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The Power of the Collective

Open Source Content Management Systems

Unlike a proprietary content management system where the code that powers the site and the counterpart data resources are typically owned by the software or website developer, the underlying code in an open source product can be accessed by the end user and even changed to suit their purposes. The real power of this model is that as programmers from across the globe find new ways to improve the open source application, they share that knowledge with the global community. This collaborative approach is very valuable and gives a developer working within an open source package thousands of options and access to powerful improvements and modules.

Open source content management systems can also utilize thousands upon thousands of predesigned “themes” which provide a professional looking website design right out of the box. Themes still require customization for your business, but by using a purchased theme you can shave hours off your design budget freeing up resources for development or reducing the overall cost of your project. Themes vary in price from a few dollars for very simple templates to thousands of dollars for more advanced layouts that grant you exclusive rights to the design (meaning no other company can deploy it on their open source website). However, no matter what theme you select they will typically all cost far less than what you’d pay for a custom design.

Additionally, because of the popularity of the larger open source applications there are many scalable hosting options available and many are nearly self-service. With many of these hosting companies providing free migration services (if you’re coming from a previous version of the application), these web hosts help detach your company from your developer to a degree. So in the end you’re not reliant on your original developer for bug fixes, enhancements, etc., you can bring the project to any number of firms familiar with the application.

There are some drawbacks to open source applications however. Let’s use WordPress for these examples since it controls nearly 60% of the open source CMS market according to the most current data we could find (at the time this was published it hosted nearly 30% of all websites online).

Open source CMS applications are not plug-and-play. You still need a decent knowledge of web, database, and server technologies to really work with the application. That may not be 100% true, I’m sure someone with little knowledge of the web could use one of the hosts we mentioned above, push out a WordPress install, drop in a theme, and generate some content. But to make your website really function and really look like a professional resource it takes some skill.

The sheer volume of WordPress sites online also makes it a very attractive to hackers. Due to the standardized nature of basic open source installs, resources from website to website are typically stored in the same locations saving a hacker some time as they explore your website. And as they discover bugs in the applications they race only to exploit the hack on as many sites as they can before the development community is able to patch it.

A qualified open source developer will make the setup and deployment of your application a snap. Web hosts also offer patching services (for an additional fee) that will scan your install and make sure its current. But none of those services are a proper substitute for a qualified developer reviewing the website monthly to make sure it’s current.

A simple Google search on “open source content management systems” will reveal just how many options are out there today. The most popular systems at publishing are WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla.

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