"Count what is countable. Measure what is measureable. What is not measureable, make measureable." -- Galileo

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Plone Metrics Person of the Year Award

It's that time of year again, time to single out someone who I personally believe did an outstanding job of participating in the Plone community, contributed significantly to the promotion of Plone, and is a heckuva human being.  This year has been singularly tough for me, in large part due to my inability to attend the Budapest convention.  It's at World Plone that I often get my inspiration for an award that manifestly is unilaterally decided and, for a blog that prides itself on getting the numbers right, totally based on my own qualitative perceptions and myoptic view of the Plone world.

All that said, there are a ton of worthy folks out there.  Here are just a few of the contenders that have crossed my mind in a hectic week of holiday cheer, out-of-town visitors, and post-cold virus sniffles. 
  • David Glick, Rob Porter, and Mikko Ohtamaa were the top 3 in the Plone IRC Superstar Contest.  Hats off to them and all the others on IRC who make it happen day in and day out.  Along with the core developers, book authors, and the documentation team, you are the engine that keeps Plone moving forward. 
  • And speaking of Plone development, the release managers for 3.x (Wichert Akkerman) and 4 (Eric Steele) have my undying admiration. 
  • Another worthy group is the Foundation Board (another tip o' the hat to all Board members, past and present).  Jon Stahl (2008-9 Prez) and Gier Baekholt (this year's Esteemed Leader) should be particularly touted.    
  • A fourth group that I looked at were the evangelists, the Plone marketing folks.  Mark Corum holds the marketing chair on the Board, but he is surrounded by others who spread the word:  Nate Aune, Matt Hamilton, Dylan Jay, and Roberto Allende all are high-volume participants on the Evangelism forum over on Nabble.  Roberto as one of the key champions of World Plone Day deserves special mention and Matt did an especially excellent job as Program Chair for this year's conference..
There was a strong urge to follow Time Magazine 2006 down the path of "You" as the person of the year.  And it's very true that the community as a whole and the entire Plone ecosystem has much to be proud of.  That said, I'll stick with my tradition, such as it is, and choose an individual.  (Drum roll, please.)

Today Nate Aune is named as Plone Metric's Person of the Year.  His participation at events of all sizes and kinds, plus his consistent and notable contributions to the Evangelism Forum have had a strong positive effect on the Plone community and our perception in the CMS world.  As before, this award comes with no monetary compensation and only the promise of a free beer whenever Nate and I are in the same town. 

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Plone Metrics 2009 Recap

Last year was an eventful one for Plone.  Thankfully, it was less so for me, with my parents doing well after a disastrous Dec. 2008.  However, last week's cold set me back in terms of my December postings.  With my sniffles pretty much gone, its now time to get back to wrapping up the year at Plone Metrics.

2009 had 50 postings--I almost kept up with my weekly schedule.  Readership was much higher overall and spiked several times.  There were 58 comments, thank you very much.  Unfortunately, the site was the victim of a spate of non-sensical comments that merely attempted to insert links to other CMS products.  As a result I've had to enable comment moderation on the blog.  My apologies for having to slow down the pace of interaction.   

Well, let's sift through the monthly summaries and see what's gone under the bridge in 2009.

January.  Discussions about CMS Matrix data, CMS blog postings, and usability for seniors were featured last January and received some excellent comments. 

February. The Great Backyard Plone Count was in February and we gleaned some interesting data.  I'll continue this the month after next for our third year of data collection.  Meanwhile, a piece on usability of CMS home sites was widely read. 

March.  Themes turned to the quarterly review of Amazon sales rank stats, a look at the CMS Watch annual subway map, and the roll-out of the new Plone.org. 

April.  With spring came the 2nd Annual World Plone Day and the Idealware CMS Report.  There followed a heated discussion over at Four Kitchens about Drupal vs Plone security vulnerabilities.  This was an area where Idealware ranked Plone as outstanding but Drupal only as solid. 

May.  The "Blank Spots" series wrapped up in May after looking at Plone.org visitor demographics, temporal rhythms, and visitor loyalty.

June.  We got our first look at LaunchPad download stats.  BTW, as of today the Plone 3.3 series has had over 110,000 downloads while 3.2 has had over 1,000,000. 

July.  Plone Twitter stats, Amazon sales ranks, and a look back at Paul Graham's 2001 software popularity essay.   

August.  A posting following up on the New York Times article on SharePoint and a discussion about "black swan" events rounded out the month. 

September.  A posting entitled "The Plone-SharePoint Chronicles" garnered wide readership and continues to collect search hits to this day. 

October.  This month turned up an anomaly that reminds us statisticians that we really have to understand the underlying data.  A simple post mentioning the Packt CMS Awards that pointed out their nominations per category led to an enormous spike in readership.  Almost certainly this was due to some cross-posting about the Packt Awards, not the eloquence of my deep vision about open source community awards. Of course, the month ended with the World Plone Conference in Budapest, which I was unable to attend

November.  More proselytizing about Plone when it took the Packt Award for Other Open Source.  An essay about decision-making, paradoxes of choice, information cascades, and snap decisions also rounded out the month. 

December. The CMS Watch Subway Map was released and I had some fun reworking the routes to produce a more Plone-centric view.  Version 4 Alpha 3 has just released.  Now all that remains is to figure out who will be Plone Metrics Person of the Year.  The tension is palpable...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Plone-Centric View of CMS Technology

Some clever person over in the Plone Evangelism Forum (Armin Stross-Radschinski) suggested that the community look at a Plone-centric subway map.  From that germ of an idea comes this modification of the CMS Watch Subway Map

This leaves a nasty jog in the Blue line where Alfresco to Typo3 now connects with the Plone station.  If I had the time and patience, I'd flip the Blue line over to the other side of the Red line and continue it in the same direction as the Alfresco-Plone leg, although that would crowd into the CMS Watch logo in the center. 

I'll leave it to CMS Watch to see if they agree with the repositioning shown above.  It echos the remarks made by Limi in this year's Future of Plone address at World Plone 2009 -- we're not competing with the Drupals and Joomlas of the world. 

To move Plone onto the main line, we'd have to add one or both of Enterprise Content Management or Digital Asset Management.  If you think about it, were Plone classified as a strong Digital Asset Management system, it would probably also meet the criteria for ECM.  It all goes back to the discussion about what constitutes an ECM.  I'm not sure that Wikipedia has the last word on that, at least at the moment.  The article there is listed as having multiple issues. 

Meanwhile, after some reflection, it occurred to me to extract the Red-Blue-Green lines and look at the neighborhood around Plone in a less cluttered view.  That led me to a Venn diagram instead of a subway map: 

This omits all the other CMS Watch categories and leaves a very clear Plone-centric picture.  Plone is running with the big dogs and its the only open source solution in the center.

In closing, we're fast coming up on the New Year and that can only mean one thing:  Plone Metrics' Person of the Year Award.  No cash, no prizes, but as they say on Iron Chef, they'll have "the peoples' ovation and fame forever."  Now accepting suggestions until Dec. 28.

Happy Plone Holidays!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Plone's Place in the Content Tech Subway

There's been a healthy discussion in the forums about why Plone doesn't qualify on the CMS Watch subway map as a Enterprise Content Management System (ECM).  While looking at where Plone falls in the lower left quadrant, it occurs to me that there's another comparison out there that puts a different perspective on things.

Consider that Plone is classified under Web Content Management (Blue Line), Enterprise Portal (Green Line), and Social Software & Collaboration (Red Line).  What other systems share this rare combination of features?

