Gregor J Rothfuss has been observing and working with content management tools for many years.
We catch up with him over the internet to talk about open source, a subject increasingly recurring
How do you see the business model for OS developing?
In services, more and more. there are some excellent open source venture blogs that track this question in great detail: Open Source Strategies and Asay
Os tools are said to be not very usable. Why is that? Is it just still too early in their evolution?
This held true, traditionally, but has recently been true less and less. One reason is that software per se is no longer interesting, and increasingly, developers are aware of usability issues, and a nice UI can now be considered quite sexy. This is mostly due to some well-publicized web applications that utilize AJAX technologies. At first, OSS was often in catch-up mode and had to quickly fill in holes in functionality. now that functional parity to commercial products is being reached, the focus has often shifted to these more subtle qualities.
Plus, more and more hackers understand the value of design, as exemplified by Apple who are taking geek toys and slapping nice UI on top, or Firefox, which is essentially a slimmed down Mozilla.
Only in its Firefox incarnation has full success come.
Some say there is too much hype around Ajax
There is hype in so far as these techniques have been around since 1998. Only now are they getting a lot of attention. Writing for Ajax is pretty hard, and still people are doing it. similar capabilities have been available through flash for years, but no one wants to belocked into that, so people deploy Ajax instead.
Still, i think it is a stop gap measure to something better.
How is the open source content management business doing? Do we have any idea about ratios?
From what I can tell, it is still growing organically, not in a real boom or bust cycle. This might change with recent VC forays into the space, but personally I prefer a stable long term business to a hyped up one.
A lot of companies currently get funding whose business model is basically a copy of Mysql. Keep the base product free (under lgpl) and sell 'enterprise versions' with support, and the possibility of different licensing terms, to interested parties.
The reason for allthis VC excitement seem to be that it is hoped that these OSS startups might be disruptive, and might redefine their spaces by bringing down prices radically, and therefore making their product available to much broader audiences. for instance, most organizations still have very primitive CMS systems in place. if prices come down enough, this market increases a lot in size.
As to the number of OSS projects, some estimate over 100k.
What do you think might be constraining adoption?
Usability, lack of polish, lack of marketing, paranoia.
For a project manager, OS is sometimes perceived as high risk. Why is the Oscom community not pulling together to offer more certainties, such as a certification, a professional organisation that could guarantee the stability of an OSCOM implementation?
Currently, there is still too much variety. With the emergence of JSR 170, this might change, and certification might become feasible.
Do you think knowledge and skills are scarce? If so, why?
The areas that have heavily embraced open standards have the least problems with attracting talents, while areas such as cms are still too fractured. as this changes, and more things become commodities within the space, the scarcity will go away.
What do you think should be done to promote the uptake of open source CM? Do you think developers can do something to promote familiarity and confidence in their products?
Take lessons from the spread of really simple web apps with their nice UI. Make it much easier to commit to a system but also less risky by supporting standards (this allows to migrate data away from a system)
While I personally have a somewhat reduced interest in CMS these days (been doing it for 4 years now, and my current job is not about CMS atall), I can't help but notice that while OSCOM itself has been lingering, some of it's constituent projects, like Plone and Midgard, have improved their message a lot.
Midgard is doing a lot of things right these days, by adopting outside standards, freshening up their UI and listening to their community.
While the manpower to motivate hundreds of CMS projects to do the right thing (adopt common standards, the whole OSCOM value proposition) does not seem to be there, I hope that the winning projects will win decisively and make the laggards irrelevant.
Just as consolidation in Linux distributions is long overdue and necessary for further inroads, the same holds true for the open source CMS space.
How should we go about classifying CMS?
I spent quite some time thinking about that one in 2003, when I worked at CMSML with Bob Doyle, unfortunately, it hasn't gone far :) I still believe such standardized categories would be tremendously helpful, both in making it easier for buyers to pick a system, and it would lead to more consolidation as competition would heat up. right now, vendors hide behind their own terminology to evade the "we do just the same thing as everyone else". Why is it not useful? For one, vendors do not want this transparency, just like mobile phone operators make sure their pricing structures remain obscure and defy comparison. more surprising perhaps, it seems that buyers do not want to be held accountable too much either. If the selection criteria were much more transparent, it would be easier to blame the (often) negative ROI of a CMS project on the the evaluation comittee..
Why should users chose an OS over a proprietary CMS
Pros: downward pressure on margins / prices which benefits all CMS buyers, more emphasis on standards. oscom can be a useful tool in thetoolbox for savvy IT organizations (by allowing full customization).
This is nicely explained by Doc Searls in his DIY IT at his site Garage.
Openusability.org is a recent, very welcome development. We need lots of that kind of cooperation.Cons: OSCOM has little to no hand holding that less savvy buyers expect. It may be more difficult for traditional buyers to determinethe viability of an OSS package (based on community factors such as activity etc).
What do you think about Mambo split?
What is it about php CMS and their propensity to forking? I have participated in two forks myself in years past (postnuke and xaraya),and it seems to me that the low barrier to entry (the lowest of all the programming languages commonly used for cms) creates it's own setof problems. I have found time and again that this low entry barrier brings people into the field who do not think like programmers, and need to learn all the rules and etiquette that the open source community takes for granted.
I have described this deluge of non-programmer talent in my thesis in more detail. while it is excellent that open source manages to reach out to these newcomers, we need to get better about communicating the ground rules.
Another thing with php cms is that it tends to have the smallest margins for people trying to make a living off it. as a low margin business, it tends to attract more people of the rip-off variety.
What does the mambo situation mean for open source cms in general?
It means that a lot of projects need to reevaluate their license choice. These problems always happen with projects that do not understand the terms of the (L)GPL. i personally think the dual licensing model (LGPL/
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