Whilst Web developers initially built websites using HTML editors such as FrontPage and Dreamweaver, we quickly saw new tools rollout to assist developers in more efficiently building websites called Content Management Systems (CMS) These CMS’s reduced the repetitiveness of development activities as well as reducing the amount of coding developers had to do. As they became more sophisticated, CMS platforms came into a realm of their own when delivered as an end user tool for marinating content in websites by the site owners with without any development skills.
These appeared in the market as commercial products, open source solutions or as proprietary systems. Many developers and web agencies felt that commercial products and open source platforms did not achieve enough as a CMS and wrote their own CMS products.
This additionally presented a new opportunity to these vendors. They could lock their clients in to not only the vendors’ CMS but also the agency's own development resources, hosting services and support plans. Minimising client churn was a key advantage.
However, as time passed, the very advantages of these systems to the agency that used them also end up working against them. Clients did not want to be locked into a single vendor or web agency. In many cases such clients virtually had a gun held to their head due to the large investment they had made in their websites and the cost of high cost of changing to another platform.
This month we saw here on the Gold Coast, a major web agency, Graphics Online go into liquidation with over 400 clients relying on the proprietary CMS platform, GOCMS. The clients have now come to realise that for some, they are looking at significant reinvestment in their website delivered in order to transfer it to another platform. For the present, these clients are not at a complete loss as fortunately they each have a copy of the CMS on the Web server and one of the previous hosting providers has advised they can continue to run their website and e-mail with their new hosting plans. This however is only a “stop-gap” measure to what is slowly revealing itself as a rather “messy” state of affairs.
The issues they do face however are:
- There is no support for the GOCMS and the future of such does not look promising
- Implementing updates to their website is likely to be difficult and expensive (if at all possible)
- Graphics Online have laid blame for their collapse with a hacker attack, which raises serious concerns for clients running the same system.
At the moment, there are also questions about legal rights around the use of and obtaining support for GOCMS product. Some people are even questioning the legal rights of ownership and copyright to the code in the websites built for the clients. This latter point surprises this writer, as all rights should have been transferred to the client at the finalisation of the site being built.
Whatever the situation around the rights to use what is in place might be, at the end of the day, clients have to accept that there is no future in maintaining the current status quo. Moving or rebuilding of their websites onto a new platform will be required. The only exception would be if the GOCMS product is resurrected with new owners.
The majority of solutions will require a new site to be completely rebuilt even if clients wish to retain the current designs and layouts. This is because you generally cannot just transfer code from one website on a proprietary CMS and use it directly in another CMS.
The choices available to clients will vary to some degree. Some will be made an offer to rebuild their Joomla or Drupal however; the vast majority of Web developers will offer a WordPress solution simply because this is all most web agencies know or choose to use. These solutions will either require a new design and build based on existing WordPress theme. If the client wishes to keep their current designs and layouts, then the Web developer must be able to build custom WordPress themes which is not something all web developers do.
For those websites that have more complex information being presented by way of say e-commerce facilities or custom databases, then the solution to be deployed becomes a whole lot more complex, and of course expensive.
There are now many good CMS platforms. Each has its own merits and limitations and none are the ideal solution for all situations and budgets.
What we do suggest however is the use of proprietary CMS platform is one that should be considered with extreme precaution. YOU need to understand that the companies that develop these are based on a support model that relies on its own resources as the sole source of developing client solutions. In certain situations this is an acceptable and practical solution.
It is important to use a CMS platform that has a strong commitment from its owners to ongoing product development along with a broad base of Web developers using the CMS in the wider marketplace.
It is not that proprietary CMS platforms are poor at delivering good result or are of inferior quality; some are excellent and in fact may go on to become significant products on the commercial market.
The real concern lays with the smaller software developers who simply do not have the depth of resources and funds to take the product to a broader market. Broad acceptance is an important criteria.