Turns out its very, very few and they are heavy hitters on the commercial side:  IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle/Sun. 

Taking Plone's strengths and looking at them pair-wise, we have Red-Blue, Blue-Green, and Red-Green.  Where are these combinations found?

Red-Blue is found (exclusive of the triple combo systems above) only in Drupal and FatWire.  Oddly, Drupal is found in the absolute lower-left corner while FatWire is in the lower right.  One would think these two would be placed near one another. 

Blue-Green is a very unique combination, only found otherwise in Open Text/Vignette.  It differs from IBM and Microsoft only in lacking the Social Software & Collaboration (Red) line. 

Finally, Red-Green is extremely interesting in that only Plone and the big three commercial vendors hold that combination.  Red-Green is as diagnostic as Red-Green-Blue in classifying this group of four technologies.  Of course, only Plone is open source, so it is very distinctive. 

If your organization needs an enterprise-level portal for web content publishing that features strong collaboration tools, Plone is your system.  When you take into account its secure, open source architecture and total cost of ownership, Plone is a winner.  In fact, those last two sentences exactly articulate why I use Plone for our cooperative international programs in my day-job. 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

CMS Watch Subway Map

The 2010 Content Technology Subway Map just came out (thanks, CMS Watch).  The format is superficially changed, but by and large its the same concept just cast perhaps in the style of a different city's public transport map.  (Anyone know the basis for this year's map?  Toyko?  Vienna?  DC?  London?  Please comment.)

There's been a surprising amount of discussion over on the Evangelism Forum about Plone's position.  The short answer is that since the 2009 map came out Plone and its neighbors haven't moved an iota.  Then there's the long answer... (do I ever have a short answer?). 

The significant changes comparing 2010 to 2009 are the addition of a line between Yahoo! and Adobe (the Lime Line--Web Analytics) as well as a link between Reccomend to Adobe (Orange Line--Search & Information Access).  There has been an extension to the Brown line with Fabasoft, Docuware, and Objective.  Vignette has been added to Open Text on the main line.  Vyre has been added on the Purple and Blue lines (between Open Text and Day).  Cisco has been removed from the Red line and Jboss is now JBoss/Exo (moved to a new spot on the Green line between MS and Oracle). 

Of more interest to Plone are changes in the lower left quadrant.  Exo has been added on the Green Line (Enterprise Portal) and OpenCMS has been added on the Blue Line (Web Content Management).  Plone is still a triple threat CMS--Enterprise Portal, Web Content Management, and Social Software & Collaboration systems. 

Monday, November 30, 2009

Open Source as Pawns?

Ashlee Vance in today's NY Times writes about the hypothesis of OSS being manipulated by dominant technology companies. 
In some cases, dominant technology companies have used open-source projects as pawns. Google, for example, has needled Microsoft by providing financial support to the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, which oversees of the development of Firefox. I.B.M. has been a major backer of Linux, helping to raise it as a competitor to Microsoft’s Windows and other proprietary operating systems.
Many of the top open-source developers are anything but volunteers tinkering in their spare time. Companies like I.B.M., Google, Oracle and Intel pay these developers top salaries to work on open-source projects and further the companies’ strategic objectives.
The MySQL-Sun-Oracle story is worrisome in this regard.  With SharePoint 2010 getting rolled out to great fanfare, one has to wonder if Michael Olson's statement has merit:  
“A lot of open-source firms are one-product companies, and it’s hard to build a long-term, successful business that way.”
That said, there's a lot of activity in the CMS market these days for "one-trick ponies."  Drupal (1.48%), vBulletin (0.83%), ExpressionEngine (0.38%), and Ektron (0.33%) make up 80% of the 3.79% of all websites surveyed by BuiltWith that have an identifiable CMS. 

And 3.79% of all websites is a huge number--CMS's are definitely here to stay, although I'm stunned that people are still individually handcrafting webpages these days.  (Writing HTML now makes me feel like a monk manually illuminating a single page of a book.)

Plone manages to stay in the top 10, although the BuiltWith data doesn't yet reflect any boost from the recent Packt Awards (there is a slight bump up in the Nov. 15 data).  Likewise Plone is number 6 on CMS Matrix when the lists are sorted by either number of views or compares. 

Running Drupal, ExpressionEngine and Ektron (sorry, no vBulletin info available) through CMS Matrix against Plone, reveals some interesting bits.  Drupal is missing (or limited) in 30 listed features when compared side-by-side with Plone.  Ektron lacks 22 features present (or positively scored) in Plone.  ExpressionEngine is short 66 features that are present in Plone.  Converted to percentages based on 139 features, we have the following shortfalls relative to Plone: 
Drupal -22%
Ektron -17%
ExpressionEngine -47%
Those are pretty wide functional gaps and it doesn't begin to factor in benefits like stronger security, immensely flexible workflow, and UML modeling of content types. 

Friday, November 20, 2009

Decisions, Decisions...

Looking at CMS Matrix tonight I find an astonishing 1099 listings. How can anyone make a sane decision with that many choices? This ties in nicely with Barry Schwartz's thoughts in a TED video on the paradox of choice: too many choices lead to decision-making paralysis and dissatisfaction. He provides examples with salad dressings, jeans, and cell phones, among several others. To over-simplify his thesis, too many potential choices increase the difficulty of decision-making and heighten expectations. This in turn dilutes satisfaction with one's ultimate decision.

In his book "The Paradox of Choice" he points out that even infinite choice isn't a bad thing if it can be conceptualized in a simple way, for example, in a one-dimensional matrix comparing a simple feature set. But as the dimensions of comparison go up, the computation needed to calculate an optimal choice becomes increasingly difficult. I see this at my day-job where they have been unable to decide on a corporate standard for CMS. In the end, people look for surrogates for quality to simplify the decision-making process, things like the recent Packt Awards or the Idealware report.

Another solution is to follow the herd and make the same decision others before you have made. This can easily lead to an information cascade and sub-optimal results. I've discussed these beasts elsewhere, but want to point out again that herd behavior is fragile--a little correct contrary knowledge can quickly dispel an information cascade.

Of course, one problem is that one size (CMS) does not fit all. In my case workflow and security trump everything else, so the choice is dramatically limited... and simplified. I don't spend my time agonizing about if I made the right choice or second-guessing myself.

Along those lines, in a bookstore tonight I saw a copy of "Blink," also about decision-making. After only a short skim, I'd say that I agree with the author: we often make an optimal decision within seconds but then our slower conscious analytical processes talk ourselves out of it. (This is not to say that reflective decision-making is always a bad idea, just that we should weigh our initial impressions more heavily in the reflective process.)

I see this all the time grading tests at college--the initial correct answer is erased and an incorrect answer finally selected. I tell my students all the time to not second-guess themselves unless they have a good reason.

This resonates with a number of usability studies that indicate that we make web choices within seconds or fractions of seconds. This article by Jakob Neilson has a good discussion and references on this topic. BTW, almost 60% of visits to Plone.org are less than 10 seconds. On the other hand, about 30% of the visitors stay 3-30 minutes. My guess is that Plone.org visitors aren't generally making a "use Plone" decision in 10 seconds.

Now here's an experiment for you: go to Plone.org and count off 10 seconds while you look at the site. What did you remember? Branch with bud, Plone South America, "powerful, flexible, easy to install, use, and extend."

Do the same for Drupal.org: two simultaneous releases, "critical security vulnerabilities," Whitehouse.gov.

