Open Source CMS Companies Wanted for EU Project Proposal

Wolfgang Maass contacted me and asked if I would like to join the board of experts of an EU project they are going to propose. They are actually also looking for Open Source CMS companies (vendors or system integrators) who would like to join as a partner.

The EU project proposal entitled „Interactive Knowledge“ is currently being developed by a consortium which is led by Salzburg Research. The objective is to develop a “next generation semantic content management framework” based on existing frameworks, but with significant technological improvements ranging from RDF-storage to easy definition of workflows and business rules, and to dynamically re-configurable web interfaces.

Some more info on the objectives in Wolfgang’s words:

Our experience is that many smaller content management solution providers find it hard to make full use of the new standards such as RDF and CSS 3.0 when it comes to keeping solutions maintainable, re-usable or when it comes to cross-media publishing on mobile and other platforms. Increasingly, content management needs to interface with the “Internet of things”, e.g. you can get additional health information about a certain food product, by entering the retail store’s product code into a web-based content management system or into your mobile PA.

This is what the „Interactive Knowledge“ EU project will offer:

  • 50 smaller CMS companies can become early adopters (small grants of up to 12.000 Euro are possible)
  • 7 European SMEs who have content management systems will be offered to become full partners in this project and act as requirements experts as well as getting their own frameworks benchmarked with respect to their semantic capabilities. There are budgets between 80.000 and 200.000 Euro available, at a funding rate of 75%.

So, the „Interactive Knowledge“ EU project proposal is an excellent opportunity to benefit from a large scale R&D effort.

I know Wolfgang for quite some time and he told me that the project administrators have a very good track record in this type of project, are experts in the field and can assist with the administrative entry hurdles. This is good, because it will avoid that the EU bureaucracy and lazy project partners will eat up your valuable resources. I know how important this is because I have experience as a work package leader on behalf of eZ Systems of the successfully finished tOSSad EU project.

If you are interested, please send an email to wolfgang dot maass at hs-furtwangen dot de no later than this Thursday, March 20th, 2008.

See you at the kick-off meeting after the EU accepted the proposal 🙂

Drupal Marketing Dissected

Let me share some of my analysis of Drupal marketing efforts while getting prepared for my talk Marketing Open Source Software at Drupalcon. Comments are highly welcome, be it to this blog entry or during my talk or any day while I am at Drupalcon.

Drupal is a great brand

The Drupal brand is highly visible: For example, a Google search for Drupal generates 19 million results. Compare this with Alfresco, generating just 1.8 million results (including the Alfresco Grill).

The Drupal brand is vivid: A big part of the Drupal brand is in the people in the community.

Drupal is a registered trademark: That allows VCs to justify a $7 million investment.

Drupal is successful

There will be a whopping 800 attendees at Drupalcon – sold out – wow! That’s double the amount of the previous conference. Nice growth rate.

200 000 registered users at drupal.org, 300 signing up each day, Drupal downloads approaching 100 000 a month, and more impressive Drupal statistics.

Comparing this with the statistics of other Open Source CMS, it clearly places Drupal in the top league.

Drupal marketing is community-driven

Drupal joined the forefront of Open Source marketing. Not only is the product Open Source, but marketing Drupal is itself being managed and performed like an Open Source project. Everyone is invited to contribute to Drupal marketing by helping craft a marketing strategy, positioning statement, marketing collaterals and all.

This leads to a load of valuable information created by enthusiastic volunteers which would typically cost tens of thousands of dollars. For example, take a look at the Drupal 6 landing page and you will be greeted by plenty of information and many videocasts.

Drupal is not the first when it comes to community-driven marketing. The Typo3 Communication Committee and its members such as the excellent Daniel Hinderink are doing a great job in volunteer-based marketing. The Plone community is also following that marketing path.

Balancing interests of Drupal stakeholders

Drupal Association and Acquia, the VC-backed startup of Drupal lead Dries Buytaert, are the backbones of Drupal’s success. Both organizations are being lead by Dries, which is good, because it ensures a balanced strategy. In Dries’ own words:

Since the health and vitality of the Drupal project at large is extremely important to us, we’ve taken great pains to make sure that I am able to continue to act for the best interests of the Drupal community at large as I have done for the past 7 years.

Drupal marketing challenges

Sounds like the sun always shines in Drupal land, but there are severe challenges ahead for the Drupal community.

