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Using Open Source Websites


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20 replies to this topic

#1 tigger

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 04:24 AM

Hi.

I'd really appreciate people's opinions on Open Source type websites (namely Yoomla and Wordpress) - and whether they are a good thing to use for a website?

I'm helping to evaluate tenders from Agencies for a new website (& e-marketing campaign) for a high profile charity in the UK. The contract is for more than 45,000 (not an inconsiderable sum) and we are very eager to choose the "very best" agency for the job.

Some of the tenders have come back with proposals to use Yoomla or Wordpress.org. I haven't used either of these for websites (I have a wordpress.com blog, but that's about it)

My main reservation are:
  • How easy are they to use (there will be a number of users who will need to add content to the site on a regular basis)?
  • How easy are they to SEO?
  • Are they liked by the search engines?
  • Is it easy to fix problems with an open source website? (I'm guessing you don't really have support, other than forums)
  • How futureproof are they? (we don't really want to be going through this process again in 3-4 years time - I realise we will need to change with the times, but I'd rather we weren't starting from scratch again in 3 years)
  • Are the Add-ons / Plug-ins reliable and easy to use? (I'm guessing with these you don't get any support) - we will be needing to have a calendar of events and also integrate a google map mashup (as two of the main features of the site).
  • I thought wordpress was mainly a blogging platform, not websites?
  • Any other problems that people can tell me about??? (or maybe you love them???)

Many thanks for your help.

J


#2 Jill

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 10:42 AM

While WordPress is a blogging platform it is easily modified to be used as a CMS. It's very simple to use, and no programming abilities are needed.

If by yoomla you mean Joomla, then I'm not as sure about that one. It's great for using as a backend for websites, but I believe that one is only as good as your programming skills.

Both are search friendly as long as you know what you're doing. Just like anything, they are tools and can't do everything for you.

#3 tigger

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 06:00 AM

Thanks Jill.

Yes, I did mean Joomla - whoops!

Would be really interested to hear what anyone else things as well..... 45,000 is a lot of money and we don't want to throw it away on an awful CMS...


#4 Jill

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 08:10 AM

If you're paying that much, it seems surprising that they'd be using free backends. They don't have their own custom cms?

#5 Randy

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 08:53 AM

That part throws me too.

Even back in my bad old greedy designer days I can't fathom the thought of charging someone that much for what is essentially a free site structure. Heck, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I did that! lol.gif

On the flip side of the coin, if I were spending that much I'd expect a lot more than a free blog or cms with some nifty graphics and a few free or even custom built plugins.

Something just doesn't sound right.

#6 tigger

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 09:37 AM

The integration into the CMS seems to be very expensive. However, we are getting "personalisation" and other tools built into the structure and an e-marketing campaign and analytics.

However, I'm with you. The ones that have suggested their own CMS (with ongoing training and support) seem to be offering more - in my eyes.

It was your reactions to my reservations (in my original post) that I would really appreciate feedback on (ie the bullet points)

Thanks.

#7 nethy

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 04:00 AM

Hi tigger,

regarding pricing
I disagree slightly with Jill and Randy on the price issue. I think that for most commercial sites, the CMS itself is not going to be an important determinant of cost. Propriety CMSs, if they are intended to be deployed in cheap sites are priced accordingly. If you are spending 45k, I assume that this means the site will require a lot of design work or a lot of programming/customisation. Simply skinning a CMS, open source or proprietary is not that expensive. There is always the possibility you are being over charged, but I'm assuming you are not since you seem to have multiple quotes.

I work mostly with custom CMSs, but would not assume you are getting a better deal from developers using a proprietary CMS. They are not developing it for you, nor is it usually an advantage if they are. You are mostly for time, software is usually not expensive.

Regarding Joomla
I don't have many hard opinions about Joomla. It's the right tool for some job, such as news sites. Plenty of capable professionals that have my respect use it out of preference. Plenty of large sites run on it. I certainly don't think it should be disregarded out of hand. It's not the easiest or most intuitive back-end, but it's OK.

Regarding Wordpress
Wordpress is obviously a great blogging platform (to my knowledge, better then any proprietary one). It really is great software, but I do not think it is right for non-blog sites unless they are very simple. I think the the reason people do use it for this is because they know Wordpress and don't want to learn a new platform. I don't like discounting it completely because I am sure there are times when it is exactly what you need, but.. it's just made for a certain types of site. WP is not a general purpose cms.

