In which, I review Adobe Business Catalyst, a platform for building websites and whatnot.
Recently, I was contacted by a client who was unhappy with her shiny new website, built just two months prior on the Adobe Business Catalyst (ABC) platform. This client is a smart, capable woman who had used WordPress to maintain a website for many years and has solid computer skills.
She had hired a well respected web development company to redesign and rebuild her website. A website she paid 5 figures for, and continues to pay for with an ongoing monthly hosting fee.
After the website developers designed and built the site, they turned the maintenance keys over to her, and she began working with the Content Management System (CMS).
She was less than thrilled. The text editor was clunky and didn’t behave properly. The photo functions were rudimentary at best, byzantine at worst. Inconsitence spacing. Odd formatting. Little glitches all over the site.
She could not get the text to format the way she wanted. Getting photos into a post or page required a huge work-around to get them sized and scaled properly. Things as simple as having text wrap around a photo correctly were seemingly impossible tasks.
Her website is primarily a blog, and information about the books she has written with links to buy them on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Pretty straightforward.
She has maintained her own website since the mid-2000’s, and has a ton of content that was ported over to the new site. Again, straightforward.
We met, I took notes about her concerns, and logged into the CMS.
The Adobe Business Catalyst CMS interface certainly looks impressive. Look at all that meta!
Even though I was unfamiliar with the layout, I was able to get some of the basic formatting issues corrected. I took care of a few the things that needed to be done – after a fair bit of research in the Adobe forums and some trial-and-error. None of it was very intuitive or straightforward though.
Looking under the hood, the basic framework of Adobe Business Catalyst isn’t ideal. It adds a metric shit-ton of markup to the content rather than relying on CSS. It appears to be built on tables, but I’m still not sure about that. It’s hard to say really. Adobe won’t give a user full access to their closed system.
The blogging functionality is very poor. It is simply not a good or user-friendly blogging platform.
Themes – the templates that control how a site looks – are limited and generic. It’s just been a couple of weeks since I started this project, but I can already spot a site built on the platform from three sites away. You can, of course, design and code your own theme if you have the skill and patience.
Additionally, the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) functionality doesn’t appear to have any in-site feedback like the popular Yoast plugin for WordPress has. This forces blind guesses as to how posts are scoring unless you are really well versed in how to go about SEO. Its implementation is clunky and poorly thought out.
There are any number of other issues that I could point out, but that gets tedious fast.
Given enough time, I could have repaired most of what was wrong with the site. It is, after all, only code.
But we decided to cut our losses and move the website back to the WordPress platform and put it on a server we have complete control over.
I should say at this point, I adore Adobe products.
I owned Adobe Illustrator 1.1 in 1987. I owned the very first commercial release of Photoshop. I was an early adopter of InDesign. I could not get through the day without Acrobat. I still use Dreamweaver nearly every single day. I have grown up as a designer with Adobe products and cannot imagine getting my work done without them. They are the best.
If Adobe searched their records, they would find that I have been responsible for purchasing hundreds of their products. During my ad agency years, I was the guy responsible for evaluating, choosing and purchasing the software the creative teams used. I chose Adobe products every single time.
I default to Adobe products.
In fact, the only time in my career that I have chosen the wrong platform/technology/program was back in the early days of Flash, when I chose Adobe Live Motion over Macromedia Flash, and I still maintain it was a better product.
I wish I could say the same about Adobe Business Catalyst.
Anyhow, after digging in and doing some research, I discovered that there are a lot of people with not a lot nice to say about the Adobe Business Catalyst platform. And I had to dig pretty deep to find it.
Adobe, being the heavyweight that Adobe is, absolutely dominates the search rankings for the term “Adobe Business Catalyst” in every conceivable permutation. It must be nice to have that kind of SEO clout.
From my research, there is consensus that Adobe Business Catalyst does some things very well.
The CRM modules are awesome. The Newsletter function is solid. The E-Commerce component is very good. Being cloud-based, backups and uptime should be nearly bulletproof, although you will see a fair bit of grousing about that online.
There is, however, one unpardonable sin with the Adobe Business Catalyst platform.
There is no way to extract and download your content from the site should you feel the need to abandon the platform.
I repeat – There is no way to extract and download your content from the site should you feel the need to abandon the platform.
Downloading your content as an XML file is not allowed.
Adobe owns your content. They have you locked into their platform and you can never leave, because they are holding your content hostage.
It becomes more trouble to move your content than to stay with what you’ve already invested in.
This is because it is software as service. The content you create lives on cloud-based on Adobe servers, and they aren’t about to give you full access to their servers. It’s a closed system.
I suppose that’s what passes for good business practice these days. It creates a predictable revenue stream. It maximizes value for the company. I’m sure Adobe shareholders love it.
I see that a lot of the big-time web development firms love the service and are eager to sell you on the platform. They can piggyback on the business model and lock you in. It’s a neat trick to create steady cash flow.
Personally, I find it unethical.
This particular client had 8 years of blog posts loaded into the platform. 8 years of content she had created, that she now has no access to. More than 300 pages of content that can only be claimed, one page at a time, with a tedious copy/paste.
Think about that for a second. It’s like renting a house, but the owner of the house claims ownership of every single thing you bring into the house.
That’s seriously fucked up.
I did find a work around. If the blog is set up as an RSS feed, you can load the content into an RSS reader and save the content to a file. But, with the metric shit-ton of markup the platform adds to the content, it is basically unusable without yet another metric shit-ton of cleanup.
“So, Patrick Houston Design Studio, what’s the bottom line on Adobe Business Catalyst?” you ask.
Adobe Business Catalyst is most likely a very fine platform for large business and large E-commerce sites, IF there is a full time staff of developers, designers and content managers to maintain the site – be they in-house, or via a maintenance contract with your developers.
If you are a big business, or a large, high-traffic E-commerce site with a lot of customers to manage, you’d most likely be a happy camper. Up until the day you decide to move to a different platform. Then you will be very unhappy camper.
Adobe Business Catalyst is NOT built for normal people with better things to do than fuss over their website 8 hours a day.
In a few days, I’ll show off the newly designed WordPress site. It’s extra-awesome and I’m very proud of how it turned out.