Parlez vous American business?

FRAMINGHAM (10/23/2003) - There's something wonderful (and powerful) about going to Paris and meeting an American entrepreneur who has decided to build simple, inexpensive content management software (CMS) that helps make visiting French museums a rich and energetic experience.

Here's how it happened: When one of Josh Clark's best friends perished aboard American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston on Sept. 11, 2001, he rethought his life and decided to head to Paris to be with his girlfriend, Ellen McBreen, who was pursuing her doctorate on the sculpture of Henri Matisse.

But what would he do there?

Clark had previously built Web sites and worked for consulting firms but was frustrated by overengineered and expensive CMS products that weren't friendly to small and midsize businesses.

So he started his firm, Global Moxie, and built his own CMS in his Paris apartment using Perl. At the same time, McBreen, who was repeatedly being asked to show visiting friends the glories of French art, decided to create ParisMuse.com. The idea is to offer English-speaking museumgoers the chance to connect with private guides (graduate students with a love and knowledge of art), to eliminate the pain and ignorance from a trip to the Louvre.

ParisMuse.com, which started in May 2002 with McBreen and one other "muse," became a client of Clark's server-based software, dubbed BigMedium.com. With minimal technical skills, McBreen (who now has six muses and offers multiple museum tours) can manage the daily workings of her Web site with basic style sheets and a variety of components, such as e-mail and XML content. "The goal is to make Web publishing easy and affordable and to give writers control over their sites," says Clark.

Some of the clients now using BigMedium.com include The Salvation Army U.K.; Promenades Gourmandes, a Paris cooking school; and a short-hop airline on the Pacific island of Vanuatu. Priced at US$129 with unlimited seats and unlimited accounts, BigMedium.com supports Unicode characters and runs on Unix and Linux machines. A Windows release is planned. The pages served up by BigMedium.com aren't dynamic, but as Clark points out, most sites don't need pages to be rebuilt from a database each time they're accessed. "The software is meant to be gentle on servers," he says.

He says he has been able to improve his CMS by integrating other Web-based technology such as discussion forums and payment tools.

Clark has proved that CMS can be effectively molded to solve specific business problems at very low cost. Now if only it could teach me French.

Pimm Fox is a freelance writer in Santa Barbara, Calif. Contact him at pimmfox@pacbell.net.

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