Regarding Future proofing
Both platforms are probably here to stay. There will be future updates. I have heard that joomla has a history of problems upgrading due to plugin incompatibility. You don't have to upgrade though. My personal preference for future proofing is hosted platforms. Upgrades are monthly (sometimes daily) & painless. So you will have access to new features as they become available. Hosted solutions have downsides too, so you need to have a good idea of your needs. If you need a lot of customisation, it may not be for you. That's where consulting from your supplier comes in. An experienced consultant will have a good chance of guessing what your needs will be in a year or three, which is a big part of future proofing.

On a small-medium project, your future proofing is more dependant on your support. If you switch developers/consultants, it will often be better to start from scratch (or near it) regardless of the platform you use. You will be able to find other companies that will work on Joomla or WP, but changing hands can be tricky.

Regarding SEO and other issues
Both platforms are pretty good out of the box and can both produce good outcomes. Being open source and supporting plugins (extra bits you can install that add or change something), they have an answer for almost everything. You will probably find a plugin for every SEO religion wink.gif .

Plugins
Plugins are all over the place. Some are proprietary. Some are open source. Some are great Some are terrible. Anyone can write a plugin, so naturally the variance is huge. A google maps 'mashup' is likely to be mostly something that is developed as necessary. Google maps API is essentially the plugin. Any plugins using it will usually be just providing you information (eg coordinates) to feed it. But obviously this depends on what you mean by 'mashup.'

Making the Right Choice
It's great that your doing your research and getting opinions. But understand that all the CMSs that are popular are popular because developers actively choose to use them over other choices. They all have certain appeals or advantages. You will always be able to find fans of each one. The advantages are usually either highly subjective (eg: it has a better plugin architecture or a cleaner codebase) or highly specific (eg: supports Open ID for comments).

Again, I think you need someone knowledgeable that you trust to advise you. Judging by the price-point, I assume that you are getting into a substantial project. You need to be able to get good specific advice on it. Don't worry about the tools they use too much. Make sure that they help you develop the idea of what your site needs to do.

BTW, if you would like a counter quote or specific information, send me a message via the forum messaging.

Hope this helps,
Nethy

#8 tigger

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 07:59 AM

Nethy

Thank you for your very thorough reply. I really appreciate the time you have taken doing this.

It has really helped me to put some of the tenders into perspective, and has confirmed some of the feelings I already had.

The trouble is finding someone who can give you impartial advice on a project like this (even when you are a charity). It's really difficult. As you said, everyone has their favoured way of doing things... and favoured software/platform. No one is totally impartial.

However, I think your answer has really helped.

Thank you.

Regards

J

#9 nethy

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 09:00 AM

Favoured software is not a problem in my opinion. It can even be a good sign. People who do their job well tend to like their tools. Programmers are especially like that (I'm not one so I can point).

There can be a problem getting advice from the 'salesman.' It's not unbridgeable though. Go with someone you can trust and see what other work they have done. Ongoing relationships tend to produce better results then a wiz-bang project does. I don't recommend getting too caught up in the details of the technology they are using. At least not stressing about it too much. There are no sites that suck because they use Joomla.

Good luck

Edited by nethy, 27 July 2009 - 07:49 PM.


#10 Michael Martinez

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 12:59 PM

You can do a lot of things with Wordpress and I think if someone is really bringing a lot of those options to the table you're paying for expertise, not a free CMS.

I've looked at enough custom CMS systems to be totally and thoroughly disgusted with them in general. I would not pay that kind of money for a custom CMS when you can really get a lot of really good complexity out of the open source packages.

You can put the Andretti family into a group of cars taken off any lot and they will give you a professional racing experience at the local stock race track. You can take those same cars yourself and drive them as fast as you feel comfortable but you're not the Andretti family, are you?

Look at examples of the work that these bidders have done. That should tell you where to put your money more than what platform they are using.


#11 adibranch

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 01:21 PM

Open source is excellent, in most cases better than a custom CMS. Custom CMS is throwing a lot of things into the mix that you just dont get with OS.

The problem with getting a custom CMS is this... its built by developers, and not web designers. The two are different and in my opinion shouldnt be conjoined. Developers, whiclst good at developing, tend to have little clue about usability, navigation, web standards, or any comprehension of SEO. The result is you get a very nice backend system. The frontend however apears to do the job of a good website, but when you delve deeper is gnerally pretty poorly built, full of masses of excess and bad coding, javascript, and more.
The additional problem is that custom built is generally a NEW system, and as such will be full of bugs. You can gurantee a custom CMS will have had nowhere near as thorough testing as an equivalent OS.

