Forum OpenACS Q&A: Response to Time for a name change?

Posted by Michael Feldstein on

It strikes me that what OpenACS does is build enterprise web sites. There are a number of players out there, I understand BEA is the biggest of them. None of them have a lot of name recognition, and I think all of them are hugely expensive. Because of the current general interest in open source solutions I suspect that we could come up with a reasonably effective PR campaign without a whole lot of expense once the new version is named, available, and documented to the point that reasonably competent web developers (not programmers) have a chance to go to the website, find the code, and get it running. I know there are thousands of folks that have sites that have grown to be too large to keep developing in Dreamweaver that would love to have something affordable to move up to. I think magazine editors know this too.

I don't think this is an accurate assessment either of the enterprise market or of OpenACS' potential niche in it. While it is true that there is no dominant player in the application server market, it is no longer true that the top products (including BEA, Websphere, and iPlanet) don't have a lot of name recognition. This is a very tight and competitive market. Furthermore, what enterprise organizations are looking for (and I know because some of these guys are my clients) is the size and quality of the professional support services available behind the toolkit of choice. If we go after this space, we have to be able to match, say, IBM for tookit support. Forget it. If you want to go after enterprise (and it's by no means obvious that enterprise is the largest or best market for OACS), then you have to find a specific niche rather than going head-to-head against the big money.

As much as I believe in community building, and as much as I think that community building is a magnificent way to build and grow a commercial site, I'm not sure the business community really groks that. They can be taught to use those features (bulletin boards, mutual support fora, spam programs) but they aren't the things that will get them in the door. An inexpensive tool that lets them build maintainable advanced data-backed sites will.

I couldn't disagree more. Building database-backed web sites is a solved problem. You can do it with ASPs, ColdFusion, WebObjects, name it. Is OpenACS a better and more efficient solution than these others? Sure, in some cases. But it's not obviously superior enough to overcome marketing and support issues when going after the enterprise market. (You might have a better case to make for small to mid-sized organizations, though.)

On the other hand, eLearning and knowledge management are hot topics right now and, unlike the application server market, these *aren't* solved problems yet (although they really should be). Companies are starting to pay big bucks for these sorts of solutions. Cisco's CEO is a huge champion of eLearning. Microsoft and Oracle are arguing that they have knowledge management solutions. (They don't, but that's not the point.) OACS' strong heritage as a platform for collaboration gives us a real (but swiftly diminishing) advantage in this market niche.

Again, though, it's not clear that the OACS community wants to target enterprise with its marketing efforts. I personally favor this market because I think there's a huge opportunity there and because it happens to by the market where I make my living. However, I suspect it is *not* that natural market for many of the developers who put their blood, sweat, and tears into developing the toolkit.

On the topic of finding an original name, if we decide that we can't take a name unless it has a super-easy URL with it and has not been used by *anybody* then we'll never get a good name. There are just too many people with too many named products out there. I don't think, for example, the fact that somewhere out in the universe there might exist a Pueblo Software company is adequate reason to discard the name "Pueblo." I'm not even sure that the fact that there is an Open Source bboard called "w-agora" is enough reason to drop "Agora," although it's a significantly more serious reason than the ones given so far against Pueblo. These factors are not all-or-nothing deciders; they are just some of the data points we need to consider.

Lastly, I do think we need to keep talking about what facets we want to emphasize in OACS and to whom we want to market. Although we are virtually guaranteed not to get unanymous agreement, we need to have arrive at something like a consensus about the very basic marketing thrust. If we're not marketing to someone, then we're marketing to no-one.