I've heard lots of woes from people trying to work with their Web site consultants this week. You know the type: they promise that your site is "just about finished" and the pages "just need some tweaking" and yet nothing gets done. I have had to suffer through whiney rants about delays, bad programming decisions, tools that malfunction, missing logins and content wrecks.
Have we reached the point where building a Web site is a lot like building a new freeway? It takes far too many people, time, and dollars, upsets the people who have to live near it, and in the end is obsolete by the time the first people try to use it.
I remember the good ole days of the Web, say 12 years ago, when one person (like me) could build a site in an afternoon, without any really specialized tools or knowledge beyond knowing a few tags and reading a Laura Lemay book.
I am coming to the conclusion that we need to return to those simple days where one person can still build their site, without the heavy lifting of a Web Site Designer and a Web Programming Consultant and an Internet Search Specialist and a Web Marketing Person. (Capital letters deliberately intended to reflect the title's self-importance.)
At one site, a simple database was taking months to webify. I ended up talking to the site's graphic designer, who was the only one who had any project management skills and could reign in the wayward development staff. Said staff has trouble configuring something that my high school networking students could do in their sleep. Someone else was complaining to me that their copy of Dreamweaver had started behaving badly, and all I could do was recommend a clean uninstall of every Adobe product on her disk, short of buying a new computer. These are just a couple of the stories I could tell you this week alone.
So in the 15 or so years of the Web we have better tools, but they still suck. Better sites, but they are still annoying with pop-ups and dead-end links and overblown graphic frippery. Better site statistics, but still no insights into who comes where and why they leave our sites. Better traffic, but still a lot of mythology about how the search engines point our way. And speaking of search, why is it that we still can't do better there on deploying good internal site search algorithms?
There is a simple answer: rebel, resist, and reclaim the Web as your own personal place. Avoid the consultantization of the Web. Fire your designers and programmers.
Start afresh with a blogging tool like Wordpress or Blogger and build your site around that. Or pick up a couple of widgets and components, or use dabbleDB or Pageflakes or stuff from Google or Yahoo. You don’t need a passel of programmers to work this Web.
Since moving over to Wordpress and posting these simultaneously to the blog and my email listserv, I have noticed that I don't do any site maintenance over on good ole' strom.com anymore. Why bother? The old archive of prehistoric articles is still there, and maybe even a few of the links still get people to the original places. A few pages are in the top ten category on Google, not through any forethought or planning of my own, and I am grateful for that traffic.
As Thoreau said, simplify. Part of being all Web 2.0 is never having to hear the sorry tales of your programmers that are behind schedule, over budget, and full of excuses why the dog ate their APIs. Forget about them, and build a simple, quick site that can deliver some value the same day you start the project.
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- David Strom
- David Strom has looked at hundreds of computer products over a more than 20 year career in IT and computer journalism. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, and now writes for Baseline, Information Security, Tom's Hardware, and the New York Times.