BigTree, our now infamous content management system, started out like anything else we did at Fastspot - we were trying to solve problems for our clients.
Why would we take the thing we've invested the most money and time into, over the course of almost nine years at Fastspot, and give it away for free?
Great question. The answer is, it was never what we were selling. At Fastspot we sell a team that can problem solve, create, and execute - primarily in the form of Websites. BigTree, our now infamous content management system started out like anything else we did at Fastspot - we were trying to solve problems for our clients.
Our clients who were pulling their hair out and calling us in tears, trying to use preexisting content management systems or other tools to get the work they needed to do, done. It wasn't working. It was impossible. Confusing, scary, ugly to look at, didn't work right, broke things, took the whole site down, required expensive calls to tech support, required upgrades that cost more than the building they were sitting in, forced them to pick up 1000 page manuals, and the list went on. All this pain, just to change a home page feature? Just to add a section to a site and create some consistent pages? Just to make sure someone could fill out a form and the information would go to the right person on the other end? It seemed ridiculous. It is ridiculous.
Side rant: I am amazed and horrified at the amount of expensive, shoddy, bloated and ineffective software that exists out there, often under the fancy term "Enterprise".
This term "Enterprise", combined with some expensive marketing materials and guys in ties managed to convince people (smart people) to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for bad software and an even worse user experience. Also, job security is woven into the software decisions and platforms at all levels. I've often seen situations where teams fight against making "good" changes, because it would require them to learn new processes and systems. And often it is just a case of unfortunate inheritance, being the "devil they know", is better than nothing.
So what did we do about it?
We care a great deal about what our industry calls "user experience". I had a job where I had to sit in front of a horrible screen with a blinking green line and enter data, critical data, yet I couldn't have felt more useless. The horrible experience I was forced to have made me hate my job, dread coming to work, do whatever I could to avoid getting to the task. We often think websites are lacking because there isn't great photography, the content strategy is flawed, the site is designed badly - but in fact, it could be due to a CMS that exists in the background that the people HATE to use. I don't know anyone who will willingly and productively dive into a task every day that they hate doing.
We made it pleasant to update websites. We removed all programmer lingo whenever possible. We made sure the process felt natural to the end product. For example - if you want to create a new page you click "New Page". You don't organize assets, pick a template and THEN create the new page. We made tools like "Image Croppers" that once required expensive and complicated programs like Photoshop to be installed on a person's computer. We made sure you didn't ever have to even see a piece of HTML code unless you wanted to. We made the act of updating the Website feel like a creative productive act, one that was focused on the content not the mechanics to make it happen. We made sure that by adding an event into a calendar you couldn't accidentally nuke your entire Website and get fired. You know, the little things that matter.
The importance of community.
What would be the best thing we could hope to achieve with BigTree? In the end, it came down to building a community, and knowing our creation would benefit because of it. The more people who knew about BigTree, the more organizations who used it, the more developers who built sites on it, the better it would become. And we would still stand to benefit, even more so, as we will always remain the authority and quality keepers of BigTree, therefore offering value in the form of knowledge and experience.
We want BigTree to be loved by as many people as possible. We want other developers, even competitive agencies to be able to profit using BigTree - because in the end it just means more people are using something we know is awesome. Why limit that? By releasing BigTree CMS as open source, we feel great that we can give back to a community that has helped us all in our professional development. If it wasn't for open source software, many of us would have never been inclined, or able to afford, getting into this industry. I'm thankful to that community, as is everyone at Fastspot, and so we give you BigTree CMS.
Now go forth and make your own great experiences and know your CMS users won't hate you anymore.
Please excuse any typos, as this blog post was written in between company meetings, proposal writing, trips to the airport, conference calls, employee reviews, design presentations, pitches to new clients, talks with my accountant, appointments at the doctors, walks with my dogs and trying to have a life, in the 60 minutes I had to sit down and try to get my thoughts out to share with you. I apologize if anything threw you off from appreciating the gist of my points, or prevents you from commenting on this topic if you are so inclined.