Technology & Development, Content Management

Open Source: The Dazzling Distraction of FREE

Tempted by open source for your content management system?

Hopelessly attracted to that free price tag?

price tagIt’s a trap that even the most level-headed college administrators fall for: the irresistibility of an open source system as a smart, economical choice for maximum control over your website. Yet lurking below the surface are dark secrets that won’t be exposed until you’ve thrown heart and soul into the process. Had your instincts kicked in, these probing questions could have kept you from falling head over heels:

  • What security concerns loom in your future?
  • What user and management issues have prior lovers of open source experienced?
  • Does the seductive proposal of “free” really mean free?

Shopping around for a new web content management system (CMS) should be a time of discovery and possibility, but for many who are new to the CMS dating game, the experience is filled with heartache and despair. This is especially true when those sweet nothings offered by an open source CMS promise everything from a free price tag to unlimited customizable tools.

If only someone had warned you of the dangers…

Thankfully, we have the inside scoop for web professionals in the market for a CMS.

Can one staff person fulfill your every CMS need?

Many web professionals play many roles. Some are marketers who are responsible for content creation and brand management. Others are developers who oversee student record systems, CRMs, database and lifecycle management, and app development. Because your website is not the only hat that web pros wear on any given day, it is important to understand that open source software requires expert management on a frequent and constant basis. Do you have one person who can be responsible for building, coding, and maintaining your site, as well as troubleshoot when your open source CMS goes down? If the answer is no, it may be time to end your open source fling.

Open source software requires expert management on a frequent and constant basis.

How could something so attractive be so wrong?

Let’s say you built a beautiful website, with all the fancy-schmancy things your team requested. On the surface, it is functional, flashy, and gives visitors a cool experience.

Then you get a phone call.

The website is broken.

A critical piece of your site that functioned just fine days ago isn’t working now. You drop everything to investigate and repair in real time. Meanwhile, your user experience suffers. Site visitors are frustrated and confused while you are scrambling to figure out why your plugin has stopped working.

Unfortunately, for many open source users, it is not as simple as picking up the phone or submitting a support ticket to report the issue. As an open source user, you must troubleshoot and make repairs by your lonely, only self.

Time… is not on your side.

Time is money, and a broken website is money down the drain. If you don’t have an open source expert on call, or a support network to lend you a hand when things go south, you will have to spend time researching, digging for information, and rebuilding broken pages with new plugins that you must find and test on your own. Add these responsibilities to your already busy workload and it makes the prospect of “free” much less attractive.

Many of the costs associated with open source content management systems are hidden downstream and rarely made clear from the outset. The costs of personnel resources, time, and peace of mind are definitely worth considering when deciding if open source is right for you.

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