Content platforms are shipping promises: are you buying?

Would you buy a feature that doesn’t exist? It happens more than you might think.

When evaluating web content management solutions, there’s often as much emphasis on what a planned feature could do for you in the future, as on what the platform can actually do for you now.

But organizations need to base purchase decisions on the features in the product today, not just the ones vendors promise for tomorrow. Of course, buying into any enterprise software solution can be a leap of faith.

I was intrigued to see this “feature announcement” from the blogging service Svbtle.

Today, we’re launching a new feature for Svbtle members: it’s a promise that the Svbtle service and your published content will remain available on the web forever.

Existing for all eternity is quite the point release—sure beats a new inline editing widget. Svbtle founder Dustin Curtis goes on to explain:

“One of the biggest downsides of investing time and energy into using a new startup’s service is the nearly inevitable fact that, at some point, that startup will likely be acquired and shut down, transitioned into something entirely different, or even completely fail…I’ve always considered this one of my top hesitations for trying cool, innovative new services. As it turns out, that’s a major concern of many potential customers of Svbtle, too.”

These customer concerns are real when seeking out a hosted publishing platform—especially in a market with more established and well-funded options such as Medium and WordPress. Not to mention the rules of the game are always subject to change as these publishing tools (or are they networks?) fine-tune their algorithms and search for, say, a revenue model.

Play on rented land at your own risk

It was only a little while ago Facebook was actively encouraging brands to create publishing hubs to accumulate fans. Fast forward a few years and organic reach has plummeted to near zero and marketers are scrambling for more sustainable options. Facebook is happy to self report that the overall news feed experience has improved, and in unrelated news, their stock price is doing just fine as well.

Now, we see the same thing happening with Medium, as they woo brands with more control and custom publishing features. The lure of a built-in audience and better distribution is working as many publishers are moving owned content properties over—notable names include Signal v. Noise, Slack, and whatever Bill Simmons is launching next.

These brands are reassured by similar “promises” of Medium’s commitment to publishers. As Basecamp founder and CEO Jason Fried writes in his post about moving to Medium:

“Medium has listened to the concerns of publishers. By offering custom domains, we’re ensured that no permalink ever has to break, even if we leave the platform. By committing to never showing advertisement, unless the publisher consents, we can remain with Basecamp as the sole commercial sponsor of Signal v. Noise. Between these two facts, we feel confident about owning our content and our legacy, regardless of where Medium-The-$82M-VC-Funded-Company goes.”

Those “Forever Stamps” from content platforms are nice to have in the drawer, so long as the post office will be around for a while. Wait, bad example.

Separating vaporware from a product roadmap

While there are still promises involved, an enterprise web content management solution is not the same as a fly-by-night hosted blogging platform operating in the red. For one, they rarely go poof overnight (we still miss you, Editorially). Instead, they often prefer to have long drawn-out deaths, staying afloat on the fumes of maintenance fees, while new license sales dip and R&D grinds to a halt—all before being acquired for pennies on the dollar for the customer base. Whoa, that got dark fast. Sorry. I’m sure your CMS platform is fine.

While it’s true that anything is possible when it comes to customizing a CMS to meet specific requirements, a vendor’s commitment to a product roadmap and future features matter a lot to organizations forging a long-term partnership.

In A Product Person’s Perspective on Enterprise Selling on the Andreessen Horowitz blog, Steven Sinofsky writes:

“Enterprise IT is all about planning and long term within the organization. Budgets, headcount, organization, and internal service relationships all depend on ‘knowledge of the future.’ At the same time, IT also wants to build new capabilities within the company and your roadmap can become a part of the IT roadmap. Obviously everything here is a fine balance between ‘promise and deliver’ and falling into the trap of ‘over-promise and under-deliver.’”

In short, there’s mutual interest in aligning long-term organization needs with a product roadmap. Knowing that a CMS vendor is making big bets on personalization and digital marketing can matter a lot to an organization that is also committing to this path and seeking deeper and more integrated marketing capabilities over time.

We spend a lot of time ensuring that the roadmaps are in alignment when helping organizations with CMS selection. It’s important that an organization buys into the today’s product in addition to understanding what it will look like a year from now.

Buyers just need to be smart enough to sniff out the  “vaporware” pitches built on one-off proofs of concept that don’t have a chance of making it into the actual product roadmap.

While announcements of these “promises” remind me of the classic scene in Dumb and Dumber where Lloyd opens up his suitcase of IOUs (“that’s a workflow engine, you might wanna hang onto that one”), knowing what a vendor is committed to does matter, and should be taken seriously. Just not so seriously that your business depends on it actually happening.

About the Author
Jeff Cram

Jeff Cram is Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of Connective DX (formerly ISITE Design), a digital agency based in Portland, OR and Boston, MA. As the Managing Editor of the CMS Myth, Jeff is passionate about all topics related to content management, digital strategy and experience design.

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