Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bane of the net: who maintains those pretty web sites?

You're a local official and you need a web site. You scrape up a budget, find someone who can put one together, and you're done.

Except things change. Thinks like, you know, schedules. Then you rediscover what everyone who's ever built anything learns.

Maintenance is a drag. It's not funded. It can be expensive. Pretty things may be much more expensive to maintain. That hand-crafted web site can't be updated without ... yes ... the original developer.

Not to pick on anyone, but this is typical:
Lake Wobegon Trails - Hiking, Biking, Walking, Blading, Skiing, Snowmobiling

We are working on an updated listing for 2007. Dates shown as 2006 dates will probably be very near the same dates for 2007....
It's August 2007 now. They're a bit behind.

Small businesses, schools and non-profits ought to choose for ease of maintenance, not for the initial product. The ideal solution should manageable by any high school graduate, but there's nothing like that on the market.

For MN Special Hockey I cobbled together a combination of Google Apps, Google Custom Domain, Google's Page Creator, Google Docs and Google/Blogger. It was very hard to setup, it's quarter-baked, and only a true geek is going to be able to tweak the overall configuration -- but I hope non-specialists will be able to post news (blogger), and even edit the main pages (Page Creator, note it requires admin access to do any page edits). If Google Apps ever get sorted out they could turn into a pretty good solution.

Content management systems try do something similar. They require experts to configure initially, but basic updates may require less expertise. In practice, however, these seem to run into considerable maintenance issues.

Another approach is to leverage "web 2.0" solutions. This is still emerging, but one way for the Lake Wobegon trail team to cost-effectively update their feeble map would be to replicate it in Google Maps and send out four bicyclists with cameras. Create the map as free custom content in Google Maps, upload photos to a free Picasa album, comment on the photos as needed, and lay them out on the trail map. Now link to the Google map and expect other users to add to it.

Lastly there's the combination of Apple's iWeb and Apple's dotMac (.mac) services (now support custom domains). Apple's can be an unreliable partner, but this might hit the usability requirement. The catch, other than Apple pulling an 'iMovie' (replacing a high end product with dumbed-down solution under the same brand), is that this requires OS X. On the other hand, if you can't afford website maintenance you definitely can't afford to maintain XP (bad) or Vista (worse). There are a few like solutions in the OS X world, I'm not aware of any in the XP world. (FrontPage once owned that space, but Microsoft abandoned it years ago.)

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