Why a reluctant coder chooses OpenACS smorgasbord app framework over meal-in-a-box apps

a variety of homemade style pizzas

custom pizzas (CC0) 2017-03-05 by Hans @ pixabay

This post is a continuation of a series on critical reviews by coders of OpenACS. And, what it means as a reluctant coder.

Review: There’s no ready-to-eat meal-in-a-box apps like WordPress, bulletin boards etc.

Right, there is no “Happy Meal” CMS app in OpenACS smorgasbord app framework to compete with WordPress and common php bulletin boards.

As a reluctant coder, this is part of the beauty of OpenACS. It has all the components to make your own custom, scalable blog and forum apps for your particular purpose with your own vertical apps. This may seem counter intuitive if one wants to avoid coding. A reluctant coder is fearless at coding at the appropriate places. This is an environment where a little code has the greatest impact.

Social apps are part of a larger system designed for a collection of users with their own specific needs. Sometimes developers make personal blogs or special-use wikis using OpenACS. It’s a practical way to familiarize oneself with a system. Use it for small stuff and you’ll be ready when you need more.

W3techs.com tracks current usage of nonspecific NaviServer/Tcl sites.  Any of these sites might have OpenACS somewhere in the background.

Suppose you don’t want to code at all. This is the case for WordPress, where no coding is necessary. WordPress is a content management system, not an app framework. And yet, WordPress does not scale well.  For example, it takes me three times the activity to post a blog in WordPress than a blog on OpenACS. WordPress with popular plug-ins has cookie-cutter needs that get in the way of adapting some content. Do other users have to spend more time managing content on WordPress than OpenACS CMS apps? If so, a system will reach its upper capacity limit much faster.

Another indicator of scaling issues is an abrupt change in pricing.  Look at how fast the price of hosting jumps for a site, from low activity pricing to high activity pricing. If it scaled well, the increase in pricing should reflect a linear increase instead of a hockey stick. Imagine if cars represent applications and their frameworks. WordPress and bulletin board apps are like compact cars. They work well in town for short trips and few passengers. If you need to transport a bunch of people, vans, buses and trucks transport more faster for less cost. In this analogy, OpenACS is like using a fleet of 8 to 15 passenger four-wheel drive SUVs or a freight train.  It works to run errands around a suburban town. And yet, OpenACS has a higher bar of expectations for use.

An OpenACS developer could make a full featured WordPress app that beats it at its own game. Yet, that just creates a “we too” scenario. If a developer wants to take on the challenge, it would be more useful to make a package in the OpenACS app framework that imports WordPress blogs for people that need a site that scales well. This kind of solution would be especially valuable since it would give WordPress sites a way to grow and add more custom features.  If you already know WordPress or bulletin board internals, you could be the one to do this.