Try OpenOffice.org: productivity suite, learn, download, help, do more, participate. Hmm? Simplifying choice, but letting the user make an informed decision about what to do next. Maybe Schwartz is on to something...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Packt Feedback

Stoyan Stefanov, one of Packt's judges, gives a high-level overview of how he saw the non-PHP systems stack up during this year's competition. His evaluation included these bullets:
  • python
  • slick and contemporary
  • impressive list of add-ons
  • excellent step-by-step tutorials, manuals and a free online book
  • impressive client list, starting with (since I bitch about performance throughout this post) Akamai, the CDN provider
  • +1 for performance best practices
  • -10 for missing demo?
Obviously the missing demo didn't count too heavily against Plone, but it might be something that both the evangelism and hosting groups could look into.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Packt Best Other Open Source CMS Award

And the winner is... Plone!

For the second year running Plone makes it to the winner's circle and walks away with $2000. Second place went to dotCMS and third place to mojoPortal.

I still think the category should be Best Python Open Source CMS. Best Other OS CMS would then include PHP and dotNET frameworks. ;-)

Remember that this is much of a black box award, with community voting contributing to the nomination process and then final votes factoring in with Packt's judging panel in some mysterious way. None-the-less, I don't recommend that the Plone Foundation turn down the prize money.

Also remember that Packt is in the business of selling books and their judging panel would be foolish if they didn't take books sales into account. Right now their are four main Plone titles from Packt and a fifth expected any day now.

By comparison (hey, I've got to have some metrics in this post) Drupal and Joomla have 16 titles each, while WordPress only has 8.

Meanwhile Plonistas, kick back and have a well deserved cup o' joe (for those of us in the Western Hemisphere). The rest of you in Europe and Africa can go straight for other celebratory beverages. For Australia, New Zealand and the Far East, get out of bed and set off some fireworks!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Whitehouse.gov Goes Open Source

It was a red-letter day for open-source software when the White House announced its transition from ASP.NET to Drupal on Oct. 24. Several insightful pieces have already been written in the blogosphere (Nancy Scola and Tim O'Reilly), so I'll not rehash that here. Instead I'll do the usual and take a look at some numbers.

Some obvious choices for searching stats turn out to create problems. Uncle Sam's Google Search returns things like the National Vulnerabilities Database listing for a given CMS. Perhaps given that its 3:30 a.m., a first whack at how many .gov sites are out there using OS is to simply look at self-reporting for some representative CMS's.

Source URL

(No obvious collection available. If anyone knows of one, please comment.)

http://groups.drupal.org/node/19885 and http://groups.drupal.org/node/24119




Although its been heralded as a watershed moment for open source, FOSS has been steadily penetrating the .gov domain for years. The high-profile nature of whitehouse.gov, however, gives open source a great boost. But places like Albuquerque, Newport News, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, and many others have been using open source for years. I recommend reading the e-Government article in Wikipedia with an eye towards FOSS mentions, which are numerous.

As always, the message is to match requirements with capabilities. If you're a PHP shop with lots of talent in that area, you might be inclined to go in that direction. Similarly, with ASP.NET staff, DNN is a player. If security is one of your top concerns, Plone should be on your short list.

Meanwhile, here's another plug for FosterMilo's presentation at World Plone 2009 on Day 2 -- "Helping the Government Go Plone." They were instrumental in getting Plone up and running for the Cities of Albuquerque and Raton here in New Mexico. If past presentations are any indication (here's one of my favs), this will be a good one.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

While in Budapest

For all you lucky Plonistas that made it to Budapest, here's my suggestions on a few things to do. While there're plenty of shops, restaurants, museums, and other diversions in the city proper, I found the west side of the river to have some of the best scenary. Here's the Buda Castle...

with its impressive cathedral.

There's also a number of interesting subterranean features in Budapest, especially if the day is wet. Try the Castle Labyrinth up on Buda Hill (not for the claustrophobic) and then relax in the underground bar at the Hilton.

After a long day of sight-seeing, conferencing, sprinting, or to get the kinks out of your back after a long flight, try one of Budapest's many spas. When I was there (Dec. 2000), I stayed at the Hotel Gellert with its enormous and beautiful swimming pool, massage options, and hot springs.

Just don't believe their in-house TV ads talking about "radioactive" water :-))

Afterwards, just across the street is a path that will take you to the top of Gellerthegy, the Gellert Hill. Excellent vistas of the city, especially at night, await you.

In closing this non-statistical posting, congratulations to Chantal and Alex. Be sure to toast the happy couple when they present "Helping the Government Go Plone" (Day 2, 16:15).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day

Just a quick posting about Blog Action Day with this year's topic of climate change. Kinda hard to fold climate change into a blog about Plone, CMS, and measuring the effectiveness of web tools.

Best link I can think of between Plone and climate change is that of the relationship between environmental NGO's and Plone. A quick glance at Plone.net shows 46 sites identified with the industry area of "Environmental." This is one market area where Plone has repeatedly shown its strengths in delivering top notch content management solutions to NGO's and not-for-profits in this domain.

So hat's off to all the Plonistas working to deal with climate change on this Blog Action Day.

I'd also like to point readers in the direct of Sigourney Weaver's article in the Huffington Post on oceanic acidification. You might disagree with CO2's effect on global warming, but its effect on aquatic pH is undeniable.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More Stats from Amazon

Its been another quarter and its time for a look at Amazon sales ranks for Plone books. From the graph above, you can see that some texts are bouncing around while others are trending steadily. I can't really explain the sales improvement for many titles last July (remember "dips" are actually good in terms of sales rank). The new titles have lost ground somewhat after the initial flurry of sales, but no one has gone over a cliff.

Without doing any further analysis (hey, its 3 a.m.), it looks like there's a cluster of books in the low to mid hundreds of thousands and another cluster above 800,000. We'll have to wait until December to see if this pattern is persistent.

My own behavior might explain some of this from an anecdotal point of view. At my day job we've just been going through the upgrade from 2.5 to 3.1 (don't ask). At any rate, its time to dust off my notes from Joel Burton's class last year and buy the Plone 3 texts for the rest of the staff. Not being an early adopter in the Plone upgrade process, we've held off on upgrading our technical library until now. I suspect others are in the same boat and this sort of lag will continue to drive Plone 3 book sales for some time.

I read with interest a piece from Morris Rosenthal where he's basically reverse engineered the sales ranks. Despite that, Amazon numbers are amazingly fluid and trending them is tricky, especially for those with ranks below 20,000. He's got some interesting graphs and an insightful writeup. In simple terms, Morris states the obvious:
Read an average rank of 1,000 to mean you have a seriously successful title, an average rank of 10,000 to mean your doing pretty good for a book that's no bestseller, an average rank of 100,000 to mean it's not going to contribute significantly to your income, and an average rank of 1,000,000 to mean you need to take a break from checking sales ranks.
Of course, these are Amazon numbers, so remember that online sales (Pelletier & Shariff) and direct sales from our friends at Packt (many of the others) will have a significant impact. Its also nice to note that Plone top sellers have ratings of 4.5 to 5.0.

By way of comparison, Drupal has four titles with sales ranks under 20,000. Unfortunately, they all have ratings of 4.5 or less. Joomla has three titles ranked under 50,000. Their ratings are 4.0 or less. WordPress has four books ranked under 20,000 ranked variously between 3.5 and 5.0.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Vote for Your CMS

This weekend's post will be a quick one... in Albuquerque its the beginning of the annual Balloon Fiesta. In about four hours we'll see many hundreds of balloons take to the air for the first of several mass ascensions.

