Open Source vs Proprietary Content Management Systems

Open Source vs Proprietary CMS (Image by sooperkuhl via Flickr)In my Branding workshop in Port Augusta last night, we had rollicking discussions among the group of 20+ business people across all manner of related subjects.

One such topic was website management systems and what the difference is between WordPress, the powerful, open source content management systems, and other systems that operate similarly but are custom developed by web companies, in other words, proprietary systems.

In my humble opinion, apart from being free, powerful and easy to use, there are three compelling reasons for businesses and organisations to opt for a WordPress website instead of one using a proprietary system:

  • WordPress is under constant development by thousands of passionate geeks around the world
  • WordPress is used in millions of websites worldwide
  • You hold total control over your destiny

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Constant development

The internet is a scary place. Every day there are new hackers being born who seem to have no other motivation than to tear down and destroy the work of people trying to be creative and constructive in their lives.

The teams of geeks working on the WordPress project are mindful of this and every few weeks a new update rolls through the worldwide network of WordPress sites with timely updates to guard against these evil and destructive forces.

On the other hand, the internet is a place of innovation and this happens at an amazing pace. Again, the WordPress collective of geeks is constantly at the forefront of new developments online to ensure WordPress harnesses the best of new technologies.

Likewise, tens of thousands of developers are creating and sharing plugins to add extra functionality to basic WordPress installations.

Compare all of this to the small band of geeks at a small web business. Can they really devote the time and energy to constantly developing their proprietary content management system in a way that can match the worldwide network of geeks involved in an open source project like WordPress?

Of course the answer is no. I have talked with a client recently whose web developer has been promising a blog component on her proprietary content management system for close to two years but has been ‘too busy to develop it yet’.

Millions of websites

In a recent survey, it was discovered that WordPress powers close to 18 per cent of the world’s websites.

Think about that for a moment.

If almost one in five websites is using WordPress, doesn’t that create an ecosystem of people familiar with its workings leading to a rich knowledge base for troubleshooting and development?

Indeed it does.

I can share from experience. I run full-day, hands-on workshops in using WordPress websites. Often, when we get to the time for exploring the world of plugins, I ask for suggestions or wishlists from the group for functionality for their website.

Once, someone asked if we could hunt for a job board for her employment agency. Sure enough, she had three to choose from and had a prototype working on her demo WordPress site by the end of the day.

The other huge benefit is that Google holds a wealth of links to WordPress help sheets and tutorials. I often remind clients of this so they have the option of researching a new development or troubleshooting something they don’t understand themselves, before paying for some extra help. This is invaluable for small clients. Medium to larger clients often just ‘want it done’ and my geeks are happy to oblige.

You are in control

Perhaps the most compelling reason is freedom.

I have lost count of how many particularly small business clients I have had to rescue from web developers who had locked them into their proprietary systems.

Sometimes the web developer had locked the client (you know, the person who PAID for the whole exercise) out of their web hosting, their domain registration and even the top-level administration of the website itself.

The argument is that clients don’t know what they’re doing. Sure, some are very primitive in their IT understandings but that is still no excuse. The owner should have the ultimate control.

This is particularly brought to a head when a client wants to work with a different developer. Often, content in a proprietary system is not easily exportable to a new system, adding further prohibitions, delays and costs on the parting of ways.

At the other end of the scale, WordPress and its open source counterparts, can be worked on by hundreds of thousands of geeks around the world.

What I love most about WordPress is that if a client has a falling out with their web person, they can easily find someone else to step in and take over.

In coming months, I will explore some other factors and share some questions to ask of potential website suppliers before you sign deals. This will be drawn from my workshop, Things you need to know before hiring a web developer.

I hope this answers the question more fully than time allowed last night.



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