Keeping Control of Your Website

Last Updated: 12/17/2013

Having a website is like having a puppy or a garden - it is a long-term responsibility. It requires constant care and you get bitten occasionally. Some of us can't take it and give up on trying to control our sites - we let the puppy do what it wants, even if it is not exactly what we need. What can we do to stay in control?

If we are still in the planning stages, we can make sure that we don't overcommit - that we make sure we have someone who will take the puppy for walks, that we have enough money to buy his kibble, and that he is going to fit into our apartment (we talked about content strategy in depth a few weeks earlier).

For sites that are already live, it is a simple choice - delegating web work to someone else or doing it yourself. Let us look at these alternatives in detail.

Outsource

You could hire someone to create and maintain your website. Or you could use a solution like Google Sites to do it. In this case you are not outsourcing the whole process - you are still organizing and entering content yourself, but you rely on others (Google engineers in this case) to build and maintain the infrastructure for your site. The advantages are obvious - you don't have to do it yourself, but you also have to think about the disadvantages:

  • It's a black box
    You don't really know how your site works (what did they do to build that slideshow on my front page?) There is also no clear picture about where your information is stored, and how your privacy is protected.
  • Its future is uncertain
    The service is here today but it may not be tomorrow. Even if it survives, it might morph into something that is not useful to you anymore -  it might change its target audience or become too expensive (for example, many researchers in education committed to using Ning as a collaboration platform. When Ning became a paid service in 2010, many of them had to make a painful transition away from Ning).

In short, outsourcing can be about trading short-term gain for a possibility of long-term pain.

Do-it-yourself

"If you want to have it done right, do it yourself". You could learn web technology and build your site yourself - in plain HTML on our Legacy web publishing service or in a CMS like Drupal or Wordpress on our Shared Infrastructure Services hosting. You would have full control of your site - there would be less uncertainty than with the outsourcing solution. But there is of course a price to pay.

  • It takes time
    You would have to learn a lot about web technologies - not just web design itself but related areas as well (hosting, usability, accessibility,etc). If the web site isn't your main job, you would have to take time away from that job to do the website.
  • It might turn out amateurish
    The web world has become so complex that even with a part-time commitment to learning it you might not succeed in building a site that is as visually convincing as professional work.

The do-it-yourself option is generally the reverse of the outsourcing one: short-term pain but a possibility of long-term gain.

Which route should you take?

Most of the time the best choices are mixed - you outsource the generic problems (e.g. reuse an existing bit of code for authenticating users) but focus on learning how to implement local problems yourself (e.g. adapt that code to integrate with our IdentiKey system). The more important the website is to you or to your unit, the more you tend to drift towards the do-it-yourself solutions. The more of a long time commitment to the site you have, the more it makes sense to learn it or hire in-house talent to take care of it.

If you have read this far, you probably do care about your website enough to think about long term plans. You are ready to learn more about the underlying web technology. OIT can help you plan and learn - you can start by asking for a free web consultation.