Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Watch out Web Developers

I recently had an experience with some website creation software that simply amazed me. My wife (Renee) is taking some very deliberate steps to refocus the direction of her career towards Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and she will be attending a conference over the next couple of days. While preparing for this networking opportunity, she decided that it would be a good idea to put a lot of her ideas and knowledge online and then give out business cards that would direct people to her website. But she didn't know how to create a website and, as the technologist of the family, was looking to me to assist her.
The last time we looked into creating a website it was for an online wooden toy business and it cost us several thousand dollars to get a professional web developer to set it all up for us.  I know a thing or two about C/C++ programming and I've dabled in other languages too but I'm a long way from anything when it comes to web programming. And so it was with great fear and trepidation that I set out to create a website in an evening.
We thought about creating a free website using Google Sites but it wouldn't give us our own URL or email and Renee wanted a more professional feel. So she looked into Smartyhost which is the hosting service we have used for a number of our other websites.  She was particularly drawn to  their $40 Website Package which offered your own domain name for a year, 5 page website, email, and hosting. It sounded too good to be true so it's fair to say I was a bit skeptical. But after running through the online demo, I felt confident enough to at least part with my cash and try it out for real.
At about 9:15pm I punched in my credit card details and launched myself into the abyss. I thought all my fears had been realized when, after submitting the payment form, the only feedback I got was that my transaction had been successful.  No information about what the next step should be and I was completely lost as to where to go next.  I quickly checked the email account that I had registered as part of the purchasing process but nothing. I checked again and still nothing.  What next? Patience.  Having done a couple of things like this before, I figured it would probably take a few minutes for the domain to be allocated and the details to come through so I waited a while.  
After maybe 10 minutes, some emails started to trickle in with the information I was after.  They provided me my login details including an auto-generated password, and a link to the site creation software that would guide me through the rest of the process. We picked a page design from the 460+ templates and customized it to our particular taste. Next, choose the names of the 5 pages you want. We selected the standard 'Home' and 'Contact Us' from the list of preconfigured pages but for the 'Links' page and 'CSR Information' page, we just used one of their default containers.
Next was the editing process where we added all the content.  Renee had already written all the information into a Word document so it was simply a case of cut and paste and tweaking the layout here and there.  Renee wanted a picture of herself on one of the pages and so we had to slip that in as well.
Finally we published the page and we were live.  I tried opening another web-browser window and typing in the URL: but to no avail. The domain name was still propagating and I knew that would take at least 24 hours or so. I still had a bit of energy left so I decided to set up the email.  Tap, tap, tap and 5 minutes later that was all sorted as well.  Renee had a professional email account linked to her domain name.  I looked at my watch and it was only 11:30pm.  I couldn't believe it.
So all of this technology has got my mind spinning. Maybe I'll share some more thoughts in another post but my parting conclusion was simply that the ease that someone can create a presence on the web is astounding and there is really no excuse for any business not to have one.

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