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StackExchange and the Year of the Site Builder

astorm

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This entry is part 30 of 43 in the series Miscellaneous Magento Articles. Earlier posts include Magento Front Controller, Reinstalling Magento Modules, Clearing the Magento Cache, Magento's Class Instantiation Abstraction and Autoload, Magento Development Environment, Logging Magento's Controller Dispatch, Magento Configuration Lint, Slides from Magento Developer's Paradise, Generated Magento Model Code, Magento Knowledge Base, Magento Connect Role Directories, Magento Base Directories, PHP Error Handling and Magento Developer Mode, Magento Compiler Mode, Magento: Standard OOP Still Applies, Magento: Debugging with Varien Object, Generating Google Sitemaps in Magento, IE9 fix for Magento, Magento's Many 404 Pages, Magento Quickies, Commerce Bug in Magento CE 1.6, Welcome to Magento: Pre-Innovate, Magento's Global Variable Design Patterns, Magento 2: Factory Pattern and Class Rewrites, Magento Block Lifecycle Methods, Goodnight and Goodluck, Magento Attribute Migration Generator, Fixing Magento Flat Collections with Chaos, and Pulse Storm Launcher in Magento Connect. Later posts include Scaling Magento at Copious, Incremental Migration Scripts in Magento, A Better Magento 404 Page, Anatomy of the Magento PHP 5.4 Patch, Validating a Magento Connect Extension, Magento Cross Area Sessions, Review of Grokking Magento, Imagine 2014: Magento 1.9 Infinite Theme Fallback, Magento Ultimate Module Creator Review, Magento Imagine 2014: Parent/Child Themes, Early Magento Session Instantiation is Harmful, Using Squid for Local Hostnames on iPads, and Magento, Varnish, and Turpentine.

Happy New Year! With Magento firmly ensconced in the warm embrace of eBay, and the rest of the retail world gearing up for a fight to redefine its relationship with Amazon, 2013 is going to be an interesting year for Magento. For those of us working on a less strategic level, I’m predicting Magento’s fifth year is when our favorite modular MVC system sheds some of the chaos of its past, leaving that awkward (but unavoidable) adolescence behind and entering the world of mature, adult frameworks.

Site Building

Although content management and online-retail are different worlds, I’ve found it useful to compare Magento’s rise as a platform to Drupal’s same journey. Both are open source, both provide an explicit module system for extending the platform, and both use PHP in ways that go beyond many developer’s common understanding of PHP.

So how did Drupal conquer the content management world if it has a hard to understand backend system? While understanding how Drupal hooks and modules work is a worthwhile goal for any programmer, the majority of people who use Drupal fall into the site builder category. These are people who are Drupal power users and know how to use the system well, but don’t necessarily approach every problem from a programmer’s point of view. While early Drupal development focused on the core, in more recent years site building tools emerged, a set of standard modules evolved, and special distributions popped up to give site builders a head start.

Magento’s Missing Link

The Magento community is, sadly, bereft of site builders — although site runner seems a more appropriate term for Magento. Whatever you call them, there aren’t that many people who specialize in using Magento. Until recently, the rapid pace of the Varien/Magento startup company prevented any sort of site development model to emerge and stabilize. Instead, individual programmers and agencies each developed their own model for solving problems with Magento, and then (mostly) kept these models to themselves.

In other words, show me 5 different Magento firms, and I’ll show you 5 different ways of creating a buy one get one free promotion, and a good chance several of the methodologies conflict with one another.

With the pace of Magento core development slowing down, the community seems ripe to embrace and develop common site building methodologies. I don’t see a near future where Magento system owners won’t benefit from the services of an expert Magento programmer/debugger, but I can see a future where the day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month running of a Magento store won’t require that sort of developer.

Which is where StackExchange comes in. StackExchange is the startup that spun off from the creation of the Stack Overflow “knowledge exchange” platform. Stack Overflow started life as a forum for programmers, and StackExchange is where individuals attempt to use the Stack Overflow’s software to form new communities on specific topics.

Ben Marks re-opened the Magento StackExchange proposal, and in less than a week (a holiday week at that) the site went from the proposal stage to the commitment stage. Much like Stack Overflow has been the place where Magento developers congregated to learn how Magento’s programming framework worked, this new StackExchange site has the potential to be where the role of Magento site builder is defined.

If you do any sort of work with Magento, (especially if you’re a StackExchange user with 200+ reputation), please join us and commit to using the new Magento StackExchange site. If 2013 is the year Magento leaves its awkward adolescence, let’s be there to make sure it grows up into the sort of adult we can all be proud of.

Originally published January 3, 2013
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