The REAL Requirements, pt. II

The REAL Requirements, pt. II

A few people who try AOM quickly feel out of their depth, and express dissatisfaction with the claim that the program is easy to set up and use.  So last month we discussed the published requirements for using Associate-O-Matic, detailing each item for the benefit of anyone who might have been unsure about them. We also identified the statement that seems to be the cause of all the confusion. This month, let’s continue to look at where the problem seems to lie, and conclude by outlining what else is needed to successfully run the software.

As you may recall from the previous post, we’ve focused on this statement in the requirements as the crucial one:

Absolutely NO programming or database required

Specifically, the claim that no programming is required. What does this mean in detail?

When most people think of “programming”, they think of having to actually deal with computer code. It’s usually a complex process. If you look at the various steps involved in setting up a forum such as phpBB (view here) or vBulletin (view here), you’ll see that both the requirements and the instructions are much more detailed than AOM. A CMS like Joomla is similar (view here). Even WordPress in manual mode requires a few extra steps to set up correctly (view here).

Compared to these systems, the standard install for Associate-O-Matic is a breeze, and really does not require any programming. No database setup, no need to open and edit files before uploading, no config files or directories to remove before use, and so on. Once the files are downloaded and unzipped, all you should need to do is upload the files and folders to your website. Then open the control panel and enter your information. Only if there is a problem are any extra steps usually required.

However, no programming is not the same as no computer skills whatsoever. And this is where so many people run into trouble.

There are large numbers of people who know how to turn on a computer, open a browser, and check their email. They can click on links, view sites and use a search engine. But they are completely ignorant of the most basic processes used by the programs they deal with. In a similar way, someone can drive a car, but be clueless about anything going on under the hood. Even changing a tire is a skill they lack. And while you can navigate a computer or drive a car for years without having to ‘get your hands dirty’, it can put you at a severe disadvantage, whether you’re stuck on a lonely road with a flat, or staring at an error page you don’t understand.

And here’s the ugly truth: even a program as simple as AOM can be difficult for someone with no computer skills whatsoever. I would go as far as to suggest that people with ‘n-c-s-w‘ should not even consider trying to operate any kind of website. Just as every driver should know how to change a flat, or check their brake fluid levels, etc. Otherwise, sooner or later your luck will run out, and you’ll be left stranded by your own ignorance. You don’t have to be a master programmer to deal with life on the web, just as you don’t have to be a master mechanic to drive to the shops. But the more you do know, the better-equipped you’ll be. Dealing with people who wear their lack of knowledge like a badge of pride is always a mystery. Why don’t you learn the basic skills required so you won’t continually frustrate yourself?

Here in no particular order then, are the absolute basic chunks of knowledge you need to know in order to set up and run AOM, as well as 90% of all the other programs available online today:

1. How to use FTP – This stands for File Transmission Protocol, and is a handy way of uploading or downloading files. As you use a browser to view data online, you use an FTP program to move data between your computer and your online webspace. One of the most popular programs is Filezilla (download from here). It and many other FTP programs are free. Being able to upload files and folders is absolutely crucial to installing AOM. So get an FTP program, and learn to use it.

2. Basic knowledge of HTML – Hyper Text Markup Language is still the bedrock of every website. At the simplest level, it’s the rules that govern how text and images are displayed in your browser. In many cases it is used in conjunction (or supplanted entirely) by XHTML and CSS, which are more refined versions. But the core of the Internet is still largely plain simple HTML. Knowing what a < b > tag is, or what < center > does is not critical for using AOM, but it can help you format and visually sculpt your custom text or images. It can be the difference between a site that looks amateurish, and one that looks competent. A nodding familiarity with HTML can also take away some of the fear of the unknown that a lot of users feel when working online. There is a wealth of information online regarding beginning HTML functions and commands.

3. How to Unzip files – Many files are sent around the net in a ‘zipped’ or compressed format. This reduces the overall size, making it faster and easier to download or upload. Many free unzip programs are available, and Windows introduced a built-in unzipper as far back as XP (right-click on the file name on your hard drive, and look for extract or extract all in the menu). A good unzipper will unpack the files and folders into their original directory structure. When unzipping AOM for example, you should end up with two folders, aom and ioncube, as well as several files (admin.php, shop.php, etc.). If instead you see just a long list of files, there’s a problem somewhere.

