Archive for September, 2012

Magento Extensions Follow Up

Posted by: Karen Friday, September 28th, 2012

What’s it all about?

A little over 3 weeks ago I posted a blog about Magento extensions, and how I felt that there was not enough regulation around the marketplace, or enough information for merchants, web design agencies to make informed decisions.

A few things happened after:

  1. The community responded. Mainly around twitter, but also in the blog comments, people elsewhere had opinions on this topic. We showed we cared, and we understood
  2. Magento responded. Why? Well only they can answer, and maybe not everyone will believe, but my opinion is that they know there is a need to improve and they appreciate they don’t have all the answers
  3. We had a Google+ Hangout, views were aired, people could get in the room, a few couldn’t

Thanks to everyone who got involved, who emailed, and who showed their concern and their passion for Magento.  I was pretty surprised tbh.

What happened in the hangout?

So what now, what were the conclusions, where can we go from here?

Quite a few things were raised in the Google+ Hangout. The main areas seemed to me to be:

  1. Magento Connect – we can all see that this needs improvement so that merchants have more information
  2. Reviews & Ratings – clearly on Magento Connect its not working. How can we move this forwards?
  3. Training – We need more magento developers, more self-help blogs, more support for companies trying to expand their knowledge & staff
  4. Improving Accountability – How can we identify the bad extensions/companies, but also help these where required so their can improve
  5. Code Reviews – can we ‘socially’ do code reviews?

Where are we now?

A few of the tangibles I’ve seen coming out of this are:

  1. @IvanChepurnyi created a documentation draft on Github for a possible extension code review site
  2. User Voice page being setup for feedback
  3. The hashtag #extnreview has persisted, though it has to be said from quite a small core group of people
  4. My staff have become even more motivated to learn, improve and evolve – thats a great by-product I didn’t expect at all!
  5. Magento are going to discuss, with a sub-section of the community, the changes they are planning/undertaking around Magento Connect and get feedback from us on it

Interestingly this week Magento suspended the Trusted Extensions Program until further notice. Was that pre-planned, I’m not sure.

I spoke with Magento/X.commerce whilst at Quite a few things were discussed, this is not a topic you can open and close in an hour meeting.

I believe from those discussions that Magento understand that they need to provide some boundaries from which the marketplace can hopefully mature responsibly, but I also think rightly they do not wish to constrain it too much. As that is, after all, the beauty of ‘Open Source’ and a community, it needs freedom.

Where do we go from here?

I realise I’m glossing over quite a bit of detail. Why? Because this isn’t about me or my thoughts, it is about us as a community. If its just one voice it’s no voice.

From a purely personal perspective I think we do need a central area we can talk, collaborate, throw ideas, pass information back to Magento, maybe kick start things ourselves where we have shared interest or shared benefits.

Quite possibly this is the User Voice site.

The big question is:


Do you want to join me?

My vow is that I will go on the site within the next week and put down some of the ideas I’ve fed back to Magento (and some that I haven’t). If no-one else decides to join in, then well its just a waste of a few hours, and I’ll continue on my merry way 😉

And my concerns? Well I think we had this as a comment on the blog, we all mean well but we are all busy. We need to make time for this, and maybe sometimes we have delays, work gets in the way, we just want to sleep. But I hope people can see that this is our future. We need to help improve the Magento Eco-System, because it is in all our interests to do so.

Lastly, I think we really need to be careful we don’t create a ‘club’.  I see from my own experiences that there is a need to help developers ranging from those that joined yesterday to those that have been around for 5 years.  We cannot discriminate, we cannot afford arrogance or favouritism.  We all need to ask ourselves whether we can improve, and I think we would all say yes to that.

Some of my beautiful customers

Posted by: Karen Sunday, September 9th, 2012

Today a customer nearly made me cry. I’m not an emotional person, and never has a customer made me feel that way.  Why? Because he gave me advice. Not many people give me advice, so I appreciated it more than he would ever realise.

This led me to think about my customers, and the interesting characters I have met over the years.  Here I give you an insight into some of them.

– There was the guy that wanted me to write a shipping extension which used buses in Africa. Basically the price of the package varied based on the bus stop it was picked up at and the one it got off at.  He didnt take up my offer

– Another chap from an island off Africa (I cant recall its name) who told me he was opening the first e-commerce shop there, and in Magento.  He showed me pictures of his baby

– The chap from Brooklyn I met at Imagine 2011, we were both fed up of networking and talking shop so he told me about his young family and I told him about mine. He later become a customer

– The really annoying woman who pestered me forever and nearly closed my business because she kept stretching my extensions til they would work from here to the moon. I ended up writing her a completely custom one. She became one of my best friends

– The guy from San Diego who was an ‘entrepreneur’ and thought we could do great things together until I gave him the quote

– The many men from Dallas, Houston way who charm me with their drawling voices and great character

– The ‘older’ merchants, I spoke to one last week, a guy who had built his shop ‘offline’ and was now joining the world of e-commerce. He invited me to his house to meet his family and showed me a great restaurant we should visit

– The man on chat who lived with lots of dogs, all alone. He kept coming in for support, I think he liked me

– The woman with the whirlpools, she was scary

– The coffee guy, you know who you are. Interesting, articulate, helpful and honest. Someone I aspire to be like

– The chap who first asked me to fix tablerates, and left me with the problem for the weekend. Then it was solved and Matrixrate was born

– Dave, the guy that kept hasselling me whilst I was in a hut in Yellowstone in 2009 with my family, I ended up writing an extension that I’ve never had to reproduce since, god it was complicated

– The man who said he wouldnt pay $40 for an extension, then proceeded to go on and ask people to build it for less. He came back 6 weeks later

Whoever said working in technology was boring….

