I’ve been working on this website for at least the last year. But the last six months have been the worst. Six months ago, we finally changed the DNS settings so that our address pointed to the new website.
During this time, I’ve had the “pleasure” of working with what has to be one of the worst combined CMS/AMS systems around. How our luck led us here, I know not. Wait, I do: $$. Not cheap, but definitely a lot cheaper than the other solutions presented. But whatever, I have little control over that. That’s “above my pay grade,” as they say.
From Day 1, it was a disaster. I kinda expected it though. After all, I basically made an “executive decision” that we were switching. Obviously there was planning to this and I shared it with everyone. But it was literally a now or never situation. At that point, we were already a year into this project, if not more. A lot of “esoteric” planning, very little doing. We had missed our self-imposed launch date at least twice. We had already committed money to this project and paid for the platform. How much more money and time (wasted) were we going to throw at this before we launched?
If there’s anything I know about people (including myself), sometimes you just gotta force people out of the pan and into the fire. So that’s what I did.
And God have mercy…Oh, did I burn…
This wasn’t working right. That was broken. Where is that page? What happened to it? Does the feature even work? I thought they said we could do that? “We need to go back to the old website!”
“Fix the website!” was basically all I heard for at least those first two months in the Fall. It was said jokingly, but I knew how frustrated my staff was getting.
I contemplated quitting a few times. No joke. But students loans won’t pay themselves. And quitting in the middle of a massive project? Might as well just have a profanity-laced meltdown in the office. At least you get to have some fun while burning the bridges.
So I persevered, as did my staff. We devoted hours to the project, doing all the practical planning and execution we should have been doing before the switchover. We started taking matters into our own hands, instead of relying on a third-party contractor whom had become more and more MIA. I’m still not sure what happened to him, or the company he was with.
About three months ago, around the beginning of 2014, I heard this for the first time “Now that we’re transitioning into general maintenance and updating of the site, away from creation…” What a relief. All major sections (except one explained further down) of the website were essentially complete.
Before I go on, I said that the staff and I persevered. It wasn’t because the boss had his hands around our necks. Or that the directors were fuming. Or that members were leaving en masse.
None of that happened (well, the boss was certainly starting to breathe down my neck…Which I get; totally expected).
It was the website and the actual developers and support staff of the platform that were the greatest barrier to success. And in many ways, they continue to be.
I suppose I should shed some light on why we switched websites in the first place.
The WYSIWYG editor the platform had was certainly lacking. Even when editing the HTML instead of using the WYSIWYG editor, you never knew how the page would actually render. It was a crapshoot, just hoping you’d come out on top on the first go.
The overall look and feel was dated. We even when through a full rebranding campaign and the site still looked old. Looking back, it was more or less just a change of colors and logos.
How are we supposed to say we’re a leading, global group — and we most certainly are — when our site just looked…blah?
We had been using that platform since about 2004, I believe. So for nearly ten years. In the world of web, that’s basically an eternity.
So it was time to go. I think our previous developers knew it, too.
Speaking of the previous developers, they were great. The best support you could find. They customized solutions for us as much as they could. And if they couldn’t they’d at least try to help us find an alternative work-around. There was even a time I royally messed up some links in a marketing email that I sent out one Friday evening, way, way back. The developers, having been contacted by my boss (I thought I was going to get fired), quickly got on it, doing some backend work to make sure the wrong links still went to the right place. I have been grateful ever since.
Of course, a nearly ten-year relationship would ideally yield that level of support.
Switching platforms and developers, it was obvious we’d have to build that rapport up again. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to do so.
Like I mentioned previously, there were many problems. And a lot of it was due to not being knowledgable enough to navigate the system. Buy hey, nothing like baptism by fire. Seriously, that’s how I do.
So who does know the system? The support staff does. Or at least should.
Wrong. OK, half-wrong, half-right. They usually know how the system works. But “usually” doesn’t cut it. It’s your product, your platform. You, if anyone, should know the ins and outs of it.
I once asked if a jQuery slideshow plugin I found online would work. They didn’t know. At least not until I tested it and it worked. And thank God it did. Because that was my workaround for a problem they couldn’t fix in the first place.
The biggest crisis I encountered was this searchable database of our members. It was going to be a key feature of our website. We hadn’t had the feature on our old site. Previously, if people wanted to know something about our members, they’d have to call or email us and we’d have to query the database ourselves. Most importantly, we were promised that it was possible.
Well, there must have been some kind of miscommunication during the sales pitches. Miscommunication at best, mislead at worst. Either way, this database feature was held up. Even now, it hasn’t been released. But I’m really, really close.
The entire problem revolved around two fields of data that are intrinsically linked. One describes the other. The first field, by itself, is informative. The second, the one that describes the first, is useless by itself. But you put them together and the result is totally valuable. The possible values for each field are basically infinite.
Easier to understand if I give an example.
Imagine I’m a car salesman.
I sell cars, trucks, motorcycle, and I just started selling ATVs.
