The alchemy of opensource

Torus Alchemia

I can say that we had fought to create the Alchemia webpage, the crown jewel of the Torus property developer, for years.

As a first step, when the building was still a hole in the ground, we created a video. The idea behind it was to present the Trójmiasto area along with all the benefits of basing your offices in the Alchemia centre through reflections in the office windows. Nowadays, drones are so popular that every 10 year old can get one for their birthday, so aerial photos are nothing innovative. But back then, in 2011, sending a paraglider over Gdańsk to take photos was not that common. The paraglider flew over the hole in the ground, and we created the whole building in 3D...

After the success of the video we wanted to go with the flow, so we had a couple of meetings about the webpage.

In the end it was not us, but some company from Warsaw that was to create the webpage using their own CMS...

And this is what I wanted to talk about. About the differences between opensource and custom CMSes. Of course, I am talking about small and medium companies, because in the case of the large ones it is better to implement your own components on dedicated systems which allow for scaling. But 95% of clients from the Trójmiasto area do not really need a dedicated system. Sometimes even the bigger companies, like GPEC, state in their requests for offer that their webpage is to based, for example, on WordPress and nothing else.

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Opensource systems have many benefits:

  • 1.They are developed by millions of users. They are tried out, reliable and have many add-ons available.
  • 2.When regularly updated, they are resistant to hacking.
  • 3.And what's most important – they do not force the client to use the services of the company which created the website for the years to come. All the subsequent changes can be provided by other companies.

Let’s get back to our Alchemia adventure. The webpage was out there for a couple of years and finally Torus came up with a list of changes which should be introduced. Nothing big or general, only some changes to the menu, a couple of new photos... normally this should take up to 2 days of work. And I would not have even known about this if:

  • The Warsaw company had introduced the changes for a normal fee instead of asking for a 5 digit amount for a couple of changes and I hadn’t been at the Torus’ office to discuss an update to the video and hadn't expressed my opinion about the site.
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“Monika, we’ll do the webpage from scratch for half the price they wanted for those changes!” I said off the top of my head.

I must say that afterwards I regretted this promise a bit, because it was a lot of work.

We had to attend a series of weekly meetings with the Torus team, where we discussed the subsequent subpages and tossed some of those already existing into the trash. We worked on this piece for quite some time. This project was supposed to take a month, but in the end it lasted more than a quarter of the year. In the meantime we passed the “black” design phase to ultimately select the “white” version.

And the main page design was cool and legible on desktops, but in the case of mobile devices it was giving us a headache.

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A proper mixture

What I am trying to say is that you don't have to be an alchemist to create a cool website with opensource solutions for a good price, at the same time giving a headache to those agencies that try to convince their clients that dedicated websites are the only (!) and of course, appropriately costly (!), solution.

The truth is that custom CMSes look like an old car built from various components and refurbished at some downtown garage. No other mechanic will want to repair it.

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Whenever I can, I recommend basing Internet stores and websites on opensource solutions.

Of course, with the option of introducing customised components. When it comes to the graphics, I recommend using custom designs instead of buying themes for $70. This way we get a safe and customised system that can be easily expanded.

There is also one more issue. A couple of years ago I read that the European Union recommended that all public institutions should replace all available webpages with opensource solutions with tenders for dedicated systems only if there was no other way. And we all know what it looks like now. For some reason our industry is sailing against the wind... but this is a perfect topic for another post.