Open What? Open Source

This is an entry in our daily Internet Marketing Advent Calendar series. Each day your favorite marketing elves will focus on a new topic to get your internet marketing in order before the start of the new year.

Before you open any gifts this season, let’s take a moment to talk about Open Source, and why it means everything to the way your website works. It’s easy for Open Source to become one of those buzzwords that you hear all the time but never really get to know. In reality, it’s a drastic departure in a new direction that will save your company time and money – even if your business has nothing to do with software.

First, lets start with the alternative: proprietary software. Proprietary software is a pretty basic model where a company will build a product, and if you want to use it, you pay them for it. Sounds simple, right? A good software example for this is the Windows operating system. An even better example for our purposes would be the Encyclopedia Britannica (just go with it). In both of these cases, you have a company who develops a product in a certain way they think will work for the most amount of people.

Now let’s get back to open source. Wikipedia states “the term open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product’s source materials.” Now that’s kind of confusing, but the idea of Wikipedia isn’t. In fact, Wikipedia is one of the world’s largest open source projects. What open source really means is something along the lines of “community built”. The definition up above is getting at the idea that anyone can access the building blocks of the project and contribute their own pieces to the whole.

Now what exactly does this have to do with your company and saving money? Lets talk about the Internet. In the last ten years, the internet has gotten pretty complicated. If you want a slick looking website, you’re not just going to write a couple pages and call it done. Instead of a giant image on the homepage, you’ll want to put an image slideshow in its place. If you want to update your content all the time, you’ll want to use a CMS. This is where open source comes into play. That image slideshow you’ll use will most likely be an open source project, just like the CMS you choose to power your website might be as well. There are a few key benefits of open source software that will make a world of difference to your website:

  1. Price: FREE
    Can’t go wrong there. Open Source projects are super cost-effective because there’s virtually no true startup costs to using them. Contrast this with proprietary software, and you’re in for some big sticker-shock.
  2. Features: Lots of ‘em
    This is a big area where open source projects can shine. Proprietary software operates around what it’s creator deems will be most profitable to include. Open source, on the other hand, operates around whatever its users decide to build for it. Pick one of the bigger open source projects like WordPress or Drupal (both CMS platforms) and you’ll find a lot of features that don’t necessarily fit the cookie-cutter mold.
  3. Security: Very High
    One of the big original arguments against open source software was that anyone could download and look at the code, so that made it less secure. In fact, most people now believe this makes it more secure. Instead of a handful of people working to ensure there are no security holes, anyone can download the software and review it for security issues, which get submitted back into the software and released into the community. In some cases, this can turn into hundreds or thousands of people contributing to something that will help keep your website secure.

We could go on all day about this, but these are just a few reasons why we always try to use open source software whenever possible. Of course, it’s important with anything to assess the quality of the product – whether open source or proprietary. To learn more about open source vs. proprietary CMS projects, check out our article on What is the Difference Between an Open Source and a Commercial CMS? If you’re curious whether there’s open source software already at work on your website, just ask!

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