A Website is a Place, not a 'Product': It Needs Evolution, not Revolution

An interesting blog post dropped into my inbox this morning from Boagworld, called "Are you refining or rotting?", which focused "on the need to evolve your website rather than redesigning every few years". Evolution is something I've read about before from people like Gerry McGovern ("Web redesign is bad strategy", July 2007), and touched on briefly myself in a blog post about web 2.0 a while back. I've a big believer in evolution not revolution in web design, but it's still something of a rarity in this field it seems. I suspect this is because the people who make the decisions about such things generally learned their trade in a webless world, so aren't sufficiently experienced specifically with web design and cloud working to see the difference - but that's probably another blog post.

I'm also working on some Google Earth models at the moment, and the reason I mention it is a thought struck me as I was starting up Google Sketch-up that is relevant to this issue of evolution/revolution. I have two versions of Google Sketchup installed on my computer right now, version 7 and version 8. I won't go into why (this is not an accident, put in that way!) but as I went to start it this morning I was briefly annoyed to see that the name of the programme in my start up list was the same for both programmes. How was I supposed to know which was which?

On reflection though, it occurs that perhaps what this demonstrates is the Google way of thinking, rather than the Microsoft or Adobe way of thinking. The concept of continual improvement and evolution that is the hallmark of good web design, now creeping slowly but surely into app design. Sure, Google still have iterations of some of their products, but from a user perspective you're just using Sketch-up. Or Chrome. Or, for that matter, Google Docs. You don't actually care what version you're using most of the time, you just want it to do the job you need to do. The old Microsoft concept of iterations, clearly demonstrated here by the various Office 2007 products I have installed, is becoming more and more irrelevant. The Google approach of continual improvement to an existing product, such as Google Apps, rather than cycles of product development and release seems much better attuned to a web world where todays bright new thing is tomorrows old hat.

It's interesting to think of a world in the future where iterations are no more, when even the operating system of your computer will simply be 'Chrome OS' or similar with no numbers, rather than Mint 8, OS X or Windows 7. I think it's fair to say that this whole concept of the next generation is something that was started by, and is driven forward by, the wider computer industry. Don't think there ever was a "car 2.0" or "supermarket 2.0", for example. Whilst companies in those other industries do redesign, they almost always evolve from what exists, building on established practice.

In such a young industry as IT and the web perhaps we do need iterations for a while longer, but personally I think as we move more and more into the cloud that will change. More and more people will start to understand that the web is a space in it's own right, and that their websites are just a place within that space, not a product that somehow needs upgrading now and then. Places, unlike products, are complex entities with  highly complex interrelations within and across them. To try and destroy and recreate them in these cycles of redesign is, to my mind, simply a symptom of a fundamental failure to understand their nature. Our thinking needs to evolve ... along with our websites.

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