Since the beginning of Associate-O-Matic back in the mid 1970’s (at least in Internet years), one of the more unusual aspects have been the examples of how easy it is to create a storefront. Most, if not all of these demonstration stores were put together in just a few minutes (minus the header images, which have obviously taken a little longer), and were originally meant only as simplified samples of what could be done. By no means were they meant to be definitive archetypes; more like quick ‘n dirty visions of what could be achieved with just the minimum amount of effort. Since then, however, the demo stores have taken on a life of their own.
Despite their humble origins, the demo stores have been seized upon by many AOM users as what their own sites could look like. This is mainly due to the header graphics, since the rest of any given demo has almost always been just the stock AOM ‘look’, with no fancy HTML or added graphics, etc. Even today you can probably still find sites on the web that use the header images ‘borrowed’ from these various demos.
In order to satisfy the many requests from such users, the saved settings file (cfg.saved.php) was made available for download for all the demo sites. This could be inserted into a store, which would then mirror the demo site it was from, at least in terms of categories and colors. However, there were two major problems with this approach. First, in these pre-v5 days, AOM was structured on HTML tables, not CSS. This meant that ‘true’ templating was not possible. Since the cfg.saved.php file contained only the settings for the admin control panel, it could not include any graphics within itself. So the header image was not included. You could always download the graphic on your own and use it for your site, but then (as now), many users resisted any attempts to learn how to do even this most basic of web skills.
The second problem was much more serious. When you replace an existing cfg.saved.php file with another, the ‘new’ file overwrites any previously existing settings. What this meant was that users were in fact wiping out everything they had done before installing the new settings. Not only the colors and categories, but the Amazon associate ID, the site name, any previous customization such as custom boxes and pages, and eventually the ‘public’ AWS key when this feature was introduced by Amazon. There were reports of people spending hours or days setting up their sites, then trying to apply the settings from a demo store, only to lose all their work (remember, this was in the days before AOM did automatic backups of the cfg.saved.php file. If you didn’t make your own backups, you didn’t have any).
Then in 2011, v5 was released, which introduced true templating. You could now create or purchase a template theme that would use your existing categories and other settings, replacing only the graphic elements of a site. It sparked a revolution in AOM site design, with layouts that are so much more than just a fancy header image on top of the same old rigid layout.
However, for various reasons (mainly due to time constraints, among other things), the demos have continued to languish. Despite the fact that most of them were upgraded to v5.x settings, they continued to function as they always have, as pre-template examples of what a site could look like with just a few minutes of work, embellished with a fancy graphic. Which is in truth, all they were ever meant to be. But in a post-v5 world, it was noted that they were no longer viewed as good examples of AOM, even at its most basic level. Since templates were introduced, users have continued to download the demo files, trying to install them as typical themes, which of course, won’t work.
At long last, this problem is being addressed. Sometime this month (July, 2013), perhaps even before this article is published, all the current demos will have been remade as true template themes, and will be available as FREE DOWNLOADS. Users will be able to install the demo(s) of their choice, with color scheme and header graphic included. It is hoped that this will also deal with the large number of requests for additional free themes besides the standard default template that comes with the software. Rather than increase the size of the AOM download, anyone can simply go to the demo page and access any of the available styles they wish.
Note that the demos have not been changed or ‘smartened up’ from how they have always looked. They are still representations of basic store design. You can tinker with them however you like. Some of the header graphics have fake menu buttons on them, for example. These are still not functional, but exist only to illustrate how menu buttons could be utilized as part of an advanced design.
The README file enclosed with every one (viewable from the Themes tab of your AOM control panel once the demo theme is installed and selected, or you can view the README.txt file directly) contains important information about the demo. This includes:
- To use the default header, the Logo and Text Logo boxes found under the Images tab of your AOM control panel must be empty. If not, the default header graphic will not be displayed.
- If you want to replace your saved settings with the demo settings (categories, etc.), the cfg.saved.php file for the demo is included with the template files. Simply move the file from the /aom/themes/(name of demo) folder to the /aom folder. However, if you do this, it will ERASE YOUR CURRENT SETTINGS. If you do not make a backup of your cfg.saved.php file before doing this, the original settings may not be recoverable. If you don’t want to lose your current settings, DO NOT MOVE THIS FILE. If you replace your settings with the demo, you will need to re-enter some information, such as your Amazon associate ID, the ‘public’ AWS key, and Site Name, among others. Failure to do so could result in your site not being operational, or your Amazon associate account not being properly credited with commissions.
In addition, all the demos have been upgraded to the current version (v5.4.1).
So it’s been a long strange trip for the demo sites, but now they are newly restored and more relevant than ever. No longer quaint but essentially useless relics of a bygone age of AOM‘s history, they are once again vital examples of what can be done with Associate-O-Matic.