Mambo: stuck in the middle with ... 2731 other CMSs
By David Walker (Google profile)
If you survey the current crop of low-cost Web content management systems, you will quickly see people singing the praises of a product called Mambo. In a market crowded with different products, it presents smartly, can be used without six weeks of training, and costs less than a good suit. And it's been developed from a small office down a laneway off Melbourne's Collins Street by a company called Miro International. It's the small Aussie company that took on the world and ...
... Well, actually, hasn't won yet. Miro pushed the latest and most mature version of Mambo onto the market more than a year ago, and it's still fighting for adoption. "Our problem at the moment is being able to let everybody know that we exist," says Miro CEO Peter Lamont. Lamont started his business career at advertising agency J Walter Thompson before founding his own firm and moving into digital production. Now he's battling to market his own product.
How tough is the battle? The marketplace for Web content management systems is the best and worst of the 2004 software world. Hundreds, probably thousands of systems clamour for attention, from huge "enterprise" products to free collections of code hacked together by one-person shops when a client asked for "something to let us update the site". Many of the products have been in the market for a while, yet many experts consider the current crop to be immature and evolving too slowly. Even the high-priced leaders in the field, Vignette and Interwoven, saw licence revenues fall last year.
Users and analysts praise Mambo as a well-presented, easy-to-use tool in a field where the hard work usually begins when you take the product CD out of the box. The last person who saw me demonstrate Mambo literally yelled in my ear with enthusiasm at what you get for its $600 asking price. Integrated with an email campaign management system called Oi! and several other components, and supported by a large developer community, Mambo presents a powerful argument against building your own system for generic content management tasks. And as managers and marketers wonder about the returns from expensive content management intiatives, it seems made for the times. "Mambo is not Interwoven, but then again most organizations don't need Interwoven," notes Matthew Clapp, a Californian CMS consultant who has worked implementing top-end CMS systems including both Interwoven and Vignette.
Not surprisingly, Lamont sounds frustrated. "When I have someone in to look at the product, they flip out. For 600 dollars, you just can't beat it." Yet he can't get quite enough buyers to push Mambo into the big league of commercial CMS products. It's barely breaking even, depending on how you do the accounting, and month-to-month revenue is steady rather than growing.
Indeed, Lamont and his team frequently have to explain why they charge so little. "You go in and say you have a $600 system that will do what they need ... If there's a Microsoft solution that costs $20,000, they assume that must be better."
And at the same time, Lamont also has to explain why users should pay Miro anything at all. Because in the battle for attention, Lamont last year decided on a desperate measure: Miro released an open-source version of Mambo.
The creation of Mambo Open Source expanded the developer community, built awareness of the commercial product, and buttressed Miro's credibility. But that decision has also created a tough new competitor. The $600 commercial version provides extra stability and security over the open-source version, along with commercial-grade support. But that's one more thing to explain to a mostly sceptical and often confused market. "We are continually asked to justify why we charge for one but not the other," Lamont posted to a public developer discussion recently. "The simple answer is that no one can live with no income. How do I pay the developers who work for Miro unless we generate a revenue stream?"
Which leaves Peter Lamont and his team fighting on three fronts - against commercial competitors, the expectations of open-source and the sheer impossibility of getting noticed amongst the gaggle of competing CMS products. You might not envy them the task. But you do have to envy anyone who can create simple, cheap software that gets the job done.