Open source means that the guy/girl doing the job is free to concentrate on usability, user experience, web standards, SEO and everything else. Scripts and addons tend to be fully tested, and theres normally a huge range of addons available which will do pretty much everything you required out of a website. As for support, theres loads of it !!!! just check the joomla support forums for examples.

45k is a lot of money for a website, especially OS. But, i havent seen the brief so who knows why people are suggesting joomla.. perhaps its perfect for your job ! so dont discount OS just yet.

#12 lister

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 04:42 PM

You should have a look at plone - that is a very good open source platform.

umbraco is decent as well.

I know that someone else in this forum agreed with me ages ago about plone....maybe they will read this and throw their six cents in...

or is that two cents?


#13 2Clean

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 07:18 AM

Here we go then I use both these platforms with great results:

* How easy are they to use (there will be a number of users who will need to add content to the site on a regular basis)?
- Joomla is less user friendly than wordpress but both will require some kind of instruction and training for users. I assume this training is included in the proposal, as will be some kind of manual. Joomla has some good features for setting up user priv. which means that non technical people can edit on the front end (also Wordpress does this).

* How easy are they to SEO?
Joomla has a couple of SEO components, and I'd be looking at Artio or sh404sef. If you're running on a PHP platform you'll find the latter of the two components very good. The former can create lots of duplicate URLs. As with all SEO components for Joomla be careful, Joomla has a very basic URL rewriting setup which if used correctly will do just fine.

* Are they liked by the search engines?
Yes. But duplicate URLS can be a problem so you have to monitor and put in canonical tags.

* Is it easy to fix problems with an open source website? (I'm guessing you don't really have support, other than forums)
Your contract should stipulate how updates will be done. There should be backup plan because once a vulnerability is found on an open source platform (either directly on the CMS such as Joomla, or indirectly a 3rd party component) an inurl: search in Google will bring up a list of all the potential sites with that vulnerability. Hacking is a more of a problem on open source. It's something you need to be aware of, but to not loose your mind over. Personally I have both Joomla and Wordpress update pages in my RSS, so I know if there is a bug fix I need to apply (wordpress & joomla also tell you inside the control panels)

* How futureproof are they? (we don't really want to be going through this process again in 3-4 years time
- I realise we will need to change with the times, but I'd rather we weren't starting from scratch again in 3 years)
How often do you redo a website every 5 years? Probably there will be something better, and for sure there will be lots of companies migrating from Joomla to whatever else. If it's in a database, you can fish out the content and report it.

* Are the Add-ons / Plug-ins reliable and easy to use? (I'm guessing with these you don't get any support) - we will be needing to have a calendar of events and also integrate a google map mashup (as two of the main features of the site).
- Goto the Joomla or Wordpress extensions directory. It's all free. It's amazing and that's why people are using them.

* I thought wordpress was mainly a blogging platform, not websites?
- Yes it's blogging, but it's so easy you can build a website. I would choose Joomla over Wordpress but it really depends on what you are doing.

* Any other problems that people can tell me about??? (or maybe you love them???)
- Been using Joomla for 2 years and Wordpress for a year. Both are great.

I hope this helps.


#14 tigger

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 07:44 AM

Thank you all for your very informative and helpful feedback.

I will be taking everything you have said into account when we go through the tenders and choose agencies to interview.

Just knowing the right questions to ask the agencies is half the battle... don't they say "for-warned is for-armed"

Thanks again. Any further comments very welcome. More the merrier.

J

#15 adibranch

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Posted 04 August 2009 - 04:41 AM

PS , this is not directly aimed at you tigger, but we on the subject of open source CMS heres my tip for the day.

If anyone wants a CMS for a brochure site, small business site , or general all round site, dont look any further than Website Baker (google it). Its superb, easy to use for the end user, and well proven. I'm probably using it on 20-30 sites and have been for at least five years, and it is absolutely superb. Small, easy to use, loads of plugins, good community, easy to template with features such as blocks, sections and multiple templates.
In regards SEO , its VERY good out of the box, but even better with some custom work . I've added pages to a site and jumped in at some very high positions without any further tweaking.

Its so good (yet simple) that if someone comes to me with a static website for SEO work, i convert it to website baker for free, as it makes my job easier in the long run anyway.

Edited by adibranch, 04 August 2009 - 04:47 AM.





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