Content Management Systems - Updates and Custom Features.
Disclaimer: snowball does not use any commercial (free or otherwise) CMS products. We use our custom truDepth CMS to allow customers full editing capabilities.
If the company you are using created your site using a CMS, ensure the software is updated!! This is something YOU should be doing and that is watching the CMS softare of choice's web site for update releases. So say your web firm is using Joomla, you should be monitoring the Joomla web site when new versions (or updates) are released. Drupal's site is here.
Responsible web firms should be updating the CMS verions as new ones are released. This is something that you should discuss with the firm of your choice.
Keep in mind that this needs to be done perpetually for the life-cycle of your web site. Is this a bad thing? I guess that depends on WHO is monitoring for the updates and is the web company being proactive about ensuring updates are performed at release date or are they being reactive waiting on you to request an update. This is probably something you should see in writting.
As for custom features, there are a LOT of possibilities. Joomla and Drupal both have extensive capabilities to be expanded via the use of modules. But even these modules will have their own set of restrictions. Some may be free, others may have a cost associated with them. Oh, they probably have specific licensing criteria too. Ask if your site uses any modules and if so, ask to see the license for each one. And again, find out if there are updates for each module.
We're waiting on an update.
Ever heard those words? No? Sometimes its just not so obvious. Are there delays when you request updates to your site? If you've ever had to ask for the same update for more than a week or so, do inquire as to why. Sometimes web companies are backedup with update requests and sometimes they are just waiting on a CMS or module update.
Depending on the type of custom feature you need, the web company can either make the code changes theirselves (fastest) OR they can request the module's working group to make the changes (most stable). However, there usually is a caveat with the web company making any code changes. In many cases, if they change the underlaying source code they may be required to release the code base to everyone. For example, if the make changes to the core Joomla code, they are NOT required to distribute the code (but they can), but a module license may require that any changes be sent back to the module's owner or working group. Thats why its important to read (and understand) those licenses!
So when you request changes or custom features be sure to ask if this change is just for you or if you will be paying for everyone in the world to have the same update.
These are just some of the 'cons' of using off the shelf CMS applications. There are benefits to using these types of CMSs, they can save development time and usually can be deployed very quickly. But sadly in too many cases companies shopping for web sites are not aware of these issues. Its complicated, its technical and can have broad reaching legal requirements.
Open source CMSs have come a long way and they provide a great way for companies to get on the web. They are used for a broad range of organizations from individuals to Fortune 500 to Federal sites. Just like many companies prefer to have their sites custom designed, many will choose an Open Source CMS. There is no right or wrong, it just boils down to the intimate needs of the customer. Your web firm should take time and explain EVERY detail to your satisfaction.