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Here at Spiral Scripts Towers we have been busily thinking about where to go next with the development of our Amazon extensions. It is about time to develop a version 2 of the Amazon Shopping Cart, and version 4 of the Amazon Content plugin. Here are some of the things we are planning.

New Code for Old

amazon logo2 smallWe are already working on a substantial rewrite of the code. Some of it is getting on for a decade old now, soon it will be old enough to vote. There is nothing necessarily wrong with it, it still works and there are no security issues with it that we are aware of. It is simply that, if we were writing it today, we just would not have written it that way, and this fact is hampering new development.

The biggest issue is that the current AmazonWS plugin is too big. It was originally conceived as a stand-alone plugin, so it combines a lot of different functions. The plan is to split the functions that handle the interraction with the Product Advertising API from the main content plugin, and to put them into a new system plugin. The advantage of this is that it will then be much easier to write additional plugins that access the Amazon product data and use it in new ways: for example a Joomla custom field for Amazon products, which is one of the new applications that we will be working on.

New Content Plugin Package

The AmazonWS content plugin will become a package of several plugins, including a content plugin and the new API system plugin. It will still have all the old features, plus several new ones supplied by additional plugins. In particular we are re-writing the AWS Product editor plugin which is so far only available with the Amazon Shopping Cart package, so that it will become available with the content plugin package. This plugin makes it really easy to search the Amazon database directly from your Joomla admin through an editor button, and automatically inserts the short-code that loads the products when the article is viewed in the Joomla front-end. It makes adding Amazon products really easy and intuitive and will fit very nicely into the content plugin package.

Other new plugins that we may include are: a Joomla custom field plugin; a search plugin which integrates with the Joomla Search component, so that Amazon results can be returedn when a customer uses the Joomla site search; and a new tags plugin which automatically inserts Amazon browse node names as Joomla article tags when an article includes Amazon products, providing a nice way to link articles with others that contain similar products.

New Free Plugin

We also may release a free plugin which will be a simplified version of the content plugin, for people that just want to add some Amazon links without any of the more sophisticated features, or who just want to try out working with Amazon products before buying one of our extensions.

Customers who have current subscriptions to the commercial extensions will continue to be entitled to the new versions and will be able to download them using their existing links.

More Intuitive Multi-Country Features

We have got the sense that not many people are actually using the multi-country features of the Amazon Shopping cart. They are overly complicated to set up and not easy to use, so we will likely be ditching the current features in part, and replacing them with a simpler system.

The way that the new system will (probably) work will be this:-

  • In the API system plugin options the administrator will register the default Amazon country site and associates tag.
  • Also in the options, additional country sites and the related associates tag can be registered.
  • Also the administrator can choose to enable the multi-country options: these will detect the customer's IP address, and work out which country they are in from this, and if this corresponds to any of the Amazon country sites. If so then they will see results only from that country.

If the administrator is using the multi-country options then they will need to specify the Amazon country site in the short code (if the country code is omitted it will be assumed to be the default country), for example this code:-

{amazonWS:itemId=B01239LXQU,B00ABL8B36;country=co.uk}

{amazonWS:itemId=B01271LASU,B00ABL8B36;country=com}

In this case if the customer is in the UK they will see results for the first two products with ASINs B01239LXQU and B00ABL8B36, if the customer is in the US they will see the last two products with ASINs B01271LASU and B00ABL8B36.

If they are in a third country they will see nothing. However it is likely that we will be keeping our Amazon Country module which will allow the customer to select an Amazon country to see results from if they wish: the module works well and is very useful for testing.

This is somewhat different from our current system but we think it will be easier to set up and makes more intuitive sense.

Other Changes - Keeping the Transition Painless

We will be introducing a unified system for storing the Amazon API keys which will be the same for the Amazon Content Plugin system and for the Amazon Shopping Cart system, it will hopefully avoid the needless confusion and annoyance that arises when administrators switch from one extension to the other. Also we hope to make the upgrade to the new system as painless as possible, so that administrators will not need to re-store the keys.

We will also be adding better handling of product attributes in the plugin, so that it should be straightforward to pick which attributes you want to display, without having to edit the product template. For example, if you are displaying books you probably want to show the authors and publisher, but not a lot of the other attributes that Amazon also supplies, because they are not relevant. So we will be adding a new system.

We will also be improving the translateability: most of the Amazon and other terms used by the extensions are already translateable, but a few which are not, notably the search index names, will be made translateable.

We will aim to make the transition from the old system as painless as possible, so that most customers will simply be able to install the new versions, and have everything work. We hate breaks in backward compatibility for no good reason, it was something that afflicted Joomla a lot in the past, and contributed a lot to the success of rival CMSs. Fortunately that lesson seems to have been learned. There will be a small change to the templates to handle the new attributes, but if you have your own modified template that you like then it will continue to work.

Feedback

We are working on a time-scale of 2 to 3 months for the first release of the new versions, although that timetable may slip a bit. In the meantime we probably will not be releasing many updates to the current versions, just bug fixes if they are important. We would rather be working on the new versions if possible, because we hope they will be a bit step forward for these extensions.

In the meantime we will be very happy to receive feature requests, we cannot promise to include them in the new versions, but we will try to do so if they fit naturally into the direction of development for the extensions. If you want to offer any feedback on the issues discussed here you are welcome to post in our forum.

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