A couple of things have inspired this post, firstly Quora’s insistence that the answer to every CMS question is Drupal, (actually more correctly the communities answer to every question) and a chance encounter of a fellow simultaneously riding a bicycle, carrying a suitcase dicing with death in the Oxford traffic.

Which kind of encapsulated a few thoughts I’ve had recently about all this big community generated hype. Now, calm down drupalists I am not suggesting that Drupal is as limited in purpose as a bicycle, I’m using it to represent popularity, ubiquity and availability.

Firstly a few months ago, a chat with a marketing chum in the pub, about to embark on a new role. It was a company with a 90’s looking web presence, in need of fresh design and content and as we discussed this web experience his question to me went something like – “You’ve seen our website, I’ve heard a lot about Drupal, do you think I should replace what we have with it?”.

Uh….

Next up a recent Twitter conversation with a fellow web professional (they’ve now left Twitter so I can’t directly quote) where their position was that Drupal is a great place to start, we are all going broadly in the same direction so what does it matter? Being dismissive of requirements analysis.

Hmm…

On Quora Irina Guseva (industry watcher of CMSWire fame) had the audacity to point out something called ‘requirements’ in answer to a question about the best corporate CMS. When I took the conversation to Twitter it attracted some attention from a fan of WordPress (the other big community suggestion on Quora as the bestest CMS) and she was described as a ‘pedant pontificating’ for suggesting it. (If you do stroll over to Quora and see Irina’s answer, note the class she brings to the ubiquitous CMS car analogy, yes very specifically it MUST be the 1931 Bugatti Royale Kellner Coupe).

A pedant pontificating eh?

Now, lets not get hung up on the fact that I’ve mentioned Drupal or WordPress in this post, at various points of the CMS hype cycle and depending on who you are talking to you could probably replace various names in those conversations – folks in the late 90’s gorged with VC money probably ran around saying things like “we all need a Vignette”.

No, folks you need a CMS, or a WCM system. Or maybe not – my mate in the pub actually just needed a fresh design, a product marketing strategy and some decently written copy – he had a perfectly good CMS baby that he was thinking should go the way of the bath water.

There is a positive of course, in that all this noise (and maybe the odd personal attack) demonstrates an established solution with a passionate community. That’s a marvelous thing – but it’s not the only thing.

Now I’d be as cautious as the next analyst about recommending a fresh young CMS vendor that seems to have found the font of eternal CMS VC funding (think it’s in Scandinavia somewhere), without some significant due diligence. However, once you are beyond knowing there is a community of ‘other people like you with your business problem’, a pool of technical folks that can solve them and someone will answer the phone in a years time – isn’t there a point at which a community size ceases to differentiate or add value to the solution?

It may also be that the nature of your business means that your ‘other people’ community is a tribe of 20 or 2000. Does it matter after that? You have other requirements beyond ‘is an established product for doing the thing you do’.

At this point, I should also make the time honored point about confusing Open Source with free. Jumping on a ‘great place to start’ is (of course) going to cost your organization money and time. This is going to be true of whatever option you take and in most CMS implementations the biggest chunk of the cash is spent on the implementation (especially with those solutions at the toolkit end of the market), you really don’t want to be heaping all that good cash on building a web experience on foundations that’ll creak under the weight or won’t bend to your specific needs.

Ah.. I’ve mentioned the implementation. The crew. I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Jon Marks to discuss the importance of the crew, I suggest starting with this and then searching his blog for ‘crew’.

There is some caution here with the advice of the crew and there is also the opportunity here for me to trot out one of my favorite analogies – that if your crew only has a hammer, your business problem is going to look like a nail. But, I’ve digressed.. Regardless of the solution, before you jump on the bandwagon du jour (and I’m not saying don’t do it), it’s essential that you have a good old look at your requirements and maybe the tools and people you already have.

Which brings me to my hapless cyclist, the fact that a huge community of a billion million Chinese folks have adopted the bicycle really wasn’t helping him move his suitcase.

Image of the fully laden Chinese cyclist by istolethetv reproduced under create commons license.