So, chances are that if you have found your way here, that you're interested in doing eCommerce a little differently. You've probably looked at a lot of different solutions, from open source options like osCommerce and Magento, to commercial solutions like X-Cart, Miva Merchant, or others.
You may have also looked at ways to run the content on your site, and you may have tried out CMS systems like Joomla or Drupal, only to find out that they can be complicated, user-unfriendly, and they in no way seem to work with your eCommerce solution. Seems like an easy enough task to log into your web administration and add a blog post, update some video, and also edit some products on your site all at once, but we're willing to bet that you use a bunch of different tools to do that.
Believe me, we know what you're going through. We've been in the same boat. We built sites for small to medium sized businesses who kept asking us the same question... Why hasn't someone built a tool that can perform all of those functions, and do each of them well?
Then in the summer of 2008 we stumbled upon Contao Web CMS, and were more than impressed at what it could do. It was more than just an open-source content management system, it was a powerful development framework. It made developing modules and automated functionality a breeze for us, and we admittedly weren't the most prolific PHP developers in the world at the time. It really made it easy for us to look at all our sites from a marketing and design perspective first, and then build the functionality we needed around it, not the other way around.
A Hybrid CMS-eCommerce System
So, as much as we loved Contao, we still had some challenges when it came to developing eCommerce systems. Around the same time we were getting excited at how much Contao improved our workflow, we heard about a eCommerce project promising to be the "next big thing" in eCommerce (we'll leave out the name here but it will be pretty obvious what system it was). Problem was, it was big, bloated, resource intensive, developer-UNfriendly, and pretty poorly run from an open-source standpoint. Plus, the only way to really truly integrate it within a CMS was going to be a bridged system, which really stunk in our opinion. We tried implementing it a few times but quickly realized that we needed another solution.
So after looking at a lot of possibilities, including a bridged eCommerce extension for Contao that was OK, we started thinking about doing it ourselves from the ground up. We love the framework of the Contao core, so we decided to use that as our starting point, and really truly develop a truly integrated CMS-eCommerce System. A hybrid system.
We looked at a lot of other systems to see what they were doing right and where they needed help, developed a roadmap for the project, and got to work. Since then, the code itself has been through quite a few iterations, and we've gone back to the drawing board more than once in order to make sure we did it right.
So where does that put us now? Well, it's not 100% perfect, but what we have managed to do is harness the power of Contao and give it eCommerce capabilities that are pretty impressive in our opinion. Because Isotope is modular, just like any Contao extension, it is pretty flexible and able to adapt to near any situation. You can drop it into your site the same way you would a event calendar, news/blog, or search engine module.
The future of the project
So where is Isotope headed? Basically, our vision is for it to grow and adapt along with Contao. As Contao improves, so shall Isotope, and as the future of web applications is shaped in years, our hope is to develop a strong community of people who see the potential of a hybrid CMS-eCommerce system and work to really make it a great option for small and medium sized businesses or organizations. We can see a lot of possibilities that exist because the system is so flexible and robust, from social media integration to mobile marketing, plus integrations with other APIs and services. The possibilities are pretty appealing.
So we encourage you to get involved, download the project and go through the code, and really let us know what you think and where things could be improved. Like we said, the project is not going to be perfect, but I think that we're also well on the way to creating something that is better than 95% of other open source options out there. Help us spread the word, and let's really try and build a toolset that we can use to make better eCommerce websites.