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Vendor profile: Plone

The Intranetizen team are often asked advice about intranet vendors that supply software and hardware solutions to run your intranet. Whilst we have 35 years of blue-chip intranet experience between us, in common with many intranet practitioners, we have relatively limited experience of the 200+ software systems that companies use.

To help you, to help us and to help the vendors themselves, we’re running a series of posts of over this coming week showcasing 5 intranet companies. We’ve supplied them with the same standard set of questions and will publish their answers in their own words to ensure equity! All the images have been supplied by the company themselves and are reproduced with permission.

Today, we showcase Plone.

Plone Annual Developer Conference, Budapest 2009. Click to enlarge

In a brief paragraph, who are you?

Plone is among the top 2% of all open source projects worldwide, with 340 coredevelopers and more than 300 solution providers in 57 countries. The project has been actively developed since 2001, is available in more than 40 languages, and has the best security track record of any major CMS. It is owned by the Plone Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, and is available for all major operating systems.

Briefly describe your product’s history? Why did you start it, where does it come from?

Plone was started by Alexander Limi, Alan Runyan, and Vidar Andersen in 1999. It was built on top of the then-revolutionary Zope web publishing system. Its first release was in 2001, and has been rapidly gaining friends around the world since then. There have been twelve significant releases of Plone, the most recent being Plone 4.2.

Unlike many CMSes that were originally developed as in-house solutions and later released or Open Sourced to the public, Plone has been a community-based Open Source project from day 1.

Plone has been a constant innovator in the CMS space and has included from the start many key concepts and features that other systems only recently introduced – such as in-context editing, presentation-independent content types, and NoSQL storage from the start.

For a complete treatise on Plone, its history and the people involved, a good starting point is Martin Aspeli’s dissertation Plone: A model of a mature open source project.

Describe your typical customer – what kind of company, what size, what are the kinds of problems they need to solve?

An example Plone Intranet.

An example Plone Intranet. Click to enlarge

Large enterprises, small businesses, non-profits, universities and governments around the world have chosen Plone for their websites, intranets and extranets. When security, scalability, accessibility and approachability count — Plone delivers.

We’re proud to power websites for NokiaAmnesty InternationalDiscover Magazine,  the Government of Brazil, the Nordic Council, the universities of MITHarvardWisconsinPennState, the Free Software Foundation and thousands of others.

In terms of intranets, Plone powers intranets for Belron, Honda Italia, Médecins Sans Frontières, UK Ministry of Defense, Caxia Econômica Federal, and Sanofi amongst others.

Common use-case: sensitive internal draft documents, when finalized need to be published to select external workgroups and possibly the general public. Fine-grained security and flexible workflows allow us to meet this need.

What do you see as your product and company’s USP?

Plone does not aim to conquer the $5/month hosted website market. Plone seeks to deliver a secure, powerful, customizable, usable CMS, largely through an energetic community of open-source developers and a vibrant ecosystem of professional consultancies.

One of the key features of Plone is that it is developed by a worldwide community of developers, and not a single dominant vendor. This means you can find Plone implementation companies in all corners of the globe. You can find one that specifically meets your requirements in terms of their market expertise and size.

Which feature(s) of your product do your customers rave about most?

Social Media features in an example Plone intranet.

Social Media features in an example Plone intranet.

Security, flexibility, ease of use, ease of customization. An out-of-the-box Plone install can be done in a matter of minutes, giving the core features of an Intranet. It has a very minimal user interface, which keeps training requirements low.

Plone stores content in a hierarchical manner, similar to what users are used to when organising files on their desktop, so it is easier to understand what content is going to end up where on a site.

Plone has a built-in search system (but can also be hooked up to wider search systems such as Solr) which features ‘live search’. As you start typing, Plone starts bringing back results.

Which feature(s) of your product do you feel are most under-used?

Three aspects that I think are under-used are Placeful Workflow, Collections and Content Rules. By combining these three elements power users can create some pretty advanced systems for controlling content access, drilling down through content and notifying users of changes quite easily.

How much customisation does your product typically need / how much to you recommend your customers make?

Many of our customers use Plone out of the box with very little branding, theming, or customization. Others have requested extensive integration and customisation. The new theming engine, Diazo, allows you to take an existing HTML template and apply it to Plone without needing to know any Plone-specific skills.

