I’m not going to rant here about all the great clients, who understand that time is expensive, who listen, pay attention, and do their own research.
But what I do think is that there’s a significant chunk of people out there, with no clue as to the Web, what it’s for, and how it works, who currently seem to be desperate to jump onto the bandwagon. They sometimes actually have some pretty sound business ideas.
Thing is, they turn up at our office with these huge plans. And a budget of £250.
There then follows an awkward silence as we have to explain that £250, like in dentistry, doesn’t really buy you a great deal of cosmetic awe. Even if the underlying software is free, you still need someone with the ability and understanding to implement it correctly. And they’re in demand.
But then that brings up another issue – the one of the wannabe web designer. Very little understanding of the technology or business, but does have a copy of Frontpage, Dreamweaver, or worst of all – Flash and only Flash. And thinks they can design for the web because they’ve done some ok print jobs in their time. They over promise, often raising expectations, under-quote (causing pricing pressure) and under-deliver.
Not all are actually that bad in overall design terms either, but they have a habit of disappearing when things get difficult. If one of their sites is hacked they have absolutely no idea why, and can’t do much about it. They don’t understand what the difference between CHMOD 777 or 766 can mean to the security of their site. In fact, to make their life easier, they simply switch everything to 777. And they’ve got so little money from their £300 job that they most definitely can’t afford to pay a TruePro (my TM, maybe. Perhaps) to come in and get digging, and to configure their site correctly.
And clients sometimes need to accept that they can’t just say “gimme a website!” to a designer/developer and expect them to magically mind-read their true desires. For free, of course.
Thing is – how’s a client to know the difference between a good or bad web company? It’s no easier than knowing the difference between a good or bad engine design in a car. The only way people learn is by watching what or who gets the most reliable, dependable and economical cars out there. And if there are none, then eventually someone will come along and do just that. Like the Japanese did to the British motorbike industry, so, surely, will the good web companies overtake and close down the bad ones.
So to answer my own question – I actually think the web industry does suck right now. But it’ll get better – slowly, top web brands will move to the fore, and the rubbish ones will fade away. And it won’t be from expected sources either. For example, WordPress.com is likely to become a major force for many small business websites, with many moving to self-hosted WordPress sites once they need more control or uniqueness. Why does any startup in a non-tech field need to commission a custom site when there’s plenty of great, free or cheap designs available?
And that’s where the future website designing and hosting brands will come from. The small one man web companies need to adapt to this market and consider that the direct one-to-one model of web design & development is approaching its death knell. Instead, these small companies will become facilitators – finding the best solutions for the non-techie clients, setting them up, and then briskly moving on to the next client. The technical knowhow, fixing up and hacking will be concentrated in key points. They’ll set up or review systems like SugarCRM, Plone, WordPress, and more.
Bigger clients will of course still need their own web applications built to suit any unique business models they operate, and they’ll be able to afford the fact that few of these can ever cost less than five figures. So that business model will continue, and should pay more too as the solutions become critical to firms.
I know I’ve just had something of a ramble there – it’s purely a stream of consciousness thing. I think the web industry is on the verge of maturing. That doesn’t mean the days are over for specialists. Just that the mass market will move to commodity systems, while the specialised stuff will actually start to pay the kind of rewards that should be available to people who work with a difficult and challenging technology.