Of interest this week is that the nominations are in for the Packt Open Source Awards. Plone made the finalist's circle. The short list of five "best other open source CMS" contenders includes:
  • DotNetNuke
  • dotCMS
  • mojoPortal
  • Plone
  • WebGUI
By way of comparison, the PHP finalists are:
  • Drupal
  • Joomla
  • MODx
  • TYPOlight
  • WordPress
And the overall finalists are:
  • DotNetNuke
  • MODx
  • SilverStripe
  • WordPress
Its interesting that only DotNetNuke of the Other CMS category and MODx and WordPress of the PHP CMS group made it into the overall finalists. Drupal and Joomla appear have been promoted out of the overall category into the new Hall of Fame.

You can see that Packt is having to deal with a serious apples and oranges problem here, with .net solutions, blogging software, Perl, C#, Python, and J2EE systems in the mix. Although the Packt process is not particularly transparent, it does seem to be one that very roughly approximates how well particular communities can mobilize and get out the vote. To Open Source as a whole, its gratifying to see more than 12,000 votes in the nomination phase.

Voting is now open until October 30 so hop over and vote. Its worth $2000 to the Plone Foundation if it takes first place in its category.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Plone-SharePoint Chronicles

Although SharePoint and Plone overlap somewhat in feature sets, any comparison is an apples-and-oranges affair. Basically, SharePoint is a document management system while Plone is a web-publishing, content management system.

Key requirements in my situation of interest include moving draft documents out of staff inboxes for version control, providing an unambiguous story to senior management, and presenting a well thought-out and compelling line of reasoning to external stakeholders (web publishing). At the same time, draft and sensitive documents must be protected.

For any external collaborative website that requires brand identification, Plone is strongly recommended. For an internal, no-frills document collection with static folder structure, SharePoint can deliver an acceptable solution that is familiar to many users.

A hybrid solution (SharePoint internal/Plone external) will require constant manual intervention to maintain synchronization of appropriate documents. External access, for example, from partner universities, to an internal SharePoint site will not be an option. If this use-case is anticipated, a Plone-only architecture may be warranted. Otherwise, it will be necessary for core team members to look in two places (internal and external) for documents based on whether an outside editor is one of the contributors. As the program broadens, the likelihood of additional external authors increases, making this a more likely problem.

Downstream requirements expansions should be considered before settling on a final architecture. Once implemented, the management-level user community will operate with considerable inertia.



Microsoft SharePoint is a collection of products and software elements that includes collaboration functions, process management modules, search modules, and a document-management platform. Technically SP was released approximately in 2002 and is operating here as version 3, but its many components have a complex pedigree.

Plone is an open-source content management system and associated third-party products. First released in 2001, our planned deployment is with version 3.1, now stable for over 6 months.

SharePoint sites are functionally ASP.NET 2.0 web applications, which are served using IIS and a SQL Server database. All site content data, such as items in document libraries and lists, are stored within an SQL database.

Functionally Plone is a Python application running behind Apache in our case with a Zope database/server backend. Most site content data are stored within Zope.

Requires significant ASP.NET hand coding for modification; SharePoint Designer for customization.

Customization of data types and workflows managed through UML models; standard CSS plus page templates for look-and-feel changes.

SharePoint has an Internet Explorer–based user interface with somewhat limited functionality available to users of other browsers.

Plone is well regarded for its platform independence and browser neutrality.

SharePoint has non-trivial license fees and these are passed to line organizations as indirect costs. Direct costs of content creation and site management are still incurred.

Plone is licensed under the Gnu Public License and has no distribution fees. Costs are only those directly associated with site creation, administration, and content creation or management.

Section 508 Compliance can be achieved with SharePoint, but doing so typically requires substantial development effort, or the use of third-party products. Of particular concern in SharePoint are the use of a number of ActiveX browser plugin controls, the use of non-compliant markup, and over-dependence on client-side scripting.

Plone excels in standards compliance, accessibility (Section 508 compliance), and internationalization.

Unusable sites surprisingly easy to create by the unwary. Awkward to restructure sites at a later time.

Multiple means of organization and navigation available. Moving items does not break internal references. Full-text search available out of the box.

By means of VPN into our internal network or implemented as a site on the external network.

Accessible equally from internal or external networks. Single-sign-on anticipated shortly.

Restructuring a SharePoint site is complex and time-consuming. Data aggregation tasks are extremely complex.

Plone can be customized and extended to meet highly specific needs in terms of data aggregation, site structure, content types, workflow rules, and so forth.

Superior MS Office integration, but difficult to adjust workflow to more complex situations.

Third-party desktop products give Plone drag-and-drop capabilities. Version 3 will have inline editing.

Lacks automatic templating of web pages.

Page templating enforced out of the box.

Non-corporate external SharePoint user accounts must be managed via our internal password-control tools.

Non-corporate user credentials managed simply and locally. Very fine-grained security controls.

Both internal and external versions available with full corporate IT support.

Acceptable for OUO on our external servers. Considered much more secure than PHP-based content management systems. Supported by in-house developers.

(These Blogger table formats are really bothering me today. I've posted the full table at Google Docs.)

Reviews, Resources, and Links

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cygnus atratus and CMS

A friend sent me a copy of Taleb's book, The Black Swan, and I've been giving it a read. One might wonder where a discussion of extreme events fits with Plone and CMS in general and I hope to close that loop before I'm finished today.

Let's start with a concrete example: the Dec. 2004 Sumatran earthquake and tsunami. Without getting into a debate about whether large earthquakes are true black swan events, this certainly fit the bill for millions of affected people.

In Nov. just prior to that, Enfold Systems launched Oxfam America's newly designed Plone portal. From an item at AllBusiness.com,
"In the course of ten days during the Tsunami crisis, Oxfam had almost half of its typical yearly visits, and almost 1/3 of its yearly bandwidth -- the system performed beautifully," said Internet Manager Nicholas Rabinowitz.
Oxfam raised $14M and credited Plone with a large part of making it possible to handle the scale of the relief response. Clearly this is an example of an enormous negative black swan event for people in the Indian Ocean basin, but a positive black swan event for Plone. This is exactly what Taleb promulgates as a successful strategy for managing risk--maximize your exposure to positive black swans.

Let's take this concept a step farther back and look at the general CMS environment. In the first decade of the 21st Century, we've seen CMS go from twinkle in someone's eye to dozens of major systems. The diffusion of the CMS innovation has been marked by a rapid evolutionary radiation into hundreds of web niches.

Many CMS niches are characterized by what are called path dependencies and network externalities. A path dependency explains how one set of decisions is constrained by what previous decisions. Vendor lock-in is a classic case in point that results in positive feedback for a particular, although possibly suboptimal, solution.

An organization that has drunk the Microsoft coolaid may very likely go with SharePoint as their document management solution and try to foist that off as a web publishing solution as well. But the original choice to go with MS may be a black swan in that it was a very rare, high consequence event from a software perspective.

Network externalities are where outside events drive a decision. Often this means that someone makes a decison to implement a particular CMS because its considered easier to find PHP programmers. (Don't get me started on the ease of learning Python and the readability of Python code.) What was the black swan that led to PHP predominance in web apps? I would hazard that the success of Apache running largely on Unix with tools like AWK led straight to second generation software like Perl and PHP.

I'm now seeing items in the innovation literature that point to yet a third factor that drives acceptance: lack of information. This lack of information on the relative merits of systems leads decision-makers to base their choices on whatever data chance has delivered to them. I've heard this refered to as the "PC Magazine-Air Travel Model," where a manager's decision is based on whatever he or she read in PC Magazine while flying back from DC.

