Debunking the Open Source vs. Custom CMS Myth

By Gerald Bauer – Owner/Founder

I have to say – this is one of the most interesting phenomenon I’ve experienced in my 12 years
of doing this. As of late, a debate (or sales tactic) has arisen from the community of
web developers using open source solutions such as WordPress and Drupal (amongst others)
promoting their approach as superior or in the best interest of a client than a custom built website.
While their spin has some merit (albeit an emphasis on ‘some’) – we (along with many other
professional web development firms) couldn’t disagree more adamantly.

The re-occuring pitch we’ve been told (or have read about online) is that ‘using an open source
solution is in the customer’s best interest if in an event their web developer leaves. Maintaining the site or finding someone to support your website will be much easier’.

Since the code-base behind WordPress is standardized (and used by millions) finding someone to
take care of it (again, only in the case of your web developer leaving) should be fairly straight
forward. Right?

Well, it’s not quite that easy. First of all – most websites written using WordPress (just to pick on that) use a combination of the WordPress blogging platform itself and various user-installed plugins. For example, perhaps your website needs a photo gallery. In this case, various WordPress plugins are available to accommodate such a request. The developer simply searches for a plugin that works, selects one that’s ‘good enough’and hits “Install”. Within moments – a photo gallery is available for use on the site. Plugins exist for everything – from photo galleries to video blogs, from eCommerce plugins to MP3 music player plugins. The problem that arises – is that these plugins ALL have to be supported, all have to be manually upgraded, and more often times than not – really don’t do a GREAT job at accomplishing what a client is looking for. In a lot of cases, clients involved in these type of projects often request a plugin to be “customized” to suit their needs.

The use of these plugins (and the fact that WordPress is so commonly used, again – by millions) leads
me to my second and more disconcerting point – of security. The WordPress platform and its host of
plugins are exploited by the hacking community, almost daily.

Another example directly related to JB Systems’ involvement pertains to a Wisconsin-based organization called CESA. For over three years, and using two separate developers / firms, they failed in launching a website responsible for promoting their 3-5 annual events (large scale, 300+ attendees type of events). This ‘platform’ was supposed to allow them easy access to edit all of their content, prepare events and all marketing materials for each event, allow registrations to be taken online, allow speakers to upload their presentations, and various other tasks. It was never finished. The site, as it stands in this condition, can be found here: http://www.edevents.org/  It only does about 70% of what they needed it to do, and these events represent a large facet of their organization’s budget.

We have just been hired to rebuild the entire platform. The previous developers proposed using ‘open source’ tools such as WordPress and a now commercial (but previously was open source) product called RegOnline (www.regonline.com). In short, the project never achieved what the clients wanted and the work required to customize WordPress to handle what they needed it to do and to integrate WordPress and this stand-alone product, was a misguided strategy and cost them 3 years and a substantial amount of money. We’ve quoted a solution for them that was not necessarily the most cost-effective (as their previous solution was) but we are guaranteeing a finished, working product within a 6 month window – all custom build and designed to their specifications. They can’t wait to get started.

Lastly, I’d like to throw in some 3rd party links to various sources reaffirming our standpoint at JB Systems. A brief summary is included with each one:

1) SitePoint – most notable resource, providing continuing education to web developers across the world:

http://www.sitepoint.com/forums/showthread.php?679794-3-Reasons-You-Should-NOT-Use-Wordpress

2) WordPress – their own website includes various posts pertaining to the topic at hand:

http://wordpress.org/support/topic/why-is-wordpress-still-the-most-frustrating-software-to-use

3) A great article here by another web development company affirms our standpoint nicely:

http://www.webbedfeetuk.com/news-article-web-design.php?article=49

Although I’ve provided a great deal of information defending our position, I’d like to note we are not so-called ‘haters’ of WordPress and open source solutions. In fact, we use WordPress for our own blog (to do EXACTLY what WordPress was designed to do – BLOG). Using WordPress has often (in the past) been a great solution for small companies and organizations to host a website and in some cases have it serve as their primary website. From time to time, we at JB Systems run into clients with very small budgets and recommend WordPress as an option. But lately – we’re seeing WordPress solutions being sold for as much (if not more) than a custom tailored site. Due to the various reasons outlined above, and in the 3 external links I provided, there are ample reasons why large corporations and successful companies have NOT adopted this platform as their own. It is my own personal opinion that certain developers have adopted this strategy in order to maximize their profitability as very little custom development is needed to set up a WordPress site (in business lingo –  we don’t need to hire skilled developers or programmers to do what we do).

