Why Open Source Website Frameworks are Not Best for Small Business People

Posted by Alan / on 01/15/2010 / 2 Comments

It's important to note - As I clearly diminish the benefits small business people will experience from using the two primary open source website frameworks, this is strictly been my experience. I've been in the web design, development and marketing space for small business for over 13 years and have virtually seen and worked with it all.

It's likely some may disagree with what I'm about to share and it's the main reason I will only speak to my experience - working in the field, versus regurgitating industry speak so to sound educated about the matter.

I spent 3 long arduous years using, developing and selling services with Joomla and Drupal, the two most widely known open source website frameworks. I will get into the details on why such a hard-road, though before I do allow me to explain what led up to using these frameworks and why I eventually completely eliminated it from our offerings.

How I Came To Use Open Source for Several Years

In the summer of 2007 I had some decisions to make about the direction of my business life and the businesses I was running. I was coming out of 4 years of intense focus on direct response and online marketing - promoting and selling online lead generation services to independent business owners and professionals.

Briefly rewind to the time the tech bubble burst; I went into marketing and selling marketing services, though beforehand I was building websites for the industrial and manufacturing sector on Long Island. Partnered with Thomas Register - now ThomasNet - I was one of two exclusive web developers servicing clients for the Thomas Register Reps and several Fortune 500 companies.

Long story short, Thomas Register made some major internal changes affecting our 4 year relationship. Coupled with the tech bubble splattering all over Wall Street I was thrusted into marketing by default and as I mentioned spent several years solely focused on online lead generation.

Getting back to 2007 - The Tools a Successful Website Uses

After spending 4 years solely focused on direct response and online marketing I began to see many constraints my clients were experiencing with their websites, mainly content and marketing management.

It was at this time Web 2.0 was moving at Internet speed and things were changing fast - namely blogging, RSS, Video, Community and a premium on valuable useful content as a lead in to products and services.

Coming from the marketing perspective there are mandatory tools required to execute a lead generation / marketing strategy on the web.

Amongst others the main tools required for online marketing are:

 

  • Email auto responders
  • Blogging software
  • Analytics software
  • Content Management Systems

 

... and traffic generation all requiring copywriting skills.


Coming from the sales perspective there are mandatory tools required to execute a sale from the web.

Amongst others the main tools required for selling online are:

 

  • Shopping Cart Software
    • Merchant Software
    • SSL Certificates
  • Affiliate Software
  • Membership Software
  • Content Management System

 

Website Constraints for Small Businesses

It was at this time open source and software as a service (SAAS) were in full stride in the website management space. SAAS being 3rd party, small business people found themselves with 3 to 5 separate services requiring different logins to manage their marketing, sales and content on their website(s).

Not only was their business systems convoluted and spread out across many different platforms, the expense was $20 a month here and $99 a month there and it became costly for a disparate set of tools.

The biggest constraint with such a setup is customer and lead list segmentation.

For example:

You're a consultant and speak at industry events, with the right web tools you can segment your customer list by geo locale, products purchased, lists subscribe to and as many filters you want to segment your leads and sales database. The benefit of course is marketing to a target group versus an email blast to everyone.

Taking it one step further; if you're launching a new advanced product - the prerequisite may be the purchase of your entry level product. Also, targeting your marketing as deeply as you can produces greater return on sales; meaning, if you are having a seminar in Los Angeles you can target your west coast clients by segmenting your list. Making the segmentation city, state product purchases and lists opted into.

The trouble with having 3 to 5 disconnected SAAS solutions is you can't manage your marketing effectively, thus you waste a lot of time and you lose the opportunity to make more money.

Once this was clear to me I began thinking about how I can solve this problem and put all the tools under one roof. This led to open source mainly because I didn't want to make the upfront investment into a proprietary framework if my "all under one roof" concept didn't work.

The Beginning of the Open Source Website Framework Journey

Keeping in mind a small business website with only "here's what we do" and a contact form has been obsolete for many years now.

That said; with my extensive training and in the field results, bringing together content management, marketing, sales, customer service and various other tools such as affiliate marketing, secure membership areas, and community is an indisputable mandate if a small business wants to use the web to generate and fulfill business profitably.

I learned quickly that many of the tools mentioned above were available in open source frameworks like Joomla and Drupal. So, I dove in and put together a development team who works within these frameworks.

Learning Open Source was a Tough Road to Travel

After careful evaluation it was evident Joomla was the way to go, simply because the content management system (CMS) interface was much more user-friendly than Drupal.

In learning about Joomla I began finding plug-in applications such as the ones mentioned above - auto responders, blogs, affiliate, membership etc. What I didn't know during the time of discovery was - all these applications didn't fit very well. Meaning, they were buggy, required customization and rarely had all of the required functionality for effective marketing and sales.

I thought - no worries - we'll modify them as needed and make them our own. But, it didn't take long to understand how the open source world works.

