Monday, September 8, 2008

The Perils of Web Development Projects

During my involuntary time off from a normal day job (back in May-June), I pushed harder into my web development background to make ends meet. I bought a business license and stood up my web site and began marketing my services, along with 300,000,000 other web developers. The problems I ran into were the expected ones, but that's been par for the course and things have picked up a little anyway. I can't quit my current day job but it helps avoid foreclosure and keeps food on the table.

I was a bit surprised however that one of the constant issues I've seen is with hosting services. That's right: hosting services. Many "customers" I work with aren't savvy when it comes to the technical background of standing up a web site. They just want it "done" and don't care about the messy details. The problem is that in that general haste, many (most) of them have just handed the keys to some developer in the past and expected them to park the car, wash and vacuum it and put a new air freshener in it, no questions asked.

My policy is that I do not provide hosting. I won't even buy hosting for the customer. I won't register a domain for a customer either. I will assist in every possible way, short of putting anything in MY name. I prefer to focus exclusively on developing the SITE, not what the site runs on. Not so with other developers it seems. They prefer to hold more control over the entire project, and often after delivery. Does this sometimes cause angst and confusion for customers? You betcha. But let me explain...

Each time I've met with a customer to do either a web site overhaul, or an enhancement, they've almost always had an existing web site (and domain) in operation. Then they engage me to do the work and almost instantly I run into access issues. These require me to either lean on the customer to act as the broker, or the customer empowers me to talk directly with the previous developer, to gain access to the existing host or content (or both usually). Talk about an emotionally awkward situation. "Hi, I'm the new developer guy. I'm calling to usurp your work and future earnings from this customer".

The net result is bad. Time delays, incomplete information, sometimes outright inability to get anything simply out of hostile reaction. When I see this happen, I simply point at it, and give them the usual "A-ha! See what I mean now?" Then they have the epiphany moment.

By putting the domain registration, and hosting plan, in the customer's name and under their sole control, it not only empowers them to do things with more agility, but it doesn't hold them hostage to an irate developer.

I had one customer that was going to court with a developer over access to their own web site. That dragged the host provider and attornies into the mix and things got stupid. Of course, nobody mentioned that until I asked about gaining access to the existing content in order to make the requested enhancements. A completely unnecessary waste of time and money, not to mention unnecessary stress.

So, the moral of the story is this: If you contract someone to do your web site (and I really don't care who you prefer, I'm not marketing myself here - believe it or not) if they prefer to do the domain registration and hosting enrollment: RUN! Find someone else! A good analogy would be something like paying a locksmith to change your house locks and he ends up holding the ONLY set of keys from then on. Bad.
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