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Author: Manuel Lemos

Posted on:

This post gives a brief summary of the most important features implemented in the PHPClasses site in 2008.

It also presents several features that are planned to be implemented in 2009 and asks for your feedback about which features you would like to see implemented first.




Contents

- Server migration

- 2008 balance
* PHP job board
* Site design editor
* Slide presentations about packages
* Asking difficult questions to PHP specialists open to the public

- 2009 plans
* Visual theme design editor
* Alternative package browsing options
* Better site navigation with tag clouds
* Forum enhancements
* Less advertising
* Bulk upload support
* PHP Job recruiters

- What new features would you like to see first?


- Server migration

Before moving on to this article post subjects, I would like to warn that the site will be migrating between servers soon. If all goes well the migration will happen by the next weekend.

The downtime is not expected to take more than a few minutes thanks to the use of rsync to update the main site database before and during the actual migration.

Since the migration will imply using a new set of IP addresses, the phpclasses.org DNS records will be updated accordingly.

If you attempt to access the site and the DNS records changes did not propagate to your ISP DNS, you will still access the old server. Therefore you will be redirected to www.phpclasses.org.icontem.com . Previously logged users will have to log in again, as the official domain cookies will not be sent by your browser to the migration domain.

Accesses to the migration domain will be redirected to the official domain a few days after the migration, when the old server is no longer getting accesses from users of ISPs with outdated DNS records.


- 2008 balance

2008 is almost gone, so it is time to make a balance of site activities.

This was a very intense year in terms of new developments in the PHPClasses site. Here follows a summary of the most important enhancements along with an evaluation of the results of their implementation.


* PHP job board

The site finally launched its own job board dedicated to PHP professionals. There was a great demand from companies around the world willing to announce their PHP job openings. So, this job board addresses that demand.

http://www.phpclasses.org/jobs/

This is a complement to PHP professionals directory launched in 2007. This directory allows PHP developers announce their availability to take PHP jobs.

http://www.phpclasses.org/professionals/

When a new job is posted, developers that joined the PHP professionals directory may get e-mail notifications about the job if they are from the same country or if it is a telecommute job (candidates can work remotely).

Announcing job openings in the site is not free, but anybody can try announcing a job for free with some restrictions. Free job postings are announced first to premium subscribers. Other subscribers only have access to the details of the job posting in the last 7 days of the 30 days that the job announcement is available.

Making available both free and paid job postings turned out to be a good idea. Since free job postings take a long time to be available to non-premium subscribers, many users ended up becoming premium subscribers to have full access to the job openings right away.

You may want to check the premium services page for more details about these and other benefits of becoming a premium subscriber.

http://www.phpclasses.org/premium/


* Site design editor

For a long time, many users have requested to redesign the site to improve it somehow. But what kind of design changes the users would like to make?

Even if you hire a professional designer to find out and implement the necessary design changes, chances are that any redesign work will be insufficient.

Since many of the site users are actual professional Web designers, how about letting them propose a new site design and make a contest to let all the users vote on which they think it is the best proposal?

That is the idea if the site design editor that was launched in beta stage in September. This is still a work in progress. The contest has not yet started. For now you may try what is available in the design editor page:

http://www.phpclasses.org/design.html


* Slide presentations about packages

In 2007 the site launched the ability to show tutorial videos about each package published in the site. This is a great feature because it helps developers provide better materials to let their users learn how to use their classes.

Unfortunately, producing tutorial videos is not an easy task. So, only a few authors have published videos about their packages.

It is much easier to produce slide presentations using Powerpoint, OpenOffice, or even any program that generates PDF documents. Therefore, the site now provides a means to also show slide presentations published in SlideShare.net site.

The latest tutorial videos and slide presentations published in the site are listed here:

http://www.phpclasses.org/browse/latest/videos.html


* Asking difficult questions to PHP specialists open to the public

One of the benefits of being a premium subscriber is that there is a forum in this site where you can ask questions about difficult problems that you are facing while you are working in your PHP projects.

It may be for asking questions of something that is getting you stuck and you cannot move on with your project, or you need some ideas on how to implement something difficult in PHP.

http://www.phpclasses.org/discuss/topic/specialists/forum/ge ...

Since the site gives away free life-time subscriptions to winners of the PHP Programming Innovation Award, often you get very intelligent answers from many PHP experts that were nominated to the award. If you need further help, you may even hire some of those experts if they are available to provide paid consulting work.

The idea is great because everybody wins. The developers with difficulties may find great help from PHP experts. Those experts may get further exposure and eventual requests to provide paid consulting work. The site gets more premium subscribers that generate more revenue and foster further development of more great site features.