Extension Meeting Schedule

Posted by: Karen Wednesday, September 5th, 2012


The goal of this meeting is to get on the table the major concerns around extensions, and get a list of ideas around how we could act as a community to improve this space.

  1. Overview – 5 mins
  2. Major concerns – what’s the problem with extensions today? – 15 mins
  3. Ideas for improvement –15 mins
  4. Wrap up summary and reality check – 10 mins
  5. Plan of actions – 5 mins


I’ve spoken a few people and the consensus seems to be that Skype will fall over with more than a few participants.  So for today’s meeting at 10am PST today let’s use a Google+ Hangout and the twitter channel #extnreview.

You can watch the conversation and join in via Google+ or twitter if you would like to join in. The Hangout will be ‘on Air’ which I’m reliably informed means anyone can watch.

If you have any problems please add me on skype – webshopapps and talk to me there.

Magento Extensions in the Spotlight

Posted by: Karen Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Back in 2010 I spoke to Magento about, amongst other things, how we could get standards around Magento extensions so that merchants and web designers/agencies could make educated decisions on which extensions and companies are good/bad/trustworthy.

Magento staff have moved on, we now have 5000 extensions and the issue remains, in fact I think its got worse.

What are the Problems?

Let’s start by saying there are many many great extensions out there and some great extension companies as well.  If there weren’t Magento would not be as successful as it is today and I wouldn’t have a business as the trust in extns would be lost.

But, based on my experiences with WebShopApps customers, there are issues with quite a few Magento extensions aswell. The most common issues seem to be:

  1. No support and/or documentation
  2. Extension stops being maintained
  3. Support turnaround time is slow (>2 working days per email)
  4. Support packages integral to extension sale (no support without)
  5. Codebase is poor, resulting in many bugs and problems with extension conflicts

Are these issues that are specific to Magento? I very much doubt that, I expect this is a problem with all e-commerce platforms, maybe an even bigger problem as there is less transparency on some. Its certainly an issue you see with the Apple iPhone Apps, so its not unique and it’s hard to solve.

What about Magento Connect?

You could argue reasonably that Magento Connect is the portal for reviewing extensions and companies. After all it has a review capability and extensions are ‘checked’ by Magento staff. But its open to many forms of abuse and fixing. I won’t detail them here as it will maybe encourage more, but let’s just say the figures and reviews aren’t always what they seem.

It’s a well known fact that you have to work 10 times as hard to get someone to leave you a good review as getting a bad review – customers who are happy or of that disposition where they dont complain also often don’t go out of their way to give praise either, they just want to get on with their day-2-day work and who can blame them?

What has Magento Done?

Magento has introduced many initiatives to help improve Magento Extensions. Their efforts include:

  1. Developer Certification
  2. Free training materials for developers to self-learn
  3. Trusted Extensions
  4. Greater checks on Magento Connect applications
  5. Community Managers being involved at grass root level
  6. Industry Partner Programs

But Magento are busy, having eBay around must take up a fair bit of their time nowadays(!) and they are coping with massive growth, it is impossible for them to be all things to all people. Maybe we have a responsibility to assist here?


What Can WebShopApps Do?

Back in August WebShopApps launched the AppShop which has been extremely well received. The aim here is to market the top 50-70 paid extensions, with a focus on companies/developers that have a high level of customer service and good quality supported extensions.

But this doesn’t really go far enough, really what is required is a central place where people can easily get detailed information about extensions and the extension companies.

Can WE Change Things?

So it’s easy to complain, to blame magento, or to blame extension companies. But can WE change things together and improve the situation here?  Can we ‘raise the bar’ and push extension companies to improve their offerings? Can we give objective unbiased information to extension buyers?

I actually think this is possible. The reason I think this is because I think the Magento Community is one of the best tech communities in the world, and I know we really care about this. How do I know – well see the twitter comments from last Saturday – it exploded when this conversation started there.

The vast majority of us want to evolve, we want to improve and we want to make Magento great. This isn’t about self-promotion, or marketing, its about being the best engineer we can, about how we can introduce process and standards to improve the e-commerce space for today and tomorrow.

How do I get Involved?

So how can you help?  Well we need to pool ideas and come up with a plan. Maybe we have an extension review panel, maybe we have an extension provider directory, I’m not sure. It’s not my decision, it needs to be a joint effort for it to truly succeed. I don’t see myself as running the show here, I helped the Magento Meetup London back on it’s feet and now I’m no longer required as an organiser – that’s what I hope will happen here because this isn’t about me or WebShopApps.

I’ve organised a skype meeting for 10AM PST on Wednesday 5th Sept. Contact me via email or twiter to get involved, or simply add me on skype (id is WebShopApps) and send me a message.  I am in the process of getting a Google+ circle together.

If you want to get involved make your voice heard, leave a comment here, tell us your ideas, it sounds corny but I do believe we can make a difference here. Thanks to all on twitter for your contributions so far, its been fantastic and inspiring.

Magento inc – we would love to get your involvement, your support and your ideas. I see this as very much a collaboration, us working with Magento to improve it, I hope that’s understood. If we are doing something that you have on your roadmap and you can see issues then let us know, I’m sure we all have better things to do if thats the case.