The first version of AOM that I ever used back in September of 2006 was v2.8.2. As this is being written in March of 2013, we are on the cusp of v5.4.0. One of the great strengths of AOM is that it can continually evolve. Indeed, many times its had to, as Amazon makes sometimes radical changes in the API. Changes so severe that versions older than v5 no longer function. Also, many new features have been brought about by direct feedback from users; Custom Pages are a good example of just one.
Change also occurs outside of the program itself. Back in 2006, ‘support’ consisted of Justin replying to queries in the forum on an ad hoc basis, whenever time permitted. Now there is a full ticket system, and this blog to hopefully provide a database of knowledge about AOM. Along with the forum, these form the three pillars that interlock with each other to provide users like you with almost 24 hour access to answers whenever a question crops up.
As the finishing touches on v5.4 are being applied, this seems like a good time to discuss some of the changes, both to the program and to AOM that have and will be happening. When v5.4 is released, we will go over the new features in detail, but for now we’ll touch on one or two small changes you can expect to see, as well as a somewhat radical change in the site itself that will be of great benefit to new users.
One of the areas in v5.4 that have been reworked to some degree have to do with subcategories. While I can’t go into much detail at the moment, one consequence of this will have an immediate affect on one of the least interesting pages of AOM: the Sitemap. This has previously been just a list of categories and custom pages, not too dissimilar from the standard category box you find on the left or right side of many AOM sites. With v5.4, the category list will also include subcategories. And if applicable, several levels of sub-subcategories.
This will obviously have great implications for customers who might wish to browse and then drill down through several levels with a single click. Search engines as well may find it easier to access more pages from your site, with obvious benefit. It might even lead to new template designs that can incorporate dynamic drop-down category menus with subcategory access. At any rate, a relatively humdrum part of AOM now seems poised to emerge as a much-improved feature. Which is probably why it was done in the first place.
Sometimes change doesn’t always mean adding a new feature, or a new wrinkle in an established one. It can also mean removing a feature that might no longer be supported by Amazon (the Auto Parts Finder is one example, for anyone who remembers it). Or excising a feature that isn’t working out. When v5.4 is released, it will remove one such feature: the Image Cloak. While the idea behind it is sound (replacing the Amazon part of image URLs to make them look like they are coming from your site instead), the mechanics of it have proven to be difficult. If images are being hotlinked (used by another site without permission, wasting bandwidth on the site hosting the images), then it can cause a major drain of resources. In extreme cases, this can lead to the host site experiencing uptime issues, even going offline at peak times (there is at least one documented case of this happening to an AOM site). If the image cloak is turned off, the hosting of the images reverts back to Amazon, who are better equipped to deal with it than someone’s Bluehost or HostGator account.
Also, the cloak is a known resource hog all on its own, even without hotlinking. Many AOM sites were receiving complaints from their webhosts about excessive CPU cycle usage. If you’re also dealing with ‘bad-bots’ that are endlessly indexing your store, the added weight of the cloak would easily force sites to go offline for long periods. So in the end, it was decided that image cloaking is more of a burden than a benefit. Many experienced users keep it turned off, and new users may leave it on and not understand why their sites are having trouble. It will therefore be depreciated in v5.4, and no longer available.
As mentioned at the top, one of the more exciting changes is in the site itself, and not a part of v5.4. In fact, this change has already been rolled out, and so far seems to be working exactly as hoped for.
Some users will undoubtedly recall ‘teething issues’ with their first encounter with AOM; many of these revolved around a favourite topic on this site – the aomtrial.license file. This file is required for the Trial version only, and has been available as a separate download from the AOM zip file itself. However, new users would often fail to notice this, and it would result in quite a lot of frustration, a flood of support tickets, and generally not provide a good first experience with using Associate-O-Matic.
But recently, a way has recently been found to bundle it within the Trial version zip file, and to automatically unpack it with PHP. This has been done, tested, and is now currently available. The number of installation questions relating to the aomtrial.license file have dropped to almost zero in the support area (only one question since the new version was rolled out, and it concerned a copy of the Trial version that was downloaded before the aomtrial.license file was bundled in). It’s hoped that this will be one more step towards making the installation process for AOM as seamless as possible for new users. The Trial version was always a bit ‘clunkier’ compared to the Lite and Full versions. Now they are all on equal footing.
So, change can involve many steps; some small, others big. Some forward, others in a different direction altogether. A system that can change can adapt, and create huge potential for constant improvement. AOM changes.