Never Fall for a Custom, Hosted CMS. Ever.

Posted on May 20, 2014

Because I keep seeing the same problems happen over and over and over, I’m going to make this claim:

There is NO benefit to you in being talked into using a custom CMS which is hosted and controlled by a web development shop. DO NOT AGREE TO THIS. EVER.

We’re seeing this again and again: an earnest client is talked into letting a web development shop build their site on an in-house CMS, which the dev shop hosts.  It’s an “end-to-end” solution, they’re told.

It’s all a myth.

I’m going to go one step further:

Any web development shop that tries to talk you into this is being reckless or naive at best. At worst, they’re being unethical.

At some point in the maturation of that dev shop, they faced a choice: do we (1) build our own CMS, or (2) learn to competently use one of the hundreds of available open-source or commercial options available.  In this day and age, I’m completely mystified why people keep trying the first option.

Actually, I think this is dying out. I hope it is, anyway. I’m hoping that the organizations we see getting screwed over today are just unfortunate vestiges of some archaic past practices.  Back in the day, this might have been a viable option. Back before the open-source world matured enough to provide so many great options.

But, in the darkest corners of my mind, some dev shop somewhere is staring down this choice today and still making the wrong one.

Think about this: if their CMS was really any good, other people would want to use it.  If it was that good, they’d sell it, or productize it, or at least open-source it and make the code available for other people to see and use. If they don’t (and they probably don’t), ask yourself why. If they have managed to re-solve the problems of content management so damn well that you should sign onto their pipe dream, why aren’t other people using the software?

If you are a client facing someone trying to sell you this, here are your problems:

If a dev shop tries to talk you into this, do not walk away. * Run.*  As fast as you possibly can. They do not have your best interests at heart. They are trying to put you in their system not for your benefit, but for theirs. The upside belongs completely to them – they get to be lazy, live in their own little insular world, pretend that they’re state-of-the-art, and lock you in.

Do not fall for it.

Do I sound pissed?  I am.  Too many times – several recently – I’ve seen good organizations get hurt by this. They finally realize that this custom platform is not meeting their needs, they make the hard decision to move on, and they suddenly face tens of thousands of dollars in migration expenses at best, and a obstructionist dev shop at worst.

So, are all hosted CMS options bad?  Well, they’re not ideal, and I would never encourage one of my clients to use a SaaS CMS option (I’ve made this point before), but if you have to, look for two things:

Don’t do anything until you have good answers for the above two questions.

This business practice just has to stop. I’m waiting for the first client in this situation to just man up and sue their shop for professional negligence. When it finally happens, I’ll be standing by, cheering them on.

This is item #42 in a sequence of 357 items.

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