In conclusion, I can't say I believe everything that a catastrophist like Taleb writes. As an evolutionary biologist, I'm well aware of the impact of catastrophies on evolving systems (for example, asteroids and K-T extinctions). But I feel the overall grist in the mill of complex systems is the day-to-day micro-improvements, whether a small favorable mutation or a PLIP solved by a Plone developer. Black swans are out there and we want to be the lucky ones who seize the opportunities they bring, but that doesn't mean I'll stop working on the small, almost unnoticed improvements that drive system change.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Meaningful Stats?

Dylan Jay recently asked on the Plone Evangelism msg board, "Are there any stats about Plone's success that are really meaningful?" My first thought was to reply over there. But since the question is truly existential from a statistician's point of view as well as being of general interest, I thought I'd post a reply out in the wider blogosphere.

Dylan had also queried in his post by wondering if there's a way of determining amalgamated Plone revenue? His reasoning went that as a community, are there numbers that can compare apples with apples when looking across open-source and commercial products?

The difficulty here is that any single measure we pick will be integrating across multiple dimensions: large customer companies vs small, community sites vs web publishing, dot com's vs dot org's, and so on. In this blog I've explored (and continue to explore) various surrogates for the health of Plone and related CMS's.

Whether its PageRank at Amazon, BuiltWith percentages, Google trends, security vulnerabilities, Plone.net sites, Technorati posts, CMS Matrix features, or other statistical tidbit, these all fall short. Which is why I've always advocated a requirements-based decision process for determining if Plone is right for a particular situation. But that doesn't stop me from questing for the Holy Grail of web statistics--a simple way to measure effectiveness.

I'm still of the opinion that an aggregated set of metrics will be useful in this regard. See for example, one of my earliest posts where I was trying to fill in the gaps in a table where widespread adoption of Plone was based on acceptance and visibility. One of the attributes of acceptance was the economic health of 3rd party companies, something we still don't have a solid handle on (sorry Dylan).

Meanwhile, there are new "sentiment analysis" tools coming out as per this morning's NY Times. Of the free services, things look pretty rough. For example, Twitrratr lists as a negative post this tweat from our very Plone-positive friends in Pennsylvania, "xml is the wrong language for confi..." This confuses a post's source (planet Plone) with the keyword "wrong" and misses the subject of the negative feelings, "XML." The algorithms still need work, but here in the interest of fairness is a rundown.

Clearly Twitrratr is displaying more precision than their algorithm merits and Tweetfeel (with n = 2) is missing most of the traffic of interest. Twendz does give a few details on how they are dynamically processing up to the latest 70 tweets. I'll keep an eye on these and related products to see how the technology is maturing and how it can help the Plone community improve itself.

Finally, in closing today I thought I'd finish up not with more statistics, but with a couple anecdotal items recently seen on Twitter:
Collaboration via Sharepoint is like kissing a warthog in August.
Trying to create a good site with MS SharePoint... cumbersome... I rather prefer Plone! #microsoft #plone.
Anecdotal evidence by definition isn't statistically significant and can be easily dismissed by those who need numbers to back up their decisions, but it occurs to me that I should be cataloging these sorts of statements. In time, I suspect we'll have quite a corpus because Plone does good stuff.

Next week: The diffusion of innovation and why people often standardize on sub-optimal solutions. Black swans, path dependence, network externalities, and the lack of information on the relative merits of systems.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

World-wide Hourly Site Usage

This past Thursday I had an opportunity to attend the monthly NM Tech Council's meeting. The topic was "Inside Google Analytics." The speaker was Chris Kenworthy, the owner of MediaGroup1 LLC and founder of DreamInCode.net, a leading online community for programmers and web developers.

After his very informative talk, I asked him about a question that has been vexing me for some time: How to untangle visits to Plone.org throughout the day when we have a world-wide community of users? I had thought that perhaps there was a local time dimension hidden somewhere.

Turns out that the solution is different than I'd thought but elegant. The trick is to use geographical areas instead of timezones.

Here's the result. Asia-Oceania is orange, the Americas are green, and Europe-Africa is Yellow. This gives us a very rough cut at timezones.

If we'd wanted finer resolution, we'd have used narrower bands of countries, but for this example plus-0r-minus 5 hours or so works well without a lot of effort.

Here's the how-to.

First, create advanced segments that match timezones.
  1. This is done under Settings | Advanced Segments (beta).
  2. Click on "Create new custom segment."
  3. At this point click on "Visitors" to expand the dimension list.
  4. Scroll down to the dimension of interest, in my case "Continent."
  5. Drag "Continent" onto the dotted box labeled "Dimension or Metric." Use regions or countries for higher resolution.
  6. Leave the condition as "Matches exactly."
  7. From the Value pull-down select, for example, "Europe." (True, this includes data from extreme eastern Russia, but we're keeping this simple.)
  8. Click on "Add 'or' statement."
  9. Repeat for a Value of "Africa" to include everyone in approximately UTC 0 to 4. Your segment should look something like the figure below.
  10. Save the segment under a meaningful name.
  11. Repeat for other geographical bands that represent the time slices you are interested in.
Now we can view our data.
  1. Back at the dashboard, select Visitors | Pageviews (or whatever y-axis value you like).
  2. Select the "Hour" icon.
  3. Set your date range.
  4. Using the (Beta) Advanced Segments pull-down in the upper right, check the boxes for your custom segments.
  5. Click "Apply" and, voila! you have our graph above. Remember that the hourly times given are Google Standard Time, aka San Francisco or UTC -8.
What can we learn from this?

In Europe and Africa, interestingly, we see dual peaks at 10:00 and at 13:00-15:00.

In North America, there's only a single peak around 11:00. Perhaps if I graph North American usage by states, I'll see a lunchtime dip, but our fastfood lunch hours may be showing up.

In Asia and Oceania I may have lumped things together too coarsely. Here there's a broad maximum from about 18:00 until 2:00 in the morning, which corresponds very roughly to mid-day when adjusted for UTC offset. I should go back and create two or three more segments. One would be an east Asia segment for Japan, Korea, China, Australia, and New Zealand. A second would be Indian, Pakistan, and other central Asian countries. A third might be southeast Asia.

So there you have it, hourly data from Analytics for a world-wide audiance. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

SharePoint Article in the New York Times

This morning's New York Times has an important article for all CMS developers -- a discussion of what and where MS SharePoint is. Of particular note is SP's success while MS sales overall have fallen for the first time in history.
“SharePoint is saving Microsoft’s Office business even as it paves the way for a new era of Microsoft lock-in,” said Matt Asay, an executive at Alfresco, which makes an open-source content management system. “It is simultaneously the most interesting and dangerous Microsoft technology, and has largely caught its competitors napping.”
Apparently, MS will be releasing a new version next year and Ballmer is quoted as saying SharePoint could be the next MS operating system.
Microsoft has managed to undercut even the panoply of open-source companies playing in the business software market by giving away a free basic license to SharePoint if they already have Windows Server. “It’s a brilliant strategy that mimics open source in its viral, free distribution, but transcends open source in its ability to lock customers into a complete, not-free-at-all Microsoft stack - one for which they’ll pay more and more the deeper they get into SharePoint,” Mr. Asay said.
The article mentions a Norwegian start-up, Fast Search and Transfer, as the key to increased SharePoint search capability. Those crafty Norwegians are everywhere :-)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Packt Open Source CMS Candidates

Interestingly, the Packt OS CMS Nomination forms have pre-populated pull-down menus. For those who care about such minutiae, here are the pre-approved CMSs in the Overall CMS category and, following that, the Other CMS category. Packt has pre-approved 65 CMSs for the overall group and 15 for the others. To put that in perspective, CMS Matrix lists 1017 CMSs.

