The Times-Standard is reporting that the City of Blue Lake would like to have a web site. The report states that volunteers agreed to get a start on the site. When that faltered “Police Chief Dave Gundersen took on the effort — but the result was a little more complex than city leaders had envisioned.”

How many times have I heard stories like this. Because of web design tools like Frontpage and Dreamweaver, it seems like everyone who can type believes they can build and maintain web sites. The fact is, though. They can. But often the difference between volunteer or an amateur web site and one built by a professional company that undertands the technology thoroughly is like the difference between a photocopied newsletter built in Word and a polished, designed newsletter using profession layout tools built by a trained professional.

Of course, the latter is more expensive. But what is the value you receive in return? That’s always the question. Does the City of Blue need a web site? If so, why? What is the City trying to accomplish with the web site? What will be people be able to find on the web site? How will they find it? What, besides look at information about Blue Lake will site visitors be able to do there? How will the site be maintained? Who will do it? How will the site be marketed? It’s long past the time when you could put up a site and expect it to be found by the right people. These are all basic questions that are often not asked when an organization is thinking about having a web site.

The article goes on to state “The city manager noted that City Planner Bob Brown had offered the services of his firm — Streamline Planning — to create the website. They built the city of Trinidad’s website. The obstacle is the cost, estimated at $5,000.” I’m not sure what that cost is based on. But the City of Trinidad’s site does not look too difficult to build. It looks like a standard template with a couple stock calendar applications thrown in.

At the end of the article, City Manager Wiley Buck stated he was hoping for a site similar to the City of Ferndale’s. Again, this is a very simple site. Plain old html like we used to build in 1995. The only dynamic feature on the site is a search tool which is actually run off a third party server. So, if that’s all they want, they probably could get “Arcata High School, College of the Redwoods or Humboldt State University students” to help out. But, will the site get done in a timely manner? Will it have a professional look? Will it have the features they would like? Do they even know what features they would like? Do they even know what’s possible? What would they like their web site to be like 6 months from now? 1 year from now?

I think it’s wonderful they want to have a web site. But have they asked, or been asked the right questions? From this article it doesn’t sound like it.

If they want to save money, though and only want a simple site, why not use a free template like the Eureka Arts and Culture Commission did?  Of course, maybe they shouldn’t leave the name of the free web template company in the title tage of the home page.