November 9, 2007

Marketer finds good karma in using and sharing open source

Author: Tina Gasperson

What does a marketing guru with a passion for the South Seas and a penchant for entrepreneurship do? He launches an e-commerce site that sells noni juice, custom surfboards, and island-inspired home accessories, of course. And because the site is highly branded and feature-rich, he hires an open source developer to code it for him.

Mark McVey, the owner of McVey Creative Group, has a long history in the advertising and marketing business. He's used to helping people create product brands, and for the last seven years or so, creating a brand has automatically included creating a Web site. Because McVey is no stranger to working with Web developers, and because he knows what he likes, when he decided to launch, he called Bruce Kroeze, an active coder for the Django project and a fan of the Satchmo e-commerce framework for Django.

"When I decided to build Oog, I really wanted a crack programmer leading the charge," McVey says. "I told Bruce I needed a site that was flexible, fun, functional, fast, and feature-rich. I left the [software] decision up to him."

Kroeze, who does a lot of consulting for companies to help them build out their Web presence, had several decisions to make. "The cheaper option for Mark would have been to go a lot less branded, and then I probably would have used an off-the-shelf product that provided a boilerplate site. But he wasn't going to go for that. So I presented the open source framework. I've gone through the pain of doing a hack job on closed source programs to coerce them to do a thing the creators didn't intend. I didn't want that pain. Besides, it would cost a lot to maintain it and add new features. I hate telling clients, 'I have to do it this way because that's the way the flow works in this program.'"

Kroeze knew that the Satchmo shopping framework, an offshoot of Python-based Web framework Django, would be extensible and flexible enough to let him give McVey what he wanted. "It's a toolkit for building whatever store you want," Kroeze says. "Mark had a real clear idea about the page flow and custom menuing and how he wanted his gift certificates to work. I didn't see any way to do that with any other application."

McVey, who was new to the concept of open source community before building, quickly began to see and appreciate the benefits. "We were in a conundrum about how we were going to quote shipping on the custom surfboards, which come in all different shapes and sizes. We weren't sure about how our customers were going to get an accurate price to ship those, but we came up with a format and Bruce was able to implement it."

Kroeze is so experienced with open source coding that he rarely hits a snag, so with the project the biggest challenge has been figuring out what innovations to share. "It basically centers around the tricky issue of what goes back to the community and what doesn't. But Mark has been great about it. He knew up front I was going to contribute back appropriate parts of what I'd added to the framework. The challenge is that something that is this customized and really helps to derive values from the site, would it be stealing from him for me to contribute it? That was one of the main issues for me." In the end, McVey was fine with Kroeze sharing the module he wrote to enable the custom surfboard shipping quotes.

Being exposed to open source applications and development has been an eye-opener for McVey. "The process was great. It was painless; it did what we wanted it to do. We wanted it to look a certain way and we got what we wanted. We've been building sites all along, and I'm always a little disappointed with the actual results because we always had to make design modifications in order to make the site function properly or display correctly on multiple platforms. There's always been a need to cut something. But this time, we've done everything I wanted to do -- there's nothing that's not there. If open source is the ticket to let people have that kind of flexibility, then that is the future of Web programming right there."

McVey says the number one benefit to using open source is the community. "From my perspective, if all the developers that are working on this Satchmo back end are going through our site with a fine-toothed comb, we basically have 150 beta testers. We've received great comments from the programming community.

"With Oog, the whole concept is very inclusive. Everybody's welcome on OoghaBooga Island. Everybody's welcome to come in and contribute and then take what they need to make their lives easier as well. That karma aspect and goodwill was very key to our brand. I still have my Web site, and there's so much we can share. It's great to be able to contribute to making somebody's life easier."


  • Open Source
  • Internet & WWW
  • Business
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