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Website Design, Development and Maintenance
1 July 2009

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This will probably make me sound really old but I was using email and creating websites since before the Internet.  My first website was named "Gilligan's Island" and the server was a dual-floppy drive computer located in my bedroom.  I used my website to send emails, trade computer games (some of which I had written), collect pictures (all ASCII art because nobody had color monitors yet) and generally try to impress my high school nerd friends.

Back then it wasn't called email, it was Netmail.  And it wasn't called a website, it was called a BBS (Bulletin Board System).  The Internet technically existed (it was called ARPANET) but nobody had heard of it and it only existed on government mainframes.  Instead of the Internet, my BBS used a system called FidoNet which was basically just a bunch of nerds with computers and 300 baud modems.  Remember the 1983 movie "War Games" with Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy?  As far as I was concerned, that movie was second only to Star Wars.

War Games Ascii Art I was 17, what kind of art do you think I collected?

It wasn't until almost 10 years later that the Internet started to gain popularity.  I lived and worked in the heart of Silicon Valley at the time.  I remember thanking that the Internet was finally catching on when I first saw a news caster struggling to pronounce "http://www..."  I had already been working with the Internet for years so I knew that the "http://www" part of a website's address is optional (the browser and server will usually figure it out for you) but the news caster didn't know that and he looked quite confused as he tried to spell out the entire URL.

In addition to network programming for computer games, I also worked at Cisco for awhile making a device called a server load balancer.  I won't bore you with the details but it was a very impressive device at the time.  For the technically minded, I wrote a health monitor using sockets and various TCP/IP protocols including UDP, SMTP, FTP and HTTP.  The company even awarded me some patent money for work I did with regular expressions.  I think it was a silly patent idea but Cisco liked it enough to pay me for it.

As much fun as it was to work with all that high-tech stuff, I eventually decided to give it up and grow Kona coffee instead.  Kona coffee is a premium coffee and it demands a premium price but the profit margin for the farmer is amazingly slim.  The best way to be profitable as a Kona coffee farmer is to be vertically integrated.  That means selling fresh coffee directly to the consumer.  A great way to reach consumers all across the country is with a good website.

Ribbon Leveraging off my vast experience as a network programmer I figured it would be easy to design and build my own website.  I had written plenty of client side and server side software before so how hard could it be to make a website?  Well, I built the entire Kona Earth website by myself but it was far more time consuming than I expected.  The initial web design was easy, it's the vast amount of technical details required for implementation, security and maintenance that can be overwhelming.  Apparently I did ok though because my Kona Earth website won first place in the Kona coffee website competition.

Word quickly got out among the other Kona coffee farmers that I had a technical background and could make websites.  I've had several people ask me for help, including some of the large players in the industry, but I've always turned them down because I was too busy with my own farm.  Now that I've finished major construction of my barn, I have time to take on some extra work and develop websites for others.

A few important terms
How much does it cost to make a website?
Of course that's always the first question and of course the answer depends on what kind of website it is.  Making a small website with nothing but a few pictures and simple HTML code is easy and something most people could do themselves for free.  I'll even help talk you through it if you'd like.  There are a lot of free solutions out there but most aren't suited for a professional website.

Making a website with professional looking content such as Flash, CSS and JavaScript is relatively easy for most web designers.  Add a shopping cart and the difficulty level jumps up dramatically.  Security issues are a big concern with any e-commerce site and should only be handled by an experienced programmer.  By that point you might as well become a professional and use the entire LAMP stack:  Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP.

Companies such as Amazon, FedEx or Walmart spend millions on their websites with a whole staff of full-time developers.  Even relatively small companies often spend tens of thousands on their websites.  I don't want to mention any names but I can point to several Kona coffee websites that cost more than a luxury car.  The expense doesn't stop there either, server and maintenance fees for even a small website can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars per year.

For that kind of money it's difficult to get a website to pay for itself.  So what's a small time business owner to do?  The first step is to decide if a website would really help your business.  If the answer is yes, then it's time to decide what features you'll need.  Some businesses need little more than their contact info while other businesses can benefit tremendously from a complex, full featured website.  It's important to spend appropriately for the type of online business you expect to be doing.

A simple website with no shopping cart, such as CaliforniaGoldenTrout.org, can cost as little as a few hundred dollars.  A more complex e-commerce website, such as the average Kona coffee farm website, takes longer to develop and can cost several thousand dollars.  The maintenance costs range from ten dollars to several hundred dollars per month depending on the amount of traffic, page changes and administrative tasks required.  On average, a small business owner can expect to spend about three to five thousand dollars for initial development and a couple hundred dollars per year for hosting and maintenance.

Of course those numbers are rough estimates, the exact cost depends on the specific details of a site.  For example, Kona Earth has extensive administrative features that help me a lot when it comes to running the business but are invisible to the user.  Some business owners want that detailed level of control while others would rather have their website run on autopilot.

I can help with all of your website needs.
Working with an individual developer can be a big benefit because not only can I tailor the work to fit your needs, I'm also only a phone call away.  Whether you need a little help adding a specific feature or you want someone to do all the work for you, either way just let me know and we can work something out.  If I don't have the answer, I'll refer you to someone that does.

Check out my Website Development page for more details.

DVR + Paper = Corner
To make the graphic on my Website Development page, I simply disassembled and old cable TV box I had laying around then I printed out some of my old source code on a piece of paper.  I stitched the pictures together in Photoshop and used a little CSS tweaking to get the graphic lined up correctly and show off how talented I am.

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