Day on the Death Star

We spent the day with a consultant specializing in MS Sharepoint. Yes, after a meeting about open source social networking tools, I climbed out of Luke Skywalkers X-Wing fighter into the heart of the Death Star.

My tongue is firmly in my cheek. The longer I do this kind of stuff, the more I realize that I can’t count anything out. The religious wars in which I’ve been a part — open source vs. proprietary environments — seem to be entered into with large blind spots based on myriad agendas.

I’ve spent two months having trouble accepting that an enterprise Web authoring and document management solution, much less one from Microsoft, could ever be a viable alternative to the PHP-based solutions we have now. But, I’ve come to a point to have to open my mind or feel shackled by my own biases.

Solutions like this seem more attractive when you’re dealing with a now-dated environment of manually-managed shared drive directories, an unrelated homegrown open-source Web environment, with a loosely-related portal/ERP frontend, and a completely unrelated totally cool academic and personal Web authoring platform where the stuff that IS the University online is happening.

And the answer is, it depends.

I’m more squeamish about Sharepoint CMS than the collaboration and document management features. I fear a lock-down in creativity that could result. I fear training and staffing continuity issues for proprietary platforms like .NET, programmers for which are highly paid in relation to folks who churn out PHP. I worry about vendor lock-in, about the ability to migrate in the future when the inevitable happens and a new tool is invented.

But, in keeping with the notion from yesterday’s post that the institutional Web site has to offer clarity, functionality, and easy access, along with creative charm, the locus for creativity seems to shift from the pride in the clever code backend/snappy graphics thing (which is always fun, in a narcissistic developer kind of way), to managing and delivering CONTENT. Imagine that.

Perhaps, then, the backend of the enterprise need not be super, duper open source, but rather stable and supported, able to read and serve RSS, which Sharepoint does. And it sure would be great to have ready documentation instead of spending hours debugging something that the last guy wrote. That kind of open-source, roll up your sleeves, we got the barn let’s put on a show is essential for creative, academic and personal authoring, and I love doing that stuff. Gladly, we are living in the end times for the FrontPage and Dreamweaver hegemony. Free open source, no coding needed unless you LIKE that kind of thing, is the ultimate barrier-reducer in the personal Web publishing context.

For most Universities, the content on the Web site begins and ends in the public Web environment. Now, I’m starting to be persuaded that enterprise Web site environments (organizing and delivering audience-aware content) no longer need to OWN the content. In that context, I’ll climb out of the X-Wing for a while, but, I want the keys back 🙂