Saturday, April 28, 2007

TypePad Pro as CMS

I'm starting to wonder whether TypePad Pro from SixApart is the sweet-spot solution for a multi-author content management system (CMS) on the cheap.

Wait, you say -- isn't that just blogging?

Sort of. But I'm thinking of a project that's less like blogging and more like writing. As I mentioned in my little write-up Why Frostopolis is not a blog, I don't think the blogging paradigm works for all kinds of content sites. And TypePad Pro has a bunch of features that at least sound like as good a fit for that as for blogging: unlimited blogs, your own domains, full template control, multiple authors, and a decent amount of storage (1GB).

Full template control -- why not just design it from scratch?

Good question! I once did a complete custom Movable Type template set, and it was a godawful nightmare. I could have written a blogging system in less time. And since I was doing it in the context of the aesthetically challenged blogosphere, nobody cared about the design effort. But that's not really the point of hosted CMS. The point is that you have access to perfectly good templates to use for a while, and if you decide it's worth the effort later you can indeed customize them to a very great extent. Of course that's a giant pain in the ass; but you only have to do it if your project is working out. In other words, you postpone the real design work. My latest thinking is that the opportunity cost of your content waiting on the good design is in fact higher than the added cost of designing (maybe) around somebody's template system. The obvious problem with that, at least in the CMS context, is that your site will probably look exactly like a blog until you make time to do some real design. But again I think the agility advantage is worth it.

What about lock-in?

Sure, there's that. You build up the site and then your needs change, and you need to move your stuff, but your design is specific to their system and your content is stuck inside it. As a programmer, I am confident saying to myself: tough luck, self, be happy it's worth the effort and spend a weekend moving it. Exchange "some money" for "a weekend" and you have the non-technical answer. The point here is that the service is dirt cheap and if it lives up to its hype then the only reasons you'd have for moving are that you give up the project or that it grows into something very custom. In the first case, suck it up and just mirror the site onto your nearly-free shared server. In the second case, you find yourself either enjoying Success or practicing Stupidity, and both require a little capital outlay from time to time.

Cheap?!?! (WordPress|TextDrive|Blogger) is free!

True enough, and here I am using a free service for my trivial-rambling blog. And I have tons of server capacity sitting idle. But if you want more control, you have to either make it yourself or pay someone for it. Sure, as a software professional specializing in Perl and databases and web stuff I ought to just write my own. But I'm busy. I have a job. I have parties to go to. TypePad Pro costs fifteen bucks a month. Sometimes I pay more than that for a single drink. So as long as it doesn't cost me more time than setting up any other system on my own host then the $15 is basically as good as free. (Though I do think it's a good business model: offer a decent service for so little money that the cost is no barrier, but build it so it's super easy to administer, and make your money in aggregate. Basically the same model as web hosting.)

And now?

Now, we dance! Well, check out the free trial anyway. I'm particularly curious whether SixApart has anything to compete with Google Analytics (hint: doubt it), and in how their templating concept has evolved since I last worked with it. I'll post the link as soon as I have it set up.

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Blogger frosty said...

Gah, Blogger put a bunch of <br> tags all over that post. I guess it's still hard for them to parse partial markup... having solved that problem a few times myself I figured it'd be easy.

And more meta: what's with taking me to a new page just to comment? The big GOOG should toss some more AJAX guys at

2:21 PM  

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