4. Understanding your Website Control Panel – The webhost you’re paying to host your website (GoDaddy, HostGator, BlueHost, etc.) will have their own control panel, allowing you to manipulate the files on your website in various ways. Cpanel is one of the most common control panel interfaces. GoDaddy has their own version, and other hosts may use things like Plesk, etc. These control panels will have sections such as File Manager, which is where most of the work is done.  Some of the functions most panels will allow you to do here include:

  • upload files
  • rename files
  • change file permission settings
  • open and edit files
  • delete files

These are all simple skills that anyone with a website should know how to do. Every host should have a tutorial or video or support that can assist you if you don’t know how to do these basic operations.

It should be stressed again that this short list of skills is not programming. These are minimum basics that anyone who wants to operate their own website should know how to do. Filezilla is no more complicated than whatever email program you’re using. Understanding HTML is the closest thing to ‘programming’, but knowing how to make text online appear bold or italic is a far cry from writing in Perl (an advanced computer language used to write programs). Nothing on this short list is rocket science, and the gist of it can be understood by most people in a very short span of time.

The standard list of requirements covered in last month’s post are the minimum standards for the online software; AOM must have those in order to function correctly. This month, we’ve looked at the minimum human requirements. These are the things that you need to be able to do in order to operate effectively online. It bears repeating once more that the most important point is this:

‘no programming’ does NOT mean ‘no computer skills’

As someone with no driving skills should not be allowed behind the wheel, someone with no computer skills should not be trying to operate a website. Hopefully the more people understand this crucial difference, the less frustration and disappointment there will be.

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5 thoughts on “The REAL Requirements, pt. II

  1. Great article, with lots of critical information for the basic requirement needed to run or operate any kind of business on the Internet.

    I have been using a computer since 1980 when I purchased my first TRS-80 Radio Shack computer. I have used a computer with complex programs for 24 years on one of my few jobs.

    I have never showed any interest in learning any of the programing, as we had dedicated programmers and tech support in
    the office to take care of those needs as required.

    I retired a few years ago and decided to start an online business to supplement my
    fixed retirement income.

    I slowly discovered that most of the people who write, create videos and create software for the market place, created those tutorials for people who already have a basic knowledge of computer operations, and not for the “Newbies” just getting started.

    I won’t go into the fact that some of the tutorials out there should be banned and criminal charges be laid against those who are selling fraudulent Rinse and Repeat products and information that only benefits the seller, and not the poor soul who forked out hard earned money to purchase such products.

    In my humble opinion, based on the product reviews and comments, and my examination of the system, AOM is a great product with a lot of potential. Because of it’s complexity and constant growth, (which is great) it is difficult to create any one set of manuals or instruction that would meet everyone needs.

    I would suggest a live chat service where customers could speak one on one with a well trained support personnel in order to help with little minor technical details which would get one up and running quickly.

    I dedicated some time this week to look at all the information in the AOM Talk, and I continue to work my way through the setting up of my Amazon Store…

  2. Jim

    I have set up phpBB and many others that you claim are harder to install. All of those were no problem, and since I was able to access the code I was able to fix and resolve any problems right away. (Never with any serious programming involved, maybe just a parameter or setting here or there. Or an indication in the code of something I needed to do on the server.) None of them required anything other than php and mysql be installed, and their use of those things was largely automated. Any of these “harder” packages can be up and running within a few hours at the most. Useful help is almost always found on their forums.

    To install AOM I first had to install ioncube. In the end this was not difficult, but I have been managing the VPS server long enough to be very familiar with it. Most users are likely to have to have somebody install this or to go back and forth with their hosting support to get it installed and working first before moving on to AOM.

    Now that ioncube works, or claims to in its self-test message, AOM still does not work. All I get is a blank screen. A quick look through the forums shows this to be very common. Unfortunately the only help one gets from the forums on this common problem is to open a ticket. Or to add the file that acts as a switch to turn on error displays. Which it does not seem to have done for anyone, including me.

