You Need A Content Management System. Why Not Open Source?

In 2007, DISCOVER Magazine, the leading popular science magazine in the US, hired us to design and develop a new website that would be more compelling to its community and subscribers. This high-traffic site (more than 5 million page views per month) was developed on a sophisticated open source content management system (Plone), and contains every article of every issue since 1992, categorized, tagged, interrelated and searchable. The platform allows DISCOVER to take advantage of blogging, podcasting, photo galleries and video technologies, and greatly facilitates the publication of the online magazine.

In August 2010, Kalmbach Publishing announced that it was acquiring DISCOVER Media. In its article on the sale, Folio Magazine wrote, “[Henry Donahue, DISCOVER’s CEO], attributes the apparent success of the deal to the digital operations the brand has developed [emphasis added]. ‘It put us in a good position to have an actual sale process in contrast to most of the transactions you’ve seen out there in the market,’ he says.”

A good deal of the value DISCOVER built in its digital operations can be attributed to the benefits DISCOVER was able to gain from using open source software.

Donahue wrote on Folio some of his impressions of using the open source content management system (CMS) over the last couple of years.


From the full article:

Based on my conversations at trade events, however, many publishers still struggle with the basic issue of getting content online in a way that is timely, efficient and interactive.  On top of that, the twin financial and publishing crises make it unlikely that anyone can round up the capital to do a 1999-style $5 million custom CMS development.

Enter the open source content management system.

At Discover, we went with Plone, which was recommended by our outside developers and seemed to combine a simple, intuitive platform with a robust open source development community.  You can read a case study about our March 2007 launch here at the Plone site.

Almost three years later, here are my takeaways on our open source experience…

Donahue brings up a key point. During this time when everyone is trying to figure out a way to save every dollar, open source solutions sure bring a lot of value to the table.

Some of the biggest benefits include:

  • No license cost – Open source software is generally available for anyone to freely download. Commercial software usually requires expensive annual licensing fees, and always requires large up-front purchase costs.
  • Pay for service rather than software – Rather than spending a lot of money on software licensing, you can reallocate your budget to address other critical needs, such as customizing the software for your specific business needs, integrating with external systems, website design, content development, usability testing and training.
  • Enhanced flexibility – Since the code is open, it can be more easily changed to meet your specific organizational requirements.
  • Reduced lock-in and increased support options – You are not tied to a single vendor. If your software vendor was to go out of business or be purchased, or the relationship between you and your vendor was to become sour, you could find many other vendors that would be happy to step in. Plus, since they already understand the way the software platform fundamentally works, the learning curve for the new vendor is relatively small. Open source software is bigger than any individual vendor; it “future proofs” against the uncertain future of individual vendors.
  • Simpler integration – Popular open source software projects are typically written using open, standard tools and languages like PHP or Python. Open source software typically uses open, well-understood standards, and is built with integration in mind, using technologies like XML and LDAP.
  • Implicit investment of many organizations – Since many different individuals and organizations work on an open source project, users of the project benefit from the contributions of all, not just the work of the hired vendor.
  • Faster support resolution – Commercial vendors are unlikely to fix bugs and problems in a timely fashion. Perhaps your bug will be fixed in the next release, which is due in 6 months. With open source software, the development community usually resolves reported bugs with an available patch in a matter of days. And of course, since the source code is open, you always have the ability to fix any bugs yourself (or by hiring any number of vendors).
  • Stronger security – Since many more “eyeballs” are looking at the source code (the core developers plus any technical users of the system) security holes can be patched more quickly.

Want to discuss open source technology platforms? Give us a ring.

About Us

Abstract Edge is a creative boutique online marketing agency that has launched new brands for Clairol and Vera Wang, inspired a million moms to march on Washington, assisted American Idol’s fight against malaria, and helped increase web traffic so successfully for Discover Magazine that it was recently acquired.

Our primary offices are in New York and Baltimore and we have clients throughout the US. You can read more about us here.

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