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5 Reasons Why People Underestimate Web Projects

Underestimating web products

There's more to web projects than many of us know

I think most who are experienced working in the web industry would agree that it’s commonplace for people to underestimate what’s involved in creating high quality, useful sites and apps. Whether it be large organisations or single entrepreneurs, clients or managers, or even new developers or designers, it’s not uncommon to see folk underestimate the time and money it takes to produce something great online.

It’s funny that in a world of $100 billion IPOs, billion dollar buyouts, and staggering online success, we still have trouble appreciating the magnitude of effort that it takes to achieve a lot of things online. Perhaps, just like the gold rush in the Wild West, we’ve idealised the Internet and latched on to the extremes it represents rather than the realities, often with little concept of the time, sweat, tears and cold hard cash it takes to get there.

Of course, not everyone thinks this way but some still do. Some of us think we can challenge the Gods with no knowledge, little time and a shoestring budget. Why? Here’s my top five reasons.

1. We overestimate open-source

As much as I love open-source and the vast amount of software, tools and libraries it’s given us, it’s not a magic bullet to creating the next Groupon or Facebook. Just because WordPress has a fabulously slick and pain free installation process, doesn’t mean it’s suitable for building your custom app on. Just because JQuery is easy to use and has hundreds of add-ons and tools, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be quick at creating the exact interactivity you want.

The words “oh I’m sure there’ll be a plugin for that online somewhere” are dangerous indeed.

2. Google makes everything look easy

Ah Google, how you fill me with equal amounts of admiration, resentment and inferiority, fuelled by the carefree nature in which you develop and release incredible apps that are slicker than baby oil. Your perfect simplicity, flawless execution and free prices set a benchmark for every other web development company that’s hard to follow. We forget about your huge development teams, the geniuses you hire and the gigantic amount of effort you put into everything because you just make it look so damn easy, turning everything you touch into gold and producing success after success without breaking a sweat.

I won’t mention Google Wave though.

3. We don’t know how much other sites cost

Facebook’s had millions of dollar investment. So has Twitter. Groupon had a cool $1 million in seed funding just to get it going; Typekit, $700,000. Yep, even little ol’ Instragram had $500,000 to kick it off (and then tens of millions to follow), long before Facebook ever cast it’s beady eyes over it. Surprised? No doubt.

Now you may argue that these are extreme examples but the fact remain that people don’t know this stuff unless they go digging it up and far too many of us underestimate – and underappreciate - the huge amounts of cash that big online companies have had in investment and funding. Picture Instragam and you picture a small little startup being run out a bedroom on a few thousand buck, not a multi-million dollar operation. These were not bootstrap companies that just happened to make it big and, although some do, we need to realise that competing on the same scale requires a substantial amount of funds.

4. We overuse the term viral

Just because has a kick ass video that went viral and got them tons of press and recognition, doesn’t mean that it’s a given. For every low budget marketing video or campaign that goes viral, hundreds (if not thousands) never get anywhere. The term viral is not an excuse for under-budgeting marketing costs and just assuming a product will be successful on its own steam. There’s a reason why Google still rakes in billions through online advertising costs.

5. Web projects are never finished

The web is unique in the fact that it’s constantly evolving, constantly changing and moving forward and the chances of anyone creating a large scale successful site or product and then not touching it for months after are pretty much not existent. Successful online products need to be constantly enhanced, adapted, refined and nurtured and too many of us don’t appreciate this fact.

We underestimate the on-going requirements and assume that once a project’s been completed, it’s over for good or, at the least, it will start to generate revenue to pay for itself. Not always so and, if anything, it’s more likely that you’ll need to continue to fund your project for some time, enticing users with low costs (or for free) whilst continuing to spend big on marketing, before eventually cashing in. The two biggest social networks on the planet are proof that obtaining users can be more valuable than generating early cash.

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Author: Gordon McLachlan

Gordon is uncomfortably good looking.


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  1. Caleuanhopkins April 16, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Great article Gordon, perfect topic choice for the web industry these days. No enough companies plan a head, cover all angles and generally place all their eggs in their web app basket without so much as a backup plan. There are too many average applications appearing these days on the internet, each being more “awesome” or “trendy” as the previous. Your article really does state the obvious flaws which many over look :)

    • Gordon April 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm

      Thanks, Callum! I was partially inspired by the purchase of Instagram as few people realise how much money they had to get them going!

  2. [...] -5 Reasons Why People Underestimate Web Projects [...]

  3. Thomas December 19, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Great article, especially for new web developer types like myself who need reality checks every once in a while. Just because pulling our heads out of the clouds to look at common failings or misconceptions can help plan for and mitigate some of those challenges.

    On the other hand, what I still find great about the Internet is it can give someone a fair shot, with a well placed shot and a slick presentation to at least appear like a Big Dog online. That can be enough online to tip the Like button or stumble or tweet landslide in your favor and help you on your way to visibility en masse.

    I’m a single founder working on something at NE1UP that I’m hoping will be interesting enough for some traction here in about 6mos. We’ll see! ;)

    Great blog post!

    Thomas @NE1UP

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