Web content management's march to democratization: An open source perspective


Guest post by Cheryl McKinnon

Last month, industry analyst Tony White of Ars Logica wrote an informative, historical overview of the web content management industry, noting key business and technology factors leading to market "commoditization."

Titled "Web content management's march to commoditization: A historical perspective," White's exploration of both upward and downward pressures on WCM pricing succinctly captured the role of mergers and acquisitions, integrations with adjacent content management technologies, and the rise of enterprise-scale cross-platform "experience" driven products. However, one essential element was missing from an otherwise solid analysis: the role of open source.

Open source has had a two-fold impact on the evolution of the WCM market. First, and most obvious is the rapid rise and current prevalence of websites built with open source web content management tools. But the second, and perhaps even more important factor is the dominance of the open source web infrastructure that facilitates web commerce and communication. A complete picture of the web content management sector cannot be painted without an acknowledgment of the influence of open source technologies.

Early OS WCM

By the late 1990s, open source web content management platforms had established themselves as legitimate options for commercial and non-commercial enterprises. Powered by the collaborative power of the pre-Facebook era of social media--via listservs, and discussion forums--dozens of projects emerged out of academic institutions, foundations and developer shops. These projects found a niche during and after the first Internet bubble of late 1990s/2000-01. TYPO3 (established in 1997), eZ Systems (established in 1999), Drupal (founded in 2001) and Mambo (open sourced in 2001, and later forked into Joomla!) represent a few of the established projects that continue to power the web today. Wordpress, which now claims to power approximately 15 percent of global websites was established in 2003.

Rise of LAMP

Paralleling the rise of open source web content management systems, however, was perhaps an even more important catalyst in the growth of digital communication and commerce: the evolution of open source web infrastructure platforms Java, Linux and Apache. If we look under the covers at what powers websites today, we find a technology environment heavily based on open source architectures.

A 2009 article by Real Story Group principal Tony Byrne highlighted this particularly well. The "LAMP" stack, as it has affectionately become known, has become an almost default architecture outside of the pure-play .NET Microsoft world. Linux, Apache Tomcat, MySQL and PHP (though alternatively PERL or Python...) provides the essential operating system, web server, database and scripting language environment needed to run a web-based enterprise, regardless of vertical or geography. This low-barrier of entry to the world of web business infrastructure has had perhaps even more of an impact on democratizing digital communication compared to open source web content management tools.

Impact on market

Open source WCM and corresponding infrastructure platforms have helped level the playing field not only for new companies, but for new business models that have taken local entities into a global marketplace. Companies deploying a web presence using open source tools are not penalized for success. License models do not impose higher costs as web traffic increases, multilingual requirements emerge or demand for mobile access is fulfilled. Where proprietary systems may charge extra for use-cases and deployments once considered outliers, open source WCM options have encouraged innovation because of the sheer number of contributors and vast range scenarios that can be tested. Elimination of arbitrary cost hurdles imposed by proprietary systems (such as the number of servers, CPUs, integrations or users) ensures constant prototyping, translations and improvements.

Where we are today

The term "commoditization" often carries a negative overtone. Perhaps the better description of the WCM market today is a march to democratization of web communication. The rise of social business, online collaboration, cloud and SaaS applications could never have occurred at the rapid pace we see today without the open source WCM and web infrastructure tools that power so much of the Internet. And as the pace of industry mergers and acquisitions continues, and software vendors focus more on extracting revenue from support and maintenance at the expense of product innovation, the open source WCM platforms will continue to keep faster pace with our ever-changing world of social, local and mobile communication.

Cheryl McKinnon is founder of Candy Strategies Inc., a consulting company helping organizations understand how open source, open standards and open data can help fast-track their information management goals. With 17+ years of experience in content management consulting, marketing and trends research, she has held senior positions with Nuxeo, OpenText and Hummingbird.

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