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

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!