I would like to note that simply because our solution is not open-source, it doesn’t mean you can never work with another firm to work on it. We code our projects to a very high (and very human readable) standard – using open source (yup, I said it) technologies such as PHP and MySQL. These are the very two technologies that power BOTH WordPress and Joomla. We have partnered with our local universities and technical colleges (I sit on their programming advisory council in fact) and can attest that our projects could easily be maintained by anyone with an intermediate skill of programming in PHP (or by another PHP-based web development firm, of which there are hundreds). There are indeed some development firms whose products are “locked down” and if a client chooses to go elsewhere, they don’t get to take their website with them. That is simply not the case with JB Systems.

If all web developers used an open-source platform, how would companies innovate to create better, more engaging, or unique experiences for people visiting their site?

Marketplace Fairness Act and Your Website – 2013

by Gerald Bauer, owner & founder

At JB Systems, we’ve been building custom eCommerce and checkout solutions for quite some time. We’re no stranger to taxation codes regarding online sales either. Determining whether a company has state “nexus” has always been an interesting endeavor, as its definition and reporting requirements changed from state-to-state.

As it stands, companies that have “nexus” in states are required to collect that particular states’ worth of sales tax (sometimes city, county, and metro taxes as well) on any online purchases of items subject to tax. This involves subscribing to tax tables and making sure an eCommerce system automatically updates its tax algorithms on a monthly basis, so that monthly, quarterly, and year-end sales tax reports are as accurate as possible. Cities, counties and states change their tax policies quite regularly, so this can be a daunting task.

Over the past decade, our legislators have caught on to the lost tax revenues due to the explosive growth of online sales. The Marketplace Fairness Act, introduced to the senate floor by Mike Enzi (Republican) of Wyoming in February, 2013, may require ALL online retailers to collect sales tax. Although states have to participate in a process to simplify their state tax codes before adopting this new revenue source, our guess at JB Systems is that states can no longer afford the estimated $24 billion  in lost revenues a year.  That estimate is projected to continually increase over the next decade.

Without further, more in-depth research, we’re led to think state legislators will want online stores to collect taxes on all purchases, using the tax codes from the state of which the “billing information” is associated with. This will ensure that all states will collect their “fair share” of taxes on all purchases originating from within their borders, regardless of where the purchasers are from.

What does this mean for your website?

Well, if you sell a good or provide a taxable service (see your accountant, or Bauman & Associates) – your website will need to have the necessary “logic” added to the taxation algorithm to properly determine state taxes, regardless of your nexus status or where the purchaser originates from.  Lucky for JB Systems’ customers, we’ve seen this on the horizon and have several easy-to-implement, cost effective solutions to handle this in our custom eCommerce platform.

If you have any questions, or are interested in taking your eCommerce store to a more tax-compliant platform, contact us today and setup a free consultation. Thanks for reading!

Where Have All the Code Wizards Gone?

We’ve had a lot of clients in lately who come to us with an existing website, and we come to find out that its actually a WordPress site.

What is that, you ask? A WordPress site is merely a website built using a blogging platform (think of building a car using a kit that comes in a box). If you’re familiar with blogging, you know that it consists of really only a few basic elements (engine, doors, frame, wheels, tires, steering wheel)…not nearly what a website could consist of. (In fact, we use WordPress for this very blog!) Which is why businesses often find WordPress sites lacking after a while. They aren’t easily customized, and its like you’re working within a box.

So why are we seeing so many more of these types of sites lately?

Website developers who are just starting out, or want to become developers, are finding that they can simply use the WordPress platform, skin it (add a design), add some plugins (extra tools that allow for added functionality), and sell it as a custom website. For some businesses, this is ok. It’s usually a very cost-effective way to start out with a presence on the web. For many though, it’s becoming more of a nuisance than a success.

The reality is, many WordPress developers don’t have to know much PHP, a well known, widely used programming language. So, when they encounter a problem or their client wants them to do something different with the site (using the car analogy, you want the power windows to have special buttons, and you want the heated seats to only stay on for 20 minutes after you sit down), they are at a loss, or have to seek out other developers for help, and BOOM! They’ve overcommitted.

