Archive for December, 2009

Custom Functionality for Websites

Over the last year or so I have seen an uptick in requests for what I call custom website functionality. I don’t know if this is an indication of anything significant, but it is interesting.


Because custom functionality typically calls for programming and programming tends to be more involved and costly than standard web development. It also can be both exciting and exasperating. Exciting because it takes me back to how I first got involved in the technology field 25 years ago and exasperating because the process is hard to gauge, especially from a time standpoint.

Before going further, let me define my terms:

  • First there is the plain vanilla website that requires only HTML, CSS and maybe a formmail.
  • Second is a website thats requirements can be satisfied with an off-the-shelf content management system. In this case functionality could include anything from form building to product/catalog management to a shopping cart. The point is that all this functionality already exists in one, nice CMS package that costs a few dollars a month to access.
  • This brings us to custom programming to provide practically any function a client wishes his or her website to perform.

From a cost standpoint, the three basic categories of websites vary widely, both from each other and within each category (see our How Much Does a Website Cost blog post). But for the purposes of this piece let’s say that a plain website is the least expensive, a website using a CMS is more expensive (though only marginally) and a website that requires custom functionality is the most expensive.

So if you think you want your website to do something different here’s some advice:

  • Research each bit of functionality to make sure that there isn’t something out there already that will do what you want it to do. Say you want an updateable calendar. Find some examples. There are plenty. Then go to your web developer and ask if one can be implemented. If so, you will likely be talking about a relatively small implementation fee and maybe a slight increase in your hosting fee.
  • If you can’t find anything that meets your specific needs, see if there’s a program out there that’s close. Depending on the license, you might be able to find someone who can make it work at less cost than building new. But, like renovating an old house, you often don’t know what the final cost will be until you open up the walls. I thought I had a cheap solution recently from a foreign source that turned out to be a nightmare. Once my programmer got hold of the source code he found that it was going to take less time to write code from scratch than to try to sort through the existing program’s million lines of code.
  • Finally, if you’re convinced that what you need doesn’t exist in the way you need it or that the licensing won’t allow you to do what you want with something that exists, it’s time to talk about custom programming.

Just remember, this process is going to take more time than you, the web developer or the programmer expect. More on the process next.