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Mining the untapped potential of open source content management

Is the open source content management system an arena of 'largely untapped potential' as one reader suggested? One expert in the field responds in this exclusive interview.

Open source moved into many mission critical sectors in 2005, and if any of the slew of analyst surveys about market penetration are correct, it will continue to grow into the next decade.

However, several comments from readers of at the close of the 2005 prompted a search of the Internet for experts in the relatively unknown and untapped open source content management systems arena.

At issue was whether or not content management was a field that held potential for open source, or whether this was simply a pipe dream.

The search led to Scott Goodwin, who maintains the Web site and is also is the president of the OpenSource Collective Inc.

On his site, Goodwin allows curious developers to demo -- or test drive -- the various open source php/MySQL CMS technologies available today. Every two hours, a counter on the site reaches zero, and the CMS test-driven demos are taken down and refreshed so that the process can begin again with a clean slate.

One of the main drivers for an article on open source content management systems was a series of comments from our readers regarding the "still largely undeveloped potential" that exists in this area. Those readers prompted us ask Goodwin the following questions:

Where does open source CMS stand today? Is this an accurate perception?
[Y]ou need to be somewhat self-sufficient to use these systems. There is no call center to phone if you run into a problem.
Scott Goodwin
PresidentOpen Source Collective Inc.

Scott Goodwin: Let me preface my comments with the fact that all we deal with is open source PHP/MySQL CMS's. There are many other systems available that are written in Perl, python, asp and so on. Many of these systems I understand to be very good. There are also many commercial CMS technologies on the market. My experience with them is limited in scope, however.

The phrase "still largely undeveloped potential" I don't think fairly characterizes where open source CMS stands today. There are a lot of OS CMS's out there, but only a few are widely used.

There are different strata to open source CMS. You have commercial quality systems, such as eZ publish, from eZ systems, and TYPO3, created by The TYPO3 Association, which compete well against high-dollar commercial systems. These systems are very powerful, but along with that power comes additional layers of complexity. This complexity keeps all but the most serious users from using these systems.

The next layer down includes systems like Mambo and Drupal. Within the last couple of years these two systems, specifically, have really taken the lion's share of the "easy-to-use" OS CMS market. These systems are reasonably easy to master, and the plethora of third-party modules, components and themes can extend these systems to do just about anything.

The leaders in the OS CMS market are now more focused on refinement, rather than feature building. This is a sure sign of maturity within the OS CMS arena.

Goodwin's advice on finding an open source CMS:

There are a lot of open source CMS programs out there. Only a handful of them is exceptional.

When looking for a CMS, make a list of the features you must have.  Then, below that, list which features it would be nice to have.

Once you do that, most people realize they don't really need a full-blown CMS-portal system.  They really need something much simpler like a blog with a couple of third-party modules.

How do you expect to change this perception, specifically with your site?

Goodwin: Our mission is not to really change anyone's mind. is just a site that allows people to test drive many of the best open source php/MySQL CMS technologies available today. People come to to play with the administrator side of things without having to install the CMS themselves. There is also a wealth of comments from others who have used the systems.

Open Source CMS (OS CMS) isn't for everyone. You have to be somewhat self-sufficient to use OS CMS. Generally, there is no 800 number to call for help. There is plenty of help in the user forums of the larger systems, but there is no structured matrix of accountability.

Less than a handful of companies provide third-party consulting for open source CMS's. This is a hindrance for many corporations. Most managers want the security of accountability from their vendors. If their vendor is an open source CMS, there is very little accountability at the software level.

What's with the timer on your site? How does this approach differ from other alternatives that may exist in open source?

Goodwin: The timer just lets you know when the demos refresh. That's all. All our demos refresh themselves every two hours. That way the CMS's don't get too messy.

Specifically with open source content management, how does the community development approach outclass or outperform a proprietary application?

Goodwin: I don't know if OS CMS's outclass or outperform proprietary applications. The major differentiating factor between OS and proprietary, when it comes to CMS, is the structured support and accountability of a "for pay" system.

If I had to make a guess -- and this is purely anecdotal -- I would say the larger OS CMS's are more secure than proprietary systems. With so many eyes going through the code, exploits are found, but they are patched almost immediately. Some OS CMS's are extremely poorly coded, but others are elegantly designed.

What are some examples of the comments and concerns that developers and users post to your message boards?

Goodwin: There are no specific comments or concerns that come up over and over. Everybody wants a secure system that's easy to install and does everything we want. Many of the new users don't really understand anything about php/mysql, or how to get help at the user support forums though. The whole "open source" way is strange to many people.

Again, you need to be somewhat self-sufficient to use these systems. There is no call center to phone if you run into a problem. If you have a problem, the answer is out there, you just have to look for it in the user forums of the CMS.

For more on portals and CMS
Open source portal lets Goodwill help those in need

How many developers, users or visitors does your site get a month?

Goodwin: For December, we had over 200,000 unique visitors to We currently demo about 150 systems, I believe. That number generally increases every month.

Because you mention MySQL and PHP on your site, I was hoping you could speak to the importance of the entire stack, LAMP, in the coming months in terms of popularity as well as versus technologies like Java and .NET.

Goodwin: Let me preface this by saying I don't really know anything about Java, and I know less than nothing about .NET. PHP and MySQL / PostgreSQL are by far the most used tools to base open source CMS's.

As MySQL continues to improve in order to better compete with commercial databases like Oracle, things can only get better. Adoption rates will increase as well. At present, MySQL isn't really in the same ballpark as Oracle. MySQL is improving, so stay tuned.

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