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Product Review: IndexU
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by Anand Narayanaswamy
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Introduction

Web sites provide valuable information. For instance, if you would like to learn C# you can now access articles and other related information from the web. Even though you can find all the information with the help of search engines, it is difficult to isolate them into separate categories. This means there is a huge demand for those websites which provide specific information in the form of a directory. It helps you to retrieve specific content easily as you only need to click the relevant category or alphabetical letter. It is tedious to create new software with complete features from scratch. There is a growing demand for an application which satisfies the requirements of a directory based software.

Getting Started

IndexU, a product developed by Milton WorldWide Media LLC, is not only a complete directory-based portal solution providing you the ability to add, modify and delete resources, but also enables you to customize the look and feel of the entire website with the help of templates. I tested the product on a Linux server, although the product is partially compatible with Windows as well. I feel that you will not be able to utilize all the features of the product if you configure it in Windows server due to the non availability of certain modules, such as PHP GD2 library and cURL. I would recommend you install the product in a Linux server for maximum performance, even though it can be installed under Windows.

In order to install the product, you need to login to the secured client area, download the necessary files including the templates, upload them into the root directory of your website and follow the installation steps outlined in the manual. Initially, you should create a database and a user under it from the web based control panel provided by your hosting provider. I did not face any difficulties during the installation phase as I completely followed all the required steps. The setup wizard will, however, provide an alert message in red if you miss any of the steps outlined in the installation manual. The product is available free of cost, but you can post only 100 links. I would suggest you to test drive the free edition in case you want to explore the features included with the product before investing for the paid license. This will also enable you to access the suitability of the product.

Features

A core feature of the product is that it ships with support for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) by default. You do not have to configure any settings after the installation and can also customize the format of URL's as per your requirements. The software enables users to add listings under three different levels: Free, Premium and Sponsored. Users will be able to pay for the last two levels directly by using any one of the four premier payment gateways (PayPal, 2checkout, E-gold, Authorize.net), which has been integrated with the system. It also provides block components with which you can add Hot Link, Random Link, RSS Feed, and AdSense. You can also integrate other Ad services like WidgetBucks and LakeQuincy.

The product displays Google Page Rank along with the links and automatically generates Google Sitemap files at regular intervals. As you continue to use your site, the database becomes bigger and your site gets a lot of traffic. This will naturally decrease the load time of pages. But IndexU has built-in support for Output Buffering and Page Caching which will eliminate these issues completely.

Usage

The product enables users to submit links under multiple categories. For instance, you can file the link http://www.asp.net under both ASP.NET and .NET categories. The software has an option to upload themes directly from the administrators control panel, but I found it buggy. Even though there was no error while uploading the file, I was unable to view the theme file under the list of all themes. I hope the vendor will resolve this issue in the next edition of the product.

The site administrator will receive an e-mail as and when a new link or review is added to the system for moderation and also receive a notification when a visitor submits a broken link report. This will help them to fix the link immediately. Similarly, when a relevant link is approved, the system will send an e-mail to the user who submitted the link. A complete list of all the features can be viewed at http://www.nicecoder.com/indexu_features.php.

The portal can be managed by logging into the administrator's control panel. As soon as you login, you will view a screen with a lot of options as given below.

Figure 1: Home Page of Administrator Control Panel

Initially, you need to create a few categories so that your users can file links under them. I found that each option has plenty of parameters which you need to set.

Figure 2: Category Addition Page

As you can see from the above figure, the vendor has provided helpful hints below each parameter to assist you and your users during the process. You can directly provide Meta tags for each category. I hope this feature will help web masters to easily optimize their sites for search engines.

After adding the category, the next step is to add links under it. For this purpose, you need to select the first option from the Links panel. An interesting feature which I noticed is that the relevant Meta tags can be automatically fetched from the supplied URL by clicking Fetch Meta Tags button as shown in Figure 3. I feel that this unique feature will help users to quickly add links without any need to manually enter them while posting the link.

Figure 3: New Link Addition Interface

We have so far examined the back end process of the portal and added one link into a category. Let us now view how the link appears on the site.

Figure 4: Users default home page

Figure 5: Link details page

As you can see from the above screenshots, the Tags and Keywords sections are automatically populated with the Meta tags posted on the link page. I do not like this feature as the system adds a lot of keywords which may not be relevant for the link. However, users can edit them if required.

I would suggest the vendor provides uniform naming convention in the future releases of the product. This is because the vendor has given the name as Themes in the installation manual and on the product folder, but it is mentioned as Templates inside the Administrator control panel.

Enhancing the Look and Feel

The portal can be easily customized by editing the various files included with each Theme. The vendor provides several templates which are available for download from the secured client center. I initially faced some difficulty installing a theme file using FTP, but I resolved the issue by setting permissions to the required folder and files as outlined in the manual. I would suggest the vendor provides a help file along with each theme file so that users can setup the theme without any difficulty.

The vendor provides professional templates which are available for purchase and instant download from a separate website maintained by them. Several third party companies have developed high quality professional templates which are available for a fixed cost. Moreover, several free and paid MOD's and AddOns are available to enhance the functioning of the site. For instance, you can add social bookmarking links and automatically extract data from other directories, such as dmoz.org, using these additional tools. I would suggest you post a query or search the discussion board for more information regarding these tools as it will benefit you in long run.

The product ships with a comprehensive installation guide, which examines each and every aspect such as database creation, granting of permissions and steps involved in the whole process. The guide also lists the functions of each menu located inside the Administrator Control Panel. I am very impressed with the support provided by the vendor by e-mail and through an active discussion board which they maintain on their website. I found that all the queries are answered on the same day by the support staff even during weekends.

Conclusion

I am very satisfied with the quality of the product, although I feel that the control panel requires a little improvement with respect to User Interface and some bug fixing as I mentioned above. I highly recommend the product for those who want to build powerful directory based portal quickly and easily by employing tons of new features which are not available in any other product.

About the Product

Title

IndexU 5.4.0

Price

$99.00 (Single Domain License)

Related URL

http://www.nicecoder.com

Rating

****

About the Reviewer

Anand Narayanaswamy (Microsoft MVP and Chief Technical Editor, ASPAlliance.com) is the author of Community Server Quickly.


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