The Answer to Every Web Content Publishing Problem Is a Bicycle?

A couple of things have inspired this post, firstly Quora’s insistence that the answer to every CMS question is Drupal, (actually more correctly the communities answer to every question) and a chance encounter of a fellow simultaneously riding a bicycle, carrying a suitcase dicing with death in the Oxford traffic.

Which kind of encapsulated a few thoughts I’ve had recently about all this big community generated hype. Now, calm down drupalists I am not suggesting that Drupal is as limited in purpose as a bicycle, I’m using it to represent popularity, ubiquity and availability.

Firstly a few months ago, a chat with a marketing chum in the pub, about to embark on a new role. It was a company with a 90’s looking web presence, in need of fresh design and content and as we discussed this web experience his question to me went something like – “You’ve seen our website, I’ve heard a lot about Drupal, do you think I should replace what we have with it?”.

Uh….

Next up a recent Twitter conversation with a fellow web professional (they’ve now left Twitter so I can’t directly quote) where their position was that Drupal is a great place to start, we are all going broadly in the same direction so what does it matter? Being dismissive of requirements analysis.

Hmm…

On Quora Irina Guseva (industry watcher of CMSWire fame) had the audacity to point out something called ‘requirements’ in answer to a question about the best corporate CMS. When I took the conversation to Twitter it attracted some attention from a fan of WordPress (the other big community suggestion on Quora as the bestest CMS) and she was described as a ‘pedant pontificating’ for suggesting it. (If you do stroll over to Quora and see Irina’s answer, note the class she brings to the ubiquitous CMS car analogy, yes very specifically it MUST be the 1931 Bugatti Royale Kellner Coupe).

A pedant pontificating eh?

Now, lets not get hung up on the fact that I’ve mentioned Drupal or WordPress in this post, at various points of the CMS hype cycle and depending on who you are talking to you could probably replace various names in those conversations – folks in the late 90’s gorged with VC money probably ran around saying things like “we all need a Vignette”.

No, folks you need a CMS, or a WCM system. Or maybe not – my mate in the pub actually just needed a fresh design, a product marketing strategy and some decently written copy – he had a perfectly good CMS baby that he was thinking should go the way of the bath water.

There is a positive of course, in that all this noise (and maybe the odd personal attack) demonstrates an established solution with a passionate community. That’s a marvelous thing – but it’s not the only thing.

Now I’d be as cautious as the next analyst about recommending a fresh young CMS vendor that seems to have found the font of eternal CMS VC funding (think it’s in Scandinavia somewhere), without some significant due diligence. However, once you are beyond knowing there is a community of ‘other people like you with your business problem’, a pool of technical folks that can solve them and someone will answer the phone in a years time – isn’t there a point at which a community size ceases to differentiate or add value to the solution?

It may also be that the nature of your business means that your ‘other people’ community is a tribe of 20 or 2000. Does it matter after that? You have other requirements beyond ‘is an established product for doing the thing you do’.

At this point, I should also make the time honored point about confusing Open Source with free. Jumping on a ‘great place to start’ is (of course) going to cost your organization money and time. This is going to be true of whatever option you take and in most CMS implementations the biggest chunk of the cash is spent on the implementation (especially with those solutions at the toolkit end of the market), you really don’t want to be heaping all that good cash on building a web experience on foundations that’ll creak under the weight or won’t bend to your specific needs.

Ah.. I’ve mentioned the implementation. The crew. I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Jon Marks to discuss the importance of the crew, I suggest starting with this and then searching his blog for ‘crew’.

There is some caution here with the advice of the crew and there is also the opportunity here for me to trot out one of my favorite analogies – that if your crew only has a hammer, your business problem is going to look like a nail. But, I’ve digressed.. Regardless of the solution, before you jump on the bandwagon du jour (and I’m not saying don’t do it), it’s essential that you have a good old look at your requirements and maybe the tools and people you already have.

Which brings me to my hapless cyclist, the fact that a huge community of a billion million Chinese folks have adopted the bicycle really wasn’t helping him move his suitcase.

