Archive for March, 2006

Save yourself some grief

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

You are about to start on the road to having a web presence and are talking to a number of design companies about your site.

Save yourself some grief and negotiate the following:

  • At the end of the development you get ALL source for your web-site, including the source for all media, both static and interactive
  • If you are registering a domain name, that domain name is registered under your name, not the development company
  • You are not tied into proprietary software owned by the development company
  • You are not tied into a long term hosting contract with the development company
  • Negotiate on-going maintenance rates and support levels

If you follow this advice, then you are not tied to your development company once the initial work is done. You will stay with them if and only if they provide good service, not for the reason that you can’t move elsewhere.

We have been asked to take over support for a number of customers, and its amazing how many haven’t asked basic questions, or protected their own long term interests.

Where to begin

Friday, March 10th, 2006

So you are looking for a web-development company to create your on-line presence are you?

How do you go about it so that you don’t end up in a spiralling cost scenario, or end up dealing with an organization that won’t be there for you in the long run.

Let’s face it, developing a web site isn’t a one off thing. You don’t put something out there and then simply forget about it. For it to be useful to you and your customers, it has to continue to add value.

Simply, that means that the content you initially put in place is just the first step of many and you need to consider that.

Well it isn’t rocket science….

The way you have to approach it is exactly the same way you should work with a contractor for your home and it consists of a number of steps:

1. Get an idea of what you want. This doesn’t have to be to the greatest level of detail, but go shopping around the internet for sites that you like, features that you like and make a list. Try to figure out the type of content that you want on your site and make some notes.

2. Contact some web development companies and ask them to quote on what you are looking for. Tell them also that you will want three references, and the ability to contact those references. You also want a list of the web sites that they have done.

3. Spend the time to look at their work. Do you like what you see? If not - go back to step 1

4. Look at their quote in detail. Does it give you the information that you need to adequately understand all of the costs involved, what the roles and responsibilities are and what the process will be for your site to be developed. If it doesn’t, start asking questions.

Here are some good questions:

  • Do I get the source for my web site?
  • Is there a holdback to ensure the site is finished completely?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities? Who creates content? Who approves content?
  • What warranty do you offer?
  • What are the steps in developing the site and how does that tie in to the payment structure?
  • Can I host my site anywhere?
  • Will I get the source for all of the images/interactive media on my site
  • What are your on-going maintenance rates?
  • Do you have maintenance contracts?
  • What are your service levels on those maintenance contracts?

You should get answers to all of those questions, and the answers should satisfy you. What you should expect to hear is a process that takes you through from beginning to end and on into the future. The process should be fair to both you and the development company both in the way it works and in the way the payments are tied to the deliverables.

From a developer perspective, the areas that can cause most trouble can be iterations through the development cycle with a client who cannot make their mind up, or rafts of tiny changes when looking at content, so we attempt to clear that up during the quotation phase. After all - if you are quoted 5 days for a work effort, then you will be very surprised if it comes out at 10 days, even though it was an additional 5 days of your own revisions.

Now contact the references and see what they say. See if the development company has lived up to the statements they made above.

It isn’t foolproof, but at least now you have done your due diligence. You will have weeded out the fly by night organizations, or the students trying to work their way through college.

If you have any comments about this article, e-mail me directly at lee@spinnakersystems.com. We have had to shut down posting to this blog, as it was being hit by spam postings, but I will promise to post any valid responses to this article.

To style or not to style that is the question

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

As an active web developer. I tend to look into all avenues for enabling me to produce a quality product at a reasonable price.

Some of the things that I stress to clients revolve around making their sites simple, maintainable and consistent in look and feel.

Consistency is a factor that can be easily overlooked, but it really does add to the overall professional look of a site, when you can go from page to page without any jarring changes.

Maintenance is another factor easily overlooked. Lets face it - you will be living with your web site for a while, and as your business changes so will your site. You want to be able to add or change your site in a cost effective manner.

One of the key ways that we accomplish this is though the use of stylesheets. These allow us to abstract a lot of the styling cues away from the HTML into a separate document. The great advantage here is that you do things once, and then in essense re-use them all throughout your site. If you have to add a new page, all of your styling cues are ready and waiting to be applied.

Additionally, if down the road, you want to tweak your styling, then you only really have one place to deal with and the changes are reflected site wide.

Wonderful….

But like everything there is a dark side, and for stylesheets that is trying to use them for too much.

Stylesheets possess incredible power for formatting a web site. All you have to do is go to csszengarden.com to see what I mean. I love what very creative people have done, but would I ever implement a web site like that? - No.

In my humble opinion, those pages break the cardinal rule of being maintainable. Yes - the HTML is simple, but the stylesheets are not. Additionally, the stylesheets are really tailored to one specific page, so I would question their usability for sites with many pages.

Additionally, stylesheets are still not implemented in a consistent fashion across all browsers and by pushing the limits you are much more likely to bump into those oddities.

I know there are people that are writing sites that rely completely on stylesheets for their formatting and that their use is being pushed as the wave of the future. Right now however, I won’t go that far with my clients.

Will that change in the future? - stay tuned

Unfortunatly, due to the activities of a variety of spammers, I’ve had to disallow posting to this log.

Unfortunate, but necessary.

If you have any comments - then email me directly at lee@spinnakersystems.com