Convincing Your Clients to Use Open Platforms

Convincing Your Clients to Use Open Platforms

You might have heard this metaphor before in some form: "Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants." It means that a person making something new can benefit from work that already exists, leveraging and understanding the labor of people who have done it before them. I found out that this saying is old, almost a thousand years old—Isaac Newton popularized it.

So when I hear clients say they don’t want to use open platforms because of reasons such as:

I often wonder why they can’t see the seemingly apparent reasons for using open platforms.

Open platforms have many benefits to small and large businesses alike, but many decision makers fear the concept of open source.

But I do soon realize that clients—who probably aren’t as intimate or vested as I am on web systems (closed or open)—require a bit education on what open systems really are and how they can use them to their advantage.

In this article, I’ll discuss ways in which open platforms can meet the business objectives of your clients and allow their project to stand on the shoulders of these giants.

Why Open Platforms Rule: Their Community

Why Open Platforms Rule: Their Community

Open platforms have communities that come pre-packaged when you adopt them into your business. Most clients are trying to build a fanbase around their product, or at least, they want more eyeballs. Open platforms give them the capability to engage with an already-established community.

At the bare minimum, they can use the platforms as a conversion tool, although too many clients stop there.

Budgetary Savings

Budgetary Savings

Money. This will hit decision makers where there heart lies: in their wallet. Open platforms are often free or low-cost. Maintenance and support are cheaper because you leverage the collective power of the community that surrounds the project. Getting support for open software comes in the form of people who’ve been there and done that.

Development time also decreases. Adopting an open platform often comes with years of work and thousands of combined development hours put into them. Two heads are better than one, as they say.

It’s a good idea to note that, we the designers can sometimes get thirsty for a good fight. We think we might be able to make a better mouse trap. But can one person, or a even a small team, compete with the work of thousands? And even if they can, is it a smart move to reinvent the wheel?

You Don’t Need to Adopt the Platform in Its Entirety

You Don't Need to Adopt the Platform in Its Entirety

Another point to make is that just because you use a platform doesn’t mean you need to embrace the entire platform or even how it is suppose to work.

If you have a popular site that show a lot of pictures? You can offload parts of it to Flickr. The bonus is that Flickr users who find your photo on Flickr might be enticed to visit your site.

Streaming video? Offload that to YouTube. Even if you still present the content on your site, you can still use the open platform, and you get the community benefits of having your videos publicly accessible in a larger site such as YouTube.

Pacifying Concerns about Product Support and Security

Support and security are the bell-weather arguments against open systems.

First, security is not an inherent problem in open systems. Just because a system is open doesn’t mean it’s insecure. This argument is bolstered by the many reports of hacked websites and systems, which often turn out to be incorrect implementation, bad security practices, or end-user error (but it’s so easy to blame technologies that have the word "open" as a feature).

In fact, open systems not being secure is very far from the truth. Take for example the Linux operating system. Bugs and security flaws are found at a much quicker rate than in its closed-sourced counterparts.

Security isn’t something you can buy; it has to be practiced. There are programs out there that are better at informing the community of security concerns. Drupal is a great example of an open source system that has a strong security concern. If your client is security-conscious, do an audit. Demonstrate use in security-concerned areas, but don’t let them dismiss the system out of hand just because it’s "open".

Support is easy. Open systems have vendors that sell support, if one needs it. Closed and proprietary system support—especially those with a small user base—don’t have many alternatives to obtaining third-party support. Often, you are tied to the mercy of the vendor.

When talking about open web systems such as YouTube, you can always take your stuff elsewhere, like Vimeo, if the solution doesn’t work in your particular case.

Uses of Open Systems

Here are just a few examples and case studies you can use when trying to convince a client to go the open platform route.

Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe in Emeryville, CA

Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe in Emeryville, CA

If you live in the Bay Area (in California), you should check out a restaurant called Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe in Emmeryville. The food is good, but what I love about this restaurant is their marketing. They made a mini documentary and used Vimeo, a free video hosting provider, to host it. They were then able to take that video and use it as an ad on a local news website.

So not only did they get the documentary to live inside a community of videos, where it can be admired as a mini-doc, they can also use it as a novel ad that stands out against all the other hyper-intense mini-flash ads.

Oh, and they also get the benefit of free bandwidth.

The Obama administration has been outspoken about being transparent. One way they have backed that up is to embrace the best software solutions for the job., a site that needs to be secure because of its nature, has decided that Drupal, an open source content management system, is good enough for them.

While the isn’t a super secret website, I am sure they have security concerns, and they still decided to use Drupal.

There is a secondary win here as well, when you talk about transparency and including the public in the process, it’s nice to see that the Whitehouse puts its weight behind a system that is built in an open fashion.

Bonus points: they post an awful lot of videos on YouTube.

Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber

I can’t say that I am a big fan of his music but I can’t deny that he is popular. He didn’t become popular because he built a website. He went where the people are, on YouTube, and built a community around himself in YouTube. This is how a young man—who would have never been seen or given a shot if he went with a more traditional route— landed himself a recording gig.

You might wonder what a 13 year-old pop artist has to do with your clients, but they actually have a lot in common. If you have ever worked for a startup or brand new company, they are looking to get press and more eyeballs on their wares. They often feel that their best chance at making a splash is to build a catchy website or to build a community on their site. They are blind to the fact that it’s super hard to build a community.

So, just like Mr. Bieber went to where the people are, your clients shouldn’t be afraid of it either.

