Industry: Web Platforms
Industry: Web Platforms
Web/Tech/IT Industry Series
We begin yet another mini-series as we discuss the IT/web/tech industry and how we view our role within the industry at large. There is a large gap between the perception and reality of the industry, in addition to what we feel is a bad reputation and an erosion of trust in IT. There is a stigma associated web development as a professional service, which to certain extents have been deserved. We discuss these topics and more! Today we talk about elephants and web frameworks a bit.
We build and maintain custom web applications. In plain English we build websites, but we can build them very well. Like almost everyone else, we do not start from scratch. We use a starting point that we have prepared earlier. These are mostly common elements that all websites share (like a homepage, etc.) From this starting point, we tailor the project to suit our client's needs. Clients across the industry get a similar experience, with a couple of subtle differences.
First elephant in the room - we aren't a Wordpress shop. We don't do "just one simple tweak for me" either. We don't use a framework you've likely heard of, unless you're already involved in the web development community. We use a very popular, relatively new framework titled Laravel. We talk about Laravel sometimes. Laravel is a web application framework with a focus on building web applications (versus a more simple, business-card website.) Every framework is a little different from each other, and that includes Laravel and Wordpress.
Wordpress vs. Laravel
So what are those subtle differences? Wordpress is an excellent blogging platform that is very simple for designers to modify. There is a large "plug-in" community and there are plenty of resources for people looking to get into Wordpress to dive into. Diving into Laravel is a bit of a different animal. The Laravel ecosystem is geared toward software developers looking to build web applications at any scale. Laravel requires you to know how to code. Plain and simple. You can push it with Wordpress, but you won't get far in Laravel without some technical abilities. There is no "plugin" or "theme" functionality (that being said - you could build that functionality if you wanted with Laravel.)
The second elephant in the room. Web hosting and vendor lock-in. Half of our clients have had web guys/agencies that suddenly shut down (we've seen a physical office vanish one day), simply stopped picking up the phone, defaced their project, or charge insane prices for something that should be simple. This is the partial inspiration behind this mini-series (talking about it anyways). We have a number of issues on an industry scale and we feel we should talk about it to people. Everyone is spooked when we tell them we build custom, bespoke web applications and use a custom web hosting platform for our projects - and rightfully so! So many have been burned and left out to dry that forking over dollars to another web contractor is a scary and uncertain process.
The process of hosting a website/web application is not complicated. That being said, one of the main differences between us and designer based agencies is that we provide web hosting in-house. Hosting is typically provided by another company - like Media Temple, GoDaddy, etc. What happens in practice is that the creative agency washes their hands of how the project is handled. This handling is bad for everyone involved. The agency has software/relationships to maintain even if they aren't getting any funding, or they bill for every change/update/meeting. The client is left with a mega-company handling their hosting - so they get no support and still need the original agency, which is billing likely hourly agency rate for basic support. This usually ends up with clients getting no support, and agencies getting no funding. But hey, at least the White House website is built on Wordpress!
The Custom Nature of Websites
Every project is custom. Every single website reflects the business, and every business represents a unique organization with unique people. Even two agencies building Wordpress projects will build the same project in two different manners with potentially stark implementation differences. Even within the same agency there can be a wide range in approach - codebase fragmentation within an agency is a difficult problem to address by itself, nevermind building your projects in a manner that allows other agencies to take over. The notion of portability is an illusion at best, given the evolving, fluid nature of software projects. I suppose one of the biggest takeaways is that the agency that builds flexible, maintainable, well documented projects probably aren't the ones running the fly-by-night operations.
The Role of Relationship In Project Success
We operate on a ‘per-project' basis. Our secret sauce is not the web platform. Our projects are successful because of strong relationships with our valuable clients. Unfortunately in other scenarios, by the time people discover the relationship is rotten (regardless of the project's initial success or perceived success) obstacles that prevent long-term success have always been present. We handle the hosting so we can be successful in the long term. Because we handle hosting, we are funded by our clients to continue working on their projects (addressing problems like codebase fragmentation, upgrading our hosting platform, and providing small service updates.) Our clients don't have to deal with hosting conglomerates when something goes wrong, and we have a clear incentive to keep the project successful and the relationship strong. To us, this seems like a strong way to do business. Similar to SAAS offerings (in the sense that there is a monthly subscription), we essentially offer a mini PAAS (Platform as a service) service exclusively to our clients.
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