Wanted: Web site development tools

Posted: July 22, 2006 in CRM

Over the last several months I have been engaged in a process intended to upgrade the Beagle Research Web site (www.beagleresearch.com).  That included planning site content, number of pages, hiring a consultant to help with design and development–stuff like that.

I had been managing the site all myself with Microsoft Publisher, which I found to be an adequate tool for developing static Web pages that enable free download of white papers and other things I write.  It gave me a footprint on the WWW, which every company needs today to be competitive. The old site had/has a couple of glaring problems that needed rectifying and only a rebuild would fix.  MS Publisher, while easy to use, does not support non-MS browsers and the site suffered from my amateurish efforts at "design".

I found a site on the net that introduces customers to developers and engages in the bidding process.  From that I quickly found a small company in Texas that was very good and so we did business.  The Texans recommended a public domain portal technology called DotNetNuke (Iam not making this up!) which uses ASP.net and which is a self-contained environment for building sites.  We agreed to use DNN and away we went.  In a couple of weeks they had a nice design and had built the site.

Did I mention that it was always our understanding that whatever implementation technology we used, I insisted that it be simple enough for me to maintain by myself.  I think that’s a reasonable thing.  After all, I did manage to teach myself Publisher and built and maintained the original site for 2 years.  But that’s when the fun started.

Unknown to me when we started the process, DNN is an on-line tool meaning that you actually log in as a developer into your actual site.  If you inadvertantly break something, as I have done, it goes into the live system unless you are smart enough to undo it, which I am not.  The environment is also not supported by a GUI.  You can’t mouse around clicking and making changes the way you might in someother tool such as Dreamweaver which also lets you work off line and only upload your work when it passes muster.  With DNN you have to fill out forms and update the site to see the effect.  It’s all pretty slow too since you are essentially operating in client-server mode across the Internet.

To educate myself, I went to the DNN Web site and sampled the "Community" tab which lists companies that do training and other things.  But when I tried to follow what appeared to be links to the companies sites (labeled ‘Visit’), the system simply brought me back to the original page.  In other words it is a death loop, you can’t get out to the source you are trying to contact.  Unfortunately, that was not the case with just one supplier–it was the case for all of the links in the list.

I also tried to buy a training manual.  Luckily for me, there is a new version of the product and the developers have just published a manual to go with it.  The manual was so new I had to wait a couple of weeks for it to be published.  No matter, I figured, the new site is fine.  I’ll just go on vacation and the book will be here when I get back and I will spend the summer updating and adding to my new site.

No such luck.

The book arrived as promised but I was underwealmed to the max by it.  The authors spend the FIRST 80 PAGES clearing their collective throats.  There is a HUGE amount of history in the first two chapers on things like the evolution of DotNetNuke (Chapter 1), the history of the first 3 versions of the product, the core team, and some fun and not so fun bumps in the road on the way to version 4.0.  It was like indoctrination into a cult.

Spare me.

The book is aimed at people like me but when you get to what you bought the book for in Chapter 3, all you get is a bunch of tables listing all of the modules, pages, functions and whatever that make up the product and very little about how to really use it.

I am giving up an DNN.  In some ways it seems to me to be not ready for prime time and in others it seems like the product’s time is passed.  It needs a GUI, and offline component and a community that checks to see if the links are broken once in a while.

In an effort to save the project–I NEED a Web site–I am having the guys in Texas convert me to Dreamweaver but I am not optimistic.  I have DreamweaverMX 2004 but according to the Macromedia Web site there do not appear to be any companies offering training in my remote outpost of civilization (aka Boston).  Apparently there is a new version of Dreamweaver, version 8, which I might have to upgrade to in order to find training.  I dunnno for sure, still checking.  I’ll get back to you on that.

So, if you have read this far, please consider recommending a course of action that I should take.  Do you know of training for any of this stuff?  I don’t need more consultants, I need to be self sufficient.

I think I will add to this entry as things progress, maybe it will be a fun learning experience.  Let me know your thoughts.

Comments
  1. Foda says:

    HI,

    I sympathise – really I do.

    I think you need to think carefully about what you want your site to do. If it’s only to announce you are there – then I would go with a static site and perhaps link it to your blog, where you can post new stuff.

    If you want a web application – then you are going to have to learn to create an application. Something like DNN or Zope etc. will provide you with a lot of the functions of “joining”, “security”, “downloads”, “payment” etc. which you would other wise have to hand code from the start.

    If you go with Dreamweaver you will have a better tool for making a static site. But it will still be a static view of pages not an interactive application.

    If you want to have the full capability of a web based application then you will either need to build or buy one, and if you are not comfortable programming it yourself you will need to get someone to do it……

    Personally I’d pay someone to create and maintain it for you and concentrate on making extra revenue to pay for it, rather than learn commoditised skills.

    Have a look at http://www.getafreelancer.com.

    Good luck.

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