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Websites as a product

Websites as a product

Over the years, Engage Web has redesigned and taken over maintenance of a lot of websites. There is a recurring situation we encounter that has prompted me to ask the question: Is a website a product, and if so, who does it belong to?

It’s mine! All mine!

The situation I am referring to is where a client has a website designed, and the CMS (if there is one to speak of) has been custom written or is needlessly complicated. The result is that the client is in no way capable of maintaining the website or making any changes without the expertise of the original designer. This leaves the client at the mercy of the designer’s pricing structure, time estimates and schedule.

To me, having someone else in total control of something that is yours is the worst situation a client can be in. Would you allow this to happen with your car? You would have to call the salesman to get your keys each morning to open your car, to pay for him to hang some furry dice on your rear-view mirror (I make no judgements on décor), and if you wish to get the car cleaned then you must wait for him to be free to take it to the carwash. This seems like an absurd situation, but this is a common state of a lot of websites.

My argument is that it is the designer’s responsibility to make the website as accessible as possible for the client, to make it easy to make basic content changes, update the website and to give the client as much control as possible. This is because the website is a product – once it is finished it belongs to the client, and your role should be making advanced or technical changes, maintenance and layout/design changes.

Hosting and domains

This argument also extends to hosting and domains. If a client has paid you for hosting and domain names, then access to the control panels and back ends should be given to the client on request without question, even if they intend to pass it to another web designer for him/her to make changes or to take over maintenance. It is not the place of any web designer or developer to be purposefully obtrusive in keeping a client locked to them through overly complicated CMS, or restricting access to something the client has paid for.

The overall effect on the web this tends to have is that some businesses will start to be left behind. Their websites are built on CMS that are maintained by one company/designer so they are generally not updated regularly and the client is not aware of current security issues. We at Engage Web generally use WordPress for the CMS of our clients websites. It’s regularly updated for security and functional issues, is well documented and uses web technology (PHP 5, MYSQL) that is known for its security and reliability. The biggest upside is the fact it is simple to use, and with some work from us the client has the power to maintain and update their site themselves, letting them feel (as they should) that the site belongs to them. We are there for the difficult issues, like a garage is there for a car owner, to solve any problems and dispense advice when the client needs it.

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