ve collected a lot of great tools but we’re nowhere near to projects like Drupal or Joomla when it comes to volume of plug and play add ons.

            After the release of the next code base, we plan on releasing specific editions of MODx, and we have a few surprises that may belie our firm anti-YAPS stance to date. wink
              Ryan Thrash, MODX Co-Founder
              Follow me on Twitter at @rthrash or catch my occasional unofficial thoughts at thrash.me
            • Photowebmax,

              I sent you a personal message a while ago with a link to a MODx help site I’m working on. I’m guessing you didn’t get it.

              The site is very much under construction, but it has a few of the answers you were looking for, including a "Getting Started with MODx" section and some explanation of MODx terminology and how MODx works. I like to think it’s in plain English but you may not agree. wink

              If you’d like to see it, click on the "my messages" link in the menu above.

              I also wanted to thank you for the excellent list of topics that newbies might need help with. It’s really refreshing to see a complaint about the MODx documentation that includes so much well-thought-out information about what a solution would look like.

                Did I help you? Buy me a beer
                Get my Book: MODX:The Official Guide
                MODX info for everyone: http://bobsguides.com/modx.html
                My MODX Extras
                Bob's Guides is now hosted at A2 MODX Hosting
              • max,

                i know exactly how you feel. a year or so ago i needed a website that wouldnt work on yaps. i spent about a month reading every article and documentation i could (what the heck is a TV? =). but it does catch on, and for me, the results have been phenomenal. i’ve learned better php, better css, and i can create the websites me and my clients want (instead of what the yaps system decides i need).

                so.... if you’ve kept any log of your stumblings, it’d be great to post those on the wiki. such as i had this trouble with maxigallery. i was doing these few things wrong. this is how i fixed it.

                  Chuck the Trukk
                  ProWebscape.com :: Nashville-WebDesign.com
                  - - - - - - - -
                  What are TV's? Here's some info below.
                • Hey Bob,

                  Thanks for that link. It was a helpful read.

                  I have to realize I need to be patient with all this. My own personal experience with learning is that sometimes the not knowing/understanding aspect gets in the way of actual learning. Its kind of like studying calculus in college; thinking I would never get it and then pow! All of a sudden it all began to make sense.

                  So far I have avoided javascript, languages, and programs like Dreamweaver. The sites (and their designers) I have admired the most are the ones that are super clean with minimal XHTML and CSS. But entering the dynamic world is a must for me now. Although there are times when I feel like "tossing all my toys out of the cot" I am still glad I found MODx. After downloading and experimenting with several CMS systems its now time to stay with one horse...

                  Drupal seemed very attractive at first: powerful, popular, with many add on modules. But some of the reading I did pointed to how "heavy" Drupal has become: there is just too much material to wade through. There are a zillion modules and picking through them is a challenge all on its own. CMSMadeSimple looked like a good (less bloat) alternative, but developing a custom theme (design) seemed clunky.

                  Creating CSS I can do. This area is why MODx caught my eye in the first place...

                  • Quote from: Photowebmax at Dec 22, 2007, 01:49 AM

                    Hey Bob,

                    I have to realize I need to be patient with all this. My own personal experience with learning is that sometimes the not knowing/understanding aspect gets in the way of actual learning. Its kind of like studying calculus in college; thinking I would never get it and then pow! All of a sudden it all began to make sense.

                    That’s MODx all right. It does seem like reading Old English at first. I too considered Drupal but, besides the bloat, I found its terminology unnecessarily arcane and it seemed that so many of the Drupal sites looked like, well, Drupal sites.

                    I’m starting work on a beginner’s FAQ for MODx based on your list of questions so, thanks again for the input.

                    Welcome to MODx.

                      Did I help you? Buy me a beer
                      Get my Book: MODX:The Official Guide
                      MODX info for everyone: http://bobsguides.com/modx.html
                      My MODX Extras
                      Bob's Guides is now hosted at A2 MODX Hosting
                    • Cool!

                      Let me know if you need any help. I can read through your lists etc. It might be advantageous to have someone read it through the eyes of green newby (like myself...)

                      I recently signed on as an independent contractor for a tech services firm: building brochure sites for their clients. One of the things I am working on is creating a FAQ & Questionnaire White Page that will help clients pinpoint and list their requirements/preferences for what they want from their websites. Helping folks identify these areas goes a long way to creating the building blocks required for getting the sites completed efficiently.