Lean, evergreen and sensible

This post is general advice for small operations that want a website that is an asset to their organization instead of a headache.

I've been making little websites to serve up information on various topics for close to two decades. I'm basically a one-woman shop.

My websites have to be lean, evergreen, low cost and low maintenance to make any sense at all.

Bill Gates has said: ...automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency... automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.

A well-done website for a small operation can leverage limited resources. A poorly done website can consume all the resources you can throw at it and still be hungry for more.

If you are a small operation, it's a bad idea to commit to constantly updating a site with current data of various sorts, especially data that changes frequently. You either won't be able to keep up or you will run yourself ragged and neglect other things to keep that commitment.

Feeding The Beast endless data can be kind of like this.

Good data that is kept current is very expensive, if only because it takes a lot of man-hours. Instead of committing to that, you should commit to having most things on your site be evergreen.

Evergreen content is generally useful information that should still be relevant five or more years from now. You should generally avoid things like dates and prices because those tend to change.

If you have a small website for a small business, you don't want to put prices on every single page. You want one page with prices that you can link to from elsewhere. That way, when prices change, you only need to update a single page.

Similarly, contact information and other things that are subject to change should be provided in one or two places that can be easily updated. Do not spread this kind of information across the entire site.

You simply won't be able to find it all when you need to make changes, and you never know exactly how someone has found your site or what page they are starting on. So information needs to be consistent across the entire site somehow.

It is possible to enhance a site with third-party assets that will keep certain kinds of information current. If you can find a widget or code snippet to add that functionality, that can make sense.

Just make sure you aren't planning a website where the answer is that you (or someone in your small organization) will need to personally find the information, format the information and post it to your site. You will have to get it clear in your mind what kinds of information are easily leveraged by using a website as a cheap bullhorn to share it with people and what kinds of information will have you chained to a desk trying desperately to keep it all current.

A lot of what is found on the internet is supplied by armies of often low-paid laborers or even unpaid volunteers. That's basically how Reddit, Facebook and Wikipedia work. Millions of people add information to those sites daily for free.

It can be hard to visualize the human labor involved when all you are seeing is technology on your end. But ask yourself: If you open the box, will you find technology? Or will you find a lot of free/cheap labor driving that product?

This is how a lot of modern tech really works.

If the answer is there is an army of little elves inside the box when you open it up, then you can't realistically emulate that project with a small shop. So don't try.

You should also choose a tech stack you can realistically handle. I used to hand code my websites in HTML and CSS. It took too much time, so I rarely got new content up. I switched to a plug-and-play platform and began getting a lot more content published.