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Open Source, Community, and Freedom

I’ve been with Acquia for a few weeks and have greatly enjoying learning about Drupal and what makes an open source project succeed – the community. It’s such a different approach to product development than I’m used to, having spent most of my career working for commercial CMS companies. I’ve already seen the energy, commitment and passion of the Drupal community.

In fact, I’m beginning to believe that community is one of the most important factors in the long-term success of a CMS implementation project. CMS expert Deane Barker writes about An Oft-Overlooked CMS Feature: The Community

But here’s something that not many people look at, and something I maintain is critical: the quality of the community around the product.

Building a vibrant, sustainable community just isn’t a core competency of commercial CMS vendors. The reason? Communities are tied to vendors, and as history has shown – CMS vendors have varying levels of commitment to their products. Let’s look at a few examples of some commercial CMS products which once led the market, but have since faltered:

  • 6400 sites are still running Vignette and RedDot. Vignette and RedDot were acquired by OpenText and have seen little attention in OpenText’s crowded product portfolio.
  • 1357 sites are running on Oracle Stellent. Oracle bought Stellent 2006 and has since abandoned it in favor of Fatwire (which in turn has its own conflict issues within Oracle).
  • 1666 on Microsoft CMS. Microsoft acquired NCompass Labs 10 years ago and it became Microsoft CMS for a short time before being retired in favor of SharePoint.
  • 564 on CommonSpot. CommonSpot is the only remaining ColdFusion-based CMS, and while ColdFusion isn’t dead – it’s certainly in a tough spot relative to other development frameworks.
  • And while Autonomy/Interwoven (my former employer) isn’t tracked by Builtwith, there are thousands of sites running TeamSite, a product that was buried by Autonomy after the Interwoven acquisition, and now seems to have an uncertain future at HP.

(via trends.builtwith.com. By the way, Builtwith shows 554,000 sites on Drupal!)

In each of these cases, there was once a large vendor community surrounding formerly good CMS products. But commercial vendors have little commitment to sustaining a community when their goals change, either due to an event like an acquisition, or change in focus. The web content management space has been particularly volatile and lots of companies are stuck with CMS products that have no clear path forward.

That’s where open source wins; especially projects like Drupal with its engaged, committed community. Drupal isn’t tied to the success or failure of any single vendor. Acquia exists to help Drupal customers succeed, via offerings like the Acquia Network and Acquia Cloud.

Ultimately I think open source and community provide freedom. If you’re stuck on Vignette or Stellent or TeamSite or any of the other abandoned commercial CMS products, you need to make choosing community and freedom a priority.

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