At the recent StackOverflow DevDay in London, Joel Spolsky talked about whether your product design should favour simplicity or features, continuing a simmering debate he’s been having with 37 Signals. Spolsky wouldn’t disagree that simplicity is generally better for user experience. But – and it’s a big but – he argues that features are better for revenue. His experience is that customers buy features: whenever they release more features for FogBugz, they see sales go up. More features help protect revenue, not least because you can upsell to existing customers.
This made me think about the trend for CMS vendors away from loosely coupled solutions and towards big all-singing, all-dancing suites, which are competing on essentially the same feature set. The CMS market (at least at the ECM end) now looks like classic innovator’s dilemma territory. Briefly, the innovator’s dilemma is that successful innovation-based businesses usually got to be that way by listening to their customers. When a new innovation comes along, it’s typically only better in some specific way, fitting some edge case; a worse is better solution. For the vendor, the profit margins on the new thing are worse than for the existing business, and the existing customers don’t even want it. So it’s hard to justify putting resources into addressing this new thing. By the time you (and your customers) realise you do need to do something about it after all, it’s too late. Some startup business has captured the new market.
In the CMS world, WordPress are the obvious threat here. Other vendors might scoff and say “it’s not even CMS!”. Well, no. Quite. That should set your innovator’s dilemma alarm jangling. There’s an “edge case” problem that WordPress solves rather well: instant-on deployment. As the web gears up for real-time, that starts to seem less and less of an edge case. Also check out page.ly (when their servers are up 😉 – a kind of frontend for building business sites on WordPress.
Box.net is another contender. No, it’s not really a CMS either, just a content repository. But a very extensible, web-oriented content repository. Hey, we shouldn’t even write off Google Sites, even though it’s crap. Maybe sometimes crap is better.
I’m sceptical of the suite approach. It doesn’t even fit the facts on the ground: your staff are already using other tools outside your firewall to contribute and curate content about your business: get over it. A loosely coupled solution that connects people (in and outside the business), content (wherever it lives), and apps (that are already in use anyway; that are “best-of-breed”); now, that looks like a better idea.