Image of the fully laden Chinese cyclist by istolethetv reproduced under create commons license.

35 Replies to “The Answer to Every Web Content Publishing Problem Is a Bicycle?”

  1. Also, you probably should use a bicycle to ride to the pole 🙂

    I used a very similar metaphor — addressing a slightly different angle of the same issue — here: http://www.realstorygroup.com/Blog/1945-Do-you-need-a-simple-or-a-complex-CMS

    I’m sort of on the fence about the whole thing. On the one hand, it’s great that loads of people start to understand what a CMS is, and why you’d use one, because of Drupal and WordPress.

    But on the other hand, paradoxically, if the answer to every web content publishing problem is a bicycle — then why would you go reinvent the wheel?

  2. Oh Ian how I love this blog post! There are a lot of websites full of little ma and pa shop types that are only looking to power very small sites and seemingly refuse to consider that corporate sites (as Irina put it) “have requirements” that need to be considered before selecting the platform. I also cringe when I’m following up on leads and emails or first calls start with..so we were thinking of using Drupal…what do you think? LOL

  3. Thank you Adriaan and Kimberley for your kind comments.

    Adriaan – I’ve only inched a tiny degree off the fence and that’s as far as I want to be on this one. I agree, I think Drupal and WP are doing great things for our industry, but business requirements rule in every case.

    Kimberley – I think lots of folks are sharing this experience, in some cases it’s a great start to a conversation – at least they are saying “what do you think?”. It’s when the solution is prescribed before someone says “What do you think?”. 🙂

    Thanks again,

    Ian

  4. @IanTruscott well it was a great post! I was lmao 🙂 So we gotta start cooking up something for #lastthursdaycms

  5. Thanks Ian – yes I’ve left Twitter (again) but that doesn’t mean I’m not bombarded with noise from all other angles about the ‘latest and greatest’ re-invention in the wonderful world of CMS.

    As you are probably aware, I have been doing requirements gathering and CMS implementations across a broad spectrum of organisations – enterprise, corporate and SME for well over 10 years.

    My comment referring to Drupal being as good a place to start as any relates to specific experiences of using Drupal during the last 12 months in direct comparison to one of the current ‘darlings’ of .Net CMS, EPiServer – a system I have used intensively for the last 3 years.

    My comments also refer to some recent experiences comparing the Drupal 6 implementations I have been working with on live commercial sites with a trial implementation of Drupal 7. As mentioned in a tweet a while back, I have lost some faith in commercial CMS during the last year and gained some faith in Open Source.

    So coming back to the issue of requirements gathering. Again, what you may regard as a rather flippant comment about us all broadly going in the same direction is again, based on these broad experiences where I have retrospectively analysised whether I would have been in any better position after an extensive requirements gathering period versus taking a much more agile approach based on broader goals. On balance, I believe the more agile approach works better, particularly in volatile market conditions. It may not be the type of opinion that analysts and vendors want to hear, as your lifeblood is the fact that this space remains crowded and confused. I, for one, am pleased that for the vast majority of organisations out there with web challenges the answers have become a lot simpler and quite often they include the words WordPress and Drupal. I think Adriaan is spot on in his comment that if the problem is a bicycle, “why reinvent the wheel”.

  6. This post is fantastic.

    It’s interesting to see how the commercial vs. Open Source CMS worlds are shaping up. There’s a tremendous amount of innovation happening in the OS space, which admittedly isn’t burdened with the legacy of supporting large businesses and organizations selling into IT departments. (A shift towards content management purchases moving away from IT and into Marketing is another interesting topic that I’ve personally witnessed…)

    It’s equally as fun watching the current mindshare leaders in the Open Source space, and looking at a huge gaping hole that really needs to be filled in that realm. That’s where we’ve been quietly and feverishly working for the last year—after 5 or so years of pushing out releases as a stereotypical pure-play OS project. All signs point to an interesting next few years for our project and the company. I love where we are, and can’t wait to share what’s coming.