By "other" Packt means non-PHP, so right off the bat, as in previous years, we've got ecclesiastical differences. I should also note that their Hall of Fame Award this year is limited to the two previous overall winners, Drupal and Joomla, plus whoever is this year's winner.

Without further ado, here are the lucky few who got their tickets pre-punched by Packt. So many CMSs; so little time.

Overall CMS

CMS Made Simple
Enano CMS
eXo Platform ECM
Exponent CMS
Expression Engine
eZ Publish
Lanius CMS
Mojo Portal
Movable Type
MySource Matrix
php fusion
Social Web CMS
TikiWiki CMS/Groupware
Umbraco CMS
Unclassified NewsBoard (UNB)
Website Baker

Other CMS

Apache Lenya
Hippo CMS
Mojo Portal
Movable Type
Plone CMS
Silva CMS

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Nominations Open Monday

Packt announced that nominations for their 2009 Open Source CMS Awards will open on Monday 3 August. Nominations continue through September 11 and final voting runs September 21 through October 30. The award winners will be announced November 9. The Packt OS CMS Awards are entering their fourth year and their process is still changing each year, but it seems to be stabilizing.

Get out their and mobilize your OS community. Plone has done well in the "Other CMS" category and has been a contender for best overall in past years. Placing well with the Packt Awards does give some nice publicity immediately on the tails of this year's World Plone Conference.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Trends from Builtwith

I just found BuiltWith Trends, which has some interesting CMS data among other things. My understanding is that they sample a large (but unspecified) number of domains and determine the web technology used. Looks like they're only publishing data beginning late last November.

The graph here definitely puts the Google Trends stats in perspective. I've extracted the individual data for a couple CMS and compiled them into one chart. It turns out that Joomla and Plone each account for a tiny fraction (<0.02%), whereas Google Trends shows Joomla far outstripping Drupal. Speaking of Drupal, they just recently scrabbled above 1.0% after bottoming out at 0.70% last Christmas.

At the bottom of each technology page is a pie chart showing how the last survey slices the entire domain, in this case, CMS. Drupal's 1.35% is 38.5% of all CMSs surveyed. Joomla comes in with 5.13% and Plone has 1.71%. In terms of ranking, Drupal is on top, Joomla is fifth, and Plone ties for eighth.

BuiltWith conveniently lists top sites using a given technology, although I'm not sure how they determine this. Plone's top sites are the CIA, Discover Magazine, ACM, and Connexions. Typically BuiltWith lists a maximum of 20 top sites, so I'm not sure how they missed Oxfam America, NASA Science, and a couple thousand others.

Just to give you an idea of the other's top sites, Drupal's top 4 sites are BrightCove, Us Magazine, iVillage, and NW Source. Joomla's are The Hill, RCN, SpellingCity, and everythingiCafe.

Clicking on a listed site will take you to a summary page that displays all the technologies that BuiltWith was able to extract from the domain in question. Very interesting stuff.

Like all web stats, they are to be used cautiously, all the more so when an explicit methodology is not stated. None-the-less, I'll definitely be following BuiltWith to see how things track over time. There's considerable noise in the data and one can't yet tell a trend from seasonal noise or something associated with a new version rollout.

All that said, this may be as close to market share as we're likely to get in the near future. The numbers don't segment the marketplace, so we still don't know if Plone is killing Drupal or vice versa in the government, education, and not for profit areas. Quite frankly the big surprise for me was that the total usage percent for CMS is only 3.67% of all the sites sampled by BuiltWith. Looks like global domination is still a ways off.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What Makes a Popular CMS?

This afternoon my good friend over at Boeing sent me a link to Paul Graham's 2001 piece on popular programming languages. You might have heard of Paul--he and Robert Morris wrote the software that drove Yahoo Store, a hugely influential system in 2001.

Considering that he's advocating a new spin on LISP, I thought the analogy would fit well with Plone's circumstances. He has 12 explicit metrics of popularity as they apply to programming languages and one implicit measure--let's see how far I can stretch them to cover CMS.

The implicit metric is very powerful abstractions. Hands down Python, Zope, and Plone blow the others away. An object-oriented database, archetypes/dexterity, Python (instead of Perl/PHP)... the list goes on and on, but let's dive into the 12 explicit measures of popularity.

1. The Mechanics. The mechanism of being popular is poorly understood in the WWW. What makes a video go viral? What does make a CMS popular? Do popular CMS deserve their popularity? Is it worth trying to define a good CMS? How would you do it? Let's look at webmasters and web designers, putting on that lens and seeing what shakes out. (Bear in mind that site users are incredibly important, but they often lack leverage in pre-selecting the underlying CMS.) Here's a quote from Graham with my transliteration from programming languages to CMS in brackets.
It's true, certainly, that most people don't choose [CMSs] simply based on their merits. Most [developers] are told what [CMS] to use by someone else.... So whether or not a [CMS] has to be good to be popular, I think a [CMS] has to be popular to be good. And it has to stay popular to stay good. The state of the art ... doesn't stand still.
2. External Factors. In a chicken-and-egg manner, a popular CMS has to be the underlying system of popular sites. One way to describe this situation is to say that a language isn't judged on its own merits. A CMS does need a good implementation, of course, and this must be free. Companies will pay for software, but individual freelance designer might not, and it's the designers you need to attract.
A language also needs to have a book about it. The book should be thin, well-written, and full of good examples. K&R is the ideal here [for languages, ed.]. At the moment I'd almost say that a language has to have a book published by O'Reilly. That's becoming the test of mattering to hackers.
I would now argue that a book published by Packt is the CMS benchmark. :-)

3. Brevity. Given that you can supply the three things any CMS needs -- a free implementation, a book, and means to rapidly prototype (see below)--how do you make a CMS language that webmasters and designers will like?

Paul makes the point that hackers need a language that is terse and weakly typed for speed of, well, hacking. Interestingly, he emphasizes that white space matters, which of course is a Python trademark. Referring to the LISP commands car and cdr:
And they are also different lengths, meaning that the arguments won't line up when they're called, as car and cdr often are, in successive lines. I've found that it matters a lot how code lines up on the page.
4. Usability. Graham, referring to programming languages, calls this hackability. There is one thing more important than brevity to a web designer: being able to do what you want--in our case, creating websites. I believe this translates into usability, another huge asset with Plone.

A recent blog post by PJ Grisel takes (IMHO unfair) aim at, among other things, Plone usability. But when I get desperate calls from the SharePoint user upstairs, I realize how smooth things are running in the Plone world.

5. Rapid Prototyping. Graham labels his 5th measure throwaway programs, which translates to prototyping in my world. To be attractive to site builders, a CMS must be good for building the kinds of sites they need to produce, which are often quick off-the-cuff demos for prospective customers.
What makes a [CMS] good for throwaway [systems]? To start with, it must be readily available. A throwaway [web portal] is something that you expect to write in an hour. So the [CMS] probably must already be installed on the computer you're using. It can't be something you have to install before you use it. It has to be there.
This often is the case when it comes to creating CMS-based websites on inexpensive, dare I say, cheap, LAMP servers. That said, the Plone installers get you up and running in less than 15 minutes on your desktop. With minimal instruction, a site designer can be customizing a functional prototype in evening.

