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.
* How to upload a finished project from a local install to a live server?
* Definition of Terms
* TROUBLE SHOOTING Guide
STEP BY STEP TUTORIAL
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...