Web Development

Getting Stuck on Tools

Uploaded to Flickr by tanakawho

I have a confession to make. When I start a new work or freelance project, I often become obsessed with the search to find the perfect tool to help me get the job done. For some reason, I love the process of researching, testing, and comparing software and web applications and I jump at the chance to learn, explore, and experiment. I know it benefits me in the long run, but it can be quite time consuming and wasteful at the time. And to be completely honest, it’s one of my favorite and most justifiable ways to procrastinate.

An Example

So I’ve got a business idea I’ve been kicking around for awhile that I finally want to start working on. I’ll need to have a website up and running eventually, but there are plenty of more important things that need to get done in the mean time. Still, I find myself drawn to the search for what might be the best content management system (CMS) for my perceived needs. Here’s a rundown of some of the packages and tools I’ve considered, and why.

  • WordPress: I considered WordPress briefly, as it is a really great blogging platform. It’s got basic CMS capabilities for managing a site, but not enough flexibility for what I’m thinking of doing.
  • Movable Type: I’ve got years of experience with Movable Type, since I use it to manage the back end of this blog, as well as a couple others. Movable Type 4 introduced some really good CMS features, so this one is a real contender.
  • MODx: I use MODx to manage a couple of websites at work, and while I was initially very excited about it, I grew tired of installing plug-ins and hacking PHP code to get things to work the way I wanted. While I know this one is capable, it’s not high up on my list.
  • ExpressionEngine: Years ago I used an older version of ExpressionEngine to manage my church’s website. The site was a mess behind the scenes, something I partially attributed to EE’s design, but I know realize I simply didn’t know what I was doing. Based on PHP and MySQL, it’s both a strong blogging engine and content management system. It’s also the only commercial software on my list that charges for a license.
  • TYPOlight: This one came up during my search, but I haven’t really invested much time looking at its details. It looks promising though.
  • Drupal: Drupal seems to be the heavyweight PHP-based CMS. It has tons of features and is very extensible, but seems to have a big learning curve.
  • Django: I’ve even considered building my site’s back end myself using a popular web development framework called Django. I’ve been wanting to learn the Python programming language for some time now, and this would give me the perfect excuse. And since Django was initially built to manage the Lawrence Journal-World website, I’m sure I could get it to do pretty much whatever I want – at least after I teach myself Python and how the framework itself works…
  • Ruby on Rails: I’ve built a couple of web applications using the Ruby on Rails development framework, so the though of using it for my site has also briefly crossed my mind. Deployment is still painful compared to PHP or Python applications though, so I haven’t given it serious thought.

The Point?

My point is that it’s often easier to us (me) to feel like we’re (I’m) making progress on a project by diving into a fun but trivial part of it instead of doing the real and hard work. In my case, while my business website’s content will be extremely important in influencing potential customers to go with me instead of someone else, the content management system will have little bearing on how many customers I’ll get and how much money I’ll make.

Sure, I can make an argument that a framework like Django or Rails will give me maximum flexibility in workflow and integration with 3rd party tools and services, and that it’ll give me a competitive advantage. It’s not the core of my business idea though, so the more time I spend on peripheral activities means less time I have for real business development.

Still, I think it’s a very grey area. Researching and trying content management systems, billing and invoice apps, and wikis isn’t the same as writing copy for the website or doing marketing, but it’s still a hell of a lot more productive than reading digg or RSS feeds on Google Reader. That’s how I justify it, anyway.

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