A purely community driven enterprise-grade Content Management System?

While asking the previous question, I was thinking about how, in the CMS (ECM or WCM) space, we’ve ended up in a situation where Open Source now holds a very important position in the market as opposed to proprietary solutions and is often cited as a major requirement. However, unlike lower levels of the software stack, I’ve also noticed that almost all projects are now backed by a software company and that there are no community driven projects, well, at least none of importance! This was then my next question to my panel:

In the CMS, ECM or WCM space, all open source projects are now commercially backed. Do you believe a project could emerge that’s totally community driven?

Of course, as all of them are working for commercial vendors, I wasn’t expecting them to surprise me with a YES, but still, I was really curious to get their thoughts!

According to Tjeerd from Hippo, it’s a lot about the use case that the software is aiming to solve. If the use case is on the business-side, chances are high that any software project will, or will need to be, commercially backed:

“A great idea can arise from anyone and with enough willpower it’s always possible to create a new product. It differs depending on what the end goal is of a software product (framework or solving an end-user’s problem) and if it can become advanced enough to compete. Tony Byrne, founder of the Real Story Group, once showed a presentation at a Jboye Aarhus event on how OS CMS players over time moved from purely community driven into commercial OS players.

In our view the more software is focused on solving a business case, the more likely it is to become commercially backed.”

I like the idea, though you could argue that Linux is still independent and not exactly “commercially backed”, yet still very much solving business needs, no?

For James from Liferay, this is a possible option, and indeed, James is making a reference to Linux, but he also brings the thought that this, first, would be very hard to achieve and, second, would most likely, at one point or another fall into the commercially backed category.

“Of course they could! Most open source projects start with no corporate backing, and a few of them remain that way and are successful (see: Linux). It takes an immense amount of effort to produce and evangelize good and useful software, so there are only a handful of highly successful, non-commercially-backed projects, because most people want to be paid for their work so they can do other fun things (buy new clothes, feed their family, etc).”

Laurent (from Nuxeo) gives some good insight as well, suggesting that first, developers (and their interest centers) are changing and might not be into the kind of projects we’re talking about, still, why not a foundation-hosted project? That is a real question to me as well!
“As much as I would like to believe it possible, I’m afraid it's not. :) Projects like that are huge, they take lots of work. I’m not talking about lightweight CMS here, but more about full fledged content management projects. Mobilizing developers for that kind of project will probably be hard since the trend right now is more about small, usually mobile, applications. I sense developers are less likely to regroup than in the past, when it was hard to setup a community website, source hosting, ticket systems etc... Now you just have to share your project on github... (Damn...I sound so old school open source right now, http://www.mikealrogers.com/posts/apache-considered-harmful.html)

There might also be a chance on projects backed up by foundations like Eclipse or Apache, but again the scope of those projects is usually a bit thinner than a whole ready-to-go ECM stack.”

And Nicolas, from eZ,actually goes in the same direction...
“I doubt this, given the evolution-pace in the Web today. Development times are boiled-down, shortened down to the wire, and funding is strongly recommended to get dedicated teams to truly innovate.

On the other hand, I can hardly picture a proprietary software editor keeping-up with the innovation pace of the winning duo: vendor + community.”

What did I learn from this? Definitely, times are changing. There was a time when any OSS-marked supporter would tell you Open Source would rule the whole word by itself! My conviction is that there is a lot in Tjeerd’s answer:

  • The more the software is solving a commodity infrastructure problem, the more it can easily be co-developed by a community of independent developers, potentially (but not necessarily) helped and guided by joining a foundation, with all its facilities.

  • The more the software is made to directly answer business needs, the less it can be developed by a community itself, and even if Content Management is getting close to infrastructure in some ways, it is still very business related. I would say the same is true for other software genres like CRM or ERP...

The Pizza ritual at the Liferay Austin User Group The Pizza ritual at the Liferay Austin User Group

Do you have a different point of view? Feel free to comment below!

In the next post I'll share James, Nicolas and Laurent's answers to my last question, "If your company was bought and you had to explain to your new boss why community management is important, and had only 1 sentence to save your job, what would it be?"