  7. @Ryan Thrash – hey great plug for Modx! Agree on the innovation in the OS space and I think you make a great point about OS not being ‘burdened’ with the legacy that many commercial CMS offerings have. I think that burden also extends to the quality of the core product, which through the necessities of commercial competition and the need to be ‘feature’ rich, ultimately means the core product deteriorates over time.

    I seem to find myself forever disagreeing with Ian at the moment as we clearly appear to inhabit different worlds of CMS these days – where I often wonder what planet he’s on now 😉 and I very much disagree with the fact that he disagrees that Open Source is a ‘great place to start’. In terms of prototyping and testing how well something is going to work with the most important participants in your CMS efforts – namely the poor folks that have to use it day in and day out, then we’ve never had a better time to jump on board and try things out – often with a broad scope of capability at very marginal cost, compared with many commercial offerings. Drupal Gardens and Drupal 7 are two such ‘great places to start’ and maybe Modx 😉

  8. BTW Ian – beyond the fantasy world of CMS – when the majority of that “huge community of a billion million Chinese folks” adopt more than the bicycle – the issues we face today will become even more acute.

    And (while I’m at it ;))… before I get labelled as a Drupalist – given my comments above. I am no more a Drupalist than I’ve been a Vignetteist, Immediacyist, SharePointist, EPiServerist or Joomlaist over the years. I select the best tools based on the requirements although have learnt the hard way about getting bogged down unnecessarily and unproductively in that process.

  9. So, about these “requirements” then.

    Count for me, old chum, the number of times you’ve read a CM requirement that unequivocally suggest a genuine CM problem, never mind pointing towards even a category of CM solutions let alone a specific one.

    Sometimes you have to dare to fail just to figure out what it was you were daring to fail at. And if you’re going to do that, you might as well fail with something that has a low cost of entry.

  10. @Ryan: “There’s a tremendous amount of innovation happening in the OS space…”

    Really? Really really?

    The “innovation” word is another of those that’s getting casually over-used these days, like “genuis.”

    Are you perhaps confusing “reacting quickly” with “creating something genuinely new and interesting?”

  11. @Kimberly I’m surprised at your comments re Drupal given Oshyn’s promotion of it’s expertise in the platform in recent months http://oshyn.com/solutions/drupal-development.html – I guess you’re finding it’s not so easy to make the margins on it from a ‘crew’ perspective than the likes of EPiServer et al.

    Oh – and while I’m at it this time 😉 If anyone can help these old Mediasurface cohorts get their rather dated site onto Drupal – I’m sure they’d thank you for it 😉 http://www.artificial-solutions.com/

    1. Excellent, you’ve made my point for me there. How does Drupal fix a dated design and poor content? Do you know what CMS drives this site and whether it is the reason for the poor visitor experience?

  12. Hello Stewart, Thanks for stopping by my friend, really interesting points. I’m trying to keep my blog posts light so, yes there are holes in this as I try and stop writing grey thesis that cover every angle.

    Ryan – probably a less salesy comment ;-), but thanks for stopping by and it’s great to see the legacy point for vendors being acknowledged.

    Hi James, James, James, James.. and err ooh more James… 😉

    First off, when I say “requirements”, I don’t mean “analysis paralysis” at some point you need to do your business or get off the potty. In the new order of marketing we are constantly wanging on about ‘agility’, ‘speed’, ‘flexibility’, ‘execution’, ‘fast paced’ etc etc and by the time you’ve spent 6 months naval gazing the world may have moved on.

    My objective was simply to point out the folly of “the answer is xyz vendor – now what’s the question?” – which I don’t see any disagreement to. That just because everyone is talking or a product is at the peak of it’s hype cycle doesn’t make it right for you. I possibly could have made similar observations about companies rushing to be on Facebook, without stopping to think why.

    Stewart, I think you do open up a good point about quality of requirements, definitely a blog post for another day – but just because our experience tells us that some folks think that “It must be easy to use (mandatory)” is a good RFP question, doesn’t mean we should throw out the ‘stopping to think for a moment’ part of the process.

