Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

PHPClasses.org Ajax Upgrade

Category: PHP, Usability

PHPClasses.org, a useful tool for locating PHP classes, has upgraded its search. There are a couple of Ajax goodies. Search results appear as a set of tabs – Packages, Reviews, Forum, etc, and the results for each tab are obtained via remote calls. Likewise for result pagination. There’s also a Suggestion/Auto-Completion feature in the search bar – a site like this is probably a good place for Suggestions, to help explore all the library code out there without knowing precise terms to search for.

The idea is to provide a better organization of the search results. It
is an alternative to the traditional search result pages that present
pages from all site sections in mixed in a single listing.

AJAX is used to retrieve the results from different sections when the
users click on the respective section tab.

The search form also provides auto-completion support. It uses AJAX to
query the site server database and retrieve the top ten most searched
keywords that begin with the first letters typed by the user.

The site search also uses an animation Javascript class to add a nice
touch of style using fade effects to the AJAX based page updates of the
search results and progress feedback messages.

The PHP and Javascript components used in the site to implement these
AJAX and DHTML features are available as Open Source as mentioned in
this PHPClasses site blog post.

Read more about the PHPClasses.org upgrade in Manuel Lemos’s announcement.

Posted by Michael Mahemoff at 8:54 pm
23 Comments

+++--
3 rating from 36 votes

23 Comments »

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too bad that PHPClasses.org still is about as unusable as it gets. Every time a Google search brings up PHPClasses, I shrug and ignore the link. PHPClasses pretty much makes SourceForge look like a usability paradise.

Comment by Robb Irrgang — August 1, 2006

Robb, just complaining that the PHPClasses site or Sourceforge are not usable is not very helpful by itself.

The PHPClasses site has evolved many times thanks to well founded criticisms and feasable improvement suggestions from the users that care for a better resource site for PHP developers.

For instance, some of the new site search improvements were suggested by the site users.

Anybody can help making a better site if at least they follow the criticisms with feasible suggestions to address the problems. So, if you want to help, please point the problems but also suggest feasible solutions.

BTW, the new site search is under on a public beta stage, so it is not yet the default search page that the users see. The default search is still Google. The new site search page is at: http://www.phpclasses.org/search.html

Comment by Manuel Lemos — August 2, 2006

Wow – what a beautiful site. Let’s all do the time warp again! PHPClasses.org – like web design never happened :-)

Comment by markdav — August 2, 2006

I have to agree with Robb Irrgang that the site is not very usable. It always makes me login several times and it’s still using 2000’s design ideas.

It’s a shame because some of the content is great.

Comment by David Caunt — August 2, 2006

Sorry Manuel, this will sound harsh, but the site has been horrible to look at for years, and generally awkward and slow to use.
People have told you this before many times, and you have done very little about it on the surface.

If I were you I’d completely redesign the look of the site.
You can achieve something quite pretty with minimal HTML, using CSS and some images.

Comment by Ryan — August 2, 2006

Wow, I see I’m not alone about phpclasses. I cringe everytime I find some example code on that site and try to find other sources first. For instance, you have a 400px high masthead throughout the site which is 80% empty space pushing all content below the fold. For what purpose?! Logging in should be made much quicker with login fields on a column on every page. Having to go to bugmenot.com to get a login, then click through half a dozen pages to find the login link drives me to the point of mass genocide. Why is there no consistent form of navigation throughout the site? Every page has a different formation of links to move around.

The site is just so incredibly dated and difficult to use, I avoid it unless it’s my only option. It’s so bad that I actually considered taking the time to open a site just like it, but with some semblance of a standard design and thought towards usability.

Comment by Logan — August 2, 2006

It’s great to see sites implementing usable features as this, but I think phpclasses reeeeallly needs to look at the bigger picture (better site layout, ease of use, definately needs to do something with the colour scheme!). As the saying goes, you can’t polish a turd!

Comment by Richard Healy — August 2, 2006

Ya man that site really sucks.

Comment by Jimmy — August 2, 2006

Altho the comment system on here also sucks.

Comment by Jimmy — August 2, 2006

It’s a nasty looking website. There is no two ways about it. In what is a very superficial world, I think you need to hire a web designer to make it look more “accessible”.

Comment by Andy — August 3, 2006

“Finally, Logan, there are no pages with fixed width of 400px . I think you meant the pages that have content in 40em columns, like the blog or forum pages. The other pages do not have fixed width constraints.”

Reading your post about ads, that might just be the space where a banner ad sits. I wouldn’t know as I use adblock and rarely see ads anymore. By the way, “masthead” is the horizontal block at the top of the page, not a column.

“criticism that there is no consistent site navigation is totally unfair.”

Randomly clicking through your site, please tell me where the navigation bar is on the subscription or login pages. You have many pages that are nearly blank except for the content. That is not consistency.

If you’re truly making a living off of this one website, you really should invest in a web designer, otherwise someone’s going to come along and build a better site that will eclipse yours.

