As the Internet evolves, two things are happening at the same time.
On the one hand everything is seemingly getting slicker, simpler, more elegant and easy to use. Just think of iPhones and iPads, where children can manipulate applications with the swipe of their fingers and where in a few short minutes an owner of a new device can have it fully configured to check their email, surf the Web, synchronize their calendars and contacts and perform any number of hundreds of thousands of tasks and games with instant app downloads.
On the other hand, the very fact that the hardware is able to be so slick and efficient is as a result of an incredibly complex world of programming, not to mention a totally mind-boggling level of complex interconnectivity. Behind the slick façade lies the operating system, network protocols, Wi-Fi, ISP accounts, servers and domain names all over the world and armies of the brightest minds of our generation getting paid stupendous salaries to make sure that it all works.
So when users experience the ‘front-end’ of this phenomenon, even though they may still encounter glitches and issues and varying standards of quality between Websites and apps, connections and configurations, one definitely gets a general feeling of satisfaction and ease. This is starkly apparent if you look back 10 or 15 years and recall the days of having to insert modem strings to make your connection work, pouring through untold other settings and crossing your fingers in the hope that it all hangs together, and once you got online, on your big old chunky computer with an 800x600 pixel resolution screen, having what could only be described as a mediocre experience on most Websites. We have definitely come a long way. HD video streaming, facebook updates, Soundcloud uploading and checking Google Analytics from bed while the office computer magically backs itself up without you even thinking is a pretty nice place to be.
Herein lies the paradox. When a business owner decides to switch from being a user of the Internet today and get involved as a producer, things take on a radically different dimension. Suddenly they are entering the world of the technology that runs everything. They enter this world with the mind of a user, often believing that what goes on behind the curtains is just as elegant and simple as what goes on onstage. It is a forgivable delusion, but it is still a delusion. Sure, there are products and services out there that enable people to set up basic Websites without any technical knowhow, and sure there are plenty of business tools available that are relatively straight forward – but almost always, the business owner ends up requiring customisations and integrations that immediately put them out of their depth in the technology whirlpool.
Elegance at the front-end involves a great deal of planning, strategy and architecture in the back-end, not to mention a consistent content creation process, to ensure all the text and images are formatted and fitting the layout and style of the delivery medium. Websites now need to work on desktops, mobile devices of all shapes and screen sizes, as well as tablets and even televisions.
Interactions and integrations between Websites and social media platforms are becoming commonplace, yet each one requires a certain level of control to ensure it is doing what the business owner wants it to do. Websites are not just information resources any more. They need to engage, call for action and response, share information from diverse locations, provide downloads or even videos, podcasts and webinars. They might require logins to secure areas, track usage, charge for access to certain files, hook into third party systems, allow subscription and account management or any number of other functions – all seamlessly and elegantly, as if the entire thing was dreamed up by Steve Jobs himself.
The bottom line is the bottom line – all of this takes time and costs money and is almost always unable to be done to a satisfactory level by a business owner, as it requires high levels of programming expertise and understanding. More and more we are receiving enquiries from prospective clients who are coming to us having seen all kinds of amazing things online and wanting to do those amazing things themselves. Almost without fail, their expectation of what is involved to make things happen is completely out of alignment with what is really involved. They cite Websites that might have cost $200,000 to launch and a further $500,000 a year in staff salaries and overheads to maintain, yet they expect that this could be achieved by one person for under $10,000 and half an hour of dabbling on the weekend.
This is the paradox: The more elegant and awesome the Internet becomes to the end user, the easier everyone thinks it must be to get involved, when in fact it is becoming more and more complex and more epic a challenge to create a real successful online presence.
It doesn’t help when we are being told by companies offering cookie-cutter solutions or simple package deals that you can do anything you ever dreamed of online for $15 a month! These people never seem to tell you what the limitations are, just that the product or service is totally amazing.
There are two ways to go here – 1) Accept the paradox, accept a compromise and make the most of what you have got in terms of money, time and tools or 2) Accept the paradox and plan your business accordingly with sufficient capital and resources to achieve what you hope to achieve.
If you ignore the paradox, you ignore it at your peril. Making everything look so easy is not so easy at all.