You might have heard this metaphor before in some form: "Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants." It means that a person making something new can benefit from work that already exists, leveraging and understanding the labor of people who have done it before them. I found out that this saying is old, almost a thousand years old—Isaac Newton popularized it.
So when I hear clients say they don’t want to use open platforms because of reasons such as:
- They’re inferior to paid software
- They’re insecure because they’re open
- There’s no good support for these products
I often wonder why they can’t see the seemingly apparent reasons for using open platforms.
Open platforms have many benefits to small and large businesses alike, but many decision makers fear the concept of open source.
But I do soon realize that clients—who probably aren’t as intimate or vested as I am on web systems (closed or open)—require a bit education on what open systems really are and how they can use them to their advantage.
In this article, I’ll discuss ways in which open platforms can meet the business objectives of your clients and allow their project to stand on the shoulders of these giants.
Why Open Platforms Rule: Their Community
Open platforms have communities that come pre-packaged when you adopt them into your business. Most clients are trying to build a fanbase around their product, or at least, they want more eyeballs. Open platforms give them the capability to engage with an already-established community.
At the bare minimum, they can use the platforms as a conversion tool, although too many clients stop there.
Money. This will hit decision makers where there heart lies: in their wallet. Open platforms are often free or low-cost. Maintenance and support are cheaper because you leverage the collective power of the community that surrounds the project. Getting support for open software comes in the form of people who’ve been there and done that.
Development time also decreases. Adopting an open platform often comes with years of work and thousands of combined development hours put into them. Two heads are better than one, as they say.
It’s a good idea to note that, we the designers can sometimes get thirsty for a good fight. We think we might be able to make a better mouse trap. But can one person, or a even a small team, compete with the work of thousands? And even if they can, is it a smart move to reinvent the wheel?
You Don’t Need to Adopt the Platform in Its Entirety
Another point to make is that just because you use a platform doesn’t mean you need to embrace the entire platform or even how it is suppose to work.
If you have a popular site that show a lot of pictures? You can offload parts of it to Flickr. The bonus is that Flickr users who find your photo on Flickr might be enticed to visit your site.
Streaming video? Offload that to YouTube. Even if you still present the content on your site, you can still use the open platform, and you get the community benefits of having your videos publicly accessible in a larger site such as YouTube.
Pacifying Concerns about Product Support and Security
Support and security are the bell-weather arguments against open systems.
First, security is not an inherent problem in open systems. Just because a system is open doesn’t mean it’s insecure. This argument is bolstered by the many reports of hacked websites and systems, which often turn out to be incorrect implementation, bad security practices, or end-user error (but it’s so easy to blame technologies that have the word "open" as a feature).
In fact, open systems not being secure is very far from the truth. Take for example the Linux operating system. Bugs and security flaws are found at a much quicker rate than in its closed-sourced counterparts.
Security isn’t something you can buy; it has to be practiced. There are programs out there that are better at informing the community of security concerns. Drupal is a great example of an open source system that has a strong security concern. If your client is security-conscious, do an audit. Demonstrate use in security-concerned areas, but don’t let them dismiss the system out of hand just because it’s "open".
Support is easy. Open systems have vendors that sell support, if one needs it. Closed and proprietary system support—especially those with a small user base—don’t have many alternatives to obtaining third-party support. Often, you are tied to the mercy of the vendor.
When talking about open web systems such as YouTube, you can always take your stuff elsewhere, like Vimeo, if the solution doesn’t work in your particular case.
Uses of Open Systems
Here are just a few examples and case studies you can use when trying to convince a client to go the open platform route.
Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe in Emeryville, CA
If you live in the Bay Area (in California), you should check out a restaurant called Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe in Emmeryville. The food is good, but what I love about this restaurant is their marketing. They made a mini documentary and used Vimeo, a free video hosting provider, to host it. They were then able to take that video and use it as an ad on a local news website.
So not only did they get the documentary to live inside a community of videos, where it can be admired as a mini-doc, they can also use it as a novel ad that stands out against all the other hyper-intense mini-flash ads.
Oh, and they also get the benefit of free bandwidth.
The Obama administration has been outspoken about being transparent. One way they have backed that up is to embrace the best software solutions for the job. Whitehouse.gov, a site that needs to be secure because of its nature, has decided that Drupal, an open source content management system, is good enough for them.
While the Whitehouse.gov isn’t a super secret website, I am sure they have security concerns, and they still decided to use Drupal.
There is a secondary win here as well, when you talk about transparency and including the public in the process, it’s nice to see that the Whitehouse puts its weight behind a system that is built in an open fashion.
Bonus points: they post an awful lot of videos on YouTube.
I can’t say that I am a big fan of his music but I can’t deny that he is popular. He didn’t become popular because he built a website. He went where the people are, on YouTube, and built a community around himself in YouTube. This is how a young man—who would have never been seen or given a shot if he went with a more traditional route— landed himself a recording gig.
You might wonder what a 13 year-old pop artist has to do with your clients, but they actually have a lot in common. If you have ever worked for a startup or brand new company, they are looking to get press and more eyeballs on their wares. They often feel that their best chance at making a splash is to build a catchy website or to build a community on their site. They are blind to the fact that it’s super hard to build a community.
So, just like Mr. Bieber went to where the people are, your clients shouldn’t be afraid of it either.
A Short Recommended List of Open Platforms
Open Website platforms
- WordPress.com, and WordPress.org
- Django – a web framework in Python
- Ruby on Rails – a web framework in Ruby
- CakePHP – PHP framework
What have been your experiences with clients resisting open platforms? What reasons do they give you? How do you convince them that open platforms are good for all parties involved?