The Lifecycle Of Large Websites

    August 11, 2003

If you’re part of a large organization, your website will probably have been started by a small group of evangelists. It will have grown in a very ad hoc manner. Gradually, senior management will have become more involved. Finally, the website will have been viewed as just another business tool, and managed as such.

Large websites have the following basic lifecycle:

  • Early development by evangelists
  • Rapid and enthusiastic growth
  • The information dump or the sterile room syndrome
  • The consolidation wars
  • Management and maturity or decline into irrelevance

    Early development by evangelists
    The first website was rarely a management initiative. In fact, even today, many senior managers have failed to engage properly with the Web. In the early days, it was up to enthusiastic evangelists who built websites with little support or budget. These people were visionaries, although they were often seen as mavericks.

    Rapid and enthusiastic growth
    The evangelist kept spreading the word and convincing people of the merits of the Web. Slowly, at first, they won converts. Then the momentum began to grow. The growth became explosive within organizations where people could take their own initiative. Websites were being built everywhere. It was an exciting time. There was a genuine sense of an Internet community and being part of something new.

    The information dump or the sterile room syndrome
    If there’s a book inside everyone, there’s also a graphic designer. On the intranet, in particular, you could find all sorts of stuff. From dancing penguins, to opening and closing mailboxes, to winking eyes, websites became experimental playgrounds. Huge quantities of content were unearthed and shoveled online. Stuff was hard to find. Stuff was out-of-date. Stuff was hard to read because of psychedelic wallpaper backgrounds.

    Other websites demanded rigid central control from day one. A tiny team with little or no resources was responsible for publishing everything. By the time a lot of content got published, it was out-of-date. Everyone was frustrated by this bottleneck approach that was strangling initiative.

    The consolidation wars
    Management realized that something was happening. The CEO decided to have a look at the intranet one day. It was chaos. Something had to be done. IT had a solution. Buy content management software. This would magic away all the problems. The organizations that bought such software often found that it made the problems worse, not better.

    The better organizations realized that this was not an IT problem; it was a publishing one. Communications became involved in managing the website, and in writing content that actually worked on the Web. Design standards were established. It was not easy. There were ongoing battles over fonts, graphics, classification, navigation.

    What happened in many organizations was that they managed to create a nice standard design for the top level of the website. However, the further you clicked downwards, the more the website diverged from the standard.

    Management and maturity or decline into irrelevance
    The better websites have created overall standards and guiding principles for their websites. However, they have also sought to decentralize publishing authority to a local level, once standards are followed. Other websites have become a bad joke. Some intranets, in particular, have become a monumental waste of time. Overall, the best websites are getting better; the worst ones are drifting into irrelevance.

    For your web content management solution, contact Gerry McGovern

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