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January 17, 2011

10 Things Joomla® Techies Don’t Tell You

I learned how to build a web site using Joomla® “open source” content management software like a newborn baby learns about its environment. This article is intended for you if you are at that level. While I mention some software I use here, please do not take this article as an endorsement of them. There are many other choices you can make to build a professional web site, and I have not evaluated them.

This article is to teach you what the techies don’t think to tell you in their “documentation,” such as it is. You obviously know that you have to establish an account with a web host, and you have done that. You have “hosted” a domain name (URL) on your host’s computers, and you have performed the One-Click Install that gets your free copy of Joomla® built behind your domain. You like Joomla because it is “open source,” and has been thoroughly tested. Its large user base means you can get help when you need it.

Here are 10 basic concepts that you might find useful in building your Joomla site:

1. Create a Spare Domain. Create at least two Domains on your host, and host Joomla on both of them. They can be and .org, for example. Just in case you make some big mistake, you can always learn from that mistake, blow Joomla away, and move to the other site quickly. You can then completely remove everything from the first domain, install Joomla again, and have that ready to go in case you make another mistake. If you use only one domain, you might have to start from the beginning, which can slow you down. Joomla is “open source,” great, easy, free, and all of that, but this is the voice of experience speaking.

2. Understand FTP. You must get to understand what FTP (file transfer protocol) software can do for you. I use FileZilla2, but there are many other choices. When you first install Joomla, you must do two things immediately.

You must “navigate to” (means go to) the directories on your hosted server and disable the “installation” directory of Joomla. You can either delete it or change its name using your FTP software. You must rename the file you will find on your “root” directory called “htaccess.txt” to “.htaccess”. It immediately disappears when you do this. I don’t know why, and you probably don’t need to know either. Your Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”) won’t work unless you do this.

3. SEF. In order to avoid those long and ugly URLs you sometimes see, you’ve got to install a plug-in that creates Search Engine Friendly (“SEF”) URLs. You need to do this early in your site development, because any pages created without it may have to be converted to SEF later on. This caused me one serious headache, and was one reason I blew away a Joomla web site I had started.

4. Install Joom!Fish. Joom!Fish is free “open source” software that allows you to offer translations of your site into other languages. Even if you have no plans to offer translations now, you may change your mind later to reach a bigger audience. Some of the plug-ins, modules, components, and templates I mention later will not install their Joom!Fish compatible components if they don’t find Joom!Fish on your site. If you install Joom!Fish later, you might not find the functionality you are expecting in those other pieces of software, and reinstallation could become a colossal compatibility headache, with impact on many other parts of your site. Just do it early. You won’t regret the decision.

5. Install a Control Panel. Joomla has a basic control panel, but there are other free control panels that operate within the Joomla environment with superior functionality. I selected K2 for this purpose, but there are many others. The basic K2 component is free, and it has very many plug-ins, templates and modules available for it. If you do this, though, make sure any other software you install on your Joomla site is K2 compatible. K2 is one of the installations that looks for Joom!Fish upon installation, and does not install its relevant files if it does not find Joom!Fish present.

6. Install a Directory. If you have a site that is going to serve a community of people, you will need a Directory of your participants. You should install this soon. I chose SOBI2, which I like because it allows me to charge for links and multiple category entries, and it sets this functionality up with your PayPal® account very easily.

7. Select a Template. You must very early, before you begin adding content, select a template to create the look and feel of your web site. You need to be careful that it is compatible with your Control Panel software. There are literally thousands of templates available, many of them free, so picking one is like shopping at the mall.

8. Browser. For reasons passing understanding, some web browsing software does not allow downloading binary files, which contain the pieces you need to install in Joomla, without corrupting them. Make sure you are using a browser that does allow binary transfer. I am using FoxPro® for this.

9. Password Control. In order to build a Joomla web site, you will need to create accounts on many other web sites. This means too many user IDs and passwords. A word to the wise is to keep a list of all of these somewhere handy, because you will otherwise find them strewn all over your desk, and hard to reproduce. This is the voice of experience!

10. Forums. Techies rarely provide true documentation (instructions) these days. Get over it! It’s partially because they’re so focused on building the next big thing, and partially because the environment is changing so fast that it’s impossible to create a static set of instructions. Most decent software providers do have a Forum, where you can go for help. You register on their site for free, and then you are permitted to ask questions, or find questions previously answered through word search. If the software you are planning to use has no Forum, be very worried.

Bonus Point: Use reCaptcha.
I personally hate having to read and fill in those squiggly line words that you find when you are trying to comment on a blog or enter an item, but I have learned they are now essential, and they are fortunately free. This will prevent some nasty robots polluting your site with their spam. It is not the only thing needed for security, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

Skip Conover is an International Executive, Author, and Artist. He and his wife are among the first five couples in the world to meet online (1985) and marry. He turned his long time interest in Jungian Archetype into the Archetype in Action Organization, and he developed its web site at