Start with WordPress, build from there

MediaShift recently published Austin Smith’s article about why publishers should not build their own content management systems. He argues that they should not, and the basic reason is that it is hard to be a technology company. Building your own CMS from scratch requires developers to stay on board for years. Media companies tend to not hold on to them long enough.

Smith writes:

Some news organizations take this challenge anyway because they want to open a new line of business and sell their platform to other publishers. One of my current projects started as a custom CMS by internal developers … But the developers working on the project quit with two months to go, so my clients lost their investment in that system and nearly had to forfeit their launch altogether.

I agree with him that it’s more likely that Automattic could become a publishing company than a publishing company could become a technology company overnight. Therefore, it’s wise to use something that already exists. I agree with Smith:

Even if you succeed in launching your own platform, you have still failed your business unless you can substantially outdo the open-source alternatives [or] … if you spend more to build your own platform than what it would cost to lease or buy a superior off-the-shelf product.

But there is a middle of the road approach: Start with WordPress, and build from there.

Almost everything about WordPress is extendable and customizeable to a developer who has studied the code and the documentation. It can even be customized to the point that the users will hardly know it’s WordPress.

If a publishing company wants to make a CMS, they should consider whether they should instead make a plugin that enhances WordPress to create the appearance and functionality they desire. If your company is a newspaper and is considering its own CMS, make a list of the top features that you want your CMS to have and write a plugin that adds those features to WordPress.

Use it.

Prove it.

Sell it—if you wish.

Publishing companies don’t have to choose between using an existing CMS and building their own. They can develop a premium plugin (or more than one) that allows WordPress to solve problems they and other companies in their industry face.

The proper response to the statement, “WordPress doesn’t do that” is not, “Well, let’s start from scratch,” it’s, “How can we make it do that?”