When we started ocPortal we were competing with PHP-Nuke and ocPortal was an extension to forum software. ocPortal allowed people with forums to also have websites really easily.
Things have changed enormously since then. I've learnt so much about how markets change during a period of such enormous innovation, and it's often really surprising what happens. What is a powerful social movement one month, can have evolved into something else another, or completely died. For example people have said how everything would be XML and everyone was judged on validation; now if you validate any of the top world sites I think you'll find how terrible they do – and HTML 5 is not generally used in XHTML.
With ocPortal version 2.5 we started our move away from being an addon to forums, when we released our own bundled one. This was a great decision as now it is quite clear that as a piece of software the old forum is no longer given any respect. Social media is the terminology of the day, and people usually expect discussion to be either structured around human relationships, or structured around content which acts as a seed for discussions.
Ever since we started out though we were all about mixing content management and community features. More so I think than anyone else in the market. And now, the biggest thing is social publishing, which Drupal is doing very well from – which is just what we've always done, but with a new name (and people call it new, and it's really naughty and annoys me). At many times we've had people thinking we should be more focused on the CMS side of things, or more focused on consumer things like games, but the market has ended up being interested in just the things we've always done which is great. Just the other day we were at an organisation doing a pitch for their big new website, and of course our features were entirely aligned with just the kind of contemporary requirements that have become just that – requirements. We can offer things other companies can only offer because they've become expert at kludging different people's offerings together.
Another area where we were ahead was chat rooms. phpMyChat was very popular when we started out, and we considered the idea of integrating it officially. However we came to the conclusion it sucked because the whole thing refreshed each time you made a message. We realised if we made a hidden frame then we could make a much better user-experience. This wasn't something anyone was doing in a CMS product back then, not until AJAX became popular, so we were really ahead of the curve. Now web messaging is very popular and core to sites like Facebook.
Where we have screwed up a lot in the past is our marketing and usability. As a programmer I think in the past I was very guilty of not communicating things well or making them easy enough for most people. That now is something we've fixed, as consistently when we deploy ocPortal we are told how much easier it is to manage than what they've seen before, and people love our website.
There's lots to be done, we still occasionally get people who make very good points about how things should be improved – but at the same time we're already ahead of our competitors in these areas so whilst it motivates me it also tells me that…
The CMS market is still very immature. The fact people have to worry about little details, or have to know CSS for anything, shows there is a long long way to go in terms of tool integration. The CMS's of today with all their features are great, but at the same time the piling on of new functionality has made it much harder than it was in the "Good Old Days" of using Frontpage.
Ironically, the blogs that were meant to add dynamism whilst maintaining simplicity, are getting much more complex all the time.
Another big change has been in what people use websites for. Back when we started there was such a thing called a 'home site'. People made their own 'home sites' to show off their skills and have some fun. Nowadays it's very different. The web has moved so far forward people no longer en-masse able to compete whilst it still being fun (ocPortal makes it easier, but people are far more design-conscious than they have been in the past, and getting a good unique design implemented in anything is very hard). I like to think of it in terms of houses – once people built their own houses, but now houses are so sophisticated that very few people do.
Another interesting thing is blogging. I don't think it was even a term when we started. But things have gone from there being 'Blogs' (often supplanting what might once have been a more complex free-form site), to websites containing a 'Blog' (where it would have been called news before), to blogs being supplanted by social publishing solutions.
Blogs were all about empowerment of the individual, but I find it fascinating to look at TechCrunch and see a full news organisation being simultaneously a blog – competition and convergence are really in play here I think, and I think personal influence will revert to a situation where only the very sweetest cream rises to the top in the face of such massive converged competition.
Let's talk more about convergence. People have talked about this since the early 90's and it's finally happening and it's changing everything. I never thought I'd see it, but TV is almost dead, and that's to say nothing about newspapers. But at the same time, it lives on in what is becoming the new Internet. The growth of importance of YouTube is amazing, and so is the speed of which smartphones have come in that are basically just frontends to the Internet. Telecommunication companies now provide combined Landline, Internet, TV, and Mobile bundles as if it was all one thing – and I think very soon, it will be.
Coming full circle back to talking about ocPortal's place in this ever changing Internet…
People talk a lot about how modern OSS CMS systems are saving governments money. We've been building software just for this kind of use-case for years, and we are so far ahead of other OSS software it's not even funny. ocPortal is already deployed in government, very successfully. Unfortunately we don't get so much hype because our centralised development disincentives people to sell ocPortal as a solution as is often the case with others (we don't have thousands of contributors from thousands of agencies to organise ocpCons each year and then to start lobbying for ocPortal-usage everywhere). A big challenge for us going-forward is to establish a framework whereby more industry insiders can become formally or tactilely involved in ocPortal's direction and development, but in such a way that we don't become as confusing and fragmented as bizarre-modelled development almost always leads to. Stay tuned, or better yet – talk to us about this.
I think I should win an award for world's most rambling blog post. I probably talked about a dozen different things here, and mixed some love for ocPortal randomly into some points about how the whole world is changing. But I hope it was interesting and gives some insight to the kind of things we're looking at and planning on!
The weird world of changing markets