Open Source aka “WordPress” Vs. a Customized Website.

So You Think You Need A Website

The first place you look, if you are just starting out with your website today and you are doing it yourself, is often an Open Source application like a WordPress, Joomla or Drupal or a “hosted” Site Generator, one of which I hear often about is Wix.  Open source is a program you can download and load onto your hosting space that is freely distributed.   Open Source code can be loaded already for you by your hosting company like a Godaddy.  Or alternatively you can use a hybrid solution like WordPress.com (You get WordPress, but WordPress manages it for you).  Either way, you are using a freely available system that you spend time learning and working on.  Trust me the advocates for each of the top three will give me 10 reasons why theirs is better than the rest, but essentially each one is better at some doing certain things and others has some negative features (like the editor on WordPress is for the birds).

Why You Are Interested

Why would you be spending time reviewing and looking at these applications?  Well, if you want to save some cash outlay, doing it yourself, creating a website with WordPress is like building your own Heath Kit (I am dating myself because I actually remember Heath Kits as a kid) or creating your own PC.  Not sure how many reading this plugged boards in and made their own PC like I did several times in the late 80s and 90s.  Basically sites like WordPress are easy to set up if you read the docs and watch all the YouTube videos and are pretty much free, at least to get started.  What I want to discuss in this blog post is the concept that what you are getting or working with is conceptually free.  But is it all really free?  There are hidden costs and some direct costs.  Also, Open Source has just been loaned to you temporarily under conditions that you must adhere to.  So, theoretically with Open Source you don’t own any code unless you write your own plugin, and if you release that plugin under the rules, you may not own that plugin.   So next time you tell people you own a website, and you are using Open Source, you may want to not use the word’s Own but really I have a website.

Free Is Not Really Free

So if you have set up your own WordPress site, let’s just say that the average time it takes me to set up one, like the one I am writing a blog article right now, takes me at least 2 hours to set up, at least 3 hours if there is a design template involved, but let’s add 40 hours it took me to really learn WordPress, and that’s being kind.  So, let’s think about that.  45 hours goes into learning, configuring and setting this stuff up.  And the learning never stops.  Let’s say that I was a $100 an hour guy, and I am.  So really what I did is spent $4,500 on my first website.  We have to manage our time, because our time is not free.  If you go out and ask a WordPress shop to set up a WordPress site for you, with a nice template from ThemeForest.net, they will quote you anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500 or higher.  That’s because there are going to be graphics involved and fonts and decisions and knowledge of HTML.  Anyway, it is still cheaper than $4500 to pay someone else who has the experience.

What Is A Custom Website And How Does That Compare?

Now let’s compare a WordPress, Joomla or Drupal site with a fully customized site.  When I say customized, I mean a full web software application (like another WordPress) that you own and deploy.  Why would you do this?  Well, if you have a customized back-end for your business it is a smart move to build exactly what you need and leave the Open Source behind.   With your own site, you and your programmer(s) know how it works, why it works and what is different about your system.  But whether or not you need a custom site depends on what you want to do.  For instance if you are a Painter, Pool Guy or Lawyer who wants to blog, and I know a few, you don’t need to own an application or customized solution, you are just needing brochure ware.  That is perfect for WordPress.  If you are creating a simple site for your friends to leave comments that may be great in Drupal or Joomla (but for those apps I do recommend a programmer most of the time).  But let’s say you wanted to create an online business, a social network, a unique market place (like eBay) or something completely different and unique, then Open Source and other apps may seems like the a good way to go, but in the end, they can present a problem long term.

If you want to create an application that can one day be acquired by a big company then having Open Source can be a burden.  You may need to own your own IP (Intellectual Property) or code.  You need to own the code in order to have ownership of your application.  So, if you are not a software developer and you want to create a serious and unique system online (those are the kinds of things that separate your app from the pack), you sometimes need to build a customized site.

How Can Custom Software Be Comparable In Price To Open Source?

