Welcome to Rose City Digital, AKA “RCD”– the blog pretending to be an agency. As mentioned elsewhere, if these roles reverse, we’ll say something– “we” because at that point the plural pronoun will be appropriate. In the meanwhile, I’ll (singular) be using this space to detail the steps required to reach that point.

My name is Mark Martin. I have over fifteen years of experience in digital producer and project manager roles in agency settings– much of that with a business unit I played a key role in developing into an in-house agency for a major corporation. 

Prior to that, I spent a number of years as a self-taught developer and small-business technology consultant… a role to which (it seems) I may now be returning. I’ve done other things as well (ask me sometime about pirate radio).

Today I want to talk about “fit for purpose” and the critical need for making appropriate platform decisions at the start of a project. I also want to talk about a project I’ve decided to start, the platform I decided to start it on, and – most importantly – why I made these choices.

That project is a soon-to-launch community web portal and business directory. The platform in question is Concrete CMS. The reason I decided to do this is because turning this blog into an actual agency is going to require success stories, clients, and demonstrated competency in something other than writing a blog. I’m not downplaying the importance of writing, but let’s be honest: you can hire code to do that, and it’s even better at writing software. Making informed business and technology decisions is something else. That’s what I do. I may be humoring myself, but I don’t think AI is quite there (yet).

I also write code, but I prefer to write as little of it as possible. That means picking the right platform for the project, making sure you’ve made the right choice before you are in over your head… and making sure you have a plan for completion that doesn’t depend on the occurrence of miracles.

For this project, Portland Community Network, I initially scoped and planned for doing the site build on WordPress. This is something of a no-brainer decision, and not one that anyone would ever get fired for making. WordPress currently powers at least 43% of the web, with a corresponding 62% market share in the Content Management (CMS) space. I’ve spent many years working with WordPress, as well as other CMS tools (Teamsite, Sitecore, Contentful, & SharePoint… among others). History and experience with large-scale CMS platforms enabled me to make something other than a “no-brainer decision”… and I chose not to use WordPress.

It all comes back around to “fit for purpose”. The mere fact that a tool or platform is ubiquitous doesn’t automatically make it the best option. Microsoft Windows currently accounts for around 72% of the desktop computing market, and I will happily use it on hardware maintained by anyone who might see fit to employ me (that’s a hint, folks). But for my own desktop computing needs, I use desktop Linux. I find it more stable, secure, and customizable than Windows. For my personal computing needs, desktop Linux is a more fit for purpose tool than Windows.

And, for purposes of my current project, Concrete is a more fit for purpose platform than WordPress.

When I began scoping this project, I quickly realized that I was either going to be shelling out around 500 bucks for premium WordPress themes and plugins that would meet my requirements out of the box, spending months tweaking and customizing free themes and plugins, or even more months writing my own stuff. Or, alternately, I could change my requirements to fit the platform. I’ve done that before, when platform choices were out of my hands. But for this project… the choices are all mine.

A quick survey of my hosting provider’s CMS offerings revealed a number of options. Some, like Joomla and Drupal, were reasonably familiar to me. Others, like Concrete, I barely knew at all. But I could allocate time to review these options, could allocate time to investigate alternatives, could always roll back to WordPress if an alternative turned out to be a rabbit hole.

Part of what made Concrete attractive were the same concerns of stability, security, and ease of customization that lead me to prefer Linux to Windows– concerns for which WordPress is even more notoriously bad than Windows. I was also impressed by the fact that the developers of Concrete, Portland Labs, count the U.S. Army among their clients with a superset of Concrete called Liberta Server. I’ve worked in enough large enterprise environments with security concerns to have some appreciation of what that means. I also appreciate the fact that they are Portland Labs, right here in my adopted home city. Finally, their vision of “building a web for the greatest good” is one that resonates very strongly with me, particularly when I’m in the middle of building a community web portal. I decided to give Concrete a try. If it turned into a time sink or development hell, I could always fail over to WordPress… right?

But basically, that never happened. Every time something turned into a challenge, I was able to figure it out– either on my own, or with the help of a substantial community of fairly brilliant and dedicated web technologists. With their help, I am now three weeks into building a complex and fairly demanding 100 page website, soon to begin QA/beta testing, and maybe a week or so away from go-live. I did this working with a team of exactly me, on a platform I had to learn on the fly while I was working, with no other tools than Inkscape, Gimp, and a decent code editor

Including the “learn as you go” part, I’m not sure this could’ve happened on WordPress– particularly not with the level of customization I was able to accomplish. When this site goes live, it will be exactly what I wanted. If I had a client for this project… I think that client would be pretty happy.

Next week, I’ll detail the challenges I faced in this project and the solutions I was able to come up with. Some of them were pretty creative. Please subscribe (see below)  and stay with me as this story develops.

Cheers, all!


Platforms, projects, and picking what fits (welcome to RCD)
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