This article, prepared to support a talk at Wordcamp 2009, recommends that
a small business or non-profit organization use a standard Weblog as
its primary Web site.
The Small Business Web circa 1994
In 1994, a small organization that wanted a Web site would hire a "Web
designer" skilled in the exotic art of "HTML programming" to produce a
static Web site, i.e., a cluster of linked pages with a distinctive
design and color scheme, giving information about the company or
non-profit org. None of the pages would have a date on them because,
by definition, nothing on the Web could be more than four years old.
The Small Business Web circa 2009
Managers of new small enterprises or established non-profit
organizations sometimes ask me "Whom should I hire to build my Web
I ask them what they want the site to do. The answer is to promote
their business and distribute some basic information to
customers. What they want is a static 1994-style graphic
designer-produced Web site.
I explain that publishing on the Web is like producing a word
processor document or writing an email. Would they hire a designer to
write their documents and emails? No? Then why would they hire a
designer to build their Web site?
Bad Features of a Static Designer-built Web Site
- expensive to build ($50 on rentacoder.com to $50,000 with an ad agency)
- slow and expensive to update, with every minor change depending on
getting the attention of and some labor from a designer
- with no dated content on the site or a simple "copyright 2007" at
the bottom, a potential customer stumbling upon the site may wonder if
the organization still exists; perhaps the site was built many years
ago, the ISP paid in advance, and the site continues as a zombie while
the business has disappeared
lack of credibility
- would you shop in a store that you never saw anyone else go into?
would you trust a Web page that, as far as you can tell, you're the
only person ever to look at? A Web page with comments left by other
readers is more credible than a Web page with no comments; a Web site
that shows "200 people logged in now" and provides some means of
engaging in a discussion with those 200 people is more credible than
one with no means of discussion.
limited update notification options
- a traditional static Web site affords the user no means of
learning about updates, short of revisiting the site every day and
clicking around. Some publishers allow a reader to submit his or her
email address for inclusion on a mailing list, but 2009 Internet users
are overwhelmed with junk mail and are reluctant to proffer their
email addresses. A publisher whose primary job is running a small
business may not have the energy to send out a mass mailing every time
something is added to the site.
Importance of Dated Content
This was not a problem in 1994 because if a reader saw a site it had
almost certainly been built within the preceding year. Even a badly
managed business or non-profit organization can usually survive for
A reader in 2009 who visits a small enterprise's site with no dated
content may well pick up the phone and call the contact number. If the
area code has been changed and the graphic designer wasn't hired to
update the pages, the reader will assume the enterprise is defunct. If
the call goes through, the enterprise will spend money to pay an
employee to answer the call and explain "Yes, we're still in
business. Yes, we're still at the address listed on the Web site."
Using a Weblog Solves Every Problem
Cutting the site development budget from $5000 to $5 solves all of the
problems at once. Here is how using a standard Weblog works for a
- cost to build is $0, other than employee time to type in site
content, something that would have had to be done with a graphic
designer as well
- cost to update is $0; anyone who can remember the admin password
and click a mouse on the "edit" option next to a posting can update
text on the site; anyone who can read English and click a mouse can
add photos, videos, and stories to the site.
- all items on the site will be dated by default, with the newest
content automatically appearing first; a reader who sees a story dated
a week ago will be confident that the organization is still
- built-in community; standard Weblog software allows readers to
register and post comments on publisher-created content, including
stories, photos, and video. The publisher can approve or delete
- built-in integration with RSS; readers who use news aggregators to
keep track of new content on multiple Weblogs can subscribe to the
small organization's RSS feed; the reader need not supply the
publisher with an email address in order to receive updates. For
readers who subscribe via RSS, a new story on smallcompany.com or
smallnonprofit.org will get equal prominence with an article from the New
Turning a Weblog into a Web site
The standard Weblog
gives the most prominence to the newest material, which might not be
desired for an organization that wants to highlight business hours,
prices, and physical location.
There are quite a few programmers and Web designers worldwide who
understand how to customize popular free and open source Weblog
software. Alternatively, one can purchase a theme for a standard
Weblog toolkit, e.g, bestwpthemes.com
(all under $100).
Wordpress seems to be the most
popular tool in 2009 (source)
and therefore it should be the system with which programmers and
designers are most familiar.
Why not custom software?
Why not build a Web site from scratch, including some interactive
features? Managing software developers turns out to be difficult and
risky. More than half of software development projects are failures,
running longer than planned and costing more than budgeted before
finally being abandoned. Even if successful, being the owner of a
custom software collection is expensive. Suppose that the original
programmer quits or gets run over by a bus? You'll have to pay a
replacement to understand the code before he or she can begin making
modifications. This challenge is made more difficult by the average
programmer's unwillingness and inability to write useful design or
A Web site that is built on a standard Weblogging tool, however, will
likely have more than 99 percent of its code in common with the
standard toolkit distribution. The publisher will thus be responsible
for maintaining only a tiny percentage of the software behind his or
her site. In many cases, a Weblog toolkit can be customized without
ever touching the SQL or scripting language source code; all of the
customization is in HTML templates and style sheets, perhaps wrapped
up into a "theme". This kind of training does not require a
Here are some common objections voiced...
"I don't have the technical skill to create a Weblog." Can they
read English and click a mouse? Are they as capable as the average
10-year-old who runs a Weblog? My mother, a graduate of Harvard
University, admired a custom photo mug that I had ordered from
zazzle.com. I said that she could make one for herself using any Web
browser. "I could never do that," she responded. Did she imagine that
zazzle.com could stay in business if they were limited to selling
products to people with IQs above 140? How many hyperintelligent
Americans did she imagine there to be? Analogously, would there have
been a blog revolution in the U.S. if it required an IQ of more than
85 to build a blog?
"I don't have the time to write content for a Weblog." Then
they don't have the time to work with a graphic designer either. The
graphic designer can't write their content. He or she does not know
what they want to communicate to customers.
"I don't want customers placing comments on my site."
Weblog software can be configured to suppress "add a comment"
links. It can also be configured so that every comment must be
approved before going live. Before banishing user contributions,
remember that the average Web user is unlikely to trust a page with no
evidence of other visits. You don't need to read financial reports to
know that amazon.com is a popular place to shop. If there are no
comments on your pages, customers might infer that your services are
unpopular (or if a non-profit org, that your impact is insignificant).
Text and photos: Copyright 1994-2009 Philip Greenspun.
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