Open Source Food for Thought…Long-term Sustainability?

I don’t have a lot of experience in the use of CMS’s, but in my role as a librarian at the Limnology Library at the UW Center for Limnology, my colleague and I were asked by the Center’s staff and students to help them deal with their large, decentralized, unorganized digital photo collection.  We ended up selecting an OS digital asset system called ResourceSpace.  While not a CMS platform, the selection process we used would be applicable.  One question posed in the evaluation was the long-term sustainability of the software.

To help ascertain the long term sustainability of a platform there are a couple of things we looked at in our assessments.  We looked at who created the software and how was it being funded.  Is it grant-based financial support and if so, is there documentation of a plan for long-term viability.  We looked at the quality and extent of documentation.  Is there a wiki or some other form of easy to use/search documentation space? How often is the wiki updated?  We also looked at how often the software itself is updated and how often those updates occur, as well as how many versions have been released.  We looked at developer involvement by seeing if there are forums that are regularly used. Finally we looked at who is using the platform? Is it widely used by many institutions? Are there any large institutions promoting their use of the platform?

In reading about Omeka in the Kucsma et al. article, I was glad to see that the authors highlighted the need for documentation and developer support, and was rather surprised that these aspects of choosing a CMS for a digital project was not mentioned in Pyrounakis and Nikolaidou’s evaluation as something for librarians and other digital project managers should consider when looking at CMS options, especially an open source platform.  Perhaps Pyrounakis and Niolaidou felt that the more established systems that they reviewed had such robust documentation and support that these would not be critical in the decision making process, but I feel as though that is a major oversight.  I am sure that there are new CMS options developing and on the horizon, but how do you know if it will be one that lasts or fizzles away? It is hard to imagine something like D-space going away, but the online landscape as a whole is ever changing and highly competitive. Things like funding, institutional support and developer buy in are critical to maintaining a well-functioning open source system.

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6 responses to “Open Source Food for Thought…Long-term Sustainability?

  1. Completely agree. It’s wonderful that Omeka can be used from a free account, but it does stop the developer from being accountable. I used Ruby as a gateway language to be get interested in coding, like Omeka it allowed community involvement for plugins and was generally headed by one person. When that person went away, the community around it kind of collapsed. It was interesting that the article didn’t go into the support and update structure of the CMS’ but it all felt a little “what will work well right now for us”. If our hope is to preserve these items, understanding the future of the CMS we choose is so very important.

  2. I think you’re highlighting some critical facts here, folks. When you enter into the world of technology, be prepared for an uncertain and frequently bumpy ride!

  3. lsteckervetz,
    You wrote that “It is hard to imagine something like D-space going away, but the online landscape as a whole is ever changing and highly competitive.” But what if a CMS did “fizzle” away because something new and easier and better comes around? (I can’t remember the last time I heard MySpace since Facebook came out.) What happens to the collection that is housed on the fizzled CMS? Once a CMS is banished to the dead zone is it possible to integrate it with another system or must the collection be built from the ground up in a new CMS?

  4. That often depends on what the new system can allow in terms of importing from other systems. There are other factors to consider with that, too, such as the quality of the metadata – see this week’s video chat with Keely Merchant where she mentions this as a concern for her digital library!

  5. I suppose with the ability to import and export your information and a similar metadata structure, you’ll never really be at a complete loss unless the site disappears completely. As with everything else that we’ve become accustomed to using in the digital age, save constantly and always have a back up 🙂

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