Magazine article Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management

Rich Media on a Shoestring: Build a Better Web Site for Less Time and Money

Magazine article Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management

Rich Media on a Shoestring: Build a Better Web Site for Less Time and Money

Article excerpt

THE TECHNOLOGIES AND TOOLS for building Web sites has changed so much in the last few years, what used to be seen as a huge time and financial investment can be done within days for a fraction of the old cost. With the latest Web-based solutions, that means any size publisher can offer the full rich-media experience without needing the expensive hardware or software. In fact, publishers shouldn't own hardware for their Web site at all, says Mark Pratt, vice president of business development for Metro Publisher, a CMS and Web development service provider. Publishers should be looking at software-as-a-service (Saas) or cloud-computing content management systems, he says.

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Ten years ago, there wasn't really a concept of a real CMS or a development platform, like Drupal, Joomla or WordPress, for the Web specifically, says Tom Wolf, senior Web developer for Summit Media Group Inc. "That's been a shift of best practices and how we do it," Wolf says. Starting five or so years ago, the tools started to mature to a point where it made a lot of sense to use Drupal, or Ruby on Rails, or a whole host of those kinds of systems. Enterprise-level systems and commercial equivalents had been kicking around as well, though there wasn't a viable alternative to an enterprise system before then. "There would be a light-weight library, but not a full end-to-end workflow," says Wolfe. "What was developing and seen in the last few years was the proliferation and increased adoption of development tools on the back-end."

Falling Prices

It used to be that integrating a third-party service, such as YouTube and Twitter, which are so prevalent now, was seen as a major undertaking. And if there were more than a couple, it was a red flag with a large task requiring a lot of time. Now it's the norm to have half a dozen different services integrated into the site. "Now we run a variety of social media, pushing out and pulling some back in, leveraging third-party video providers," Wolf says. "There's a proliferation of these companies; what used to be really expensive is now available for a much cheaper fee. And a lot of the tasks have been solved at a platform level so the cost to integrate a new thing has lessened considerably."

Overall, costs for building a Web site have dropped through the floor. Maybe just four years ago, the costs to do rich media, like video hosting, would have required a thousand-dollar-a-month investment, Wolf says. Today, server, bandwidth, and coding costs have evaporated. Summit, which is in the midst of relaunching Automationworld.com and Packworld.com, the site for Packaging World, is using open-source Drupal. The publisher does analytics on site, making use of Viddler and a whole bunch of video-hosting companies for about $50 to $100 a month, Wolf says.

Editing and preparation has also become free or cheap in the consumer realm. YouTube does hosting and coding for free. For serious photo editing, you still need someone on staff with Photoshop, but that's a one-time cost every three years, he says. Audio can be done on the cheap using low-cost plug-ins for Skype or Google Talk. "The hardware and software are ridiculously cheap, and for quite good quality," says Wolf. "If multimedia is not your touchstone for your brand, people will engage with it even if it's not that high quality. You can do it with your iPhone so long as you provide the real-time experience. But when you're doing a podcast or something that's a stronger branding item or anything custom, if it feels like amateur hour every time, users will get frustrated with it."

Web builders like Squarespace, SiteKreator and Metro Publisher charge as little as a middling monthly Netflix account. For example, Squarespace charges between $12 and $36 per month, based on what features are needed. So some of its publishing clients spend anywhere from $100 a year to $1,000 a year for its hosted services, with no set-up fees. …

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