Comment by Logan — August 3, 2006

Manuel, dont get me wrong – I think you are a polite, nice and patient guy and I dont mean to say things that aren’t nice sounding.
I guess my style is to provoke a reaction here, and really get you thinking “hey, there are a lot of people here who really think the design sux ass”

It is true you have spent plenty of time doing things to the site, but what I mean is I feel these changes you have made are not really the most significant/important things… surely you can see the current design is like a 1990’s trainwreck??
That to me is the number 1 priority to fix!

A redesign does not mean changing a background color to grey.
Mate, its clear design is not your strong point – please go and buy a template or something and use that.
IMO – it is the single most popular reason why people dont like using your site!

There are far nicer, faster, and free sites out there, and while we applaud your efforts – there is much better out there i’m afraid.
Surely the goal is to please your current userbase, and attract and keep new users?

I do want you to succeed, and for years I have waited for that redesign that never came – which personally is the SOLE reason why i never use your site any more now.
Just PLEASE consider doing it – and doing it properly.. your site users deserve it before they are also driven away by poor design.

Again, I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but it is my view.

Comment by Ryan — August 3, 2006

Manuel,

The only way premium membership can fly is if you have some sort of quality control on the libraries published through phpclasses. Which, from some of the code samples that I’ve viewed (for the times where I couldn’t find anything else and remembered my login for the site) that doesn’t seem to be the case.

You’re blaming ads for slowness, however, riddle me this…if the ads are there to support bandwidth usage, why do you use mirrors and login requirements? If you use mirrors, why do you have ads? What’s the game here? Sure, it’s your site, but not only are you dragging down the speed (supposedly due to ads loading) but you’re also dragging down usability (registration requirements to even see a single snippet of a sub-par library).

PHP needs a site that champions the language, and in it’s current form, PHPClasses ain’t it. It’s a hotscripts.com with login requirements, not the CPAN style site that PHP deserves. It seems all we get these days from the more talented PHP developers out there is Rails knock-offs, and that bothers me more than a little.

Comment by Robb Irrgang — August 3, 2006

Logan, if you block ads, that may explain it, but I have no idea which page has 400px space. Could it be 468px? If not, you need to tell me the URL of the page or show me some HTML that you see it as 400px is not a standard ad size and I do not use fixed width for anything else than ads.

As for the login link, as I said it shows in every page where the navigation bar appears. The navigation bar appears where it makes sense to me. It does not make sense to show the login link in the login page because you are already there. The same goes for the subscribe page, as you can only login if you are already subscribed. If you are have subscribed already it does not make sense to go to the subscribe page again.

As for the redesign suggestions, see my following comment to Ryan (if Ajaxian comment submission does not choke with me again).

Comment by Manuel Lemos — August 3, 2006

Robb, the PHPClasses site is democratic. Everybody has the same chances to have their classes published in the site. It would be heart-breaking for the authors if I started rejecting classes based on my own criteria. I prefer that the users be the judges of that.
.
If you are looking for the most recommended classes, there is a top rated ranking for each package group. For instance, you may can check the top rated AJAX classes sorted by overall user ratings score. This page is accessible from the AJAX group packages page.
.
Now, if you are suggesting that I pick the “note worthy” classes and notify the premium subscribers when they approve such classes, that could be an idea that some users will appreciate. I will add that to my to do list. Thank you for the suggestion.
.
Regarding the mirrors, they offload the site a bit, so they help, not a big deal but they help.
.
The ads are necessary not only to support hosting costs, but also because I work full time in the site. This is my day job. Like everybody else, I have to put the food on the table for my family and myself.
.
It would not be viable to run this site in part-time, as it already requires too much of my time. I need to hire extra staff, but I do not generate enough revenue from the ads to cover that cost too. I hope the premium subscribers will solve that problem for good. For now, everything that takes to run the site besides the hosting, it is me, myself and I.
.
The login requirement is an option of each author. Authors can make their package files available without requiring login. Most authors will bother as that prevents the site to take note which authors downloaded each package.
.
That information is used to make top download charts. Anonymous downloads are not accounted because any author can forge them to gain elicit advantage and show first in the charts. It would be unfair to honest authors.
.
For some authors, knowing the exact number of real users and the top charts are not important, but for many others it is a great way to measure their recognition and acceptance of their work. This is also part of the reason why the site gets so many contributions. It works like a teaser.
.
I know very well that some site newcoming users get upset with the login requirement. It is impossible to please everybody. I have chosen to please the authors first because they provide the content. Users that do not understand this today, they will understand it in the future when they to become contributing authors.

Comment by Manuel Lemos — August 4, 2006

Manuel, I consider you a very good developer, but really, websites have an important part in design.

Colors, palettes, logos, titles, style, usability… I guess what a lot of people see in PHPClasses is just an outdated design. A style that was ok in 98, but that today looks very old. Gray background, blue links,

And yes, that search page has some nifty Ajax and a couple of visual effects here and there. But the look, the overall style is still old-fashioned.