That huge learning curve that everyone talks about may just turn out to be a myth. Heavy customization may take you deep into the bowels of Zope, but I rarely need more than CSS, ArgoUML, and cursory Python ability to produce wonderfully sophisticated portals. One doesn't need to know eight frameworks to be able to deploy a Plone site.

6. Libraries. Graham continues with the topic of libraries, which might be the equivalent of products in Plone.
Of course the ultimate in brevity is to have the program already written for you, and merely to call it. And this brings us to what I think will be an increasingly important feature of programming languages: library functions. Perl wins because it has large libraries for manipulating strings.
Python remains an strong contender here with its excellent libraries for manipulating not only strings but HTML, XML, and SQL. Since 1998 I've not gone data mining without my HTMLlib.

Back on track with CMS and Plone products, we are seeing some real maturity in key add-ons. Jazkarta's recent post ("May I borrow that?") about the products that make Oxfam America rock is very welcome.

7. Syntax. Sorry folks, I'm open to nominations as to what exactly the CMS equivalent of syntax might be. Its certainly a higher order concept having to do with the rules that apply to languages. In a CMS, this might transcend the underlying framework and relate to site organization, navigation, and how to make content meaningful (and possibly searchable). Comments welcome on this topic.

8. Efficiency. While speed of a language is one thing, speed of a website is another altogether.
As Knuth pointed out long ago, speed only matters in certain critical bottlenecks. And as many programmers have observed since, one is very often mistaken about where these bottlenecks are.

The nature of speed, as perceived by the end-user, may be changing. With the rise of server-based applications, more and more programs may turn out to be i/o-bound. It will be worth making i/o fast. The language can help with straightforward measures like simple, fast, formatted output functions, and also with deep structural changes like caching and persistent objects.

Users are interested in response time. But another kind of efficiency will be increasingly important: the number of simultaneous users you can support per processor. Many of the interesting applications written in the near future will be server-based, and the number of users per server is the critical question for anyone hosting such applications. In the capital cost of a business offering a server-based application, this is the divisor.
Nuff said.

9. Time. Graham discusses time in a novel way and reflects on "the garage guys" (open source) and the "big bang approach" (commercial).
The last ingredient a popular [CMS] needs is time. No one wants to [develop sites using a framework] that might go away, as so many [CMSs] do. So most [designers] will tend to wait until a [CMS] has been around for a couple years before even considering using it.

The good news is, simple repetition solves the problem. All you have to do is keep telling your story, and eventually people will start to hear. It's not when people notice you're there that they pay attention; it's when they notice you're still there.

If you look at the dominant technologies today, you'll find that most of them grew organically.
Plone continues to grow organically and still gains ground in important areas like government web portals. In my day-job we've been "ramen profitable" for several years, where we don't need to raise funds for the web team to survive. And now that our skunk works has been around for five years, people are standing up and taking notice. People are listening to the story. (BTW, see Graham's July 2009 essay for more on ramen profitability.)

10. Redesign. The concept of redesigning certainly resonates with the current Plone community. 3.3 is out there, 4.0 expected by Christmas, and 5.0 PLIPs are already coming thick and fast. Graham has a great description of a two-cycle innovation engine:
In the first phase of the two-cycle innovation engine, you work furiously on some problem, inspired by your confidence that you'll be able to solve it. In the second phase, you look at what you've done in the cold light of morning, and see all its flaws very clearly. But as long as your critical spirit doesn't outweigh your hope, you'll be able to look at your admittedly incomplete system, and think, how hard can it be to get the rest of the way?
11. Plone. Of course Graham expounds the virtues of LISP in his 11th point. Here I include some quotes from another of his 2001 articles, The Other Road Ahead:
When we look back on the desktop software era, I think we'll marvel at the inconveniences people put up with, just as we marvel now at what early car owners put up with. For the first twenty or thirty years, you had to be a car expert to own a car.

There is now another way to deliver software that will save users from becoming system administrators. Web-based applications are programs that run on Web servers and use Web pages as the user interface. For the average user this new kind of software will be easier, cheaper, more mobile, more reliable, and often more powerful than desktop software.

With Web-based software, most users won't have to think about anything except the applications they use. All the messy, changing stuff will be sitting on a server somewhere, maintained by the kind of people who are good at that kind of thing.

When you install software on your desktop computer, you can only use it on that computer. Worse still, your files are trapped on that computer.
Think back on Plone in 2001... now reflect on where we are today. CMS have freed the user's files that were trapped on that desktop, or worse still, trapped in that maze of mirrors people call their shared drives. While web developers have to worry about the details under the hood, to continue the metaphore, our users, our content providers are getting more and more power, convenience, and usability. Web designers are the ones who must put structure, order, organization, and context into the content provided. Plone can't do that for them (yet :-)).

12. The Dream System. Paul has a more recent essay about "The Power of the Marginal." In it he has some remarks that the Plone community can take comfort in when others make Plone and Zope's edge technology an issue (and complain about the name of your visual editor). When someone next drags out the Google Trends graph for Drupal-Joomla-Plone, take heart:
This leads to my final suggestion: a technique for determining when you're on the right track. You're on the right track when people complain that you're unqualified, or that you've done something inappropriate. If people are complaining, that means you're doing something rather than sitting around, which is the first step. And if they're driven to such empty forms of complaint, that means you've probably done something good.

If you make something and people complain that it doesn't work, that's a problem. But if the worst thing they can hit you with is your own status as an outsider, that implies that in every other respect you've succeeded. Pointing out that someone is unqualified is as desperate as resorting to racial slurs. It's just a legitimate sounding way of saying: we don't like your type around here.

But the best thing of all is when people call what you're doing inappropriate. I've been hearing this word all my life and I only recently realized that it is, in fact, the sound of the homing beacon. "Inappropriate" is the null criticism. It's merely the adjective form of "I don't like it."

So that, I think, should be the highest goal for the marginal. Be inappropriate. When you hear people saying that, you're golden. And they, incidentally, are busted.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Amazon Numbers and Other Bits

I'm a little past due with my usual Amazon sales rank stats this month... the dog days of summer are taking their toll. Our top ranking text is Practical Plone 3 (remember, small Amazon sales ranks are good). I've thinned things out by omitting most of the 2008 data (see my March posting for all that) and that reduces much of the chatter.

Overall, things are holding their own. Practical Plone 3 is still ahead of the pack with a sales rank of 151,532. I should point out that average customer review ratings (not shown) are uniformly high (4.5-5) except for Cooper and Meloni.

I recently ran across a tool called Wikirank that gives you a count of the number of times a Wikipedia page was accessed over the previous 30 days. The numbers for some popular CMS and blogging systems look like this.
CMS Wikirank
Drupal 40,589
Joomla 36,403
WordPress 24,141
MediaWiki 18,299
SharePoint 15,795
Plone 6,177

I'm not at all sure what these mean--SharePoint and Plone at the bottom, Drupal and Joomla at the top. It definitely doesn't track Google Trends, where WordPress and Joomla are huge relative to Drupal. At any rate, I'll keep tracking this over time and periodically popping up with a summary.

Just in passing, for those of you who watch the ASP world, back in June asp.netPRO announced its 2009 Readers' Choice Award Winners. These were based on voting concluded last April. Geoff Spick makes some interesting observations at his blog on the fact that SharePoint took the prize for best CMS even though Microsoft has been touting it instead as a document collaboration and productivity platform. DotNetNuke came in second.

