Open Source: The Final Frontier of Free Speech

Funny anecdote*: 

I have a friend who is the founding partner of a law firm. Business is booming and he decides it’s time to invest in a new website. He’s had a partnership with a marketing group that caters to legal professionals, and they pitched him some ideas on a new site. He took the bait and proceeded down the rabbit hole up until they send over a preview of the site. Having employed the help of an SEO agency for years, he sent the preview to them for a quick review. 

The response he received was, well, not what he expected. 

“Not even sure where to start. For one, the site-wide footer link to their site with spam anchor text is bleeding SEO value from every page and sending it to them. A little surprised an organization of this caliber would even try that.”

The rest of that email continued to pick apart every piece of sloppy code and injection of new issues into the “nicely packaged” site. 

The final point was stark: “Was there even a strategy phase as a part of this rebuild?”

The drama continued to unfold from there. As the conversation between the SEO team and the web agency continued, it became apparent that what the latter had offered was a pre-packed, one-size-fits-all solution that didn’t really have any room for true customization, lacked ability to scale, paralyzed growth, and came with more issues than solutions.  From a dollars and cents perspective, it’s ingenious: set up a closed source, bundled-up website with a bow on top, and nickel and dime clients for every single little change that needs to be made. From an ethical and dollars and sense perspective, it’s a nightmare. 

From any small-to-medium business owner’s perspective, it’s a warning to be heeded.

Proprietary, closed source solutions and the epidemic of “one size fits all”

The illustration above is not uncommon. In fact, the rate at which these proprietary, closed solutions are multiplying is astounding. You can’t swing a cat cable without hitting a new closed source solution catering to businesses looking for an easy fix. Wix, Weebly, SquareSpace and the like all offer “easy” solutions to build a website using “advanced technology.”

What they don’t advertise is the truth: this type of proprietary “solution” will cripple your ability to build a custom, robust website. What is really offered is permanent paralysis: an inability to manage your content outside of their closed systems, needless dependence on commodity hosting at premium prices, hindrance of flexibility and scalability, and more. All for the low, low price of $5-$25/month. Forever. Or at least until you get hit over the head with some common sense and opt-out of the limiting, dystopian world of closed source web hosting. 

Let’s dissect these realities one at a time to get the true sense of what it all means. 

Infrastructure & Hosting - With proprietary solutions, you have zero control over infrastructure. Many of the solutions claim to use backup servers and employ disaster recovery systems, but you’ll never know for sure. Also, if you add content on your end that doesn’t get successfully saved to their servers, it can’t be restored. Oops. 

Content - You don’t own it, pure and simple. The content is hosted exclusively on their servers. Want to transfer your site content elsewhere? Too bad. The content created using their proprietary editors cannot be exported, embedded or transferred anywhere else. Once you opt-in to the closed source world, it appears you’re there to stay or you’re leaving with nothing. 

Flexibility - In many cases, unlimited bandwidth or file storage is non-existent. So some SMBs may get sized out from the start. For those that don’t, there is an easy drag-and-drop functionality to help you build the site you want - fast! Except it’s never easy or fast to build a quality website, and while pre-built templates may offer some guidance, you’re really on your own when it comes to making your site presentable. My dog can probably create a drag and drop website; that doesn’t mean it’s going to look awesome when it’s done. 

“But the apps!” you say. What apps? Most of the apps offered through these sites are glorified iframes. Sure, it’s easy, but it also skews your website analytics and present a whole slew of accessibility issues.

Then there’s the technical SEO. Sure, many of these pre-packaged solutions offer bare basics for SEO, but for businesses that really want to get competitive, the options are limited. Dig enough into what you can and can’t do with closed source platforms, and it becomes clear that any businesses where SEO is integral to the long-term marketing strategy should steer clear. 

Pricing - Pricing for some of these closed solutions start as low at $4/month. Sounds awesome until you realize that you’ll be hosting random ads on your website with the lower price tiers. The total cost over the long-term of using a closed solution adds up to much more than you would spend on building and hosting a site elsewhere.

Open Source is the New Freedom of Speech

It’s clear there is a trade-off here. Businesses trade ease and convenience for control. Is the real cost worth it? Is opting-in to a closed platform limiting your website’s freedom of speech?

Open source offers a refreshing alternative to proprietary, closed solutions. It enables the creation of both dynamic and static sites without breaking the bank on software licensing and without relinquishing control of your infrastructure, content, and flexibility to a third party.

Unlike proprietary providers, open source increases agility and flexibility, allowing businesses to create custom websites and implement fixes and changes on their schedule and on their budget. 

You might be wondering what happened to my lawyer friend. The good news is, he got out before it was too late. The bad news? He had to start from scratch. His initial investment with the legal marketing agency disappeared into thin air. At least he was spared the pain of finding out after it was too late and the site was etched in internet stone. 

Cold, hard, closed source internet stone. 

*In retrospect, this is not funny at all. No lawyers were harmed in the making of this story.