Is a site ever finished? In a limited way, yes. As the months pass, however, the value of a site degrades. Worse still, with enough time, a site may drive your audience away with it’s dated look, old-style functionality or lack of modern features. How do we handle this depreciation? The key is to become ‘light-weight’: not bogged down with tools and structure, but remain open and flexible to change.
Inform your client
It is important that your client or interested party is aware of the depreciation of a website. With time, their audience will suggest newer features or ask to update existing ones to better suit their habits. Even your client, after some use, may come up with original ideas to improve her/his site. As a representative of your company or a project manager, you must make sure that your client is aware of this fact and of the speed at which this happens.
Acknowledge the depreciation
On the flip side, you must also be aware of the depreciation. What this means for you and your team is that what you build now will most certainly change in the future. Make sure to program in a responsible way: use tools that are maintained or which you are willing to maintain, document your work and refactor your code. It may not be obvious at first, but any outsider may judge your company or team by the quality of the code they find.
Once both you and the client are aware that the micro-/site you are building will inevitable change, the following tips may help:
- Use open source tools as much as possible: This is a no-brainer. Having many people maintain your tool(s) reduces the chance that it or they will become outdated. Choose tools that facilitate change and which have a strong group of contributors. In the web development field, frameworks, databases, server systems and other technologies (e.g. SVG instead of Flash) are the norm. Also, don’t forget to contribute back and improve those same tools.
- Use the cloud: Any service that is found online is part of the ‘cloud’. Vimeo is a good example of a service that will host your videos, reducing your costs and exposing them to the Vimeo audience. You can then embed those videos into your site with minimum investment. Once you’ve gone beyond the offering of one cloud service, you can invest in transferring the content to another service that is right.
- Set up a monthly maintenance contract: Agree to a minimum hours per month deal where the client pays you a guaranteed number of hours. You can include server cost, personal availability, small amounts of work, etc into this bundle. This will force you and the client to stay committed to the project. If you ever wish to stop working with this client, you can simply sell or give away the responsibility for this bundle to another.
- Limit the scope of each development phase: Instead of delivering one big project, work in small, self-contained, increments. As the client and the audience are exposed to this work, they will come back with feedback that may change the course of the development.
What about the client that does not want to hear about the project until it is done or is unwilling to commit resources to future work? Or perhaps they are not interested in using 3rd party tools? Accepting their offer, if you have the option, becomes a tricky decision. I have seen it before: people who do not care much about their sites and just want to ‘get it done’. It may lead to poor work, an unsatisfied or frustrated client or working overtime to compensate for last minute additions, possibly with no compensation.
Ultimately the idea is simple. Through limited and continuous investment of time and money and use of solid 3rd party tools and services, your site will grow and adjust to the fluctuations in audience tendencies. The web is prone to such fluctuation. Thankfully, it is also possible to adapt to it with a minimum of resource.