True website developers and programmers know how to build a website from the ground up. That means taking a blank text document and being able to write instructions for website browsers or computer operating systems to make your screen display what’s needed. Sure, we have bits and pieces that can be reused….like a contact form…processing that is pretty standard, so there’s no reason to re-invent the wheel. But what if a client requests an event calendar that can take reservations, but the events are recurring monthly, and the website can only accept 25 people at each event, and automatic email notifications need to go out, and you should be able to register multiple people at once and pay for them all in one checkout process…

…I think you get the idea. How do you find a plug in for WordPress that’s going to do all of that exactly the way the client expects? Truth is, you don’t. That is a custom created events calendar.

JB Systems’ website programmers are not just building pretty websites (although they do look pretty darn great)…they’re organizing data that you want to provide to your audiences, and presenting it in an easy-to-understand format for use on the web. If there is a problem you want to solve through the website, we’ll help get you there. That’s the beauty of truly custom programming. And it’s becoming harder and harder to find. Thankfully, you don’t have to look too far. Give us a call if you want our team to help solve your online challenges.

Domain and DNS Solicitations – Are They Legit?

Many of our clients get solicitations from domain registry companies and DNS management services on a regular basis. They look like an invoice, and sometimes they even have what looks like legitimate information on them. But – beware…these are sneaky marketing pieces trying to get you to just pay it, when in fact, you may not have to. Here’s what they look like:

letter about DNS hosting

We have also had clients receive mail from places like Domain Registry of America, a company that handles domain registrations. However, their marketing piece looks like a notice of a domain expiring, and that by paying the invoice (or what looks like an invoice), all will be well with the domain name. Here’s what that might look like:

(Notice in both examples the areas in red….these are giveaways that it is just a solicitation, not a bill requiring payment.)

In the big picture of marketing, this tactic isn’t new. Magazines have been doing this with their subscriptions for years. But – in today’s technology-driven world, a domain name can make or break a business. The industry has made their money on fear – our fear of losing a domain, fear of our competitor getting our domain, fear of losing business all because we let a domain name expire. Wow! That’s powerful!

So, it’s no surprise that business owners and website managers are cautious anytime they receive a notice about their domain name. As they should be – it is important to pay attention to. However, there are easy ways to go about making sure that your domain name is well taken care of.

1. Check your WHOIS listing.

WHOIS is a directory of domains and their registration information. Look for the expiration date, and the “Registrant” info. Your company name should be listed as the Registrant. You can find your WHOIS listing by going to who.godaddy.com and typing in your domain name.

2. If you manage your own domain name with someone like GoDaddy, Network Solutions, ENOM, or other similar sites,make sure to set your domain name to ‘Auto-Renew’. That means that it will automatically renew your domain name for you without having to worry that it will expire.

3. When purchasing a domain name, purchase it for multiple years (max is usually 9 or 10 years). This not only takes the burden off of you to renew it every year, but it also gets you bonus SEO (search engine optimization) points!

4. Call JB Systems! Domains seem like the unknown to many small business owners, but it doesn’t have to be a part of your business that is shrouded by fear. If you’re ever in doubt, our team at JB Systems can check on your domain, or manage it for you.

Design’s Role in a Great Web Experience

Here at JB Systems, we often talk to our clients about how important it is for your website to “do more”. Today’s websites need to be fast, functional, and efficient. But what about a website being user-friendly? Fun? How do you keep visitors on the site for more than just a few seconds? How do you get them to click through to multiple pages? How do you direct them to your contact form or get them to add a product to their shopping cart?

Design. That’s how.

It’s one thing to have a website that’s capable of doing a lot, but it’s another to get your web visitors to take advantage of it. Since our Graphic Design department recently took home three (!) web design awards from GDUSA, and three (!) graphic design awards from GDUSA (still so new it’s not on their website yet), we thought we should give a little more attention to the work they do.

So – how does design contribute to the success of your website? Here are a just a few ways:

You have 3 seconds to get their attention.

Responsive, User-Centered Web DesignThat’s right. 3 seconds. Having an engaging home page that relates to what the customer is looking for is key to retain each visitor. This can mean rotating promotional banners with special offers, recent news and updates, or the newest images from your photo gallery. Somehow, the look has to catch their attention and let them know that there’s a lot of good information beyond that home page.

