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Navigating Open-Source Publishing - 8/8/2011 -

Lower the cost of publishing on the web by effectively using open-source software tools.

By Emily Randisi

Because there are a number of open-source software options available, figuring out which tool makes sense for your association can be overwhelming. At the 2011 Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting, Patrick Peak, chief technical officer at Brower Media, and Kwesi Agyeman, web/e-communication specialist at American Gastroenterological Association, explained the benefits open-source solutions can offer an association. They also outlined the best ways to take advantage of these tools, and how to overcome some of the unique challenges associations face when implementing these solutions.

Meaning of Open Source Software

Open-source software is downloaded freely, and can be used, changed, and modified for free. Even if you don't see it, itís everywhere. It's storing and sending emails, Tweets, etc. Google uses Chrome and Android operating systems. Facebook, Apache, and Firefox are all open source. Open source software is generally focused on web publishing and content management tools.

Open-source software advantages include:

∑ Free to download and use.

∑ Free to make changes, alterations.

∑ No wait time for release from vendor.

∑ Freedom to fire! If you have a bad relationship with the vendor, you can change without abandoning project.

∑ Support is available.

∑ Easy website hosting.

∑ Changes software to bottom-up adoption.

∑ People buy software they don't use. Open source is by programmers, for programmers. Developers are going to use it anyway.

On the other hand, open source does have its challenges. Just because it's built on open source doesn't mean it's free. Hire professionals to build your website. In open source environments, chat communities and IT support are run by volunteers, so there may be significant wait time for replies.

Here are three open source options:

1. Wordpress

∑ Simple blogging tools.

∑ Easy, approachable for writers.

∑ Easy hosting and can increase to host yourself later on.

∑ Design is cheap for a theme, but there are no real customization options.

2. Drupal

∑ More complex content management system (started as a discussion forum, now it runs very content heavy sites such as the White House web page.)

∑ Many features are readily available.

∑ Custom content friendly.

∑ Solid track record for complex sites, such as The Economist.

∑ Provides support.

∑ High learning curve.

∑ Is the middle ground between a blog and platform.

3. Ruby on Rails

∑ Developer framework.

∑ "RubyĒ is the language it uses.

∑ Started as small business application for Groupon, Twitter, Living Social.

∑ Fastest growing, heavily adopted Dev framework.

∑ Safety in numbers, more support and training you get.

∑ Productivity, can build big websites with small number of people.

∑ More responsibility, definitely a programmerís tool. Suited for custom projects.

Advance Planning

The right team with the right tool can make a great website, the speakers say. The best way to determine what open-source platform will work for you is to start with a story, analyze how the content is produced, what needs to change to make it suitable for the web, and how you will make it happen. Then, think about what features each open-source platform has to offer.

Finally, the speakers told association publishers to treat their website like an ongoing investment because youíll have more chances for refinement, and you won't kill your staff with too much work at one time.

Emily Randisi is a marketing associate at Bates Creative Group. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this event for members who were unable to attend.


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