As this post is being written, we are only a few weeks away from finally unveiling the long-awaited Version 5 of Associate-O-Matic. Full-scale Beta testing is scheduled to begin on April 30th; the date for the final release will be a few weeks later, depending on how many fixes are required in the Beta. It will be a revolutionary upgrade of the software, ushering in a new era because of the ability to use templates. Users will have the ability to obtain a theme and simply upload it to their stores. Designers will be unchained from the current table structure and free to work almost completely in CSS. Premade templates will be tweakable to various degrees, so they can be adjusted from the current control panel, or simply used as is.
However, as exciting this is, v5 will also include many other new features which will probably be overlooked by the inclusion of the templating system. As this will be the first glimpse of v5 for most AOM users, I would like to focus on these other upgrades and additions, before they are lost in the glare of what’s to come. Even without templates, there’s some pretty impressive stuff in the pipeline. But bear in mind that until the final release, everything mentioned below is subject to change.
Cache: Some users who create custom header and/or footer files incorporate external feeds or data that may change with every page load. But because AOM caches pages to reduce the number of calls to Amazon’s servers, this data was not always getting updated when required. The Cache tab now includes two options that exclude the footer and header (separately) from caching, so they will not be tied into refreshing only when the cache is.
Categories: It has been noted by many users that the category results in their AOM stores often do not match Amazon’s results for the same items or keywords. Changing the default sort method has involved editing the cfg.default.php file, but this is overwritten everytime the store is upgraded. Many users are not comfortable poking around in the system files, especially for possibly one category. In v5, you will have the ability to change the default sort method by category from the control panel:
Obviously this will have a huge impact on category results. It would also appear that Relevance is finally available, which should greatly assist users who want their sites to more closely mirror Amazon’s own results.
Errors: With the imposition of Amazon’s usage restrictions, sites that go over their limit display a message such as Account limit of 2175 requests per hour exceeded. You will now be able to create a custom message that will display instead. You can let potential customers know to check back later, or offer other information that may not be as stark as the current default text. HTML is allowed, so you can use an image as well, such as:
Images: You will now have the option of using an Image Cloak to hide any Amazon reference to images in your store. They will display as http://www.yoursite.com/aom/img.php?i=51zlBGGea0L._SL160_.jpg instead of http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51zlBGGea0L._SL160_.jpg. Note however that this can slow down your page loading time.
Shopping Cart: Currently when an item is added to the shopping cart, the viewer is taken to the View Cart page. This will now be an option. Instead, the viewer can see a popup to let them know an item has been added to the cart. This way if they are browsing a category they can continue to shop uninterrupted. Below is an example of how it will appear:
In addition, you will have the option of whether or not checkout to Amazon takes place in a new browser window. And you can now select the colors used in the odd/even lines of the shopping cart.
Search: At the moment with v4.5, Search Within Results is an option that creates an additional link on the search bar, much like Advanced Search. With v5, this option will be incorporated into the search box itself. So if a user clicks on a subcategory, such as Mystery & Thrillers in Books, the search box will default to that subcategory. The user can then search just that subcategory:
The basic function is the same as it was previously, but by incorporating it into the search box, it becomes much more intuitive to use, hopefully resulting in more focused searching and better results.
As you can see, even without the templating options, v5 is chock-a-bloc with some pretty impressive new features. Plus a few small changes such as being able to control the padding in the center body seciton, a what’s new link on the top of the control panel, and the usual bug fixes, etc.
Finally, a brief word about upgrading: many users may be concerned about how upgrading to v5 will affect their existing stores, since it will replace almost all the tables with CSS. For the vast majority of Associate-O-Matic users, it does not appear that moving up to this version will seriously impact their sites. A lot of people may not even notice the difference. Sites that are already highly customized might be affected the most, since they may use CSS calls that could no longer be available. There will be much discussion in the months to come about v5, both on this site and the AOM forum. Any problems with formatting may be difficult for a few at first, but I believe such difficulties will be short-lived. I also think the long-term benefits will far outweigh any temporary inconvenience while the inevitable teething problems are sorted out. As always, make sure to have a backup copy of your cfg.saved.php file tucked away on your computer, just in case.
Get ready. Here it comes.