If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times – “It’s too difficult”, “It’s not for me”, “I’m not technical”, “I can’t understand the instructions”. And so on. At one time I found comments like these puzzling, since AOM is not that difficult to install. The instructions can be boiled down to a few simple steps – download it, unzip it, upload it, plug it in. Boom, done. And yet many potential users still struggle with it. Even rewriting the install guide on this site to provide an alternate method of outlining the steps involved has resulted in a few comments from people who just don’t get it.
After much thought, I’ve finally come round to realize that it’s not really the instructions; it’s the requirements that are causing difficulty. More specifically, it’s the interpretation of the requirements. In much the same way that some people confuse hypothesis and theory (everybody believes in the Theory of Gravity, but the Theory of Evolution still gives others the fits), many are reading the requirements and interpreting it differently. This is a subject so large, that it will take two posts to cover thoroughly. In this first part, we’ll discuss the requirements as stated, and outline what they mean. In Part II next month, we’ll look at what potential users are reading into the requirements, and what they really need to know.
The Associate-O-Matic requirements are stated as follows:
- Amazon Associate ID
- Amazon Access IDs
- Domain Name
- Web Host (Linux/Windows, Apache, PHP4/5, etc.)
And then below that: Absolutely NO programming or database required
On the surface, very simple and straightforward. However, there’s a stinger in the tail. Let’s briefly discuss each individual requirement before delving into the problem at the heart of this short list. To begin with:
Amazon Associate ID – This should be simple enough. You sign up to Amazon as an affiliate, and they assign you an ID, usually based on the website name you provide. It comes with an ending along the lines of ‘-20’ or ‘-21’ depending on which country you apply from (like ‘yoursite-20’). But I’ve seen URLs, site names, email addresses, etc. entered in place of the correct ID. And of course, Amazon will not be able to credit you properly with any sales if you are missing this vital piece of information. And yes, spelling counts.
Amazon Access IDs – These are the Public and Private AWS keys. I do agree that Amazon makes this difficult, with a veritable labyrinth to travel through on their website to reach the keys (hint: if you’re asked to pay anything, you’ve wandered off the path). This site (AOM Talk) has a separate posting and a video, both called The Secret Key of Amazon to help guide you through the maze. Once you have the keys make sure they’re entered correctly. The most common error here is mistakenly adding a space at the end. Do not attempt to make up your own keys. They must work with your Associate ID to verify your account, otherwise you’ll see an error on your AOM site and no products will appear.
Domain Name – This should be pretty self-evident. You’ll need a website to set your AOM store onto, and for that you’ll need a domain name. There are plenty of registrars online; GoDaddy is probably the most popular. They can guide you through the process of getting a name registered and pointed to your site. Note that you don’t need to get your webhosting from the same place you get your domain name from.
Web Host – This is the place you purchase webspace from. They own the physical servers that your site is stored on, and connect it to the Internet. There are hundreds to choose from, with a wide range of pricing plans. It’s recommended you stay away from ‘free’ hosts, as they may not have the features you’ll need to make your site operate correctly. Often they will also put up ads on your site that you do not have any control over. Once you have a web host and a domain name, you can upload the AOM files to the host server and begin setting up your store.
The host details that you need to know are as follows:
Linux/Unix/Windows: This refers to the operating system on the host server, not your home computer. Linux & Unix are more or less the same thing with regards to AOM. The software will work on all three systems, but if you have a choice, stick with Linux over Windows. The mod_rewrite feature of AOM only works with Linux. If you use GoDaddy for a web host, you have to pick Linux, as they don’t allow you to use ioncube (required for AOM) with Windows. So generally speaking, go with Linux.
Apache: This is the server architecture. If you consider your home computer as hardware running an O/S (Windows, Mac, etc.) and a browser within that (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, etc.), then this is very similar – A server running Linux or Windows, with Apache as the program that actually interfaces with the Internet. Almost every host today runs Apache, or something compatible. So much so that you almost don’t have to worry about this; it should be a given.
PHP: It’s a computer language, much like BASIC or FORTRAN or COBAL from the old days (pre-Internet). PHP4 is largely obsolete now. The current versions of AOM will run with PHP4, but it’s extremely buggy, and best avoided. As with Apache, almost every web host that offers PHP will be using PHP5.
So far, so good. These requirements should be either obvious in the case of Amazon, or commonly found with the majority of web hosts available. But with that out of the way, we can at last turn our attention to the real crux of the matter:
Absolutely NO programming or database required
This single line has generated more confusion than any other aspect of Associate-O-Matic. And why? It seems straightforward – AOM does not require programming or a database. A database makes some sites (like a blog or forum) run very smoothly. But they can be tricky to set up and may generate quite a bit of fear from people who have little computer experience. Since AOM does not use databases, the whole experience of setting one up is completely avoided.
But what about ‘programming’? What does this really mean? We’ll cover that, and what’s actually required to set up AOM, in Part II next month.