Comment by Gonzalo — August 4, 2006

I have to be rude and ask — but what in the PHPClasses site warrants a fulltime job for maintaining it?

I know we’re completely sidetracking from the original conversation here, but this site should not be sucking up enough time for you to give up having a normal job. Administration should/could be divided among a few volunteers.

Comment by Robb Irrgang — August 4, 2006

The cosmetic complaints folks have are rather ridiculous.

PHPClasses suffers from the same problems sourceforge suffers from. 5 clicks to get anything done, a site architecture that you can get lost in very quickly, and basic visual hierarchy problems.

AJAX won’t fix that.

Comment by Jack Shedd — August 4, 2006

Sorry, but I have to disagree with all of you.

Instead of stay calling the site old-fashioned, you should give it a try. I doubt you stay more than 30 minutes there, but that is because of your layout impression. I agree that layout is not that good, but what you do not see if the content.

PHPClasses.org is a very good content site, it’s not a designer site and usually people that goes there are developers, not designers. I don’t care about layouts since it is not important to me. If the content is good, that is enough.

An old layout can be a reason for new users goes out, but give it a try, and be familiarized with site navigation, is the answer for that. That’s not look at the page and goes out. That’s not the fancy clean layout, with ajax features and nice smoothie link colors. It’s the content that interest me, and if it is good, it fits my needs.

So, for you that want a kind of cute style of PHPClasses.org, you need to rethink what do you do. Developers don’t like layouts, they care about content. If you more interested in layout that content, you’re in a wrong career.

Mr. Lemos, keep up the good work. I hope you plan to improve site features more, and do not care about layout guys.

Comment by Guilherme Blanco — August 4, 2006

My browser is Opera, and personally when I entered the site I thought I accidently triggered one of the style options, like ‘nostalgia’ or ’emulate text browser’. .

Comment by Joel — August 7, 2006

I know I’m a bit late to the party but I need to stand in defense of Mr. Lemos and side with Guilherme. What PHPClasses.org lacks in good looks it makes up for in solid, relevant and continual communication with it’s users – something many sites lack. I’ve never met Manuel or even emailed him but somehow PHPClasses.org gives me the impression that he works hard on his website and appreicates every one of his users. The resources on the site are generally good, I can usually find what I’m looking for and it’s one of the first places I look for PHP resources. What can I say, I suppose I have enough dexterity to manipulate the user interface without too much trouble. So, unless you’re somehow a paying stakeholder in PHPClasses.org, why don’t you help yourself to a heaping plate of STFU!!! and go build your own damn site.

Comment by Jeff Denton — October 20, 2006

phpClasses.org is totally unuseable. Download requires registration, which requires users clicking links contained in verification emails. I have submitted registration using two seperate email accounts, both Yahoo. In both cases, the verification email fail to show up. Yes I repeatedly check my spam folder, and no they weren’t there. So for me at least, phpClasses.org is useless. I found a good class there (archive) for one of my projects, and sadly had to sidestep phpClasses.org and track down the package elsewhere (via a comment on freshmeat).

Personally, the design is butt ugly, but I can live with it. However, functionality — please at least make it work!

Comment by Haoyu Meng — November 7, 2006

The site functions fine, I’ve been a member for years and the content is without question up to date, easy to find and download. The server itself runs slow at times, but I suspect that might be due to load and also the necessary advertising the underwrite costs.

Of course a re-design is due, but I’m patient as I know the tremendous work involved in creating a quality and scalable template/skin system with all design elements sub-templated. Because that’s what it takes to ensure in the future the site can adapt, cosmetically, and look a little more relevant to the competition. I also suspect the display is statically generated, meaning Mr. Lemos might have to re-write the core code to implement templating and skin support. Once this is done he should contact volunteers, entertain contests and so on asking them to create new templates for him.

This means alot of development time up front, but in the long run the site can be updated much more easily. So during your “day job” I suggest you start creating a powerful templating system, don’t worry about the styles! If all the main elements and graphics can be interchanged via skins, and your skin system is well documented, a “beautiful” site in the eye of each beholder will come about.

What I’m getting at, folks, is the comments here have been mostly unhelpful – and technically alot of you don’t grasp that you don’t just change a few static files and graphics to “upgrade” the layout when you’re seeking scalability. Separating the presentation layer from other layers is the best long term solution.

This is my specific advice to the main developer, and notice it’s not design advice. To summarize, create a powerful template/skin system under the hood, document it, then get people like me others here to implement the design and even layout!

This is a lot of work now, but alot LESS work later for all involved, plus users love to contribute with skins – it keeps them coming back, and it will only be a positive impact on the site in the long run.

That’s my advice. Start templating, Mr. Lemos.

-jim

Comment by Jim Goldbloom — August 27, 2007

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