Monday, 31 October 2016

The halloween horror of the web industry

I was talking to my wife the other day about work. She is in the same industry as me, although she’s more a graphic designer, whereas I’m more of a programmer/nerd. She’s also inherently happy, whereas I’m a natural grumpy git.

Anyway, the point is we were both talking about how hard our industry is at the moment. The company she works for is struggling and she’s had to cut her hours to help cashflow. Although things aren’t that bad for me, there has definitely been a noticeable drop in sales over the last few years. This is partly due to the recession, partly to do with it being such a saturated industry but mostly it’s to do with the way the internet has gone thanks to social media and also companies like Wordpress, Wix and other “web in a box” companies offering nice looking and fairly functional websites for next to nothing. I’m sure there are people out there who will blame climate change and Brexit as well but those people probably aren’t worth talking to.

My wife made a fairly valid point that, although things are looking a bit unsettling now, these cheap template sites are probably just a fad. Sure they look quite nice now but they all look the same. You look at most modern websites built or re-designed in the last two or three years and they all follow the same template: A big banner across the top (usually with rotating images), three featured boxes underneath and a bit of text. This is a layout that works well on all devices.

The thing is that in a few years, people will probably get bored with having a website that looks identical to every other site. Also, website visitors might start looking at sites and thinking “you know what, these people obviously haven’t spent much time on their website because they’ve just used a template like everyone else, so what does that say about their attention to detail and general interest to do work?”

In a few years time, it may very well be that people start ditching Wix and Wordpress and all these other annoying companies that are trying to put hard-working web developers out of business. It may well be that they will start wanting unique looking websites. It may be that tastes will change again and people will stop thinking that websites with a big banner image and three boxes look nice.

Of course there is the argument that, if people are used to having nice looking and fairly functional websites almost instantly and for next to nothing, why would they want to go back to paying someone lots of money to develop something different?

At the end of the day, the future of the web developer is uncertain. People are always going to need programmers and they are always going to need designers but is the world going to need as many and will it still be a lucrative industry to be in? Will I be sat here in five years time doing this job and asking people if they’d like a new website, or will I be stood behind a counter asking people if they’d like fries with that?

Monday, 19 September 2016

Leave it to us, that kind of thing is our domain

Every little thing has changed in the 17 years I’ve been in the web industry, from the way websites are built, the coding behind them, the designs, the general direction of the internet and the way people perceive it.

Back in the early days, people would come to us for a website (which was still quite a novelty back then), we’d build it for them, register the domain name, do all the necessary donkey work and everyone would be happy. Nowadays people are so used to having sites and used to everything being quick and easy (because the internet world and computers in general have become so advanced they give the average person the idea that they are actually clever) that people are rarely happy and always want something changed or control granted to themselves in some form. People are also getting used to things being cheap or even free.

One of the big ones these days is domain names. More and more people seem to be registering their own domain names or asking if we can transfer a domain name we hold to their own control. The problem is that these people generally haven’t got the first clue what they are doing. They are generally doing it because it is cheaper for them to buy it themselves rather than get us to do it for them because we (and indeed most) web companies mark the price up to cover a basic management cost.

Whilst it’s not a problem, it does tend to bring up a few issues and it almost always ends up costing the customer more money. My first question is usually “who have you registered your domain name with?” and the number of people who can’t even answer this simple question is worrying in itself. I then have to raise a charge for releasing the domain and processing a transfer because, let’s face it, I have to charge for my time otherwise how would I make money? This cost, whilst small, generally means any cost saving they’ve made on registering the domain themselves is negated.

Then there is the technical side of things. When I explain to these people that it’s fine for them to host the domain themselves but they have to be in charge of all the DNS settings, this usually confuses them. When they ask how they get the domain name to point to the website, my answer of “You need to log into your domain control panel and update the DNS settings to point the A NAME records to our server IP address”, people tend to look at me in the same way I look at Kanye West fans.

What happens is people say “I haven’t got a clue what you just said, can you walk me through it?” Of course if it’s a domain control panel I’m familiar with, I might be able to do it but then I’m giving support so I’d have to charge for my time. If it’s a control panel I’m not familiar with I’d have to say no, whereby I’d either suggest they contact their supplier and I give them detailed instructions of what I want, or I’d request they send me their login details so I could mooch around their control panel myself and make the changes. In both cases, I’d have to charge for my time. Given I’d be charging at my hourly rate, it would end up costing the client more than it would have cost them to take the domain name out with us in the first place. This would inevitably piss them off.

It gets worse because people usually want an email address set up and they realise once they’ve bought the domain that they either have to pay extra for it or they simply can’t figure out how to set it up. They then come back to me asking for help and advice and, in a lot of cases, requesting we manage the email for them which involves them having to update more DNS settings to point the MX records to our mail server. This confuses them even more, makes me a bit cross and also costs them even more in my time charges and hosting which pisses them off even more. Basically nobody is happy any more.

Then there is the added hassle of behind-the-scenes changes. Every so often we have to upgrade servers or migrate data or even move to different hosting providers. This has happened several times over the 17 years I’ve been in the web business and every time it happens I need to update the DNS settings for all the domains we host. Generally speaking this is something the customer is never aware of because the transfer is seamless. The only time it ever becomes a problem is when people have their own domain names and either don’t know where the domain name is held and/or don’t know how to update the settings and/or ignore my repeated requests for them to update because they assume it’s not important and then get really angry when their website stops working. Again, this is something that’s happened a number of times over the years.

So, yes, it is possible for you to register and manage your own domain names. My advice, however, is don’t. Let us do it for you because, although it might cost a bit more up front, in the long term it’ll save you a hell of a lot of money, time, effort and stress.

Friday, 9 September 2016

What are the best blogging sites?

The Datapartners Daily Blog about blogs: 10 of 10

For someone like me who designs and builds websites for a living, I could build my own blogging platform. In fact I did have a blogging app at one stage but it was one of many things I shelved because I simply couldn’t compete with the big players.

So what are the best blogging platforms out there? The most popular ones are Wordpress and Google’s Blogger and there are benefits to using both. Wordpress allows you to build a much more professional looking website and there are a huge number of mobile friendly templates out there. My only complaint with Wordpress is the admin is verbose, unintuitive and I think it’s a tiny bit crap. I’ve used Wordpress a number of times over the last few years for a handful of projects and I usually end up swearing a lot.

I prefer Blogger (well, that’s obvious isn’t it?) Firstly, I’m a big advocate of everything Google. Secondly, whilst it is a lot simpler and not as good looking as Wordpress, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Also, with the blogging network, it’s a lot easier to get found by other bloggers.

Of course there are others. The likes of Wix, Squarespace and Tumblr all offer some good features. Plus Networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn also have the ability for you to write notes and articles so that is always worth considering. The advantage of doing it through a social networking site is because publishing it automatically shares it with your network.

My personal recommendation is Blogger, especially if you want to earn some pocket money. Google’s AdSense is by far the best and biggest pay-per-click advertising medium out there and it’s very quick and easy to get ads hooked onto the site. The trick is getting people to click on them without violating Google’s terms of service. So please don’t click on the ads on this blog… #ReversePsychology