Template addiction: Business Catalyst's drug problem

A season of change

The partner community has had a lot going on over the past couple months. For example, we’ve recently closed down another successful gathering of our yearly BC Gripe Festival. This year it was held on LinkedIn, and it was a raging success.

For those of you who don’t know, BC Gripe Fest is where all the partners come out of the woodwork to burn the Adobe logo in effigy for all crimes committed against Business Catalyst. A diehard fan of the theatrical, my personal favorite moment of each year is when Fraser comes out in full Braveheart warpaint and cries “Freedom” like only a Scot can. While the event is wildly passionate and full of fervor, sadly, it always falls short of the corporate disemboweling I think Fraser is thirsting for.

And most recently, Open Platform beta was announced on the BC Blog. Open Platform is a reference to the new ability for partners to customize the admin and integrate apps into our sites (not to be confused with open sourcing the platform, which is far from the truth).

With regard to this major release, a lot of questions, excitement, and even concerns have been expressed. One of the concerns partners have mentioned is that by opening up the platform to third-party apps, we’re removing one of the important distinctions between Business Catalyst and open-source platforms like WordPress or Drupal, and opening ourselves up to quality and upkeep problems inherent in non-proprietary systems; that a closed platform has protected our clients from excessive upkeep costs, etc., and now we are losing that protection. 

Personally, I'm not as concerned about that scenario as I am other immediate issues. With this change to the platform, and those which will come, there will always be the question of how it will affect the quality of the service. But, although I ask that same questions, and want to see the best possible moves in its progression, my focus is on the low-hanging fruit of progress: us.

It’s time to grow

As a community of BC developers and designers, I believe we are living far below our privileges. That simply means that the opportunities and features we have already been given far outweigh what we currently use or recognize.

This can be illustrated by the number of comments on BC’s blog post about the new Open Platform beta that ask if x or y is now possible, without realizing that x,y and z were already possible long before this release. Certainly, a more educated community will help fill the gap between practice and potential.

But it’s not just education. Many of our current practices fail to point toward that potential, instead treating Business Catalyst like just another web platform, and missing the real benefits. Our current addiction to templates, and the way those templates are made, is one such practice. We can do better.

A new path for a new year

I made some promises to the Business Catalyst community a few months back. I promised to champion some important changes for our community. One of those promises was to end template addiction. I’ll be honest when I say it sounds impossible. From my view, it’s like a disease that has spread throughout the community, and the only way to cure it is to continuously educate partners and promote alternatives.

So that’s just what I’m going to do in 2014. I know I won’t get everyone on board, but I do hope to affect a large change; hopefully even create a rift in the strategies between partners.

I’ll go into more detail on my strategy in upcoming posts. And maybe in the future, BC Sandpile will even be willing to let me present this new way of thinking. But for now, the only soapbox I’ve got is my blog.

What is template addiction?

Template addiction shares some characteristics with give’em-a-fish syndrome, in that it teaches nothing, while at the same time lowering the entry point for people to call themselves web designers/developers. It’s dependence on 3rd party templates for survival. Some of the symptoms include:

  • (as stated) Dependence on others for survival
  • Taking from the community knowledge pool without replenishing it
  • Stymied creativity and problem solving ability
  • Lack of basic knowledge of the platform and how to use it
  • Poor quality websites
  • Blame it on Adobe mentality

I don’t hate Business Catalyst templates

I should make it clear that I don’t hate templates. They have an important place on every platform. I do hate dependence on them, though. And I will state emphatically that no partner will ever make it big in any sustainable way while depending on them.

This is where I’m going to get in trouble with some partners. I don’t know how to go on without stepping on some toes. I mean no disrespect.

How many partners actually know how to use BC? How many of us run an operation, and crank out site after site, but don’t know how to change the size of the logo on our clients’ sites? We have created a monster of a problem in our community, and if we continue like this, it won’t matter what BC does or doesn’t bring out next. We’ll be in big trouble.

Every community on every platform has developers who fit into this category, but over the last couple years we have nourished and cultivated it through template addiction.

The cure comes in two parts: education and alternatives.


In order to promote any change, education has to be a key element. Gratefully, there are already a number of channels for educating the community. Most notably, BC Sandpile, BC Gurus (along with their free and awesome Zero to Hero), Kiyuco, and BC Academe. These have all stepped up to the plate, but there are also a number of smaller operations who help on a one-on-one basis. These resources help provide all-around knowledge, and without them we would not be where we are today. We also need development standards education, where we can learn best practices and helpful build patterns for web development in BC.

Alternatives to our current template models

Templates on BC are looking better and better all the time. And in some notable ways, they really are better. Using well-known, well-built CSS frameworks like Foundation and Bootstrap has helped significantly in this regard. But in many ways, they are still suffering from the same issues they were a few years ago. Issues like mixed frameworks, overly complicated web apps, lack of consistency in site structures, strong focus on shelf appeal over practicality, etc. I can go on, but I’m not intending to be offensive to partners who sell templates. I just think it’s time we moved a few steps forward.

Next up, new Business Catalyst framework

I’m developing a new framework for Business Catalyst site development. It’s actually a completely new approach on BC. It was originally intended to be a paid product, but I’ve decided to make it free and available to the community. In my blog post next week I’ll share the big picture and outline its underlying principles. What I’ll say right now is this is not a template.

If you want to learn about my proposed solution to template addiction, this would be a good time to subscribe. Starting next week, I’m going to be laying out my plan for building incredible websites on Business Catalyst with more financial return, and in the same amount of time as using a template.

Adam Cook

Post Date:
Monday, January 20, 2014

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Blog posts, discounts and updates. Oh my!

Note: If you are not a Business Catalyst partner who wants to build better websites faster, you should reconsider subscribing. Because that's all I do and write about. Otherwise, this is going to rock!