Sunday, August 05, 2007

Blogging & Online Content Management

Recently I have been reviewing the merits of various online services for simple folk like me, and I'd have to count it among the most complicated and frustrating tasks I've had to perform. Why? Because the options are seemingly endless and the support woefully inadequate. At times like these I get philosophical. I ask the question - Why are there so many bloody programming languages? Even within certain languages there are schools doing different things. Notwithstanding that there should be a range of product to ensure competition, and there will be a range of programming languages for different applications. But unlike the commercial world where industries go through periods of innovation (seeding) and convergence (consolidation), the IT industry seems to be propaganding like weeds. The culmination of this is that there are probably several thousand programming languages, when I would think less than 50 would be ample. There are efforts to standardise software by manufacturers who would like to make their devices compatible with as much hardware as possible. But clearly their efforts are having little impact.
I reflect upon this trend, and I can see parallels with schools of philosophy - where a philosophy schools break apart because of some conflict. And it occurs to me that this market structure arises from a propensity of programmers to be self-indulgent and self-righteous, just as philosophers are prone to be. They have the independence to go-it-alone, but what about the realism to remain grounded in reality. This self-indulgence is rooted in a subjective desire to place one's interpretation of the world about the facts of the reality. Its likely that the work-culture and ethos in the programming community does is less effective because their communication skills are poorly developed. Their poor communication skills are a product of their lifestyle and basic philosophical values. Pro-logic does not necessarily make them of this world, as is evident, because they seem prone to fits of rationalism. Look at some examples:
1. The Freeswitch Open Source platform for VOIP is being developed in competition with Asterisk despite the competition being on features more than substance.
2. Joombi open source content management software is being developed as a spin-off from Mambo
3. Java has all these different schools

OK, having got the politics out of the way, lets focus on the blogging & content management offerings:

There are hundreds of choices of course, none of them offering great customer service in terms of features and support - more a case of one or the other. The first challenge is discovering what you want:
1. Simple Blog: You might just want a place you can record you life events, or place a few pictures of your family. You are probably better off with Blogger (Google),, Typepad, etc. I suspect Google's support makes Blogger a winner. Wordpress is a pretty sophisticated product, easy to use.
2. Commercial blog: You might want to start with a basic blog, but over time build it into a sophisticated commercial platform for selling your wares. You will need to look at 2 options:
(a) Commercial software: There is software you pay for like Community Server ($495). We are all used to the idea of paying for things, including Microsoft software, and it offers some compelling logic....'you get what you pay for' or 'value for value'. Commercial software does offer the benefit of being self-funding, and being market driven, their product does tend to be better packaged. Having said that, there are no guarantees that commercial software will be better packaged, and it might be all rhetoric, will bugs included. There is however a tendency for them to offer demos, which at least give you a free trial period to test the product. Another problem is pricing and capital structure. If the company does not get their pricing right, far from being well funded, the software will fail to get market support, and thus developer support.
(b) Open Source software: The open source community is expanding quickly as an alternative way of developing product. But one has to question its merits. I have identified several problems: (i) Open source software is offered on the basis that it is free. Being free tends to attract a certain type of supporter, firstly programmers with no commercial skills, and 2nd tight people willing to accept product flaws for the sake of the OS ideology. Open Source platforms are abhorent for even considering licensing by this ethos. (ii) The industry is controlled by developers with no with commercial or marketing perspective. The jargon used, the way their sites are structured, the way these products are installed, you would have to be a programmer to use them, because you can be assured the product will unlikely be supported by general terminology, will have universal compatibility with different systems. Despite 80% of users having Windows installed, you will find their product offering will be Linux-based. So 'open source' is really only open to developers. But to be generous, maybe thats the way it should be for now, given that there is a period of transition to Linux systems, and capabilities have to be added.

In conclusion it looks like we will have to be patient. From my research, I felt that the best way to go was:
1. Drupal - for a fully functional Lunix-based program - if you are a programmer and ambitious. The product is difficult if you lack programming knowledge.
2. Blogger - if you want a basic blogging platform with basic features
3. Wordpress - if you wanted a slightly more sophisticated blogging platform suitable to the causal user, but with add-on capabilities. But its a blog, not a full content management product.

If I had more time I would define the difference between blogging and CMS.

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