Let’s look at the issues from a strategic point first:

  • Does the Drupal community want to grow? I guess so.
  • How do they want to grow? I have no clue and did not find any public information or discussion yet. Do they want to appeal more to business professionals (e.g. system integrators) now that there is a Red Hat style support subscription for Drupal within eyespot?
  • What are the means for growth? Drupal Association invests what they get from donations and sponsors. Apparently, they can raise quite some money e.g. for Drupalcon. Will they be able to raise money for marketing if necessary?

It is clear that Drupal needs to focus its marketing if they wanted to communicate to business professionals. This is presumably in the interest of Acquia. It is of course also in the interest of Drupal Association and all other members of the Drupal community, because clear messages will attract more pragmatists to Drupal’s Open Source market place – this is where the money is.

Some concrete suggestions from my perspective, which is somewhere between a visionary (I still feel young-at-heart) and pragmatist (I do have some experience):

The impression I have of Drupalcon up-to-now is: chaos.

The schedule was made available only two weeks before the event happens – much too late! A friend of mine who wants to meet with me at Drupalcon asked me a few days ago: “Sandro, I would attend only two days, which days would you recommend?” Well, I could not tell him, because there was no schedule available.

I was happy that I knew very early that my talk was accepted, but I felt uncomfortable that I did not know the exact day and time. Drupalcon is not my only concern, I have an open source marekting company to manage and some work to do myself. I rather book flights late, because some urgent work or customer meeting might require me to depart later or return earlier then planned.

Furthermore, I did not receive an email telling me that my talk was accepted. Maybe this is because the organizers told me in advance in private email. What about other speakers? Did they first hear that their talk was accepted from the various blog posts? If so, then I recommend that Drupalcon organizers don’t assume that potential speakers read their blog, because some people might simply not have the time to do so. Just send them an email and make all other necessary information available on the Drupalcon Web site.

Speaking about the Drupalcon Web site … too much information at too many places and not properly organized. The most important piece of information, the week at a glance schedule is even unavailable right now. Similar issues exist with the Drupal 6 landing page, which provides too much information and makes it hard to grasp the major benefits of Drupal 6 in ten seconds.

In fact, there is also important information missing or hard to find (at least, I did not manage to find it quickly enough). For example, how can I get an idea of the Drupal business environment, because I want to make sure that there is enough support I can get for money? There is a list of Drupal hosting companies, but that is only a fraction of all businesses. What about system integrators, media agencies, training providers, and so on?

Community-driven marketing is a mixed blessing

All of the above issues show that community-driven marketing can have its downsides. What looks like an highly dynamic community from the inside can easily look like a chaotic bunch of volunteers from the outside. To avoid this impression, Drupal marketing needs to better take care of the limited time available to professionals who “just” do business with Drupal.

This means two things:

First, at the top entry levels (e.g. Drupal 6 landing page), always provide only very necessary information. This information should help the audience to decide:

  1. This is not of interest to me
  2. I will take a look at this later
  3. I want to jump right into it

Second, don’t mix up pull information (e.g. Weblogs) with push information (e.g. speaker confirmation), make sure you adhere to best practices, so that your audience is not being confused by unexpected behavior (i.e. there is no alternative to sending out speaker confirmation emails).

Wanted: Drupal marketing lead

Please, Drupal marketing volunteers, don’t get me wrong. I think you are doing a tremendous job, I think you stand out from the crowd and do your best with fantastic results. What you do need now is a marketing strategy as the basis for consolidation and a leader in Drupal marketing who thoroughly takes care of focusing the brand.

The saying goes that a good software developer can boil down 100 lines of code to at least a third, providing the same functionality with higher performance. This is what the Drupal marketing lead is supposed to do with Drupal’s marketing collaterals: Have her boil down information to a third or fifth to make the message clearer and Drupal marketing will perform better.

The tough part for the marketing lead will be to drive consensus among the Drupal community, such as picking the best slogan from a myriad of suggestions. Unfortunately, marketing is not like software programming. The wrong slogan will not throw an error if you run it, at least not immediately. The risk is that marketing-related discussions can last forever – with let’s say 20 000 community members having 40 000 opinions – if there is no accepted authority or biased skepticism against marketing amongst community leaders.

Comparing Open Source Java CMS

Seth Gottlieb of Content Here fame asked me a few weeks ago to review his report of Open Source Java CMS which he just announced in his blog. The report is a master piece of analysis covering business-critical aspects as well as technical details.

Readers of my Weblog get a discount: Follow this link, which automatically applies the coupon code saving you $150. In case of problems the code is: yq37we.

