Forum OpenACS Q&A: Marketing and damned lies.

Posted by Rodger Donaldson on
Vignette's roadshow was in town yesterday NZST; I couldn't attend
since I was working on a live site down problem caused by a bug in the
Vignette software (oh the irony) a client of mine runs.  But an
interesting little tidbit came up - one of the client's managers said
that Vignette were claiming to AOL had switched to Vignette, and were
citing the 35,000 hits/s number.

A quick look at the main AOL servers for member pages, the main page,
and so forth, suggests everything's still on AOLServer, with the
exception of  Since Vignette don't support AOLServer, this
claim seems a bit odd.  Anyone know what the real story is?

Posted by good bye on
AOL owns a lot of stuff. There is a good chance one of their
properties uses Vignette. They actually don't use AOLserver for
most of their sites. A few of their (now defunct) music properties
used ATG Dynamo. Internally they use iPlanet.
Posted by Rodger Donaldson on
Mmm.  That's what I thought, but the Vignette reps were apparently quite clear that the whole shooting match was on Vignette.

Certainly AOL/TimeWarner properties like are.

Posted by Don Baccus on
Digital City isn't, that's for sure.  .adp files with query strings,
nothing's changed that I see ...
Posted by David Cohen on
When I was contracting at Warner Music in Burbank (ended March 01), they were using all of these tools--the music video site, for example, was built using ATG Dynamo (though the initial hits to the sites are to Netscape Enterprise Servers. After that interaction, you are hitting Java pages when you click on stuff). Vignette was used to build the tools to do things like publish videos to the site or to get access to various reports, etc.

There were some other related sites that were similarly put together.
I don't know how far ranging the use of these tools is at Warner Music, especially now, since after AOL bought them there was a push to move away from doing web pages dynamically and instead to publish things statically but to update them often, so things would seem to be "dynamic" in the sense of changing frequently.

This, of course, is how AOL does things on AOL. A bit amusing (or, as the person who started this thread might say, ironic) given that AOL has AOLserver, but I get the feeling that AOLserver isn't really viewed as being that important strategically at AOL--yes, they use it for various things, but having such a tool doesn't seem to affect their vision of how to do things.

This all, of course, is extrapolation on my part based on my Warner experience, so if anyone else knows better, please post. Do remember  though--even if there are groups there that use it enthusiastically, that doesn't mean that the people responsible for the "big picture" care for it or the kind of database-backed website approach that it enables.

P.S. I actually found someone at Warner Music who knew what the ACS is and was interested in seeing it used for intranet-type stuff. Trouble is, he was just a tech-writer(!) and I was at the end of my tenure there, but it was fun talking to him about how it could be useful.

Posted by Jamie Ross on
I can shed a little more light.. I was a senior consultant with Vignette VPS up until last year.  My friend in VPS West went to Israel to implement site in Vignette, which is of course owned by AOL so I know that is a Vignette site.  I heard reference from my practice manager that they were negotiating with AOL for more sites, mainly for the content management features, so they may have picked up more sites.
Posted by Rodger Donaldson on
Yes - the ICQ one is interesting.  I just installed a hotfix for load related problems at a client which was developed as part of the ICQ deployment.

Of course, that client's kind of upset that, having been told in August that Vignette's push into JSP wouldn't affect TCL support, Vignette will no longer be supporting TCL sites as of next year.

Posted by Don Baccus on
Sure, AOL/Time/Warner Bros built of many tools.

In fact, the Warner Bros. official Harry Potter website's built
using one of my products.

A photograph.  Which you can mail from their site as an e-mail

Used without a) permission b) attribution c) payment.

Any civic-minded OpenACS hacker-lawyers out there? :)

(I'm more-or-less joking, I view this as a sales opportunity)

Posted by John Lowry on
Maybe I'm just stupid, but I've never understood the benefit of Vignette. I'm working with Vignette 5.6 right now and we have a bunch of heavy-duty solaris boxes. Nevertheless the application is so slow that we cannot serve up dynamic content on any of the popular pages on our site.

The architecture for Vignette's dynamic components seems to be very similar to a server side include. So you have a big overhead just to have one line of Tcl code execute within a page (or "template" as Vignette calls them). We ended up with some horrible hacks just to get something as simple as a cookie set. We had to run this code on the client side using Javascript. I expect we could overcome these problems by purchasing the hideously expensive "personalization" module.

Version control is a joke. I think you're supposed to purchase some kind of version control module. My colleague wrote some nifty scripts to export all the code into CVS but it would be far easier just to keep it in CVS in the first place.

The API is weak. You don't have nice features like filters that can run on every page. Your Tcl code gets eval'd so strange things happen with backslashes. The database API doesn't allow any of the nice features I'm used to from the AOLserver drivers, such as finding out how many rows were updated by a SQL statement. Its very non-intuitive to someone that understands SQL. For example, the SEARCH TABLE command is often used to execute DML statements.

The documentation is confusing. They don't clearly tell you what a procedure returns, and what errors it can throw. Debugging is hell. You don't get a nice stack trace. The error message doesn't necessarily point you to the line of code with the problem: "Error Occurred In Command Block At Lines 132-168" is not very helpful.

As far as price goes, I haven't any idea what it costs. Vignette keeps these things secret. But the numbers I've heard are astronomical. Plus the license terms are quite restrictive. I've heard that they limit the number of page requests per day you can accept before the cost goes up.

I think that one of Vignette's big selling points was that it enabled you to separate the HTML (presentation) from the Tcl (code) so that designers and programmers could easily work together. But I can't see any difference between a Vignette template and an AOLserver ADP page.

Another big "selling point" is that web pages are "cached". It sounds very impressive but in practice this just means that the entire page is written to the file system on the web server (which is why you need a server side include to have dynamic content). A smarter cacheing strategy would probably be to cache just the content, then dynamically format it with HTML when the page is served.

All the code is stored in the database (not the filesystem) so you need a proprietary Java client to manage your code. You can't use any of those nice tools like grep that you've learned to love for the past five years.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that I'm completely mystified how Vignette can make statements on its web site, like the one I pulled off its front page today: "Quickly deliver dynamic content in a stable, secure environment". Talk about "marketing and damned lies" In my experience, quite the reverse is true.

Posted by Ivan Histand on
I work at AOL, and think I can speak without giving out company secrets on this matter.

I have not seen any Vignette implementations at AOL (maybe they exist, I just havn't seen anything).  In general, if one can make a business case, anything goes, platform wise.  Of course it's easier to get approval for AOLsever or Netscape platforms, but I've seen everything else from Websphere to IIS to Apache.  I think we make decisions much like any other company, based on the project requirements and available engineering, support, and hardware resources.  Of course with the downturn in the economy, we are encouraged to use in-house platforms which are less expensive to support. Luckily, we own two excellent platforms that cover most developer's needs.

Bottom line, AOL hasn't "switched" to anything. AOLserver support in the company is strong as ever in my experience.  My educated guess is that AOLserver will be around for a long time.  It certainly is possible that there are project(s) at AOL using Vignette, however, and maybe some particular project "switched" from another platform.  Saying that all of AOL has switched is a huge overstatement, however.

Keep in mind that AOL is a huge company.  No one platform can do everything. We have literally thousands of projects in various stages of development or support at any given time.  Even if Steve Case himself issued an executive order to switch platforms, which of course he would never do, it would be nearly impossible and prohibitively expensive to do so.

Ivan Histand
Sr Software Engineer,
AOL Data Warehouse & Reporting

Disclaimer: The above statement is my personal experience, this is in no way an official company statment.