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Macromedia Contribute vs. the Developer.

November 12, 2002

Sending ripples of joy/shock/fear through the web development community, Macromedia announced Contribute this weekend, a $99US content editing system.

The Golden Age?

The smarter web shops have realized that the best approach to site updating comes through enabling the client to literally do it themselves. Comfortable with competition like Vignette, Interwoven and Microsoft’s Content Management Server pricing into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, many have elected to create their own Content Management Systems, allowing control over page layout, text formatting, image libraries and more.

Revenue comes from licensing this proprietary technology, and comfortable margins are generated by licensing the software. Content Management has become the new e–Commerce to the developer, a revival of an industry that was starting to doubt its own feasibility.

And so the Bottom Drops

But along with these high margins comes a hidden price. After having spent long months and even years developing these products, the news of a cheap replacement comes along to destroy that sense of security. While the investments are beginning to pay themselves off, there is still an awful lot of time and money tied up in many companies’ systems.

The release of a single product doesn’t precipitate the death knell for the independent CMS developer, since free systems have long been available. However, it’s certainly no comfort to those who have invested in their systems without already recouping the cost. It can now be done cheaper, quicker, and since Contribute (based on the Dreamweaver engine) generates W3C standards-friendly code, it can possibly even be done better.

What Macromedia offers with this program is a sense of stability and legitimacy. Buying into an Open Source CMS is cheap initially, but the hidden costs manifest in high–margin external or on–staff support. Middle–of–the–road developers are able to offer support, but resources are more usefully tied up in development. Macromedia thus provides a trusted name brand, as well as a tie–in to existing, well–supported products like Dreamweaver.

All is not Lost.

While this is a rather large shock to those who assumed they had their market locked up, hope still glimmers. The program hasn’t been released yet, and even when it ships, it will be Windows–only for a while yet. The $99 license will most likely be a single–processor license, requiring multiple purchases for companies wishing to allow access control to more than a single individual. And of course, as always, the site doesn’t create itself.

What Once Was, Becomes Again

And that really is the core of the matter: development is what it once was all about, and now, again, it becomes the raison d’être. Developers don’t like maintenance, and clients don’t like paying for any more than they have to. The promise of the Content Mangement System is now more poignant than ever, and it becomes vitally important for the small developer to focus less on the creation of the tools, and more on their deployment and use.

Let’s leave the distraction behind and focus on the goal. Let’s stop worrying about the process and start concentrating on the end result.

Let’s build the house, and forget about constantly improving the hammer.

Reader Comments

November 13, 04h

Agreed! Nicely said. Web designing and development is not “cut and paste”. Let’s let the client have control of that.

I’ve resisted Content Management Systems up to now because my clients have resisted paying the $1,500 to $2,000 price tag for any CMS that I could find to recommend. Yes, that will be a hole for the developer of these types of systems but they can use their coding and programming skills to fill another niche.

Erik says:
November 13, 11h

This is a very thoughtful piece. You have eloquently described our thinking about this issue: help with the content management problem and thus free up designers and developers to advance their skills and create new highly valuable applications. I’ll stop there, your post says it better than I could.

Erik Larson
Sr Product Manager
Macromedia Contribute

martin says:
November 14, 07h

PeggyTake a look at Zope - not all effective CMSs have big ticket licensing costs - this one has a license cost of $0.Although in my day job, I use Vignette, Interwoven, the MS CMS etc because of their fit into enterprise systems, I would wholeheartedly recommend Zope to any independent developer and SME clients. Hell, I use it for my personal site.

heretic says:
November 18, 04h

A good piece, definitely. I am surprised at the reactions I’m seeing regarding Contribute… perhaps everyone has a new product rush of blood :) It’s not a perfect solution, it’s not a “CMS killer”. It seems to me that it’s just an attempt at getting rid of “move that comma” update hell. At work we’re currently investigating whether it will actually help - we use a staging/production server pair. So we suspect the extra files will turn into cruft on the production server… but we will wait and see.