Thursday, April 3, 2008

It takes a village to build a Web site

I am old enough to remember that Web sites started out being one-person operations, using simple, easy-to-learn HTML codes that didn’t take much beyond a text editor and memorizing about a dozen commands from Laura Lemay’s book. There were plenty of Web servers to choose from, and it didn’t take much programming skill to get one installed and up and running.

Now it seems like it takes a village to get your site updated and maintained. There are content management systems, advertising serving systems, Flash and streaming content delivery mechanisms, caching servers, databases, and more. So my question to you today is how many people does it take to update your company’s Web site? If the answer is more than two, maybe you need to rethink whom you have and why you need this entire crowd.

Sure, having a modern Web site is more than just putting up a couple of pages of text, and writing the right codes for paragraphs and bold face. I know that. But Web sites should be agile, should be frequently updated, should be easily updated, and shouldn’t take “approval cycles” or long food chains to get from the person that creates the content to the final stage where the world can view it. You want the content to be as close to the original thinker and creator as you possibly can.

Where have we gone with the Web? What happened to make it so difficult? Was it function creep, or security issues, or the marketing and legal departments getting mixed up with this technology? Was it because no one cares about what Web server you are running anymore (really it is a simple choice between Microsoft and Apache)? Was it because static pages of text with just a few images are so over and we have to embed video and Flashy objects to get anyone’s attention? Or because the browser is now everyone’s mission critical, must-have application and so much of what we do everyday involves going to various Web sites? Or because everyone is now a professional blogger and the average Web site designer has a bucket-full of tools to use? Or because everyone is using RSS feeds to keep track of new content and the actual site that contains this information is no longer really all that important?

It probably is some mixture of all of the above. I don’t mean to suggest that we want to go back to the really olden days, when we had command-line browsers that didn’t do much (remember Lynx?). I just think if you have a corporate Web site, take a moment to look at your chain of command, and see if you can streamline it. Let’s see if you can set a goal to update your site at least once a week, or even once a day. It doesn’t need to take a village, and your customers and your staff might really appreciate it, too.

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About Me

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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.