have become such a common part of doing business that one might
think that we're beyond the need for definitions. After all, we
don't need to define channels on a cable TV system or on simple
office equipment like a fax machine. When you say "fax machine,"
everybody knows what you're talking about. But when you say "website,"
many people have a general idea; but the concept is less clear.
In fact, some people say "web page" when they mean a "website,"
and even if we limit ourselves to business sites, websites have
such a variety of purposes and functions that the question "what
is a website?" is worthy of some consideration.
understanding websites can be an elusive undertaking. This is because
these new forms of communication are part of a new medium that is
changing right before our eyes. Even companies who have already
created web sites are changing their minds. For example, many companies
are now going through the process of reinventing their web presence
after having discovered that just having a "web page" isn't effective.
In last month's Web Edge column, I addressed
the ingredients that make some business websites more effective
month, I am taking a somewhat more concrete and technical perspective.
Whether your company already has a website or is just getting ready
to take its first steps into cyberspace, this month's Web Edge column
is designed to give you a clearer understanding of the web's requirements
and some of its essential building blocks. As always, your feedback
and comments are most welcome.
AND MORE CHOICES
Fundamentally, a website is your company's online communications
connection to the rest of the world. Just as phone systems and fax
machines have become essential communication tools that are used
by virtually every business, the web and e-mail are becoming increasingly
important channels for marketing and customer service. And just
as there are a variety of choices to make about what kind of phone
and voice mail system your company uses, there is now an increasing
assortment of options for online communications.
better or worse, the web exists in an electronic environment steeped
in on-going innovation. As a result, there are more and more choices;
and web sites come in a diverse variety of shapes and sizes.
are some of the most important criteria to consider as you either
begin to make decisions about what kind of website you might want
or about how you might want to change the website that you already
you focus on your website as a communications "arm" of your business,
you will see that what defines the scope of your online presence
needs of your online audience, market or customers
size of your budget or the available resources for web development
(which is defined by your company's commitment to be successful
are serious about this process, I recommend that you take a few
minutes to write down your company's objectives, target audience
and available resources for your web project. These elements are
the "filters" through which you can view your website development
decisions. The most important of these are discussed in more detail
recommend that you plan your web strategy with an eye to the future.
You may want to plan to build your web presence over the next several
years in incremental steps. The "ingredients" to consider are discussed
below. They include internal and external web hosting, upgrading
to enhanced features such as commerce and multimedia, and developing
internal or out-sourced technical teams.
Since The Web Edge column is part of Compaq's Small and Medium Business
web site, it's important to include websites of all sizes. To me,
one of the wonderful things about the web is that you don't need
to be a Fortune 500 company to have a website. In fact, as I pointed
out in the first Web Edge column, "Five Common
Mistakes in Internet Marketing", you don't even need to have
your own web server computer. On the other hand, many companies
are now benefiting from having their own server (such as a Compaq
server) not only as the technical foundation of a strong web
presence, but also as the server for groupware software applications
and for intranets which enhance internal communications.
that are hosted on external servers use the Internet itself and
FTP (the Internet's file transfer protocol) to transfer files from
internal PC's where pages are authored to the hosting web server.
The first and perhaps the most important "ingredient" in a website
design "recipe" is the network configuration itself. Obviously,
if your company does a lot of its work via the network either through
e-mail or other network activities, it develops a more demanding
appetite for Internet bandwidth (a bigger and wider, full time connection
to the Internet.) On the other hand, many smaller organizations
are still able to get by with or can only afford dial-up Internet
server requires dedicated (full time) Internet connectivity such
as an ISDN line, T-1 or T-3 connection as well as the necessary
router hardware and the technical management of these resources.
Even some companies who operate their own internal e-mail and file
servers find that they would rather not tax their Internet connection
with in-coming web traffic. These companies frequently choose to
host their websites on servers operated by I.S.P.'s (Internet Service
Providers) and other web development companies who provide Internet
bandwidth as part of their services.
decision to host on-site or off-site also includes the choice between
the development of in-house personnel vs. out-sourced contractors.
Essentially, your company needs to choose who will manage your server,
including CGI (common gateway interface) and other scripted functions.
As your website becomes more complex, you will find that the programmers
doing the hands-on technical work frequently need direct access
to the server. If these are in-house people, it may make more sense
to have the server in-house and visa versa.
to installing your own server and to hosting your website on someone
else's server is to install a server at a facility with a high bandwidth
connection. This is called "co-locating" and it gives your technical
personnel complete access while you share the bandwidth, network
hardware and server management expenses.
In this arena, your needs are driven by the kind of site you need
to serve your online customers. As usual, sophisticated features
mean steeper technical requirements. Optional enhanced features
driven interactivity including a search engine or a database connection
community features such as chat areas
such as streaming audio, video or dynamic presentations
plan to differentiate your site with these kinds of enhanced features,
you will most likely need to take technical control by either hosting
your own server or by having it hosted by an out-of-house contractor.
you don't need another option, but I'd be remiss not to mention
that in some cases, these services can be provided over the network
on a virtual basis. For example, commerce services are being offered
by companies like viaweb
who use the Web to deliver these functionalities via HTML. While
this type of service can be simpler to implement, your options are
limited by the pre-defined nature of their service. Essentially,
you need to decide on the level of sophistication you require including
your plans for the future.
Most people are aware that the accessibility and relative simplicity
of the HTML language is a big part of what has made the web such
a run-away success. Now, easy-to-use HTML exporters in word processors
such as Microsoft Word as well as HTML editing software like Claris
Home Page, Microsoft Front Page, and Adobe Page Mill have made web
page authoring even easier. Yet, the graphic design, information
architecture and interface design that differentiates better sites
goes beyond the capabilities of these programs.
there's a big difference between a website and a web page. While
straight-forward individual web pages can be authored these days
by almost anyone, more and more websites require more than just
an assemblage of pages. If you need the more sophisticated features
such as those discussed above, then you are likely to need more
many companies train and develop in-house personnel, others are
finding that web hosting and web design companies are able to offer
turn-key solutions that are more effective. The downside of out-sourcing
is that there is an element of control that is lost by depending
on another company; however, I've found that the development of
virtual teams is a significant asset and worthy of the confidence
that these relationships require.
as you might expect there is also a compromise solution that bridges
the gap between low-cost in-house participation and outside expertise.
For some client projects, I have found that I can offer "the best
of both worlds" by using in-house resources while also serving as
a contractor. This is by designing templates that can be easily
updated by in-house personnel. This approach takes advantage of
the contractor's expertise (in this case, that of my own company)
while also minimizing my client's dependency on us for work that
they can do themselves.
can see, the vast assortment of variables continues to multiply.
I hope this helps you begin to sort out your options as you move
forward strategically onto the new media frontier.
tuned. This new medium is certain to continue to evolve.
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