Advising / College Publisher / online software / Websites

CP – the good and the bad

Most of you know I have been testing the new 5.0 or polopoly version for College Publisher going on 4 months. I have been getting many emails and questions at the conventions about what it is like but by far the biggest question that gets put to me is in the vien of “we are thinking of switching but want to know what the new 5.0 system has to offer before we jump ship.” Note, this isn’t a direct quote from any one just a general wording.

I think since the problems of the “j run errors” many advisors and students are frustrated with CP and that is why many are looking at other options. Additionally, we all have probably attended or followed sessions on “new media” and our students now want to try some of these great things we have all learned about. Things which may not be easy to do, if possible at all under the current 4.0 system.

At the core however, I feel many advisors are over looking some key points. I quickly broke down what I see as positives and negatives for the CP system. This is a short list and by no means complete. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section.

Plus +

  • You can’t put a value on your archives. CP provides great and quick back ups with little of my own or student’s time.
  • Hosting cost, while going down and getting cheaper, is good for 95%-99% of the time. Problem is when you get slammed by traffic because you have a great story and your cheap hosting company can’t handle the traffic. It would be like running out of newspapers on the stands but having tons of copies sitting in your office and now way to get them in to the hands of your readers – what is that worth to the paper, your advertisers and the student(s) who created the story? CP handles this well, and do you really want to go down when you have that “big” story?
  • Speed. A local hosting company might be able to provide great speed in your local area, be it state or surrounding states. What about across the country, or in another country? The CP system uses a network of servers to provide the best speed, not to mention back up, based on where your readers are coming from. While most of our traffic does come from Idaho, we do get a lot of traffic from around the country as well as some alumni out of the USA. If we switch, will they keep up because our site is slower? And how can you test this to make sure it at least isn’t too slow? If the reason to switch is for some new media stuff, many new media features work better with a higher speed. So if your speed stinks the further away you get from your hosting company what is the real benefit?
  • You have year in and year out tech support. Doesn’t matter if that one great tech support student graduated, CP is still there to help you out when he/she leaves.
  • CP has a built in and decent ad management system. Even if you aren’t selling online ads right now, you should be and in the future it will be required if not demanded. I know some open source options exist but they aren’t all that robust – at least most free ones aren’t from what I have seen (if I’m wrong, please note in the comments). Yes, they will get better and who knows in 6 months or a year might be way better than the current CP system. But this is another piece of ADD ON software, as all the free content management systems I know of do not include an ad management piece by default. That means something you have to worry about keeping updated and breaking if you update your CMS but the new version of the CMS doesn’t work with the current version of the ad management add on. Also, I have seen the new CP ad management software and it is pro level to the nth degree. Very good and a huge step forward. No way we could afford it on our own.
  • How much time do you want to spend managing your site? Prior to these companies offering hosting/CMS services we hosted our website. It was a pure roller coaster ride. Some years great students who could code the daylights out of things. They leave or something breaks and our site is down for weeks while they try to figure it out.

Minus-

  • You have ad spots you don’t control and have to design around.
  • You have pretty good freedom for design but not total freedom if you went with an open source system or some other pay system
  • You might be able to innovate faster. With open source software you could take great advantage of what is out there and try it – but remember the plus from above, if it breaks your site you could be done for days or weeks. CP’s back ups can have you restored in hours – in my experience they have had a good track record here.
  • Since moving the current 4.0 system to the Viacomm servers it seems the “j run errors” have been an on again off again problem all depending on the site. We haven’t (knock on wood) had any other those errors for months now, none in 08 at all. I think this one reason is what is making everyone question if they should be with CP. Afterall, if they don’t provide the reliabitily (as mentioned in the plus) at least if it was on your own server or in your own control you would at least know what was being done and FEEL like you had more control.

Notice, I didn’t mention the 5.0 system at all. At the core, I think the above issues really are more important than a software upgrade, because that is what we are talking about. I also think CP has to do a better job at communicating. The j run errors leave and little or late communication only further the feeling of lack of control.

No matter what system you go with, advisors need to consider the pluses CP provides. I think they are huge and way too often over looked for some fancy features you may only use rarely. Example is a podcast or blog feature – not easy in the 4.0 system but possible. We are probably one of the highest podcast producing newspapers in the college market, still I’m not ready to make a jump just for a slightly easier podcast manager if it means giving up the core foundation. Same for sound slides, something we want to do more of. Possible in 4.0 but not easy at all (so I’m told). Better in 5.0 but am I going to go open source because they have better support for it when I might put up one sound slide every other week if that? Even if I could get the students to put one up a week, how important is that compared to the 40+ stories or so we put up every week? It is all a matter of perspective and I think the lure of new technology is clouding some people’s judgement.

Bottom line, the landscape is changing. I just think people need to really examine much more than what features do or do not exist in some content management software package. I think as advisors, we need to clearly explain the entire picture to our students so they can fully understand the implications of the decisions they make now for the coming months and years.