 

 

Your customers don’t care about you.

When your potential customers come to your website, they’re looking for something – a solution to their problems, or information they need. They usually aren’t coming to see how great you are, or how many people you’ve worked for. They just want to know how you can help them with their problem. User-centered design keeps the focus on your customers, and a great designer will help you build your website from the customer’s perspective.

Brand Matters.

Branding, Logo Design, Corporate Identity PackageIt’s important that your website is consistent with the look of your flyers, brochures, vehicles, signage, advertising, and any other materials that portray your brand. Maintaining consistency between all areas of your marketing helps to strengthen your brand. And that means you become more memorable and recognizable. The design of your website has to communicate that brand – through graphic elements, color, photography, fonts/typeface, and even language. The success of your branding is in paying attention to all of the little details.

 

Trends Matter.

If your website was designed over 3 years ago, chances are it may look a little bit outdated. Not only does technology change quickly, but so does design. There are new techniques, trends, and methods that are used and changing daily. Plus, customers’ expectations of websites are increasingly demanding – they expect that they’ll be frequently updated, clean and simple, and super easy to navigate. And they’re being conditioned to use only  the sites that get them what they need the quickest. Refreshing your design and keeping it up-to-date with new design trends that fit your business is part of telling your customers that your business is also up-to-date.

Graphic Design at JB Systems

JB Systems offers full graphic design services – a great way to extend your marketing both online and offline. Of course, website design is our first love, but our designers also love doing print design such as:

  • direct mail
  • newsletters
  • advertisements
  • flyers and brochures
  • folders for proposals or sales presentations
  • business cards
  • and more.

Printers, Sign Makers, Promotional Companies – Oh My!

We work with vendors of all types, working to find the best service, quality, and pricing that’s out there, while taking the pressure off of you to get the final product done exactly the way you want it.

Logo Design, Corporate Identity, & Branding Packages

JB Systems also provides identity design (logo design) services. A great time to update your logo (if you are looking for this) would be as you’re introducing a new website – a great way to launch your new look to the world!

Take that First Step…

No matter where you’re starting from, we’re confident we can help get you to where you want to be. Check out the links below to explore our services, or to meet with our designers about your project!

Check out our web design portfolio.

Contact us to talk about your graphic design and/or branding needs.

Already a Client of JB Systems? Thinking of a redesign? Talk to us about updating your website look!

Our Commitment to Downtown Eau Claire

As many of you know, JB Systems has always been a big proponent of the downtown area in Eau Claire. From 2005-2011 we were quietly tucked away in a second floor office off of E. Grand Ave., overlooking the beautiful Chippewa River. Now, in our new Barstow St. location, we are committed to staying here to grow our web development and design business. We’re very excited to watch this area flourish.

Recently, our very own founder and President, Jerry Bauer, took JB Systems’ commitment to downtown to the next level by accepting a position on the Downtown Eau Claire, Inc. Board of Directors. He will be representing the North River Fronts Neighborhood and will serve on the board for a 2-year term.

“Being a part of the DECI board is a great opportunity because it allows me – as a neighborhood resident and downtown business owner – to provide a voice regarding important downtown decisions such as its festivals, marketing campaigns, business development, and more,” says Jerry.

Not only does Jerry have his business located downtown, but he and his wife, Meghan (JB Systems’ Art Director), also live within walking distance of downtown.

“I like the convenience of being so close to downtown, and having the option to walk or bike to work,” says Meghan. “Not even just for work, but on a Saturday morning we can walk to Phoenix Park for the Farmer’s Market or music in the park. It saves money, too, since we’re not using much gas.”

Many of JB Systems’ employees live near downtown and frequently walk or bike to work – taking advantage of the amenities and convenience of the downtown area.

“I enjoy walking to work – it’s good exercise,” says Tyler, one of JB’s programmers.

“It’s so nice being able to run home quickly or walk down the street to grab something for lunch,” says Erin, our Marketing Director. “It’s really convenient, and getting better all the time.”

Jerry says he is excited about the potential to help grow the downtown area and bring some new ideas to the organization. He’s passionate about keeping the local businesses alive and well, and is looking forward to giving back to the downtown area.

“It’s a great opportunity for me personally, and a wonderful community service addition for JB Systems.”

——————
JB Systems created the new DECI website in 2011 – check it out here for great information about Downtown Eau Claire!

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