For those of you that don’t know, SocialEngine is a PHP script that allows you to create a social networking website. Months ago they made the announcement that the all new version 4.0 was coming out. They didn’t give an actual release date. It really screwed over a site I run, MySocialEngine.com, where I sell templates for the software. My sales dropped completely over the last few months with this announcement, as everyone is waiting for the all new version.
It’s here. . . finally!
Well, they finally released the beta version of SocialEngine 4 yesterday and I have to say I was excited to get it installed and play around with it. I was also excited to start designing and coding all new themes for it.
I installed it and started clicking around the admin panel and figuring how it works. I have to say that initially I was kind of in shock at what I found – a little pissed actually. For the user, it’s totally awesome, but for me, the theme developer, not so much. Basically, within the admin panel you control all of the elements throughout the pages. You drag elements around to different areas of the layout sort of like widgets in WordPress. Imagine a WordPress theme where literally every element of the website was a widget in a widget area, including the header and footer areas.
So, what does it all mean for me?
It means I can’t touch any HTML markup! Yes, I could probably figure out ways to sneak in little changes in the markup if I dig into the core files, but I don’t feel like that would be smart in making a theme that is supposed to be easily installed by customers. In other words, I’m stuck with just selling a CSS file with an images folder.
Moving forward. It’s really not that bad.
After getting over the initial shock of what these changes mean for my online store, I’ve had some time to think about it and I’m actually a little excited. Developing themes for the new SocialEngine 4 is going to be like the old days of creating CSS templates for CSS Zen Garden, a showcase of designs all based on the same HTML markup.
And after going through SocialEngine 4’s HTML markup, I have to say that they did a really good job. It truly leaves many possibilities to change the look of your site with purely CSS.
Also, a big plus with how SocialEngine 4 handles themes now is that they really are classified as “themes.” In the admin panel there’s actually a section where you can manage all of your uploaded themes, and with the HTML markup never changing, they’re basically like interchangeable skins. Flip one off and another one on with no effort.
As I let it grow on me a bit, I’m starting to like the idea. This is so much more intuitive than previous versions of SocialEngine where I had to sell the customer template files that they had to upload to their site, overwriting the old files. I’d have to write in the instructions, “remember to back up all files!” So, I guess those days are over.
A new business plan for MysocialEngine.com.
I am, however, going to have rethink the way my site operates with these significant changes to SocialEngine. Currently I sell themes for about $40-$80. I have full demos where customers can click through an entire installation of SocialEngine with a particular theme in place. When the customer purchases a theme they are given a pretty big zip package with everything they need. I only kept about five themes on the site at at time because keeping them compatible with SocialEngine every time it was updated was a real pain.
With the hassle of always keeping my themes up-to-date with the current version of SocialEngine seemingly gone, I’ll finally have a chance to produce a lot of themes and really pack the website with a true variety of SocialEngine themes. It’ll also be a lot quicker to develop the themes as they are just going to be essentially a single CSS file combined with a folder of images. I’m sure as I become more familiar with SocialEngine 4’s HTML markup, I’ll be able to speed up the process, as well. However, one bad thing is that I’ll have to get rid of online demos because it would be too easy for people to steal the themes.
Overall, I have to say that I think this all means I’ll be lowering prices for my themes, too, which I think everyone will enjoy!