A Short Recommended List of Open Platforms




Open Website platforms

What have been your experiences with clients resisting open platforms? What reasons do they give you? How do you convince them that open platforms are good for all parties involved?

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About the Author

Alex Kessinger works for Yahoo! as a front-end engineer. Elsewhere, he likes to curate great stuff from the web on his blog, He is also a founding member of the Tastestalkr Network, a brand group. When not working, Alex lives in the bay area and enjoys really good food.

This was published on Apr 9, 2010


Mike Dexter Apr 09 2010

I’ve never had a client complain about an open platform at all. I’ve recently started to favor SimpleCMS as my CMS of choice, as many clients find it less intimidating, although for media integration, I would generally avoid something like YouTube, due to branding issues, unless the client specifically asks for it.

Jordan Walker Apr 09 2010

Open source is not too difficult to pitch to clients. It is larger corporations that are more difficult.

Bertrand Apr 09 2010

All good arguments but…

After 5 years of developing my own CMS, I’ll actually try this time to work with WordPress for a project. I hope it won’t be as bad as I think it’ll be. Guess I’ll have to put some hours into “research and developement”… it’s just that in 5 years I had the time to forge a system that served me really well and hope WP will perform as good if not better than my own CMS. And, trust me, I’ve tortured my own CMS. WP better be flexible and easy… /crosses fingers

Jeroen Apr 09 2010

Once a client said to me: “I like it when YOU create something for me instead of using an existing framework”. In his eyes framework meant the complete website…

I explained that if I had to build a website plus CMS from the ground up it would be very costly and time consuming… so I sat down with him, installed wordpress and showed him the back-end. Told him the back-end was now done and it saved him plenty of ours and money… That way it became a no-brainer to chose a CMS like wordpress for his website.

I choose for wordpress if it’s a relatively simple website simply because of the back-end. I choose for CakePHP (or both) if it becomes more complex or when a lot of custom made applications have to be made.

By the way, CakePHP AND CodeIgniter are great! ;)

Alex Kessinger Apr 09 2010

@Mike Dexter, @Jordan Walker you guys must have awesome clients. I am not saying that I don’t have clients who like open source. I just have had a number of clients, where it was like pulling teeth, and all of them have been small business.

Craig Wann Apr 09 2010

Seriously? Most of the time, my clients would have no idea what I was talking about if I tried to explain the difference between open source and proprietary frameworks.

I detail everything in my contracts, but most of the time they just skip over anything that looks technical. That is what they pay me for, they trust me and use what I tell them is best.

Jason Hibbets Apr 09 2010

I see this issue all the time. I think open source is awesome and think everyone else should use it, but it’s hard to push that on folks who don’t care. Clients are looking for solutions. If you can provide those solutions and use open platforms to do it, that’s great. Sometimes the client won’t care. Outside of my day job, I do web design. I typically tell my clients that their solution is open source after the facts (Drupal or WordPress usually). “Oh, by the way, we did this all on open source.” I think this is more effective then trying to “sell” open source up front.

Great article.

Gonzo the Great Apr 09 2010

Hi Alex,

I think you have a couple of good points here, but .. (there is always a ‘but’ in these kind of sentences ;-P) I think it primarily depends on the demands of your client.

What if a client doesn’t want a CMS, or a RSS, or a comment-area, or streaming media ..? I know those clients exist, I’ve worked for some of these companies/firms.

What I want to say is that I’m not against open platforms (heck, I myself have completely pimped a couple WP-blogs for my own use or for clients – and I love WP!), but sometimes a good, solid, good hand-coded and validated static HTML doesn’t hurt anybody.

Thanks for sharing, Cheers & Ciao …

Most of my clients like open website platform because the back end development is taking care by other expertise programmer and there is a lot of free plugin available on the internet to enhance the open website platform.
The most important is they no need spend much on website platform development.

All they need is concentrating posting article and make the website more interesting.

Benjamin @ EV Apr 10 2010

Great article, we use WordPress and swear by it.

Narretz Apr 10 2010

I have a non-content related correction: Isaac Newton lived in the 17th century, so the quote is not even 500 years old.

Jacob Gube Apr 10 2010

@Narretz: Isaac Newton *popularized* it, not necessarily the person who said it first (history dates it back to Bernard of Chartres around 1159). You can read more about it here.

Alex Kessinger Apr 10 2010

But thanks @Narretz, for keeping us inline.

Hregrin Apr 12 2010

I never doubted the potential of free and open source software in web design. In fact, I use almost only FOSS. And my clients never complained :D

But I think you should define your vision of the word “open”. Platforms like YouTube or Vimeo are free-to-use but they are proprietary platforms using closed video formats (such as FLV). So they should really not be “sold” as “open” platforms. They aren’t.

Craig Aug 25 2010

Open platform is a great way to go, as the saying goes ‘Two heads are better than one’ and security is normally increased because of the nature of having so many users the bugs are found and shared, then corrected.

It seems like I found a great place for my dilemma.
I used to work with Java in the last 7 years.
Before I start a new project, I thought of creating it using PHP or, and I found out some great framework that should make it easier and faster. (faster then Java :))
I will appreciate your advise.
On my new website, a side of an ecommerce site, I should implement a web service that should support 2000-10000 hits a minute.
It’s kind of API service that use the configuration set by the users and return true/false.
The service should have a good ecommerce attributes with CMS, payout methods, SEO, etc, and on the other hand good performance and scalability web service.
By your experience and knowledge, which platform should I choose?


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