Profile: What Do You Want Your Web Site to Do?
Ektron''s focus on Web content delivers big dividends to users.
- By Peter Varhol
Bill Rodgers hardly looks the part of the fast-paced, visionary CEO of Ektron, Inc. Rather, he gives the appearance of being exactly what he is—a mild-mannered electrical engineer, content to play with circuit diagrams and electronic designs.
Then he begins talking, and it is apparent immediately that he has a great deal of energy behind his conservative demeanor. "Our first user was a dentist who wanted to easily post health-related articles on his Web site," said Bill. "I needed a Microsoft Word control so that he could do editing right on the Web page. We looked around and couldn't find one at the time, so I wrote one."
As it turned out, this type of control—which evolved into eWebEditPro, Ektron's first product—was in high demand. Bill explained, "We wanted to sell our content management system (CMS), but users wanted the Word control. As a result, we licensed the Word control to other companies."
Ed Rogers, Chief Operating Officer of Ektron, resembles his brother, Bill, with a mild-mannered appearance and immense enthusiasm for his work. Ed said, "Thanks to the success of eWebEditPro, we have been able to fund our own growth and product development internally. Bill was probably a few years ahead of his time with his vision for [a] CMS, but we kept at it."
Ektron's flagship product, CMS400.NET, provides the ability to create, populate, and manage a full Web site with different types of content. It integrates with Microsoft Visual Studio to let developers build a Web site framework that can be populated with content by outside providers. So CMS400.NET has two classes of users: Developers who build Web sites and produce ASP.NET code as output, and content providers who provide content updates on a regular basis. This satisfies a key goal for the company. CMS400.NET makes it possible for anyone who can use Microsoft Office to be a Web site content provider. And from all appearances, Ektron has successfully created an easy-to-use product in a conceptually difficult technology space.
CMS or Web Site Creation?
Given Ektron's focus on the Web, the product name, CMS400.NET, seems a misnomer. It is far more than a CMS for the Web, but is not the same as an enterprise CMS. Ed Rogers explained the history of the product, "Years ago, the industry analysts told us that we had to expand our product to into enterprise content management to survive. We looked at the Web and decided to stay focused on Web content management. Now, most of those same analysts admit they were wrong."
One CMS400.NET feature that demonstrates its uniqueness is your ability to extend the product using plug-ins. It provides an open programming interface through which enterprises can add unique functionality, or enterprise communities can write and make available specialized functionality for others. Bill said, "If you think there is a need for something more in CMS400.NET, you can write it yourself and give it away or sell it to others." This feature also makes the product useful to more industry niches, without extra engineering effort on the part of Ektron. Plus, the company keeps the programming interface the same from version to version, making it possible to upgrade more easily without worrying about plug-in compatibility.
It is apparent that the CMS label in the product name does not accurately describe the full range of its features, including threaded discussion, blogging, and the SDK that enables developers to add unique or specialized functionality. Ed concluded, "We can't change it now. The product name is too well-known; people who can't remember the company name go to search engines and type in CMS300 or CMS400. But if I had it to do over again, I would probably choose another name."
Ektron Moving Forward
Ektron currently has over 90 employees, and claims to have doubled revenue over the last year (the company is privately held and doesn't publish financial results). Its slogan—"What do you want your Web site to do?"—is bland but describes the company's focus on continuing to enhance its CMS for the Web. This commitment provides users with a means for creating a wide variety of ways to communicate using Web technologies. To the company, its slogan and focus provide a rallying point on which it builds and evangelizes new features.
Today, Ektron is shaped by a delicate balance between its vibrant developer and user communities, and the vision of the Rogers. It has a strong community with threaded discussions on its Web site. The Rogers spend a significant amount of time researching Ektron's users' pursuits and what features they need to meet their goals.
But user contact is tempered by the Rogers' product vision, because users frequently do not identify their product needs with much foresight. Both Bill and Ed have specific areas of interest on which they focus for future product advancements. Bill has an interest in mapping, which he said offers many opportunities for use on Web sites. He notes that sites can host geographical mash-ups, combining location with a variety of services. Ed's interest is in taxonomy, the classification of groups or items. Taxonomy is particularly relevant in Web search technology, and he noted that Ektron has its own engineering team devoted to search techniques. Because Web sites developers have only begun to discover the best ways for searching and organizing data, this special team might offer a significant advantage to Ektron users in the long term.
With a focus on Web site content management and combining extensive user input with a solid vision of the future of enterprise Web sites, Ektron has put together a competitive product with a strong brand name. As long as the company can continues to impress its users by building state-of-the-art features, you are likely to see Ektron an established leader in the fast-moving field of building and maintaining Web sites.
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About the Author
Peter Varhol is Editor of FTPOnline.
Peter Varhol is the executive editor,
reviews of Redmond magazine and has more than 20 years of experience as a software
developer, software product manager and technology writer. He has graduate degrees
in computer science and mathematics, and has taught both subjects at the university