Initially the idea was taking a while to pick up. The users were not sure if it was worth paying a premium subscription to get help because they do not have access to the past forum threads, and so they could not check the high quality of the help that users get there.

Therefore, the site is now allowing any regular site user to submit one question to the PHP specialists forum for free. This means that if you have been using the site for a while, you can post a difficult question in the forum and get help without having to pay for becoming a premium subscriber.

So far this has been working great because the number of difficult questions that have been put in just the last 3 weeks has surpassed the amount of questions submitted since the premium subscriptions have started in July 2007.

All questions had one or more developer trying to help the person asking for help. The level of the questions and answers is also great, as you may check for yourself.

Opening the PHP specialists forum has been great for the site because more people have bought premium subscriptions just to be able to read the whole threads about the questions posted by other users.


- 2009 plans

Despite of the world economic crisis, the development of new site features will continue as usual. Here are some of the features that are planned and hopefully will be implemented in 2009.


* Visual theme design editor

The idea of allowing the site users to propose new themes is great, but for now it is all experimental.

The work done so far and the feedback provided by some users gives a clear idea that any site design facilities must be easy to understand and powerful in terms of the flexibility they provide to the designers.

The current text based template editor approach seems to not achieve that. The users need to edit a text template and save it to preview the results. Designers want to see and manipulate the elements of their designs right away.

Therefore it is planned to implement a better approach that is based on drag and drop based visual editor that lets the designers move each part of the page templates that can be changed.

For now this is an abstract idea but it will have top priority in 2009. If all goes well the first edition of the site design contest will happen until June 24, which is the date of the site 10th birthday.

If you like to participate with new ideas or provide feedback, feel free to post in a forum specially created to design site issues.

http://www.phpclasses.org/discuss/topic/site/forum/design/


* Alternative package browsing options

The site design themes will allow users to change templates that affect the presentation of the site pages. However, some functionality can be enhanced by changing presentation options that cannot be defined just by altering HTML templates.

One of the things that I have in mind is to change the way package pages are presented. These are one of the most viewed types of pages of the site.

Package pages have many information sections. Some sections have information that is more interesting than others, depending on what you are looking for.

Therefore, instead of presenting the whole page with section after section, I thought it would probably be interesting to show tab bar that the users could click and switch which section they want to see without having to scroll the page.

Alternatively, each section could be presented in panes that would scroll like an accordion when the user clicks on the pane bar with the section title.

Of course, for non-premium subscribers the position of advertising would have to be preserved. The layout changes must also not affect the content that is indexed by search engines. But I think one thing can be done without affecting the other.

Some users may prefer one type of layout different than other users prefer. Maybe there should be an option to let user choose their preferred layout type. Probably it would be better to have a button in each package page to let users switch layout types right there in real time without leaving the page.

What do you think? Would these ideas provide a better user experience? Is this something worth investing some development time? Need to see a preview to have a better idea of what is proposed? Please follow up with a comment on whether you liked or disliked these package page layout alternatives.


* Better site navigation with tag clouds

Another complaint related to the design, is that some times the users have difficulty to find what they want. This is something I have an hard time to understand because I usually get vague explanations without any specific change proposals.

The site default search engine is Google. I mean when you search for something in the site, regular site users are redirected to a co-branded version of Google search pages that appears with the PHPClasses site logo and colors. The rest is the same as the regular Google search pages, as you are actually using Google.

Premium subscribers have a better site search alternative solution. It provides search keywords auto-complete support, restrict search to certain site sections, switch result pages without reloading just by clicking tabs, separation of search results with tabs for each site section, etc.. Here you can see a screenshot and a demonstration video:

http://www.phpclasses.org/premium/screenshots/site-search.ht ...

http://www.phpclasses.org/premium/videos/site-search-demo.ht ...

Premium site search could not be provided for free to all users because the advertising revenue provided by Google is significant and necessary for the site.

So what else could be improved to provide a better site navigation?

Last month while I was at the Microsoft Web Development Summit, several people commented about this issue in small circle of PHP developers that included Jason Ragsdale of the Prado project team and Hans Zaunere of New York PHP users group.

Hans suggested that the site should have things that are more standard relative to what the users expect to find in every site. One of the things that he suggested is to have tag clouds.

The site already assigns tags to each package based on the most searched keywords in the site. This form of tag assignment is called "searchonomy". It is a mixture of the expressions folksonomy and search. Folksonomy is taxonomy done by the "folks", i.e. classification of pages done by the site users. This article explains more about how this works:

http://www.phpclasses.org/blog/post/64-Searchonomy-folksonom ...

The searchonomy approach is great because it is automatic. It is also reasonably immune to malicious users attempting to game the site by assigning inadequate keywords to the pages they want.

