Case Study: Using Open Source Content Management: SantaCruzLive

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Introduction

SantaCruzLive.com is a youth and entertainment portal for one of the liveliest towns on the west coast. An extension of the Santa Cruz Sentinel (the local newspaper), SantaCruzLive.com endeavors to reach beyond the typical newspaper demographic, to attract a younger readership in the online environment. Newspapers have struggled with this problem for the past five years, and SantaCruzLive.com is one of the most effective solutions to hit the Internet.

Newspapers are notorious for under-investing in their websites, making the development of a completely new site – focused on non-newspaper readers – a difficult sell. What do you do when you can't get funding?

The answer: "open source".

Open source software is free technology that is widely available on the Internet, offering sophisticated tools with no price tag. SantaCruzLive.com's deployment of open source technology serves as a model to small businesses that seek dynamic websites without the accompanying costs.

An Ambitious Agenda

The Santa Cruz Sentinel recognized early that they needed a way to reach younger readers. While the previous generation grew up understanding the importance of the local newspaper, today's youth turn to the web instead. Movie listings, local events, and even restaurants used to see the newspaper as the easiest way to reach new customers. That dynamic has changed, and SantaCruzLive.com wanted to take advantage of the emerging trend.

In attempting to appeal to a younger audience, though, the Santa Cruz Sentinel faced a daunting challenge. Newspaper investment in online efforts has always been thin, and SantaCruzLive.com would be a fundamentally new product; it would not simply mirror the newspaper. Knowing that they would not be able to fund an ambitious new product heavily, the team at the Santa Cruz Sentinel turned to the open source community for innovative software solutions without having to pay thousands of dollars in software fees.

Why Open Source?

Open source technology seems like the domain of geeks who continually try to build a better web mousetrap. For small businesses, though, open source technology has emerged into a viable alternative for establishing a web presence. The premise of the open source movement is that the technology is free. One simply can download the software they desire from one of many websites, and the technology can be modified to meet a company's specific business needs.

The proliferation of open source technology has led to the development of a substantial pool of talent across the country. It is easy to find talent; you do not need to worry about being stuck with difficult or clumsy technology if you lose your web developer. Expertise is widely available; the cost of this expertise has come down substantially as a result. In fact, the wide adoption of open source technology has led to the development of sophisticated open source software that can be used "out of the box".

SantaCruzLive.com used Zope and Plone – yes, the names are bizarre – to power its new online product. Zope and Plone are unique open source products. Zope is a back-end tool used to make websites dynamic. Instead of paying a web programmer to build sophisticated functionality, Zope has the features built for you. Similar products would cost tens of thousands of dollars, but Zope doesn't cost a dime.

Plone works with Zope. Also open source (and free), Plone helps you manage the content on your website. Many small businesses labor under the belief that every page is separate, and that even small changes must be made by an eccentric and expensive technology guru. Plone proves that even small businesses can build and manage their websites like the Fortune 500. Instead of building and managing your website from scratch, Plone lets business users make and publish website changes quickly and easily.

With only limited funding, SantaCruzLive.com realized that it could cut its development time, develop a better website, and go live more quickly by using open source web development and content management tools. Zope and Plone obviated the need for extensive programming and made the website easier to manage. The team in Santa Cruz has new information to publish every day, requiring that non-programmers be able to publish content quickly. Open source technology made this possible.

Small Business Lessons

SantaCruzLive.com is a unique example of how a newspaper can serve as an example to the business community. Like most entrepreneurs, the "intrapreneurs" at the Santa Cruz Sentinel did not have a large budget, and the team already had full-time jobs managing the newspaper's website (SantaCruzSentinel.com). They decided not to let the lack of funding and time is a barrier to their success. Using open source technology, the Santa Cruz team was able to reduce the cost of this project drastically, and they simply put in extra hours to develop SantaCruzLive.com.

Entrepreneurs know the same feeling. We spend long hours to develop our business. The work you do during the day is focused on marketing your products, developing new relationships, and servicing existing customers. Growth efforts often have to occur after hours. Money is always tight. We know all too well that an investment in new web technology comes out of the same pocket as the mortgage payment and car bill. Every dollar spent is spent judiciously.

With tools like Zope and Plone, the decision to invest in online growth becomes a lot easier. Instead of having to invest in software and programmers to launch a new website, you can cut the tab in half. The software is free, and there is plenty of talent available to work with you. Open source software helps you keep your website current – and your online presence fresh. Your online project will cost much less, as the software is free and offers functionality that you normally would have to hire a developer to build from scratch.

Conclusion

SantaCruzLive.com was launched under the same conditions as most online entrepreneurial efforts. The budget was tight, and nobody had ample time. Distractions abounded, as everybody on the team had "real" jobs. But, open source technology made this innovative endeavor possible. With no software costs, the Santa Cruz Sentinel was able to make the cost of the project manageable, and the effectiveness of open source technology reduced development time substantially.

Small businesses face many of the same problems as the Santa Cruz Sentinel. We earn every new customer, and any investment in growth must be compelling. Open source software makes new online solutions less expensive, and it becomes much easier to get started – and finished. The case for investing in growth consequently becomes more effective, since the cost of growth is reduced.

Open source technology is still technology. You will have to engage the appropriate expertise; programmers are unavoidable. With tools like Zope and Plone, you can reduce the amount of programming needed. As a result, you both eliminate your software costs and reduce your spend on programmers. Expanding on the web may not be cheap, but at least it can be cheaper.

Copyright 2006 Daniel Scheff

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Source by Daniel Scheff

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