Thursday, 1 April 2010

Can you just stop asking that question?

As a web developer, without doubt the worst questions I have to deal with always begin with the words "can you just". Whenever someone starts a sentence with those 3 words it makes my buttocks clench and my ears bleed!

Now, designers have it relatively simple. They just design something pretty, hand it to the customer and then spend the rest of the day smoking marijuana. A punter just wants a nice looking website and they don’t really give a flying Fokker how it works just as long as it does work - and therein lies the problem. Most people don’t appreciate the complexity and sheer weight of coding behind a database driven website, let alone the resources needed to power some of them.

I recently had someone commission me to build them a website. I spent about a month building quite an advanced content management system and video library to complement the site and, just as I was putting the finishing touches on the website I got a call asking if I could just change a few things around on the site. Not a major problem until I looked through the list of changes and realised that I wasn’t being asked to move a few things around, I was actually being asked to change the entire technical structure of the database which of course meant re-coding the whole administration area and website. Oh and I was asked if I could get it done that afternoon.

Have you ever tried explaining quantum physics and philosophy to a monkey? Me neither but it’s pretty much the same principle as trying to explain to someone that I’m going to have to charge them all over again because they are asking for something way outside the original specification.

The analogy I always like to give people is this: If you commission a builder to construct a bungalow and then wait until he is putting the roof on before you change your mind and tell him that you want a second floor on the building he will most likely batter you to death with a sledgehammer and bury your remains in cement. You see it isn’t as simple as "just" putting a roof on. The foundations will have to be dug out and reinforcements will have to be put in place to take the extra load of an additional floor. The same laws apply to code.

So yes a website can be re-developed. In fact I always like to encourage a review of a site every couple of years if only to keep it looking fresh and up to date with the constant developments and new techniques being applied to the wacky website world every 5 minutes. It just takes slightly longer than 3 hours to do and we won’t do it for free.

To give you an idea of some of the processes involved in a simple task of re-designing a website, take a look at this interesting blog from the BBC. Still think it’s simple?

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