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Is this the year the proprietary CMS dies?

Open-source advocates at SXSWi make a pretty convincing case that the day is soon.

To listen to folks at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival, the proprietary Content Management System is on its deathbed.Selling Your Milk When the Cow is Free," were in the open source corner. After all, the moderator was Jeff Eaton, software architect for Lullabot Consulting and a core developer for the Drupal project. Panelists were Brad Fitzpatrick, creator of LiveJournal; Evan Prodromou, founder/CEO of StatusNet Inc, the Open Source microblogging company; Eric Gundersen, president/co-founder of Development Seed; and Tiffany Farriss, president of Palantir.net Inc. and member of the Drupal Association Board of Directors.businesses moving toward the open source model when it came to their processes and pricing.Drupal creator Dries Buytaert pointed out a slew of utterly mainstream sites that are built on that open source platform: Emmys.com & Grammys.com, for example. Heck, even Sun Microsystems used Drupal to build its online community, Java.net. Lance Roggendorff, a technology consultant from Nashville, Tenn., put it quite succinctly in this tweet:

And it may well be not too much of a stretch to believe that's the case.

The idea of open source isn't as foreign and scary to businesses as it once was, and in such difficult economic times as we find ourselves, it's to be expected that it would become more attractive. Why not customize a CMS built on Drupal or Python or Ruby or Joomla rather than start from scratch? What need is there to reinvent the wheel each time?

A few panels at SXSWi gave rather convincing evidence this has become the norm, not the exception.

It wasn't any surprise that speakers at the Friday panel, "

They, and much of their audience, were the choir. No preaching necessary. But, still, they offered interesting insight into how they got into open source development. For Fitzpatrick, it was quite by accident. He built LiveJournal as a tool for himself and his friends. As someone hacked a new tool or improvement, he passed the code around. Eventually, he got tired of doing that and open-sourced it so that anyone could add code.

For Farriss, it took some convincing. As her company does a lot of development for clients, she fell into the cliche of thinking that open source would mean her clients wouldn't need her.

The point all panelists came to was that they're being paid for their expertise and ability to do the job, not because their technical tools are hidden behind proprietary licensing. That point was made at length during a SXSWi conversation about

Though some in the audience complained loudly on Twitter (though not in the Q&A portion of the talk) that Buytaert's talk, headlined, "RIP, Content Management Systems," ran more like an infomercial for Drupal than an actual talk about the death of CMS, he made some convincing points that the CMS is no longer really that - and they're rarely proprietary anymore. Audience member

"Long and short: Content has been dethroned, community is the new royalty. Drupal is a social publishing system, not a CMS."

And the point of content being "dethroned" - i.e., whole communities being built up around user-generated content, such as I Can Has Cheezburger or Digg/Reddit - Buytaert pointed out made it difficult for the old CMS model to work, anyhow. Those focused on a relatively small number of content creators. With a virtually unlimited number of content creators, the system needs to be simpler and more flexible - calling cards of Open Source.

While the SXSWi audience may be a bit more tech-savvy than the world at large, and therefore perhaps a bit more predisposed to the open source model, there are plenty of mainstream examples besides those listed above: WhiteHouse.gov on Drupal, IHOP and Harvard on Joomla, Twitter and YellowPages.com on Ruby on Rails.

There will always be some who are nervous about anything labeled "open," for fear that others will be able to get into their content, somehow, but that doesn't seem to be any more the case with open source platforms than it is with proprietary (though to listen to each side argue, you could easily be convinced it is - and which is easier to hack depends which side the person's arguing against).

After listening to all these talks, though, one might be forgiven for thinking the proprietary CMS is on its last legs - or thinking that it should be.

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