Well, because software has become easier to develop and because of outsourcing to third parties, some of which are overseas,  you can build solutions at comparable costs.  You just need to put a value on your time and energy and a value to what you are building and not come in with the theory that Open Source is free.  Trust me, each of those apps like WordPress have had 1,000 developers and possibly $100 million worth of code involved.  What you will find if you use WordPress or Drupal or Joomla is the price of making code changes, adding plugins, rewriting and changing the core can be comparable to building applications from scratch.  I have my recommended team of customized application developers you can contact me about.  But what I am trying to say is the price in the end may actually be cheaper to customize, if you really compare apples to oranges, especially if you need to be unique and different in this world.  Trust me I have pieced together both WordPress and Joomla plugins and add-ons trying to get these systems to do what I need them to do.  But in the end, you can end up with a Frankenstein Monster and quite frankly after that, most entrepreneurs realize they need to start from scratch.

The New Web Technology World Order

Outsource vs. Insource

Over the last few months and year I have learned quite a bit about Outsourcing programming overseas and the IT job market in the US.  The two are totally connected and interdependent.  And what I am finding is a conundrum.  First, the cost of software development has and will continually be driven down by offshore development, some of which I promote.  So, you would think there would be less programming jobs and therefor more technology management jobs like web web manager,  product manager, producer, project manager, Director, VP and CTO, especially to work with these outsourced teams from the Ukraine and India, for example.  Trust me these outsourced teams have moved up to the point where their skill levels are often superior to US based programmers, so we thought programming jobs would go away.

More Programming Jobs, Not Less

The truth is, there are even more programming jobs being offered all across the US and less and less management jobs, especially here in South Florida at a time when outsourcing is easy and cuts costs.  So what happened? And just understand, this is my opinion.   Well first off, even when applications are developed overseas and sit on remote websites there still needs to be an accountable local representative who can manage or oversee the deployment of the system.  This is the operations person or manager.   The biggest drawback to outsourcing is flexibility and communications.  You are not in the same room obviously, but Skype makes it seem like we are next to each other. When you have a programmer working with you in the same room  (if you were the guy or gal in charge), you are more agile and you are more likely to fix minor things quickly.  This is always going to be an issue with outsourcing.

The Heavy Lifting

The biggest positive with outsourcing is the cost and the speed of the heavy lifting.  Just think about how you paid a mover when you moved last time.  If you moved yourself, it probably took a longer time to accomplish the task, but in my experience I hired a moving company that showed up with 3 big guys who moved it all without any problem.  Same thing with outsourcing. So when there is some significant application with a lot of technology that needs to be built, sending it overseas totally makes sense.

Less Management And Not So Good For MBAs…

But more importantly I see a flattening of IT management across both large companies and SMB (Small and Medium Businesses), meaning the need and relevancy of levels of people between executives and programmers has declined.   So if you are building a building (similar to a big software program), companies, especially smaller companies, don’t see the value in hiring an architect or engineer if you follow the analogy.  Smaller business owners see the value in the construction worker and in this case the programmer, because programming value is more tangible than management value, especially during a recession.

Flying Low And Blind

Whether this is a recession issue or not, what this means is that 90% of software ventures and technology projects, especially outsourced ones, are often flying blind.  You don’t always require a project manager, but if you are spending more than $50,000 on a software project, you should have one.  If your software project has tons of features, unique pricing and other complicated parts then you probably should have a product manager.  If you are creating a product for the consumer market, then often you need a quality assurance expert.  It sounds logical, but actually only larger companies have these roles, and these roles are declining in the IT profession compared with programmer demand.  It tells me that (and I will put on my programmer hat on) that application development has gotten so much better over the years that entrepreneurs and basic users think they can take on these roles and are in fact becoming IT management experts themselves.  I have met many of them out there!  You would be surprised how may talented individuals have picked up these IT management  skills. And some people are great at this, but experience in this area can make all the difference in getting a website or product to market.