One of the very strong points of Plone is the way customisations to the product are made. Due to the modular nature of its construction — as Plone comes out of the box it is comprised of over 230 individual ‘packages’. You can override virtually any aspect of Plone in any of these packages from your own customisation package. These packages are all automatically managed by a system called Buildout. Whilst this may seem an oddly technical detail to mention here, it is a key element for maintaining an intranet in the long term and allowing customisations to be done as time goes on without directly modifying the core code base.

It is this process that means that Plone can ship with upgrade scripts that can upgrade from one version of Plone to another without disturbing your customisations.

What advice would you give a company planning to invest in a new intranet platform? / what are the most important factors to consider?

Requirements, requirements, requirements. Think hard about how mobile computing will impact your intranet. Pay attention to security and workflow. Think about how you are going to manage and resource the project on an ongoing basis. It’s no use launching a new intranet and then letting it slowly decay over time. Intranets need constant attention and ongoing work as your organisation (and the wider world) evolve.

What’s your cost model? Free; one-off; per seat per month charging; something else?

Free and open source software with numerous professional consultancies widely available. Support may be contracted for full-service hosted solutions, on a one-time-only basis, period of performance, or task-based.

Who are your main competitors?

Being Open Source, we are typically compared with Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress, but Plone’s enterprise features actually make it more comparable to SharePoint, Confluence, Vignette, and other commercial ECMS.

What do you need from *your* customers to deliver intranet success?

Getting concrete requirements and real content from our customers turns out to be the hard part. Fortunately, Plone lets us roll out rapid prototypes for quick evaluation that get customers thinking about what they want in an intranet.

What does the future have in store for your product?

In the near term we have the latest in the Plone 4 line coming out. Plone 4.3 is expected to be released in the next few months. Plone 4 has been bringing in backward-compatible incremental features like HTML5 compatibility, some UI improvements for search, collections, and image management.

The next major release is Plone 5 and that will feature a number of more radical changes. We are working on an innovation called CMSUI which will separate the editing user interface from the content, allowing users to theme the content without needing to worry about theming the user interface as well. We will also be launching two additional technologies, Deco and Dexterity. Deco is a new layout engine for Plone allowing drag-and-drop rearranging of content elements; Dexterity is a new content types system for Plone which makes creating content types a power-user task rather than a developer task.

The full roadmap to Plone is available at http://plone.org/roadmap

What does intranet 2015 look like?

With the rise of the ‘digital workplace,’ intranets are becoming more and more important. People are no longer sitting at their desks accessing information, they want it wherever they are and whenever they want it.

Ironically, Plone has been developed by a worldwide community of developers across geographic, timezone, cultural and linguistic barriers for over a decade. We have no ‘office’, we have no ‘desk’. As Plone developers, some of the things touted as the future of the ‘digital workplace’ are seen as old-hat as we’ve been doing them for years. Plone 2.0 was released from a cable car halfway up an Austrian mountain by founder Alex Limi on one of the first ‘smart phones’ in 2004.

The challenge is pushing these technologies and techniques further into the workforce. I think by 2015 the idea that someone might want to download and read a 200-page report on something will seem strange and people will be much more in tune to seeking out the person and expertise behind the report itself.

Who should Intranetizen readers speak with to find out more about your product?

There is a list of Plone companies at http://plone.org/providers and you can filter down by country to find a company near to you. There are also a number of regional Plone Users Groups you can contact, whom are listed at http://plone.org/support/usergroups. One of the great aspects of the Plone community is there are localised user groups offering information and support in local languages, e.g. http://plone.it, http://plone.de and http://plone.jp.

Or, you can get in touch with me directly and I can point you in the right direction:

Matt Hamilton

President, Plone Foundation

matth@plone.org

+44 117 9090901

http://plone.org

http://twitter.com/plone

What question should we have asked? And if we had, what would the answer have been?

Google Trends shows Plone as a very small sliver compared to Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress. Why is this? Should customers be wary for this reason?

Plone’s internal search engine does not rely on Google; therefore, site searches do not contribute to an inflated GT score. Internal searches on any WordPress site, for example, get tallied as “WordPress” searches by Google Trends.

This interview was completed by Matt Hamilton with input from Karl Horek and the Plone Community.




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