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The Hidden Costs of an Open Source CMS

When it comes to building your new website, one of the most important decisions you and your web development team will make is which content management system (CMS) to use.

Open Source

Open source solutions such as Wordpress and Drupal ar e increasingly popular options. As with other open source projects, they offer some compelling features—a library of community-developed plugins and modules, no licensing fees and access to the source code. These perks are certainly attractive, but make sure to also consider that while open source solutions may be free and open, and therefore possibly more attractive than a proprietary or “closed” solution, that doesn't mean they don't come without a price. In other words, there are often hidden costs or compromises behind the veil of “free”. 

Here are a few of these important factors to consider before you choose an open source solution.

The Oh-Crap Moment

When something goes wrong on your site or you need a quick turnaround on a new feature, you or your developers may find yourself at the mercy of an expensive learning curve or unorganized and often out-dated online documentation. Also, consider that open source projects don’t come with a support line—not without a cost, at least.

Double-Edged Sword

The most intriguing attributes of open source solutions can also be the scariest—you have access to a community of developers who are constantly developing new code. On the one hand that sounds great—a free workforce! On the other hand, some 10 year old 10,000 miles away may write an unstable "hello world" plugin that eventually gets installed on your enterprise website. That's not just scary, it's a liability for you, your business and your customers.

(Planned) Change is Good

With open source, changes in the software are always available, but they're also inevitable—which isn't always good. When Wordpress 2.7 (Coltrane) came out, it brought with it a new interface. Most people would agree that the changes were a welcome improvement, but beyond that is a deeper concern—it's a change that was out of your control and one that forces you to update your CMS interface or risk running an older version, which often has security concerns. This could also lead to training needs for your staff, the need to update incompatible plugins and other hidden maintenance costs.

Our Approach

At New Media Campaigns we decided to build our own custom content management system from the bottom-up—one that we know like the back of our hand and that we can bend to our will, usually with very little effort. It's the result of years of development and the product of our experience with launching hundreds of websites of all types, kinds and sizes. It may not be the right solution for every site and it does come with a cost. But, in my experience, you get what you pay for. If you decide to use open source CMS solutions, make sure you know what you're paying for—and perhaps more importantly, what you're not.

Comments

David C's avatar
David C

This whole article is filled with invalid points.... here are a few..

"you or your developers may find yourself at the mercy of an expensive learning curve or unorganized and often out-dated online documentation."

But there are thousands of developers for Open Source platforms... why would there be a learning curve? you could just hire one of those many developers if you didn't want to learn how to make the changes yourself.

"some 10 year old 10,000 miles away may write an unstable "hello world" plugin that eventually gets installed on your enterprise website."

10yr old? in order to run the unstable plugin you would have to first install it, it wouldn't be forced on you... it would be your choice... and if it was really unstable... you would just uninstall it.

"Most people would agree that the changes were a welcome improvement, but beyond that is a deeper concern—it's a change that was out of your control and one that forces you to update your CMS interface"

isn't this forced on you anyway when using a proprietary system? at least you have a choice with open source right?

Jonathan's avatar
Jonathan NMC team member

Hey David. Thanks for your feedback. Hopefully these are worst case scenarios, truth is though that they're all first-hand experiences, so unfortunately I know that they do happen.

I think a lot of the points you raised come down to making wise choices as a client and working with qualified people you trust. Hopefully if that happens none of these problems will ever be an issue!

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