The report is profound and reaffirms Seth’s role as one of the best CMS consultants out there, especially when it comes to Open Source CMS. Seth actually compiled first-hand information from the project leads into the report, which is smart.

The report takes a close look at:

I basically share all of Seth’s valuations and imagine that anyone reading the report will have a very good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each of the above CMS.

As Seth can put it in much better words than I ever could, let’s read the master’s wisdom:

Even if the best technology fit is a commercial product, the technology decision maker now needs to be able defend his choice of commercial software by demonstrating a knowledge of open source alternatives that were rejected. The answer “we looked at open source and it was all bad” is becoming weaker and weaker as a response to a challenge to consider open source.

[…]

It is not that open source projects are secretive. In fact more information is available because coordination and communication usually happens out in the open. It is just that the information is spread thinly across many sources and people. Compilation and interpretation takes a lot of work and a different set of skills than your typical career analyst. In order to understand an open source application, you need to use it, configure it, and interact with the community (actively and passively). The source code itself also contains valuable information about the development standards and history of the project. It takes time to learn the personalities and group dynamics of the community. Not that it wouldn’t be nice to know all this information about commercial software – it certainly would. Just commercial software doesn’t allow you that access.

[…]

For each of the projects reviewed in this report, I have subscribed to the mailing list and monitored the volume and nature of the activity. I have talked to users of the software. I have built prototypes that involve defining content types, setting permissions, and developing layouts. To ensure factual accuracy, each evaluation has been reviewed by a project committer or company officer.

[…]

Web content management is not a turnkey solution.

[…]

Because company requirements are unique, web content management more like toolkits than out of the box business applications.

[…]

Market fragmentation is rife in the open source world too (especially in the content management sector) and comes at a great cost: developer resources are spread too thinly across too many projects. However, the absence of a “winner” in the commercial market takes away a safe, automatic choice and forces technology decision makers to look at alternatives. Every option appears equally risky from a market share perspective.

[…]

Unless a selection process is adapted to fully explore open source, the commercial products typically win because of the allure of a polished and well executed demo. Investing in an open source proof of concept typically levels the playing field but few companies make the investment unless there is a particular motivation such as a senior-level directive to carefully consider open source. This has essentially happened in many of the governments across Europe that have been mandated to use open source software wherever possible.

[…]

Social activity also creates the opportunity for non-technical users of the application to get involved. Building and serving a non-technical community is a plateau that only a few of the open source content management projects have achieved. It is an important milestone because it allows for user input to be contributed directly in the users own words rather thathrough a technical developer who filters the information through is own biases.

For a full overview of the contents, download the Java Open Source CMS sample which also contains the ToC.

I won’t disclose anything about the final conclusion in Seth’s report, because that’s like killing excitement when telling someone about the end of a novel or movie, but there’s one thing that’s for sure: the report is worth reading all 150+ pages!

David Nüscheler & Co Started Blogging

ECM vendor Day Software AG now enables you to catch a glimpse of their developer’s expertise. Some of their best programmers started blogging and provide valuable insights into content management technologies and best practices.

Most notable, David Nüscheler, the driving force behind the JSR 170 content repository standard, debuts as a blogger. That was about time, because David is surely one of the most brilliant minds in content management and destined to be a thought leader in that area.

Although Day’s developers blog is only 4 weeks old, there’s already a bunch of interesting content. For example, slides and tutorials about microjax, a technology that allows you to access a content repository in AJAX-style right from a Web browser.

microjax

There’s also an interesting post about a tool for visualizing Day’s ECM product Communiqué and a lot more at dev.day.com.

Lieblinx Seeks Drupal Developers and a Hero

Stefan Kausch, CEO of Lieblinx approached me to help them: They are working on a fancy Web 2.0 site based on Drupal and urgently need one more Drupal developer in their team – starting yesterday. That specific job would last roughly until end of December and can be done remotely.

If you feel like becoming a hero, please write Stefan an email: s (dot) kausch (at) lieblinx (dot) net.

Stefan furthermore told me that they are also looking for Drupal/PHP devs in the long run working in their Berlin office. Hence, feel free to write to him if you are looking for a long-term engagement.

Does PHP 5 Hurt PHP?

If you follow the PHP blogs, then you are likely to have read Matt “WordPress” Mullenweg’s anti-PHP 5 rant:

PHP 5 has been, from an adoption point of view, a complete flop. Most estimates place it in the single-digit percentages or at best the low teens, mostly gassed by marginal frameworks.