To illustrate I will use Microsoft as an example.

Microsoft is the creator of the framework (Windows), and then other software developers create applications which plug into Windows. Ever had bugs on a PC - yep me to... what's clear to me now is... there's literally hundreds, if not thousands of developers creating software for Windows - To many chefs in the kitchen :-D

How Open Source Website Frameworks Destroyed My Business

Well, it's even worse with open source website frameworks and Joomla.

Now when a software developer is creating a web application for Joomla or Drupal the tie-in often creates bugs and with the case of Joomla - security leaks exposing private data. You may want to read about some of the major Joomla issues so I provided a couple of sites here for you - if your head doesn't spin off and you need some rest please come back and continue reading here, there's more important things to mention.

Top Ten Joomla Security Problems
http://www.dart-creations.com/joomla/joomla-security/top-ten-joomla-security-problems.html

Also, here's the actual Joomla website - they have a task force strictly in place to address the bazillion issues found regarding security alone, have a look >>>
http://developer.joomla.org/security.html


Why Open Source Sounds Great - IN THEORY

We've discussed the parallels with Windows being the framework like Joomla is to websites and how just about anyone with the ability to write software can create an application.

For me, this is where the problem is and why I came to a very sound conclusion. Open source in theory sounds great - but the experience is anything but... here's more.

The folks building the applications to plug into the framework are rarely, if ever designers of usability where their focus is making it easy to use for the small business owner, nor are they ever close to being marketers and understanding the required tasks for successful lead generation and conversion to sales.

This leads to key functions being absent and a difficult program to navigate.

For example:

Nowhere could I find in the framework itself or in auto responder applications built by other developers, the ability to do list segmentation - and what's worse I couldn't apply segmentation to more than one application at the time, so this ended up putting me back where I started.

We Didn't Give Up but It Got Worse

Not giving up I asked my development team if we could create a list segmentation application that can tap into several applications at the same time - like auto responders and shopping carts to produce a targeted segmented list. Needless to say, we gave it our best effort and ended up with a half-baked solution for one main reason.

Even though the applications tie into the framework there are still "user agreements" from the developers of the applications - leaving us with very little room to get into the code and make the changes required for the functions we desired.

Other issues notwithstanding, were shopping carts that didn't tie into affiliate applications. For those of you not familiar with affiliate apps - we wanted to build sites for our clients where they can have others sell their products online and get credit for a sale. This absolutely has to tie into the shopping cart to automatically track the sales and who gets a commission.

Eventually we found some good software but because of the differences in coding, and again even though it was in the same framework; there's to many developers writing code, so trying to put to pieces together created many issues.

Lastly, and for sure I can go on for much longer sighting issues with open source - one of the biggest issues we found was the text editor. This is where you should be able to add content and format it however you like within a visual editor. Changing text color, size, adding links to test, and adding images to the content - you know, all the things to make your site better.

We went through many editor applications and didn't find one without major issues when our clients were using them - not to mention, adding images and documents were two separate applications causing more problems.


In the End We Found Open Source Has To Many Constraints for Small Business Websites

In the end we found this to bang away at our profitability because we spent ridiculous amounts of time on supporting the system for our clients. It wasn't working.

Ultimately, we found Joomla was a terrible system for small business people mainly because the interface was convoluted. Meaning, even though everything was under one roof and running on the same framework, you still had to go in and out of different applications to get things done and as explained above there were always bugs and issues we were asking our clients to deal with.

The folks who may argue differently about open source are industry people, because they're use to working around issues and don't make a big deal over it. That's fine for them... my intention is and has always been; "How do I make it fast, easy and lean for my clients to manage their online marketing and content management?"

In my opinion, business must be fun even in the midst of hard work - and working with Joomla was sheer misery for me, my development team and most importantly my clients.

When all was said and done and I had pissed off many of my clients, I was able to do right by my loyal clients. I rebuilt their websites with The Right Web Tools without adding cost to them and I've never looked back.

As a small business owner I don't want to spend my time fighting with software, wasting time with poorly laid out software, worrying about security issues and most of all wasting money on endless development costs as a result.

So be forewarned - if you are encouraged to use open source website frameworks and you are going to use the Internet for content management, marketing and sales do so at your own risk - it's a long winding frustrating road - and all for not, as there are holistic systems available to you.

As a side note - the exception to the rule is Word Press Blogging Software. We find the framework and the add-ons to work well and serve our clients needs without the aggravation.

 

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Comments

  • Alan says:

    In the end - small business people are in need of easy to use - fast and reliable web systems allowing them to focus on what they do best. Open source has proven the exact opposite.

    January 15, 2010 at 12:22 PM | Permalink

  • Stewart says:

    Thanks for the detailed assessment Alan.

    January 18, 2010 at 4:33 PM | Permalink

 

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