Weblog as Website for the Small Organization

by Philip Greenspun in May 2009

Site Home : Business : One Idea

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

Nikon F4, 24/2.8 AF lens, Fuji Velvia, tripod. 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 site?"

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

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 one year.

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 small organization:

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).

Which toolkit?

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 as-built documentation.

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 professional programmer.


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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