Custom Site Or Customized Site?
A client recently told me that it had taken two years for his IT department to deliver a site redesign. The first deadline was six months, but the project had been extended repeatedly. Now he wondered what was reasonable.
Unfortunately, too many publishers have experiences like this because they get suckered by two concepts. First, they are convinced that their site has to be “unique” and therefore must be created from scratch. Second, they are tricked to believe the developers who say “don’t worry, all the software will be free.”
Getting sites designed, redesigned and updated regularly -- and quickly -- is a key part of competing successfully on the Internet. Online publishers need to be able to react to what they learn with quickly adjusted site design and navigation. And publishers need to be able to add functionality without starting over.
The concept of using free open source software to configure and host a site is attractive…because it CAN be done. But the talent who knows how to work in these technologies such as the Apache Web Server, PHP, MySQL or even the common Drupal, Joomla, or WordPress CMS is in short supply. This means that many publishers are paying for the programing and design service AND for the learning process for their IT folks, or freelancers who have to learn the skills. Unfortunately the folks who learn really fast are working at Google and Amazon.
Employing “free” software as a way to get your site built cost-effectively is like walking across the United States for “free.” You may pay no transportation costs to walk, but it takes a lot longer and costs much more than simply buying a ticket on an airplane. The pay and the food you buy your developers for a “free” site will be far more than simply using a first-class cloud-based service instead. To take the analogy to its conclusion, a first-class air ticket would cost less than the cost of food and camping while you walk across the country 20 miles a day for 6 months.
Mind you, this is not a knock on the quality of sites built on open source software. The biggest and most successful Internet publishers are generally built on custom implementations of free software. But these big sites you hear about every day have the scale to afford large IT staffs, and to maintain and upgrade their systems.
For thousands of smaller Internet publishers, custom means a big hole in their pocket. Too often when a custom site is completed, as beautiful and functional as it may be, the folks who built it may be the only ones in the world who know how to maintain or improve it. If the designer/programmer takes another job, the publisher ends up with a site no employee or service provider knows how to manage.
In another software arena -- customer relationship management (CRM) -- Magazine Manager, Salesforce, Zoho and Microsoft Dynamics have eliminated the need to customize and maintain a customer tracking database on in-house servers.
The same concept in website design and hosting is has been available for some years and now is becoming much more common.
Today, companies like Mediaformedia LLC, with its Ellington CMS, and Limelight Networks’ Clickability (recently renamed Dynamic Site Platform), Vanguardistas’ Metro Publisher and GoDengos ReVista platform empower publishers to compete more successfully. Now publishers don’t even need an IT department to design and launch a sophisticated site. These companies provide the technical execution for the design you desire, and all the functionality you would need to publish content, maintain a directory database along with calendar, SEO, slide shows, commenting, videos, emailing etc. Using a third-party service to “customize” a site rather than custom building means publishers can have their site up six weeks rather than six months.
If publishers really do require functionality that is unique, they can get it programmed and plugged into their already designed site with the money they saved by going the cloud-based third-party route.
Magazine publishers learned long ago they could publish their “very unique” magazines through a third-party printer. That printer would know how to operate and maintain the highly integrated machinery that make up printing services: the making of plates, laying of ink on paper, folding, binding, trimming, addressing, and palletizing for mailing and shipping.
Today, more smart online publishers are finding they can thrive by using a suite of integrated services for Internet publishing, allowing themselves to concentrate on what they are good at: creating content and selling advertising.