What mistake? Well, put it this way—one of the most important guidelines I preach to website owners is not to overstretch. That is, don't try to cram too much into your site.
If you do, you'll probably find you don't have the time, people, money or energy to keep it all up-to-date. What then happens is that visitors get annoyed, your reputation is damaged and embarrassing cutbacks are needed.
The best way to avoid such misery is to pay attention to the concept of Website Scale.
Website scale is a way of describing a site in terms of its size, complexity and levels of activity. The reason this concept is so useful is that it provides a useful means for estimating the effort needed for maintenance.
If only I had listened to my own advice.
What happened? It is easily told
Those of you who have purchased my book "The Website Manager's Handbook" will be familiar with the Web Tools reference chart it contains. If not you can download a copy here. (pdf 89Kb)
The purpose of this feature is to highlight the range of equipment and technology that is available to support the activities of website management. For example, among the items included are:
- Products for website production, design, coding, etc.
- Reference material for content authors, e.g. dictionaries, style guides, etc.
- Software for finding broken links, orphaned pages, misspelled text, etc.
In my mind's eye, I picture it as a sort-of "Webmaster's Catalogue" from which you can select the resources needed to support the supervision of your site.
Stuff happens, things change
Yet, even as I was compiling this feature, it was clear that market developments would soon render it obsolete. This is because new technology is increasingly automating many of the traditional activities of website management, e.g. publishing, quality assurance, feedback, etc. While this is great for reducing the amount of donkey-work that webmasters must do—the sheer variety of tools on offer means it can be difficult to keep tabs on what is available.
Cue my brainwave. "I know, why don't I reproduce the Webmaster's Catalogue on my website and then keep it up-to-date with new products as they are released!"
A screengrab from the webmaster's catalogue I was planning to publish.
Overcome with zeal, I immediately started work. I guessed it wouldn't be too hard to develop this feature, as a lot of the information I needed was already in the book. All I would have to do is keep adding to it over time.
Redesigning and coding the site was a lot fun. I contentedly spent a couple of weekends building the templates, creating images and ironing out StyleSheet bugs. All I had to do then was gather the content.
However, as soon as I began to collect the information, I became aware of the scale of the project I had undertaken. The number of web management tools available is so overwhelming I was quickly lost in a morass of detail. Not only that—there are such a large number of ways in which to categorise these tools, I realised I would need a more sophisticated means of navigation than originally planned.
A screengrab from the proposed list of Website Quality Assurance tools.
In spite of these setbacks, I remained convinced of the usefulness of my idea and ploughed on. And yet—slowly but surely—the penny started to drop. It became clearer and clearer that I had bitten off more then I could chew.
In my heart of hearts I knew I would never be able to maintain all this content to a high standard. I had failed to appreciate just how much time and effort it would take to manage such long lists of products. Eventually (i.e. last week) I decided to jack it in.
Practice what I preach
In the final analysis, I realised this new feature could do more damage to my site than good. As it stands, the scale of Diffily.com is just about right for what I can sustain. By attempting to put the webmaster's catalogue online, I would be seriously overstretching. I just don't have the resources at the moment to support a website of that scale.
So, although it is a great idea—it will have to wait until I have more time*. If only I had paid more attention to my own advice about Website Scale, I might have saved myself a lot of trouble!
* Happily, that may be possible in the New Year. Some evening courses I am doing will have finished by then, giving me a lot more free time.
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