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Business Catalyst axing tarnishes entire website platform industry

by: Craig Reardon on

Is platform choice is now a game of Russian roulette?



I need to open this blog with the declaration of my interest as a ‘Partner’ of Adobe Business Catalyst amongst others.

Some months back I was preparing an estimate for a website client when I decided to check some of the functionality of the website platform (hosted Content Management and related digital marketing functionality) we’d chosen for the project, Adobe’s popular Business Catalyst (BC) platform.

My web design and marketing business is independent of any one website platform, however for the past decade or so, whenever we married smaller business customer requirements to the features of the available platforms, BC invariably came out on top due to the range of features if provides for its price.

What’s more, because it was a hosted platform, ongoing maintenance and its cost was drastically reduced compared to its ‘Open Source’ (programming can be altered by third party developers) competitors saving customers untold time, money, inconvenience and loss of face (when their website inexplicably fails due to the work of hackers or a late upgrade to one of its component plugins).

What’s more, it was backed by such a household name in Adobe – something that gave considerable comfort to our very risk averse smaller business customers.

But upon visiting the BC website, I received a very nasty shock.

End of what?
Where their homepage was once proudly displayed was instead something I’d never heard of before – an ‘End of Life’ (EoL) announcement.

Yes, apparently Adobe had decided to close down its popular and innovative platform without bothering to notify its partners directly and was giving two (later extended to three) years notice to move its estimated 80,000+ websites to alternative platforms.

To say I was astonished by what I saw was an understatement. And for so many reasons.

The very first one was the shock that Adobe would kill off, rather than sell off BC.

A rare precedent
In what is still a nascent industry (the first website platforms emerged in the late 1990s), platform providers typically sell off unwanted platform services to other providers – one reason being the significant cost and inconvenience of having customers move their websites to alternative platforms.

Another very significant reason is to recoup some of their investment (or profit from it) for either developing or purchasing the platform and its customers from a previous provider.

On other occasions, such as the case with Adobe’s purchase of BC some nine years earlier, third parties purchase platform services for business strategic reasons.

So the notion of simply killing off a working platform is very rare indeed.

Smaller business hardest hit
What the decision has meant for small businesses on the platform was that in most cases, customers needed to pay their web designer to move the website to an alternative platform – not a simple task given that few providers offer the range of integrated features that BC does at its price.

This ‘migration’ could cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars – a nasty unplanned budget hit for most of its smaller business customers.

But it’s not just customers and BC partners that have been hit by the decision.

Can it happen again?
What the EoL does is raise what until now has been an unlikely spectre in the ‘proprietary’ (company owned) platform industry.

As outlined above, one of the key reasons many small businesses and their web professionals turned to proprietary platforms like BC was that they are very rarely killed off instead of sold off.

But with this decision, the more cautious smaller business operators are now going to fundamentally question the viability of proprietary platforms altogether.

And why wouldn’t they? If one of the more popular platforms, as backed by one of the predominant software players in Adobe can be killed off so easily, why can’t other, less robust providers do exactly the same thing?

Migration to Open Source
In planning the migrations of our BC customers, a number have already demanded that their websites be moved to an Open Source alternative to reduce the perceived risk of the same thing recurring with another proprietary platform.

The decision also creates a precedent for other proprietary platform providers to take the same course of action in the event they want to move on from that line of business. In other words, ‘if Adobe can do it, why can’t we?’

I certainly have a lot less confidence in recommending a proprietary platform now that Adobe has set this disturbing precedent. And I’m not alone as many BC partners flee to Open Source alternatives.

Let’s hope that other proprietary platform providers exercise a stronger duty of care for their customers and partners than Adobe has on this sorry occasion.

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