Web 101: Free Beer, WYSIWYGs, CMS, and What They Have in Common

FreeBeerA giant “FREE” sign always a great way to get customers to beat a path to your door, whether you’re a brick-and-mortar operation or you exist mainly in cyberspace.

But when it comes to building or updating your website, this rule still applies: There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.

Another familiar rule also applies: You get what you pay for.  (See “webpagesthatsuck.com” for entertainment.)

If your business, nonprofit, government agency or education institution is about to build a website or launch into an update or a redesign, here are some translations to help you make sense of the Geek speak vocabulary your tech tribe (or designated web hitter) will soon be bringing to you.

Don’t care to learn Geek speak or don’t have time? Skip to the bottom to see what you really need.  (No one will know.)

HTML coding – Talk Like an Egyptian.  Dilbert writes it and Geeks may love it but no one else does. To non-techies, it looks like hieroglyphics, or even worse: algebra. HTML is the underlying string of letters and symbols and numbers which make everything on the web and in your email and on your computer screen appear the way they do. If you want to open up the hood and peer into the conveyor belts, chain reactions and gerbils on treadmills running what you see online, find the “View Source Code” browser tool and take a peek. It’ll look something like this:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html i18n-values="
dir:textdirection;
hasattribution:hasattribution;
themegravity:themegravity;
bookmarkbarattached:bookmarkbarattached;"
class="starting-up">

Had enough?  No one creates websites by coding from scratch anymore, unless they’re part of the development unit of a WYSIWYG or CMS company and they’re testing a new recipe. Why? For the same reason no one makes mayonnaise from scratch anymore, unless they’re a celebrity chef. There are so many pre-made versions for budget to gourmet tastes (and prices) available in the market, no one needs to.

If anyone suggests to you that you hire a Geek to build your web site by hand-coding the html “from scratch,” smile and nod and then never talk to that person again. Definitely do not give them any of your money.  There’s never going to be any free lunch in this option.

WYSIWYG – “What You See is What You Get” web software programs. A decade ago, everyone was using them; Microsoft was wrestling Macromedia to see if FrontPage (remember FrontPage?) or Dreamweaver would win world domination.  Dreamweaver and Macromedia won, and then Adobe, the pdf powerhouse, swept in and bought Dreamweaver.  Dreamweaver is really the only WYSIWYG left standing now; it’s morphed into a David tossing a rock in one hand while the invading CMS giants stand around and laugh at it.

The “No Free Lunch” fine print: Unless you have a WYSIWYG designer on staff, you’ll need to pay a designer to create your website (a fixed cost depending on how large your site is and what you want in it.)

Also, if you want to maintain your website in-house after it’s done (have your employees make future changes and additions to it), you’ll need to buy your own copy of (or license for) Dreamweaver software, for about $400.

DavidGloiathOr, you could pay Adobe $50 a month to join their “Creative Cloud.” Your staff can log in to it and use Adobe technology to create your communications, electronic and print.

But if you’re not going to make daily or weekly future changes and additions to your website, Adobe’s cloud probably isn’t for you.

Dreamweaver or another WYSIWG web software program, however, might be your best choice. Why? Skip to the end.

CMS – Content Management Systems. Some are proprietary, meaning all the coding squirrels on treadmills that run under their hoods are secret/not shared.  Go with a proprietary system and you’ll need to use their designers (at a cost), or their preset templates and designs, AND you’ll probably have to host your website on their servers.

The “No Free Lunch” fine print here is pretty easy to see:  you’ll pay more for website hosting if you go with a proprietary CMS system. Contrast the monthly $25 to $40 cost of a very small-scale proprietary CMS contract with the $10 monthly fee for business hosting packages offered by vendors like Verio.com (the ATT of Japan) or GoDaddy (the one with Danica Patrick in the commercials).

The most popular CMS currently is Open Source: “free” website software platforms (packages) that have been created by thousands of passionate paid and volunteer web developers around the world who really, really, really believe that THEIR software is the ultimate best. And all others are for wimps.

The big three (well, big two) are WordPress and Joomla (two U.S.-based organizations). Drupal (a Dutch outfit), lags behind Dreamweaver in popularity and use currently – but it seems to be amassing fans in U.S. branches of government and education.

Check out the Google Trends chart below: you can see that as of spring 2013, the “Big three” software programs running webs worldwide appear to be WordPress, Joomla and (remember David with the slingshot?) Dreamweaver. Currently, WordPress is the most popular CMS software platform in the U.S. and globally, in that it has more Facebook fans and is Googled far more often than Joomla or Drupal.

GoogleTrens

Each has fervent devotees. Each use slightly different vocabulary to refer to similar features they all offer.  A quick survey of “compare and contrast” articles on CMS platforms shows techie bloggers generally agree that WordPress is the easiest for “non-Geeks” to use. It originated as a software package for bloggers (writers), so it was originally built to handle words and photos.

The “No Free Lunch” fine print on CMS: While devotees and developers of WP, Drupal and Joomla will all swear that their systems are easier to use and way better than that old fashioned WYSYWIG stuff, and heck, they are FREE…you and your staff will still have to learn how to use them after someone builds your website.

And they are not “easier to use.” While all of the CMS platforms aim to make their web creating software look and work just like Microsoft Word (without actually saying the M word), in reality they aren’t any easier for your (non-Geek) staff to use than a WYSIWYG. There is an entire business sector full of competitors who charge fees to train people to operate open source CMS software. They’re all over YouTube with “free” advertorials.

How Do You Pick Web Building Software? And How Do You Build a Good Website?

If you need to add new content daily or you have an extensive catalog of merchandise or an ever-changing array class offerings or videos you want to put online, an Open Source CMS platform may be the ticket for you. A CMS platform is also good for firms and organizations with many people who will be working on many different parts of the same website. Using CMS means one or two (or all) of them won’t be able to crash it. Fatally.

BBC America and Variety use WordPress.  EBay  and GE Transportation use Joomla. The White House website runs on Drupal; so does the 9/11 Memorial website.

(For another good explanation plus graphics on WordPress vs. Drupal vs. Joomla, see this 2011 blog article by webnethosting.net.)

If you’re a small band of warriors blazing trails in new territories and you’ll only have one or two staffers (or a freelancer) adding limited content to your site weekly, monthly, or quarterly, a WYSIWYG software program like Dreamweaver will probably make you happy, even as you grow.

If you’re a mid-size group and you’ve outgrown your old website and you’re not sure where to go next but you know you need to do something – do you go with a CMS or a WYSIWYG? Neither.

What You Really Need

You go with a shikari – an experienced guide who knows the territory and everything about the big game you’re hunting. Your guide should speak fluent Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, and Dreamweaver. Your guide should know a WYSIWYG from a CMS. Your guide should be able to translate the Geek speak into your language.  Your guide should be able to help you track down your audience, and then build a website to snare them.

Whether you’re a giant, a small band or a mid-sized group, what you really need is a web guide.  An experienced web shikari/Sherpa/guide can lead you through the Internet wilderness to help you find what you’re seeking: a website that does what you want it to do.

Of course, good web guides don’t work for free. And they will never offer you a free lunch.

So why did you find this blog on Greenlight-Interactive? Because we’re the shikaris you’ve been looking for.

Teresa Mariani Hendrix has led dollar hunting clients through the web wilderness without losing any of them. She speaks fluent Dreamweaver, Drupal, Encompass, FrontPage (now an archaic dialect), Photoshop, Facebook, LinkedIn, eBlogger, Flickr, PowerPoint, CSS, ADA compliance, SEO, Google, and is an expert markswoman when it comes to keywords and metatags.

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