Web sites is web sites aint they?

You must have all heard it, or something like it.  This was said to me the other day…“My son can knock up a web site in an hour and he’s only 15. So why are you wasting so much of my money on yours?”
Comments like this are the scourge of web managers in local government. Little Johnny can knock up a web site all about his skateboard club  using one of the plethora of pieces of software on the market and can have it hosted for nothing. Or at least that’s what the public believe.
This view is understandable and is probably the view and even experience of most members of the public – maybe, even of colleagues with whom we work.
What is not realised is that most local government web sites are about as far away from little Johnny’s simple model, in flying terms,  as a Eurofighter is away from Wilbur and Orville  at Kitty Hawk.
Lets drop the crass analogy but I think you get the point. They sort of do the same thing but they are not the same. They are worlds apart.
Modern web sites employ  far more complex technology than was used back in the early web days (1993) when we wrote the pages in raw HTML on a computer using something as simple as text editor, and yes, I was there. We now have astounding Content Management Systems (CMS), CSS etc. all providing the latest ability to more easily produce technically exquisite  web sites.

It’s not just in the technology though is it. The drivers which push us to produce a fully compliant, accessible, feature and content rich, fast web site have become more powerful. Usability, channel shifting, interaction, web 2, social networking, cost saving, increased demand, user expectation, Martini time expectation Government mandates, accessibility standards, external testing, Socitm Better Connected review, comms “message” issues,  the list goes on. It never fails to amaze me we actually keep all of this together.

What about the design element? Clearly there are fashions in web site production just as there are in all elements of our lives. Fashion changes and today’s sites look old hat in a year or two.
Lastly it is the size of the beasts we are building now. Tens of thousands of pages/documents, hundreds of interactive forms and thousands of updates a month, from hundreds of colleagues who write the content, make producing and managing a local government web site  a mammoth logistical task.
The elements of technology, powerful external and internal drivers, design and the vastness of what we build all compound to make today’s local government web sites complex animals far beyond the skill sets of what little Johnny can do. The only similarity is that they can both be described as web sites.
The next time you are told the equivalent of “ my son can knock that up in a day” think on just what it is that makes for a modern local government web site and either take up the cudgel or simply smile as an external expression of what you know inside.
They are comparing a glider with a 747. And web sites simply aint just web sites.