One of the biggest challenges facing small companies is maintaining their website. The ability to manipulate HTML directly is not a common skill set, nor should it be. For that reason, most companies engage a web development company to produce and publish their website. In many cases, that’s where the relationship ends, and that flashy new website quickly starts to age and the Google ranking quickly deteriorates as the content becomes increasingly less relevant.
Larger companies often engage a web company indefinitely, to constantly refresh the content and ensure everything stays up to date. Such an option is not really open to smaller companies, who were often driven to despair, and an ill-advised purchase of “Building a Web Site for Dummies” (which I’ve never read, so I’m not passing judgement!).
These days more and more web development companies are building their sites on a standard CMS (Content Management System), in fact this site is currently built on the most popular DotNetNuke. A good CMS allows fairly novice users to login and edit content to their heart’s content, but they’re a bit of a victim of their own success. As CMS’s become more useful, they get increasingly used by techies (like us!) and get more and more features, which makes them harder to use (and a little more ‘frightening’).
The alternative strategy, often deployed by web companies, is to give customers a simple ‘insertion point’ where plain text can be dumped into a template controlled by the web company. This has the advantage of being (normally) fairly easy to use, but is very inflexible, requiring a quick call to an expensive support line every time someone starts ‘thinking outside the box’ a little.
The challenge for AcuWeb, was to make it easy to use, without sacrificing flexibility. When it comes to editing your own content we’re investing a lot of time into getting it right. It’s really nice and easy to use, but in the background it’s enforcing good practices, to ensure optimal performance for the end user. We’ve chosen to give you the best of all worlds, and the flexibility you deserve, by focussing separately on four different scenarios in the development and use of a web presence, and we’ll be blogging about all four as the beta approaches it’s initial release (hopefully next week).
An XML API – flexibility for Gurus
Some web companies really love their existing infrastructure, so AcuWeb is made to work for them as well. We already published a Draft XML API, which will be kept up to date as we move the technology on.
AcuWeb itself runs off the same XML API, so anything AcuWeb can do (and more!) can be done through the API, including the retrieval of rich content and property descriptions, availability, pricing, and credit card bookings. XML is an industry standard communications platform, and has been developed to be secure and very easy to use. Like AcuWeb itself, the XML API is the same regardless of the backend system you use from Web Applications UK, allowing you to migrate the backend without sacrificing your investment in a front end web site.
A template system – flexibility for web developers
Designing a look and feel for a website is something best left to marketing experts, but they are rarely web gurus or coders. We built a feature rich template system into the guts of AcuWeb that is fully accessible through your configuration screens. We’re planning a number of example templates to really show off the power and flexibility of the system, and we’ll be launching them in rapid succession during the beta.
Using templates it really is possible to build an AcuWeb website to look like just about anything, giving your web design company the tools they need to deliver something really spectacular. The template system is designed for users who understand and can use HTML, so it’s not something we anticipate end users playing with, but it does allow them a lot of flexibility when it comes to choosing the general style and flow through the booking process.
Inline content editing – flexibility for real people
The reality is, once a system is up and running, property content data needs updating and maintaining. The template system and XML API are for the experts, which get you going, but day to day maintenance has to be easy enough that any member of your staff can achieve it readily.
It’s here we’ve spent the most time and effort getting it right, and we’re really excited to start sharing the results with you! Using the inline content editor, a logged in administrator can edit properties whilst browsing through the site, right from the property list or property details page. That makes it really easy to not only find and tweak properties that are displaying the way you wish, but to see the effects of alterations immediately.
Driven from your res system – flexibility for busy people
All of this is great, but not everyone wants to invest time in maintaining their website and AcuWeb is ready to work out of the box. It will happily pull content straight from your backend reservation system and display it, allowing you to start taking booking immediately. When you make changes in the backend they will be reflected in the web site automatically, until you override the content with web-specific content.
We know people are getting impatient to see the end results, trust us we really can’t wait to show you what we’ve been up to, and we’re very nearly there! I’ll be blogging regularly as we approach the beta, and letting you see what’s happening. Feel free to post your comments below and let us know what you’re thinking!