However, I admit that automatic tagging may be frustrating for the users that may want to freely tag the pages of the site to help them to remember later the pages they found interesting. So, regular folksonomy based page tagging may be more interesting to them.

What do you think? Is this something that you would use? Where tag clouds should appear to help improving the site navigation? Please follow up with a comment about this too.


* Forum enhancements

The site forums are being used more and more every day. Many users access the forums to ask for support about specific packages or questions for PHP specialists. The forums are also used as the comment system for book reviews and blog posts like this.

Lately some work has been done to improve the forum system but more needs to be done to make it more useful.

One of the things that is planned is to allow users to enter posts using a regular HTML editor input. It would allow users to insert links, images, attach files, etc.. The only reason why this was not yet done is because allowing HTML editing requires extra security measures to prevent cross-site scripting attacks.

The HTML editing support will be done, but first the message forum presentation will be enhanced by adding simple things like link highlighting, embedding videos, presentations and other useful resources.

Other presentation enhancements include message depth indenting and thread tree display, so the users can see who replied to what in long threads.

Another thing that could improve forums is to have a sort of rating and ranking of messages and the users that post them. It would be a great thing to have, especially in the PHP specialist forums.

It would help users to find which messages were found more relevant by other users, as well to have top charts to provide recognition to users that had better participation.


* Less advertising

Another thing that could improve the site usability is to gradually remove at least some of the site advertising.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to remove all the advertising. It generates significant revenue that is necessary to keep the site viable. However, as the number of premium subscribers grow, I am considering to remove first the most annoying types of advertising like pop-under and interstitial.

Nobody likes advertising. Hopefully some day the site will not need to place any advertising at all. While that day does not arrive, at least some advertising will be removed to avoid displeasing users that are more sensitive to advertising.


* Bulk upload support

A thing that many authors have asked is to be able to upload many package files at once. Since the site needs the authors to enter the file descriptions, just uploading .zip or other format of compressed archive is not quite viable.

An alternative solution would be to allow synchronizing files from remote CVS, SVN or GIT repositories. Since these repositories already contain the file descriptions, part of the problem would be solved.

This is not a trivial feature to implement, but it would be certainly something that many authors would appreciate, as it would save a lot of time uploading or updating package files.


* PHP Job recruiters

The PHP job board was a great site feature implemented this year. However there are things that could be done to make it more efficient.

One thing that I noticed is that some companies present their job proposals in a way that is either not very compelling or it does not pass a very good image of the company that is offering a job. This is not good, especially if the company wants to attract very skilled professionals. The way a job offer is presented may turn away such professionals.

In some cases it would be better to resort to the services of job recruiters, also known as head hunters. These are experienced professionals that know how to write compelling job offers. They know how to persuade skilled developers that are hard to hire, either because they already have good jobs or because they have high standards regarding the type of jobs they accept.

One thing that I am considering to implement in the future is a directory to list job recruiters that have experience in hiring PHP professionals.

If you are a job recruiter and you are interested in this idea, please use the contact link at the bottom of the site pages, so we can exchange ideas about how such PHP job recruiters directory could work.


- What new features would you like to see first?

Well these are some of the features that I would like to implement in the future. It is not certain whether all could be implemented in 2009, so it would be great to get some feedback regarding which features do you consider more important and should be implemented first.

Many of the best ideas implemented in the site were suggested by the users. If you would like to make comments regarding the features presented in this post, or you have other ideas that you think it would be great to have in the site, please follow up with your comments.

If I do not write back sooner, have a Merry Xmas and an Happy New Year 2009.

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Comments:

8. Vote for Bulk Upload - sinasalek (2009-04-05 18:07)
Vote for Bulk Upload to ease adding updating classes... - 0 replies
Read the whole comment and replies

7. Problem in Data Updation - Prashant Mehta (2009-01-29 18:23)
Problem in Data Updation... - 1 reply
Read the whole comment and replies

6. Bulk upload support - FergoFrog (2009-01-29 08:08)
Bulk upload support... - 1 reply
Read the whole comment and replies

4. New look / design - Josť Filipe Lopes Santos (2009-01-08 14:04)
New look / design... - 2 replies
Read the whole comment and replies

5. Suggestion: working examples of classes - John-Marc Ventimiglia (2009-01-08 00:34)
Provide a working demo online for classes... - 1 reply
Read the whole comment and replies

3. Site/Theme editor... - Marco Rodrigues (2008-12-24 16:56)
A new Look..... - 0 replies
Read the whole comment and replies

2. Really great - Md. Mahmud Ahsan (2008-12-24 05:35)
Really great.... - 1 reply
Read the whole comment and replies

1. Great job - Bruno Belotti (2008-12-23 19:29)
Just thank... - 1 reply
Read the whole comment and replies


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