In it’s most basic form, it’s a website built with closed-source technology that the developer owns and controls. You essentially license it and often continually pay for access to it, and that access is very limited.
The more common ones were originally developed to answer a very real demand. A few years ago businesses began requesting the ability to update their websites themselves. This meant building a user-friendly interface for them to do it through. Because it was new, they had to be custom built, which was costly and buggy. A few savvy companies popped-up with content management systems and frameworks to build websites on.
Otherwise, there are companies who built frameworks and technology to make the websites they build better in some way or easier for them to build and manage internally. The client doesn’t necessarily benefit from it as a feature.
The Problem With Them?
- Can be more difficult to get changes made.
- You can’t take it with you if you decide to leave their service.
- Limitations on frameworks often don’t allow for custom design or much growth.
- Limited access makes support difficult for in-house IT.
- What if they get hit by a bus? If they go out of business, there is no support.
What’s Out There Now?
These days there are open-source solutions for content management out there supported by large communities that are very flexible. Examples are WordPress and Drupal, both of which also have many useful widgets and modules like e-commerce, client login areas, polls, event management, etc. The modules and widgets still need to be customized to your needs and design, but it’s much less expensive to add include in a web project.
Deciding on a Web Company
Know what you’re buying. Before committing to the project, make sure the coded site will belong to you once you’ve paid your bill. You should be able to take it elsewhere and not have to have them make changes if you wish. You don’t want to do all that work and then not have rights to it.
Also, make sure you have control of your domain and hosting account. It’s not uncommon for web companies to set these accounts up and manage them year after year, but make sure they do it in your name, you have all the access codes, and the whois lookup for your domain has your contact information.