Friday, July 3, 2009


I've been following Twitter more closely this year than ever before, partly because I was involved in getting Sandia National Laboratories to get with the program and authorize a corporate @SandiaLabs feed. Since then I've set up Twilerts to give me a daily "Plone" summary and my Tweetdeck is doing passing well.

I've noticed that there have been lots of positive tweets regarding Plone, but every day or so, there's a flaming remark about someone who's gone up on a reef with Plone. Lots of folks hop into the breech, but I'll have to say, Alexander tends to be ever the diplomat, reaching out as per this sample:

[name withheld]: pox on plone 2:39 AM Jul 2nd

limi4plone: [@name withheld] If Plone has a disease, we need to cure it. ;) Anything we can do to help?
Of course, its deucedly hard to diagnose a problem in 140 characters. I'm particularly frustrated by the ones asking, "Which is better, Plone or Drupal?" When asked for requirements so one can make an intelligent stab at what they need, they vanish. I suppose if I was the perfect Plone advocate, I should have simply tweeted back, "Plone is best... always," which ultimately causes more problems.

Then in today's NY Times I find an article on using Twitter to get better customer service. Turns out, as we've always known, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Here's a sample:

Mr. Wagner suspects he received better service because of Twitter’s viral nature. Twitterers habitually “re-tweet” one another’s posts, not unlike forwarding an e-mail message to everyone in your address book. Companies, he said, “want to head off the conversation as quickly as possible,” adding, that “it’s in their best interest to make people who have a pulpit happy.”

JetBlue puts a more positive spin on it. Disgruntled customers “tend to be the biggest opportunities,” said Morgan Johnston, a spokesman for the airline who helps manage its Twitter account, which has more than 770,000 followers. “We can take that person aside and kind of pull them in and say, ‘Hey, you seem to be really upset in front of several hundred or thousand people.’ ”
Twitter is an amazing tool for situational awareness, but my guess is that it needs to be better integrated with other streams of communication. As the Times article points out, Twitter can get the attention of customer service, but rarely can it solve the problem.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Community-Powered Plone

I came across an article in the May 9 ScienceNews that described, among other interesting things, decision-making in bee swarms. It occurs to me that the same thing may be going on in OSS as communities of developers and users attempt to agree on which new features to include in the next release, what "the best CMS" is, or reach some other collective decision.

The process is that a fairly small number of more experienced bees act as scouts. When they find a candidate location for a new hive, they return to the swarm and perform a dance that indicates the distance, direction, and perceived quality of the potential home. Based on the more enthusiastic dances, additional scouts sample the recommended locations. If they like a site, they too will communicate that to the hive. Amazingly, they usually attain a consensus within a day or two.
In the illustration above, location B (blue) is initially the hot place to be out of about seven candidates. But over a period of hours, location G (gold) appears and overtakes all the contenders. At that point the swarm heads off to their new digs.

Is this (or a high tech version of this) happening via the web? Are OSS advocates dancing their tails off, trying to convince the other scouts and eventually the entire swarm to follow their lead? It may be a plausible model.

Interestingly, if the bees can't reach a consensus, the swarm may split. Mambo/Joomla, anyone? Does this mean bees can have two different use-cases?

At any rate, from a Plone point of view, I urge the community to make sure to drop in on the Plone Evangelism forum, participate, spread the good word, dance your dance for the entire swarm, and change the world for the better.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Launchpad Stats

Thanks to Sidnei da Silva, I've been made aware that Launchpad is now publishing download statistics. https://edge.launchpad.net/plone/3.2/3.2.2 has the latest, apparently accumulated only since February 2009.

The Launchpad stats show 255,710 downloads of which 188,298 are for the unified installer for Linux/BSD/Solaris/OSX. 64,496 are downloads for the Windows buildout. The small fraction remaining are for the OSX installer or downloads without Zope or Python.

Converting these to percentages reveals 25% of Plone 3.2.2 downloads were for Windows boxes; 74% for *nix.

As interesting as these numbers may be, its a long leap from downloads to installation base. Our three venerable 2.5.5 instances only required one download and resulted in two dozen portals being developed. On the other hand, at the College of Santa Fe, I'd have 16 students each download the Windows installer just for an evening's exercise.

From my point of view, the good news of the week has been the release of funds to upgrade our server to 3.2.2. That means all our new Plone portals will roll out in 3.2. If existing portal projects fund their migration either this summer or fall, we'll be just in time for next winter's 4.0.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Blank Spots in Visitor Loyalty

While things are hopping over at Plone Symposium East, I thought I'd finish up my series on Plone.org visitor statistics from Google Analytics. Tonight I'd like to discuss several under-appreciated metrics: loyalty, recency, length of visit, and depth of visit. I'm inspired by a blog posting by Avinash Kaushik that promulgated these measures for non-e-commerce websites.

Loyalty. Plone.org visitor loyalty has four modes, a mode being a local maxima in the frequency graph. A huge number of visitors (51%) come to the site only once, but then there is an up-tick after 8 visits. Of those, there is another up-tick after 25 and another after 200. From the graph, one would suspect that visitors returning more than 8 times represent a distinct population.

The long and the short of it is that Plone.org updates its content frequently with new documentation and products coming online daily. Returning visitors who come back over 200 times are clearly deeply interested in Plone. Even those who revisit just 9 times probably are users of a Plone site or owners of a simple Plone portal who need more than just a single answer to a question or the one-time download of an online reference book.

Recency. Fully 82% of all Plone.org visitors came within the past 24 hours. There is also a noticable peak in the "8-14 days ago" visitor population. These are routine visitors who make a habit of returning to Plone.org 2-4 times per month. As an action item, should the Plone community “sell” harder the value of repeat visits to our audience?

Length of Visit. About 55% of all visitors stay for less than 10 seconds. Obviously they were looking for something else and instantly recognized that their search had taken them too far afield. Of those who stayed more than a few seconds, 22% stayed for 1-3 minutes, 23% for 3-10 minutes, and 21% for 10-30 minutes.

This seems to indicate that about equal numbers of site visitors find their answer or locate their download within 180 seconds, within 300 seconds, or within a half hour. Considering the number of brief how-to's as well as the length of some tutorials, this probably is to be expected. A laudable goal for Plone.org might be to increase the under one minute population, which would indicate that site users found their answers quicker.

Kaushik states that "If you are a support website then should you be embarrassed if 20% of your audience was on the site for more than ten minutes!" Reducing the number of 10-30 minute visitors would be another excellent goal for Plone.org. That would mean that solutions to problems were becoming simpler and no longer needed lengthy, detailed tutorials. That said, I think there will always be a need for comprehensive tutorials that explain a process from start to finish in complete detail.

Of course, these metrics fail to capture those Plone users who are able to answer their own questions just due to the high usability of the Plone sites without needing to look up any online references.

Depth of Visit. As might be expected, 50% of all visitors stop after a single page. These no doubt correspond to the 51% of single-time visitors, the same ones who stay less than 10 seconds.

You'll note, however, that this is bimodal with almost 5% of all site users viewing 20 or more pages. I'm guessing these are developers and power users.

Its a testimony to Plone's internal search engine that visitors who stay beyond a single page view find what they're looking for (or if you're a pessimist, they give up) within a handful of pages. Turns out the average is 2.6 pages. That's about right for the following use-case: go to Plone.org, enter a search term, view the results page, select a relevant result and view it.

This concludes my "Blank Spots in..." tour of Plone.org statistics from Google Analytics. I'll try to get back every six months or so and see if things are moving around. With all the recent changes to the home page, I would expect to see some metrics on the move and in a positive way.