Web project philosophies: a comment from uwebd

August 23, 2008

Posted in Higher Ed.

Someone on the University Web Developers community on Ning asked a question about having a “mission statement” for their website. Not about posting a mission statement for your organization, but the very mission of the website itself. That is, what the website’s purpose is.

This elicited a great comment from Charlie Triplett from Missouri on having a philosophy for web projects:

I don’t have a mission statement for Engineering.Missouri.edu, but I have a philosophy… or maybe it’s not so much a philosophy as a talk I have with folks before I begin working with them on a dept. or research group website. This is the “sale” portion of the relationship. If things go well during the initial “sale” then you’ll have smoother sailing and realistic expectations later on.

Here’s a brief outline:

1) I explain that I’ve worked as an inspector for Solar Bike Rayce. The purpose of an inspector is to help teams to get into the event, safely. The purpose is NOT to keep people out of the race on a personal power trip.

I say that so they understand that a) I’m a science/technology nerd like they are and b) that they understand that I’m not a stickler for the rules just for rules sake.

2) I adapted these guidelines from Mizzou’s WebCom dept:
Dont start what you can’t finish.
Don’t build what you can’t maintain.
Don’t use the web for a filing cabinet.
Don’t build the site according to an organizational flow chart.


When these rules are broken we end up with websites that ROT.
Out of date

Normal for many (if not most) edu websites is ROT. They build ROT because of:

  • Ambitious plans they can’t finish

  • Unrealistic expectations for maintenance

  • Archiving information that no user is interested in

  • Not considering their website from an outsider’s perspective

3) Here’s what I can do now:
Build an attractive site that’s maintainable

4) Here’s what I can’t do:
Build a site that will ROT because then we’re right back where we started.

5) At this point, everyone is on board and looking at it from the same point of view. But there’s always this question:
“We don’t have the content yet, can you just make something up?”

The answer is:

“Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.”, Jeffrey Zeldman

I’m not saying this makes faculty & staff into brilliant web editors. But it does give you a context for your guidance, because later on, when they want to add meeting minutes, you can say “Well, anything is possible, but do you remember when we talked about using the web as a filing cabinet? Yeah… well…”


If you’re a higher ed web worker, check out uwebd.ning.com.