Technology

Joomla! part 2: 'Excellent extensions

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Last Week On The Internet, I talked about an exciting new Content Management System that allows users to easily create very functional communities using freely-available open source software. By itself, a Joomla! installation is often lacking in some of the functionality expected of a modern website. This is made up through a gamut of free, community-driven extensions that provide an enormous wealth of functionality and are installable with a few clicks.

The Joomla! Extension Directory (extensions.joomla.org) contains over 4,000 extensions and of these, most are for the older version of Joomla! and likely not compatible with your installation. Of the more modern extensions running on the new Joomla! 1.5 framework, many are proprietary (Read, you have to pay money for them) and even more are poorly coded. Some are just at a very early stage in development and need some dedicated community members to smooth out the wrinkles. Generally, however, at least one person has released a high-quality open source extension to cover any kind of functionality imaginable, but often it can take some effort to find the best piece of code. Below, I will go through some of the more interesting and useful modules I've come across in my development with Joomla!. Note that most require you to create an account on the publisher's website; if you can't find the download link, try registering.

Community Builder (joomlapolis.com)-- Those wanting to give their group website the important touches that will keep users coming back need to install Community Builder. The component allows registered users to upload a profile picture, add personal information, connect with other users and more, essentially turning a Joomla! installation into a more fully-integrated community site. The wealth of plugins for Community Builder itself allows many other pieces of software to interact with it and thus give them more scope. Though the developer has annoyingly decided to charge for documentation, Community Builder's extensive configuration options makes basic installation fairly easy.

DOCMan (joomladocman.org)-- Having a web-accessible file browser is an incredibly powerful feature for a group or student club, especially one working on collaborative projects. DOCMan is a powerful file management system for Joomla! that allows users to upload and download files through the website. It's even useful for those without extensive file management needs, who merely want a piece of software to organize some of their group's documents and make them accessible to website visitors.

Agora Pantheon (joomlame.com)-- Forums are generally a no-brainer for even small groups wanting to create discussion on their website. Agora enables simple forums that can be dropped into a Joomla! website and easily configured. While the same can be accomplished with a pre-existing forum such as phpBB or Simple Machines Forum, I've found the bridge software needed to embed these within a Joomla! website tends to be slow and somewhat unreliable. Many of the authentication issues inherent in getting two totally separate pieces of software to communicate can be avoided completely by using a native forum solution. Groups with a forum already may be stuck with a bridge if unwilling to migrate, but for everyone else, much headache can be saved by aiming for compatibility from the start.

IDoBlog (idojoomla.com)-- I ended up shelling $9 out for the professional version of IDoJoomla's IDoBlog component because it saved me probably six hours of design time and increased the efficiency of one of my projects considerably, allowing me to do away altogether with a WordPress Multi-User installation. The free version is excellent as well (though lacking in the pro version's Community Builder interoperability) and allows Joomla! websites to offer free blogs to their users. While probably not my first choice for those wanting to keep an extensive personal blog or portfolio site (A WordPress installation is probably more ideal for those wanting to do a lot of online writing if only because it automatically saves drafts), the software is good for organizations wanting to give members the ability to speak up about matters pertaining to the group or self-promote through relevant content. Groups wanting to use a Joomla! installation to facilitate a collective artistic project would be wise to look up IDoBlog as it allows members to post content at will, giving administrators the ability to move the best content to the front page for wider viewership.

Multimedia Box (youjoomla.com)-- This plugin makes stylishly embedding video mind-numbingly simple. Simply create a regular link to an online video (Say, one on YouTube) and Multimedia Box will darken the screen and display the stream in the center of it when clicked-- called putting the content into a "lightbox," after the popular script of the same name. Users can stay on your website and watch streaming video content without any extra work whatsoever on the behalf of the webmaster. The plugin can also be used to make simple-but-attractive photo galleries using the same display technique.

captbunzo's Flickr Album Plugin (joomla.paulthompson.net)-- This plugin allows users to embed Flickr photo galleries within article postings and use a lightbox technique to display the images from thumbnails. This is useful for individuals or groups with Flickr accounts wanting to easily display photo content on their websites without committing to a full-fledged gallery system.

Joom::Gallery (www.en.joomgallery.net)-- Though lacking some of the functionality of a larger, more specialized image gallery system like Gallery2, Joom::Gallery is a Joomla! 1.5 solution that can integrate with Community Builder and allow users to upload photos to their own personal gallery. Images are displayed in lightboxes and automatically thumbnailed on the server. Other solutions include using bridges to make software like Gallery2 and Coppermine Gallery work with Joomla!, however, these have a tendency to slow a server down in exchange for unneeded functionality.

Eventlist (schlu.net)-- Groups planning parties (Or wanting to create a work schedule, organize study groups or a dozen other creative uses) should install Eventlist, which allows the creation of a simple, visually-appealing calendar of events. Less intended to replace social networking event reservation systems than supplement them, Eventlist can be used on websites to remind people of social gatherings, band practices, work sessions, study sessions, sesh-sessions, makeout sessions, Dungeon & Dragons meetings, Dance Dance Revolution competitions or whatever floats your boat.

PURPS (pragmaticutopia.com)-- If your eyes have glazed over by this point, check out Pragmatic Utopia's PURPS system. Once installed on your Joomla! website, users can challenge each other to riveting games of Rock, Paper, Scissors, with results displayed for all to see. Finally, the group's heavyweight RPS champion can be crowned, everyone else will know not to do "best out of three" with them for shotgun and much time will be saved by all. Hurrah.


Ændrew Rininsland writes for several periodicals and keeps several blogs at aendrew.com.

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Comments

Hey man,

Joomla! isn't as easy as it looks. It is actually quite difficult in comparison to Wordpress.

Look what we did with Wordpress for The Reflector.
http://www.thereflector.ca

Joomla! definitely is more malleable, as in it has more options and possibilities, but for a web newbie like me Wordpress was a god send.

Hey Strachan!

I've used WordPress a ton before (Actually, most of my blog websites run it) and while I agree it's a wonderful system, it requires quite a bit more initial tweaking in order to be usable. From my impressions, WordPress is designed more for a single-user (plus commenters) blog experience while Joomla! just feels like it's built more for multiuser organizations.

For those with a design team knowledgeable in HTML/CSS, WordPress might be the better option, but for those wanting a diverse community web presence without that coding ability, Joomla! is a more effective solution. My two, anyway.