Chris Hardie

Blog, Tech, Business and Community Building

website_development

May 20, 2013

The end* of website development as a profession

Glass Art at Indy Art Center

In the beginning was the <blink> tag

In 1997 I co-founded a company whose business model was based on the value of building highly customized websites for our clients.  Those clients often didn't know (or want to know) much about the inner workings of HTML, Photoshop, hyperlinks and web hosting, but they knew that the World Wide Web and the Internet represented a new era of marketing and communications, and it was worth paying someone else to figure those details out so that they could be a part of that in some form.

And so in a time before content management software, Google, PayPal or GoDaddy, we - like other web development companies starting to pop up around the world - built websites, online stores and interactive community tools from scratch.  At first we hand-coded sites in HotDog Pro or BBEdit, and then later used Dreamweaver and Fireworks.  We created complex software applications using Perl, and others used PHP, Python, TCL and C.  We tested for compatibility with Netscape and Internet Explorer, and we submitted links to AltaVista for crawling when we were done.

That model evolved as we went and worked pretty well until around 2008, when we saw the maturity of many new "software as a service" offerings and a bunch of off-the-shelf tools and programs that often made custom website development unnecessary, or at least seen as too costly in the eyes of clients who once had few other choices.  We also saw the focus on developing an online presence shift away from "doing it right" to "doing it quickly" - edgy, authentic and in-progress began to trump polished and highly produced.

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March 19, 2013

A website is not a marketing strategy

Is building a website the same thing as building a marketing strategy? It's understandable that people have started to confuse the two.

With so many amazing online marketing tools available and (in many industries) a shift away from traditional marketing media like printed materials, marketing for many businesses and organizations has become an activity that largely takes place on the web. It's easy to start thinking of using those online tools as analogous to creating a plan for marketing.

But just like a more traditional printed brochure, billboard or phonebook ad, a website is a tool that you use to implement your marketing strategy and communicate about your brand. You can't build an effective organizational website without having a marketing strategy in place first any more than you can give a great speech without first having something compelling to say.

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February 5, 2013

State and local government websites as wikis?

MontreatI'm intrigued by websites powered by wikis, where the content can be added, modified and deleted by the users of the site.  When the people who are affected by the quality and structure of the content presented have some control over that content, you sometimes have an opportunity to get more useful, relevant, current material than if the site is maintained by a small number of content administrators.

At Summersault, our entire company intranet is a wiki.  Anyone who works with us can edit the content on it, add new pages, delete stuff that they think is out of date or unhelpful, and so on - from small typo fixes to multi-page documents and images.  If someone makes a change that needs to be un-done, the wiki software lets us "roll it back" or otherwise incorporate only partial changes.  All of this gives us the opportunity to have an intranet "by and for" its users and our staff, instead of something built and maintained solely from a management point of view.

Wikis aren't appropriate for every kind of website, or even most kinds, but I've been thinking lately about what it would mean to have wikis power city, county and state government websites.

If these sites are primarily meant to be informational tools for use by the people who live in a given geographical region (and who are theoretically paying for the site's creation and maintenance), could governments give those people some control over the content on those resources?

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September 10, 2012

Everything on the Internet is Free!

Brian Keith Whalen rocking out at the Starr Gennett Walk of FameAfter my post this past weekend about why I think paying for access to local news reporting is worth it, I checked out some of the reasons that people who were complaining about said fees were giving for not wanting to pay.  Chief among them was the argument that "if it's on the Internet, it should be free!"

I hadn't previously thought about how mainstream that line of thinking probably is right now.  But it makes sense.  The dominant business model for so many Internet resources over the last several years has been to give away access to tools, content or other things and then either sell advertising or sell a "premium" version (Wired magazine had a good story on this trend back in February of 2008 if you want to see how much it's taken hold even in that short time).

People are used to learning of some new service or app, putting in their e-mail address and picking a password (if that much), and they're off and running to use the shiny new thing.  Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Google let users spend all day using up their resources at no charge.  You can download high quality web browsers and entire office software suites for free.  Pandora lets you listen to and discover great music all day long for free.  There are paid apps in mobile app stores, but the free or $0.99 ones get most of the attention.

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May 8, 2008

Updated Pal-Item website disappoints

Last week, the Palladium-Item - Richmond's daily paper - launched an updated website. Here's my initial review:

Good:

  1. The site clearly continues the paper's commitment to encouraging conversations and interaction between people who track what's going on in the community. As I did in 2006, I commend them for this.
  2. The abuse reporting system in the forum is more robust. As I understand it, if a particular comment is reported as "abusive" by three or more people, it will cease to appear in the conversation thread. In the past, users could report abuse but action had to be taken by an administrative user.
  3. The system for recommending stories published on the site allows users to see what's interesting to fellow readers.
  4. With their new blogging system, any user can create a blog. While these user blogs aren't featured like the ones maintained by the staff, they are a good platform for a kind of conversation that's a little different from forum posts.
  5. The use of customizable profile photos (or whatever image a user chooses) alongside posts gives the conversation the potential to feel a little more personalized and authentic than when there were none.

Bad:

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February 27, 2008

For More Information, Visit Us on the Web

New pencil sharpener at SummersaultPerhaps one of my biggest concerns about working in the Internet industry and website development in particular is my participation in a cultural shift whereby people are now not only just able but clearly expected to look for and find online the information they need to live their lives. Where as it used to be the case that referring someone to your website was a way to complement information you were already giving them, or was just one method of contacting you, the display of a web address is now often the only way that many businesses and organizations make their products and services available. The unfortunate reality is that this is no longer confined to promoting the luxuries and accessories of an upper- or middle-class lifestyle, and it's part of a larger trend of an increasing dependence on highly complex infrastructure to perform basic tasks, fulfill basic human needs.
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November 18, 2007

Is this really all that del.icio.us?

Another stop along the journey of trying to organize all the information in my life, without adding complexity: I've been ignoring del.icio.us for a while now. I've seen little icons for it popping up on weblogs I read, seen references to it in articles on software and productivity (including one on my own company's weblog), […]

October 29, 2007

Technical Review of Richmond Mayoral Candidate Campaign Websites

As a web developer, I often can't avoid viewing every website I visit through that critical and technical lens. As has been the tradition in the geek community for several national election cycles, I thought I would take on a technical review of the websites belonging to the two current candidates for Richmond's Mayoral election, Sally Hutton and Rick Thalls. My analysis will look at graphic design, content structure, and overall usability. Note that this analysis is NOT meant to imply endorsement of either candidates` political views or campaigns as a whole.

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July 23, 2007

Tags, you're it

I'm a nut about organizing stuff just so, and making sure bits of information are connected, interrelated, categorized, and labeled just right. The "categories" I've heretofore been using for this blog were ample for my initial purposes, but as I creep up on 200 posts, have become a less useful way to organize and access […]

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