I've played with tons of server scripts – and most have had problems to one extent or another, either in installation or execution. All too frequently the provided documentation is woefully lacking, and when present, written "by geeks for geeks" – and delivered without a handy pocket-sized Rosetta Stone for easy decryption of the arcane terms within…
For example, the installation documents for a server-side CGI script could include a line like: "Telnet into your account using SSH and set file ab.cgi to xx-rw-excedrin-headache-number-10" – as if the majority of today's Webmasters running on virtual hosts have Telnet access or would know a command line if it bit them in the ass...
Developers should make easy software, distributed in zip files (not “Tarballs” etc.), and have FTP'able installations, with numerical permissions that don't require a freakin' Web search to figure out what they meant. “Why don't they just SAY ‘755’?”
Anyway, when all else fails, it's the developer's responsibility to help; and the level of service they provide is what separates the good ones from the wannabes – and justifies the price of their offerings... For example, I'm currently trying to get up to speed with ePower Trader and ePower Thumbs – and I've been having some problems… (heck, I had to transfer a domain and switch ISPs just to obtain the required server resources).
BUT – the developer has been there for me, holding my hand and guiding me through the setup process; answering my questions and being VERY patient with my unending pestering of him via ICQ (I would have already blocked a nuisance like me). Not all companies provide this level of service, and I’ve been highly impressed with the help that I’ve received.
While I’m currently looking into ways to transform what would otherwise be a nicely automated thumbs-based TGP and trade system into an innovative “friend’s page” for my wife’s amateur site (a process which will no doubt require further pestering of the base software’s developer), I began to contemplate the whole process of developing and marketing software tools and scripts for “Webmasters” – which led me to writing this article.
The reason for concern is partly over the use (or misuse) of the terms “Webmasters” and “Developers.” While in proper usage the titles should connote a degree of skill and professionalism, in practice today, a “Webmaster” is “someone who owns and / or runs a Website” while a “Developer” could be “someone who wrote a computer program” – even if it was for a high-school project. “What about Designers?” you ask – they could very well be “just another kid with Photoshop…”
None of this is of any consequence until money becomes involved. While dealing with designers is pretty straightforward – if you get the job done correctly, on time, within budget, and at the level of quality that you expected, it doesn’t matter if your designer is a high-school kid working in his parent’s basement or not (with the exception of issues surrounding the exposure to minors of potentially harmful materials).
But when you’re talking about mission-critical software that can often come at a relatively high price, and that you are relying on to help you pay your rent, then the skill, experience and commitment of the developer becomes vital – and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Webmasters need to consider not only the purchase price or feature sets of the software they wish to buy (or even more importantly, commission), but also the level of support they will receive – even if it is a value-added service. Developers need to ensure that their software not only operates correctly over as wide a variety of platforms as possible, but that the setup and operation is as idiot-proof as possible, in order to cater to the less technically savvy Webmaster. Before you release a script, find some beta-testers to see what they can do with it, and what problems they might face – and don’t just look for experienced people; stupid consumers have money to spend too, they just need a little more help to be satisfied…
Designers? I’ll let you know a little more about them after I find one to help me ‘spruce up’ that trick new “friends page” I’m working on… ~ Stephen