7 Replies Latest reply on Sep 11, 2008 2:38 AM by afinan

    Open Source or Closed Systems

      Would like to start a discussion around open source or closed systems for building communities, both have disadvantages and advantages to them, what do you find has worked best for you?

        • Re: Open Source or Closed Systems

          We build communities exclusively for nonprofit organizations using open source (but interestingly enough, .Net/Microsoft) platforms.

           

          The biggest advantage I see to open source is complete control over customization.  If the client has a unique use case that requires hacking up the core of the software package, that is doable.  I think though that brings about the biggest disadvantage too ... sometimes the learning curve from a developer's standpoint can be a bit steeper but I think it is a worthwhile trade-off beause once you really get to know an open source system you can shape it to whatever need you have.

           

          I think that an equally effective user experience can be provided by either an open or closed source system, but it is the open source system that can be guaranteed to be shaped to whatever needs and whims a client might have, given enough development time.  I've run into too many walls with closed source proprietary packages.

          • Re: Open Source or Closed Systems

            thanks for the reply Chris, spent a lot time looking at various systems for open source, and as I was given a drupal system used that, I spent a lot of time depending on others for about three years as I didnt have the confidence to build a site myself, then after numerous promises and let downs I bit the bullet and redeveloped the site, I dont know coding or programming so its been a huge learning curve and still have a lot to learn, still terrified of doing upgrades.

            • Re: Open Source or Closed Systems

              I will any day prefer opensource because if the company behind the software closes shop, you won't be left without any clue. You can either acquire skills or hire people and hack the software to suit your purposes. Thatz the beauty of opensource. The software can grow forever even if the company/community behind the software is long gone.

              • Re: Open Source or Closed Systems
                ddmcd

                The basic question I would have is about maintainability. If the major advantage of open source is tha ability to modify it any way to meet the needs of the client, that's good - initially. But if you end up with multiple clients and multiple versions of a core open source product, you can get killed with maintenance and upgrade costs -- which clients will tend to resist.

                 

                A "closed solution" on the other hand, will (or should) provide for less variability and for  greater ease in maintenance and support, but at the cost of less customizability.

                 

                I don't have a solution since I can see advantages and disadvantages of either approach. Your perspective will sort of depend on what business you see yourself being in.

                 

                Dennis McDonald

                Alexandria, Virginia USA

                http://www.ddmcd.com

                • Re: Open Source or Closed Systems

                  In the process of getting my own community "tools" up and running i was and am still faced with the good old "Open source or proprietary " and i find what dennis said above to be true, its almost entirely about what sort of business your in, there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

                   

                  But that said it really does boil down to one thing, when you are building a community Numero Uno is the community itself, much else is secondary, there seems to be a proiferation of software recently that "uses" its creator/developer/user, what i mean is some programs take more effort to learn to use and to maintain/update/patch than they are actually useful, instead of software that is "just a tool to be used".

                   

                  This is a very broad question overall, but personally ive found "open source" or "closed"/proprietary is less important than "easy and meaningful for the community to utilise".

                  • Re: Open Source or Closed Systems

                    In addition to open vs. closed I would love to hear opinions on the benefits and issues with respect to Outside Hosted vs. Self-Hosted vs. SaaS (Software as a Service) for communities.

                    • Re: Open Source or Closed Systems
                      afinan

                      About 3 years ago, we created an internal corporate community using the open source software Drupal.  I think it's an amazing product with a significant learning curve (depending on what you want to do), terrific developer community, and lots of flexibility. However, we are looking at COTS products now to run our community.

                       

                      Here are some pros and cons of using open source to run your community from my perspective of using Drupal:

                       

                      Pros:

                      - It's free (but there are significant costs)

                      - Can quickly get it up and running on your own computer to prototype a community

                      - Strong developer community (however, don't assume all your questions will get answered and for others to have solutions for your unique requirements for the software)

                      - Tons of already developed extensions (modules) that add significant functionality to your community - however, every time you add a module, you need to question its quality, impact on performance, support model, etc.

                      - Significant flexibility!

                       

                      Cons:

                      - Need technical knowledge to develop and run - PHP, Apache, MySQL, and the software itself (theme and module development), etc;

                      • Although the group I work in is very technical, the development of this software wasn't our mandate so we didn't have the time or manpower to maintain, enhance, and develop it once in place.  We never really developed strong expertise in PHP and/or Drupal module development. We contracted out the theme development and did only key customizations inhouse (LDAP integration). However, we did hire a summer software dev intern who quickly got up to speed and made some great enhancements to our site. Sadly, he's back at school.
                      • Upgrades require significant effort, risk, and potential to lose past functionality.  So we never did it and therefore have missed out on new functionality that could have made our community really rock.

                      - Although it's customizable, the software handle things a certain way and changing would potentially limit your ability to upgrade without tears

                      • For example, there were some key community capabilities that I wanted but couldn't easily do in Drupal 4.7: tag users, build friend networks, fine-grained access controls.

                       

                      Since the development and maintenance of community software is not our core mandate, I'm looking at whether COTS products can get me where I want to be -- to build a really robust corporate social networking community for my company.

                       

                      Hope that helps! Angelique