The Shelf Life of a Web Site
In relation to some of the conversation surrounding the still prevalent Internet Explorer 6 and why it's still around, I am reminded of some of my past work.
There is a CMS that I developed for a former employer back in 2002. It's been six years since then. It was sold to a handful of organizations of which I know at least one, and I suspect more, who still use it.
Six years? That's a long time. Back then, IE had a commanding lead of the market and at the time, I had no qualms about making it IE-only. Six years on and Microsoft's decision to allow web developers to force rendering to a specific engine isn't lost on me.
But what is a practical length of time that an organization can expect to hang on to a particular design or a particular technology?
There are certainly many factors that go into whether to redesign or how far a redesign should go. Cameron Moll's A List Apart article, Good Designers Redesign, Great Designers Realign is a good piece on the subject. It's interesting to note that Cameron's own site design isn't much different from its launch back in March of 2004.
When an agency goes through the redesign process, how effective will it be at meeting those goals, that it can avoid the cost of going through that process every few years? Indi Young's book Mental Models touches on this very subject, indicating that mental models can be developed, helping to provide direction over the course of 5 years, 10 years, or even more.
I remember that organization, the one that bought that CMS (and site design, to boot) back in 2002 had gone through a similar information architecture (IA) process. That process is still reflected in their new design launched recently. It's a testament to a great process.
From a design perspective, two to four years seems to be a reasonable and average amount of time between larger efforts. Smaller efforts should still be taken to ensure that specific goals are continually met.
However, to what end should the technology end of things, in most cases, the venerable CMS, be given the heave-ho? Can a CMS receive the same "realign" treatment and still be effective?
The needs that a CMS serves, for the most part, don't really change over time. Publishing content to the web has remained a consistent process for the last decade, if not more. Could an application built now continue to be used 5, 10 or 15 years from now?
CMS trends don't shift as dramatically but are often forced to shift due to technology trends. A site built in PHP4 may need to be updated to work in PHP5. A site built in ASP may need to be updated to work in .NET. However, a particular CMS can continue to be realigned from version to version. There are people who continue to use Movable Type today, just as they were back in 2002 or 2003. The product itself may have evolved but the need to expand beyond its simple publishing hasn't.
So how long should a company expect to continue using a product? I'd say it's more proportional to the shifting direction of a company and the features it may need to get there. You may have publishing down pat but do you suddenly need community features?
How about you?
How often do you or your organization redesign? How often do they change the platform on which that design rests? I'd be interested to find out.