    I cannot do anything to trouble shoot because I cannot access the code. So all I can do is open a ticket for help. From people who do not have access to my server, or direct knowledge of its details without asking about them.
    So we’ll see how this goes and how long any back-and-forth effort takes. I submitted a ticket on a Thursday and it says 48 hours. Which, leaving out the weekend, means (hopefully) Monday. For a first response.

    Do not count on getting this set up and working quickly. Maybe some people are lucky, but for many it is likely to take a week or more. Just to get it working, at which point all the configuration and setup needs to be done. I have installed many packages on my server in the past 15 years and I don’t remember anything else taking more than a few hours.

    I’m not fond of leaving things open ended. When I start to install something I prefer to work on it as much as needed to get running at that time. I’ll search forums, look into code, try different things, etc. It is frustrating to be well into the process here and have no option but to wait.

  3. mcarp555

    You’re making a lot of assumptions that I believe are unwarranted, such as believing the problem is in the AOM code, or that for ‘many it is likely to take a week or more’ to set up. Most users (and I can say that, because I deal with a great number of them almost every day) do not first install ioncube or have someone do it for them. They just install AOM as per the instructions. In many cases (GoDaddy being an exception), ioncube is self-installing, and the process is invisible to the end user. For the great majority of people who use AOM, it’s a matter of downloading, unzipping, uploading, done. Most of the difficult installs are due to either human error or unexpected (i.e., non-standard) server settings.

    So drawing broad conclusions based on a single example may be misleading. In your specific case, it sounds very much like ioncube is not to be found in the standard location. This is commonly found with GoDaddy and a few other hosts. The solution may be as simple as putting a copy of your php.ini file with the correct zend pathway into the /ioncube folder (as well as in the same directory as the shop.php and admin.php files). This is the method used in the post ‘GoDaddy and the blank white screen’ to be found elsewhere on this site.

    I have seen your Support ticket, and I have forwarded it to Justin, the developer of AOM, since he has more experience in dealing with VPS environments than I do. I felt you would be better served getting assistance directly from the top rather than trying to explain it to me, only to have it referred to him in the end.

  4. Jim

    Well, it’s been two weeks since my message above. It still isn’t functioning.

    I had to turn on the php log after finding nothing in the server logs, then we found a message saying it is encoded in ioncube for php5.

    I have php4, I successfully installed the correct ioncube version, and your website indicates either php4 or 5 is required. My guess is that your code would work in php4, and ioncube has a php4 version, but that it has to be unencoded in the same version it is encoded in. At the moment this is still my best guess. But it does seem to be related to a combination of ioncube and php version.

    While your claim that no programming or database background is needed is technically correct this has required a pretty high level of familiarity and access with the server environment. I had to install ioncube (not hard IF you know your way around the server and have su or admin access), I had to turn on php logging and find the log, before that I had to access (and grep) the http access and error logs.

    This is not an insignificant list of things for many people. While I have been able to do all of this it is certainly not any easier than installs that did use databases and programming. And 2+ weeks (so far) is a pretty excessive amount of install time.

    If it turns out to require php5 it’s dead in the water here, and probably for many people. Too many problems with existing scripts will pop up if I do that, keeping php4 and continuing to run everything else as-is with no issues far outweighs any benefit of updating php. Your website indicates this is not necessary though.

    It sounds like maybe its the encoding, maybe you will need to have different downloads for different php versions that are ioncube encoded with the proper version? I guess we will eventually find out, but this has been anything but straightforward and very definitely not suitable for anyone without a fairly high level of computer/server literacy.

  5. mcarp555

    And yet people with almost no computer skills manage to upload and run the program successfully. While it’s true that the website does say that PHP4 is supported, we’ve noticed that this is becoming harder and harder to maintain. Like Windows 98 and IE6, its time has come and gone. I’d be hard-pressed to think of any major web host who offers it as a default option; many probably won’t even allow it anymore as a custom feature.

    If you insist on clinging to PHP4 for the sake of backwards compatibility with existing scripts, then you probably won’t get any farther. And assuming there are “lots of people” who are in the same situation is almost certainly not the case. In fact based upon Support traffic, it’s pretty rare. I’ll see if we can get the requirements changed with the next upgrade to avoid this issue in the future.

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