January 15, 2013

The blank web page

published this at 8:12 am

By James Ellis

Let’s play a game. In this game, I have all the power of a Greek god. I am James, God of Websites. No, there’s no need to bow down, for I am an beneficent god.

thunderbolt

In this game, you have a web site. Wait, you have a web site? Great, let’s use that. Ready? Here we go.

I, as the great God of Web, have destroyed your website. I have smote it! When you go to your domain, all you get is a blank white screen. No 404 errors, no broken code, just a clean screen, like the lake after a snowstorm.

Now I have not destroyed any content. All your text and images and databases are still intact in your WordPress/Drupal/Joomla admin screen (See? I told you I’m an understanding god). They just don’t show up.

In this imaginary world it’s January 1, so no one is going to go to your site all day, and therefore no one knows about this calamity that has befallen you. But you have already put a big ad buy in for January 2, so you expect a tsunami of traffic to descend tomorrow. Your design and development staff is off on their annual trek to visit every bar in Wrigleyville and have turned off their phones. You are alone.

This is the game. You have one day to save yourself. It’s impossible to bring the site back to what it was on December 31, so don’t even try. But you need some basic functionality when people return January 2 or else everyone gets fired. Fun game, right?

So what do you do? What do you save? What’s the first thing you bring back? What’s the one or two things that are vital to saving your job? Is it the logo? (Spoiler: no.) Is it the perfect design? (Probably not.) Is it the compendium of products, 98% of which no one looks at, let alone buys? (Um, I’ll let you guess.)

What is crucial to your site? I mean truly crucial? The clock is ticking and your site is blank, so what are you going to do?

As a beneficent god, I will reward good work. If you choose what is crucial and get it up quickly, ignoring that massive PDF of design guidelines and logo placement, of coding things to work in Netscape 4, of all that you’ve learned about the marketing/corporate tone, I will direct that massive wave of traffic to your site and your work will determine how much of it converts.

Sadly, this is just a game. Instead, you’re stuck with that behemoth of a site, one that has every word ever written on it since 1998, with a glut of images and code that makes any change to the site take five times longer than if it was just your personal blog.

You are shackled to the past. To move forward, you need to think about what the future could look like, and it shouldn’t include 50% of the stuff you probably think about now. So take this moment and think about what needs to go and how you convince everyone that it’s the right way to go.

Because one day, you might be visited by a less beneficent god of the web (I’ve heard ugly rumors about the God of Automated Backups).

Consider this your only warning.

Author’s Bio: James Ellis is a digital strategist, mad scientist, lover, fighter, drummer and blogger living in Chicago. You can reach out to him or just argue with his premise at saltlab.com.

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, by Peter Davey

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