He makes some good points in the post. He also manages to make himself seem like a bit of a dick 🙂

The thing that I keep wondering is if we aren’t seeing a slowdown in general PHP adoption due to other technologies being able to get a leg up while PHP 5 was in development and the succeeding slow migration from PHP 4 to 5.

Now that I work for a company creating Java-based software, I see:

Finally, with PHP 5, it is possible to build OO libraries able to compete with Java libraries as far as quality is concerned – but, well, those Java libraries already have a long market track-record, i.e. have been in production use for a long time.

My impression is that PHP 5 slowed down the development of PHP applications able to compete with similar Java-based server-side products. The problem being that migration from PHP 4 to PHP 5 consumes quite some developer resources for complex PHP applications. Additionally, PHP 4 keeps developers busy with finding workarounds for their applications due to limited OO features.

Did PHP applications lose market share or at least not grow as fast as their Java (or C#, etc.) counterparts due to the slow adoption of PHP 5? Unfortunately, I did not find an informative basis to answer this question sufficiently and would appreciate any hints.

Defining Commodity Features of Open Source Software

Open Source software is often being referred to as commodity products. This is particularly true for OSS databases like MySQL or PostgreSQL. Developers of such systems can heavily make use of defined standards. In this case, it’s the various SQL standards. These standards define the general functionality set your product should have. They help you define the commodity features of your software.

The question is: where do you get your software requirements from if the OSS product you are developing cannot rely on any or only a few standards?

Let’s take a look at two other types of OSS products: Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and collaborative software. I used to work for an Open Source ECM vendor until recently and just started to work for a company offering Open Source collaborative software. Hence, I might be able to provide some useful information.

For ECM vendors, there exist a few standards in different areas of ECM. This is because ECM comprises a very broad set of functionality, e.g. content editing, workflow management, document management, accessibility, etc. Yet, these standards cover only a small fraction of what makes up a full-fledged ECM system. In fact, ECM is very much about customer-specific implementations and integration of legacy systems. It is a lot about experience, best practices.

Hence, a successful Open Source ECM project can define the set of commodity features by listening to its:

  • customers
  • partner companies
  • developers and users community

These groups have different impact in different OSS ECM projects.

For example, eZ Publish is equally influenced by all three of them. At Alfresco, there is massive know-how of customer needs, simply because they have John Newton on board, co-founder of the very successful proprietary Documentum ECM. It will be interesting to see how eZ Publish and Alfresco will compete in the future. This will largely depend on how well the eZ Publish developers react upon market needs and on how fast Alfresco can grow its Open Source community. It’s actually not black and white, because customers can be a part of your developers community.

Before I talk about the interesting aspects of commodity features in collaborative software, one more note about highly standardized products: Of course, the MySQL developers need to also think of market needs. They first implemented the very basic features which made their RDBMS useful for simple, yet common scenarios in Web development. Standards do not free you from deciding which ones to implement first, but they help you to save time collecting all the potential features.

Now about collaborative software: Most development here is based on best practices. The interesting point is: these best practices are mostly already available in the Web. To be more precise: in the Web 2.0. At Mindquarry, we implement collaborative software which includes a Wiki, task and document manager (conversation tools for email and instant messaging coming soon).

Where do we get our basic ideas from? Well, from Wikipedia, Jabber, Bugzilla, etc. Mindquarry’s commodity features are out there in the Web and have been tested by a lot of users for several years. With Mindquarry, the trick is not about simply imitating an already existing and proven software infrastructure. It is about connecting the various bits and pieces of social software into one coherent infrastructure which you can use e.g. in your Intranet.

The point is: You can see the difference between the Web 1.0 and the Web 2.0 also in how OSS vendors define the commodity features of their products. An RDBMS is largely a Web 1.0 tool. It has at least one foot in the old days, when companies fought about software standards. Social or collaborative software is Web 2.0, you can find and influence its standards in the Web by providing efficient and rich user experience.

Of course, Web 2.0 standards rely on Web 1.0 standards, but the Web 2.0 is more about best practices and de facto standards on the user level compared to logical definitions of standards on the developers level. Again, the reality is not black and white. Take a look at MySQL’s and PostgreSQL’s ANSI92 SQL-defying LIMIT clause. It’s a best practice approach and shows that OSS developers always listened to their developers community just like Web 2.0 developers today listen to their users.