    Of course there are three areas that are going to cost money and time. 1. the bit you do before the software selection, 2. the selection/procurement and then 3. the implementation. A disproportionate investment for a particular business problem or organization in either of these has the potential to impact the project negatively.

    A blind rush into something may leave you noodling away getting the wrong platform to fit for two years, similarly an expensive procurement process and the shiniest product won’t save you if you’ve spent your training budget and forming the worlds largest focus group and the best requirements ain’t going to help if you end up standing still for a year. You folks, as any web professional worth his salt, are going to have seen examples across that spectrum – irrespective of platform.

    Of course, there are also competing forces in play and everyone has an angle you could argue that vendors are trying to grab all the cash at point 2 while implementation folks are trying push all the cash into 3. Maybe analysts are trying to grab a slice of the pie at 1.

    Open Source is great, it disrupts this old model – but it isn’t magic fairy dust that makes the grubby business of cost go away. Also, these projects have a value beyond being ‘open source = free’. I sat in room last month with a guy who couldn’t express the business value of his pioneering project (within a huge global corp) without saying ‘open source’ in each sentence – terminology that did nothing to demonstrate it’s success to the business.

    I’m going to stop now, this is definitely a blog post for another day…

    Cheers all!

    Ian

  13. Thanks Ian – thought you may have been missing me on Twitter 🙂

    Your old marketing chum sounds like he’s been about a bit and probably knows his website requirements and, quite possibly the CMS world, off the back of his hand. Therefore I think his question and the way he asked it sounds quite valid. As we all like to say in the wonderful world of CMS and particularly when it comes to WEM – it’s all about ‘context’.

    I agree with your ‘grab the cash’ comment which is why I probably wasn’t so surprised at Kimberly’s comment from the ‘crew’ perspective. On one hand Oshyn will push its Drupal expertise http://oshyn.com/solutions/drupal-development.html – but on the other hand probably doesn’t make enough margin on it than it does from pushing solutions like EPiServer and Sitecore?

      1. Ah.. found them… answered my own question – Akismet did think they were spam – I hadn’t realized that there were more comments to the 8 you’d already submitted… hang on…

  14. Thanks for the explanation Ian – I’ll try to keep my comments in one response then to avoid your spam filter.

    Oh, by the way – the answer to your question is dotCMS – which looks like some overcomplicated J2EE solution – I think they’d be better on Drupal – shall I give my old mate Laurance a call 😉

  15. Possibly when you decided you were “OshynWatch” but kept the same URL? No idea, but Akismet in it’s wisdom thought you were spam – so thanks for pointing that out.

  16. There’s an awful lot of Drupal spam about these days from that very vocal Drupal community but it may well be that they’re hitting the spot long feared by CMS Vendors, Analysts and Commentators – commoditisation!

  17. @Stewart

    I do think there’s a ton of innovation happening in OS. As you also rightly identified, there also tends to be a lot more agility in OS—reaction often occur more quickly than many legacy vendors are able to adapt.

    Legacy vendors also have a lot of things very, very right. But from my vantage point the CMS industry does seem to be at a quite interesting inflection point. When things move out of IT and into Marketing departments, things typically change significantly, and we’re on the cusp of massive shift I think.

  18. Bloke A: I want the best website in the world. Bloke B: XYZ product will do it. Bloke A: Great. All my technical team are Java developers and are eager to integrate our existing eCommerce processes. Bloke B: Oh you wanted eCommerce?

    Is the XYZ product still suitable? Possibly. I read into this that requirements should lead a decision. I do agree. The level of requirements to be enough can be subjective but requirements help the choice and how its implemented. Commoditisation is coming many may say. I would like to see it as it would make lots of things simpler. Young industry – things are moving forward – could happen.

    Bloke A: I want the best car in the world. Bloke B: XYZ manufacturer will do it – ABC car. Bloke A: Great. We must meet European Union safety regulations for public road use. Bloke B: Oh you wanted public road use?

    Henry Ford had commodity vehicles back in the day. “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black” was the quote I recall. Worked for them… for a while. It doesn’t always work but comparing to other industries helps me rationalise and keep challenging our thinking.

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