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Arc Technology is a little giant of technology and web design in Evanston. Founded nearly a decade ago by Robert Jacobi, it was incubated in the Technology Innovation Center (then called the Incubator, as a part of the Research Park partnership between Northwestern University and the City of Evanston). Arc Technology uses open-source (no license needed for use) content-management systems (CMS) platforms to design and customize websites for a wide range of clients from small local businesses to Fortune 500 companies.

A self-described technology geek, Mr. Jacobi has grown his company over the years and moved from the TIC to 1718 Sherman Ave. Later this month Arc Technology will be a major sponsor of the CMS Expo Learning and Business Conference, to be held at the Hotel Orrington from April 30 to May 1.

Joe Scarry, one of a team of four who work at Arc Technology, said open-source programs are basically free to the user – no licensing or purchase is involved. One benefit, he said, is that the operators can fix some of the bugs in the system. “With open-source programs, they send the source code along with [the program], so if you find a bug and you know how to program, you can go back into the source code, fix your bug to have a better version of that program.”

Mr. Scarry said the open-source protocol led to a sharing of improvements between users, leading to a better and more useable product for the entire community. “The accompanying culture of [open source] is that when people make changes, they generally share those changes. And that means there is constant improvement. If only a small number of people are allowed to make changes, often there are problems that are never solved. If many people are allowed to make changes, then it’s very easy to perfect things very quickly,” he said.

Mr. Scarry contrasted this with programs made by companies such as Microsoft, which do not disclose the source code of their programs. This can lead to longer delays before problems are solved and new versions released, he said.

Open-source programs such as the free program Joomla can be in a continual state of development by multiple users. Such programs are designed so that new extensions and modifications can be easily added, allowing web design companies like Arc Technology to do heavily customized websites for their clients, Mr. Scarry said. Having both a program’s source code and access to the pooled work of an entire open-source community allows the company to provide a wide range of customizable features to suit their clients’ needs, he continued. “Today, with Joomla and its associated extensions, you can get extremely powerful functionality that just a few years ago you would have expected to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for,” he added.

Using open-source CMS programs, Arc Technology can design websites to unique specifications. “We like the projects where there’s a level of difficulty that demands our expertise. Our interest is providing high-end, high-quality development. So we’re not going to roll out 120 sites a year. We’re going to roll out 10 or 20, and they’ll all have specific problems that need to be solved right out of the box,” said Mr. Jacobi. Arc Technology has done work for a number of clients in the area, including Leapfrog Online and Foursight Online, both Evanston companies, he said. Other clients include Westell, Abbott Laboratories and Jelly Telly. “The website we did for them [Jelly Telly] is really interesting,” said Mr. Jacobi. “It’s all videos. We had to do a lot of specialized work to give them the administrative abilities to cut and paste video shorts together into longer episodes. That’s very specific custom work that our team can do with Joomla.”

Mr. Jacobi said it is the excellent staff that has made last year the company’s most successful to date, and says that he is extremely proud of some of the jobs the team has completed. He cites WGN Radio’s website – which the company completed in only five days – as an example of their capabilities.

The CMS Expo at the Orrington will be the third sponsored by Arc Techonology, but it will be the first one held in Evanston. The events provide the company with a way to meet potential clients, partners and staff and is a way of establishing the company as an innovator in web development and CMS.

Mr. Jacobi says the hope is that the event will go well enough that it can be held annually in Evanston. “We’ve had great conversations with the City and the Chamber of Commerce, and everyone seems excited about trying to get this here and keep it here for the future. … For us it would be fantastic to have the chance to say that Evanston is a content management center.”

At the February meeting of the City’s Economic Development Committee, members appeared very excited at the prospect of Evanston’s becoming a draw for more high-tech businesses – a possibility that Mr. Jacobi believes is very feasible and that he hopes will be aided by the hosting of the Expo.

“We want people to say, ‘Look what’s going in Evanston. All these technology and media people are converging.’ But it also just takes hard work, he says so we’re trying to foster some open source quarterly meetings of our own and slowly try to create and grow the buzz that’s there. There’s no reason the City couldn’t market itself as a technology hub and make hay of it. There are a lot of small companies doing a lot of unique and interesting things in regard to technology and media, and it’s a great opportunity for Evanston to maybe have a specific niche like this. It’s exciting.”

For more information on Arc Technology Group, visit Arctg.com; for more information on the CMS Expo, visit Cmsexpo.net.