The Internets. The Interweb. The Online.

Whatever you call it, the internet is vital to brand & business.  Not so long ago, there was a mad rush to get a (any!) site up, everyone was doing it and … The web was an ugly place.  Developers of the day saw exposure on the internet as a kind of Yellow Pages ad, but with more potential reach and modifiable graphics & text.  Problem was, the new website LOOKED just like a Yellow Pages ad, albeit with snazzy animated gifs randomly placed here and there.  You know, the spinning, flashing, multi-colored & 3D  “Big Sale” attention-getter at the top of every page.

How could you NOT pick-up the phone and call a company that was obviously so cool? Who would have thought that “Bill’s Bargain Barn” would be so tech-savvy and forward thinking?

All these years later, the web is still mostly filled with sites that were once someone’s dream; a digital version of the abandoned brick & mortar storefront that the previous tenant was positive would have customers lined-up around the block, just waiting to get inside.   Add to these bits of broken code the get-rich-quick sites, the ad farm sites that were built only to display advertisements yet include no actual content.

The “Information Super Highway” is littered with the wreckage of get rich-quick-schemes and broken dreams. It’s a mess.

Next up are the sites built with care, love and the best intentions, by a friend of a friend of the business who apparently “does that stuff”.   I’m not sure any of those actually get completed but they do serve a purpose.  The business owner sees in short order that there IS more to this than she initially suspected and “if we are going to be online, it’s not going to be like this” soon follows.  Yes, for many companies out there, it would be advantageous to [ ctrl-alt-delete ] the website all together rather than suddenly realize they are on stage in front of millions and forgot to put on pants this morning.

So here we are some 20 years later.  Yes, I still recall the first time I saw a major corporation include their web address in a TV spot. In my mind, that was the internet’s born-on date. What’s changed since?  In summary;  the complexity of today’s websites, the ability to actually offer something useful to the visitor.  E-Commerce. Interactivity. Broadband has allowed us to move from those cheesy animated gifs to high definition full length feature streaming.   It’s a whole new world. The website of today is no longer the digital version of that phone book ad. It has to facilitate and/or provide a service, a tangible benefit, not only the visitor, but the owner as well.

As the complexity of web sites continue to grow, so do the tools used to develop them. There was a cross-over point a few years ago; where what was expected on a website (functionality, design, etc) and the tools available to create them converged, yes, the average “computer person” could put something usable together and get it on line.  If you could handle Microsoft Word, you were good to go, you were a webmaster!

It was the hay day of poorly designed and implemented websites. These sites spread over the internet like some insidious virus. Some are still out there, some are actually still being made today.  You’ve seen the advertisements:  “Get your web page professionally built in 24 hours for $19.95”  BUT WAIT! If you act in the next 10 minutes …

As it turns out, if you give the average person every single tool and material they need to build a house, they simply can’t do it.  Give another person a tube of every color, of the best available. oil-based paint and the most expensive brush and canvas … you get the point. The same holds true with website development.

Here we are: 2014.  The websites of today are actually useful.  They connect to back-end databases, provide real-time information, make online shopping easier & more convenient than ever.  They sell insurance plans (whoa?) They allow even the smallest of business’ to level the playing field and compete with the huge corporations. They allow customer service to be offered at exceptional levels.  They allow millions to share videos of their dog licking a duck.

With all these high-end capabilities, companies now consider the website a vital tool in their company’s branding & operations arsenal.  As a result the gap between “basement coders” and actual design & development firms has widened substantially.  The website involves much more than a few pictures and some text; it’s an integral part of the overall marketing & business plan, not something the “friend of a friend” is necessarily ready & able to deal with.

The Fictitious Case Study:  How it goes down

You needed an online presence. You spent your $19.95.  Actually,  at the end of the day, it was 5x that price because you wanted some fancy extras, like email forms and stuff.  Your fancy new website is online!  It’s sitting on a 10 year-old server, along with 800 other sites (that oddly enough, look just like yours)  in a server farm, with 500 other servers, each with 800 websites.  Yeah, it get’s really slow sometimes ( like when America isn’t sleeping) and “customer service” is yet to respond to an “urgent” email you sent 2 weeks ago, but hey the website is online! Sort of.  Sometimes.

Your journey has begun.

 

Continues ….  Stay tuned for part two.

Here’s one for the road:

“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”
― Eric Schmidt