Vehicles have wheels. Obviously. I’m still waiting for my hovercar, but I suspect I’ll die before then.
- Cars: 4 wheels.
- Motorcycles: 2 wheels.
- ATVs: 3 or 4 wheels.
- Trucks: 4, 6, or 8 wheels (I sell semis, too).
I can tell people that I sell those four kinds of vehicles. That’s informative.
I can also only tell someone I sell vehicles with 2, 3, 4, 6, or 8 wheels. That’s…less informative, if at all. I’m sure they’d look at me cockeyed and think I’m the worst salesman in the world (apt, very apt).
But put those two fields together and you have a pretty good idea of what specific *forms* of the individual types of vehicles I sell. I can definitely say I sell both three-wheeler and four-wheeler ATVs. And that I sell small passenger trucks, as well heavy-duty trucks, and semi-trucks.
Get it? So yeah, that was the central issue.
No one knew if it would work. For months (this was one of the tasks that was being worked on way beyond the switchover because of how central it was) all I got was “Yeah, yeah we can do it.” or “Not sure I understand, but we can probably do it.” Even our third-party contractor, who was managing this aspect of the whole project at the time ,was convinced it could be done.
It wasn’t until I sat around trying to figure out how to fix this, after the contractor went MIA (most likely over this), and created that stupid example and submitted it to the support staff and developers that I finally got the answer I needed.
No, it cannot be done. The database system with the platform did not allow any such “links” between fields. Furthermore, given how we had the data in our tables, there was no way to map it to the websites database, even if the “links” were possible. It’d all have to be manual entry.
It took a year to figure that out, and in the end, I had to the legwork to even get to the right question. Their developers could provide no alternative; a trend with these guys. I had to farm this out to another guy who works with us to create the custom solution.
Today — and this is what prompted this post — I found out that I can’t change an uploaded file from public to private or vice versa. I have a library of over 300 files that I’ve been told now needs to be private, accessible to signed-in members only. I was provided an “alternative” this time: delete all the files and re-upload them, except with the new private status.
Each file has to be uploaded individually. Shoot me.
It’s things like this. From the complex to the simple to the downright mundane that just can’t be done. Or they don’t know if it can be done. Or if it can be done, there’s almost always some kind of trade-off. Like dealing with the devil; always wants a pound of flesh.
They recently upgraded their WYSIWYG editor. It’s pretty nice. Admittedly, it was good (better than our previous platform, for sure) to begin with. I was excited. My colleague, who doesn’t know HTML/CSS as well as I do, was excited. To be safe, I asked if pure HTML/CSS still rendered properly. They said yes, and they were right. Except in one place that allows custom content. The blogs system. Why that one place?
Because they removed the ability to edit the code directly just in that single system. For, what I can tell, no reason at all. Was not announced anywhere. Not in their release notes or even in their informal webinars, which I attended.
When I asked about it, at first I was told it was a bug by the first level support. So it got escalated. A few days later, I’m looking for a status update. I’m told that there is currently no update, since it’s a “feature request.” As a “feature request,” there’s no timetable on deployment because who knows if it’s going to be implemented.
Wait. Huh? You said it was a bug! Now it was planned this way? Why? Who? What?
There was the tradeoff. Nicer editor; gets stealthily removed from a subsystem.
For anyone who’s never worked with a WYSIWYG editor like TinyMCE or CKEditor or any blog editor, they’re a blessing and curse. Usually a curse.
When inputting brand new content, it usually works pretty well and can seriously speed up page creation. Kinda like this blog post. I don’t have to do any code to make it display properly. Each time I press “enter” on the keyboard, <p></p> tags are automatically put in.
But with content that already exists, like in a Word Doc or PDF…forget about it. You can copy and paste it into the editor, but then you nearly always have to go back into the code to “clean up” and re-format.
I could go on and on about this platform and all its problems and all the headache and heartburn it’s caused me and my staff. But then I’d never end this post.
And to be absolutely fair, there are lots of bells and whistles that work great and that I’m glad we have. You’d think the ability to embed YouTube videos passé. YouTube’s been around since 2005 or so and who isn’t posting videos everywhere. But for us, with that first embed, it was like the future had opened up to us.
We probably looked like a bunch of cavemen grinning at each other, like we just invented the wheel. But it really was a big deal.
The new jobs board system is really taking off. A lot less maintenance and work from the previous PDFs someone had to make and maintain. All web-based now.
So, again, there were and continue to be benefits for us switching. But at this price, with all the BS and hassle? I really can’t ever see myself saying “Yeah.”
Next week, my colleague and I will be attending the developers’ first user conference. We’re coming with a list, an attitude, and all the frustration of the staff.
I intend to make my voice heard and get what I want. If we keep using this system — and we will because we (read: the bosses) have no intentions of doing this all over again in the short-to-mid-term — they must make changes.
Even if they do, I can never recommend this product, this company, to other groups. I don’t even understand how they’ve been in business this long (at least 10 years).
I’ve grown weary of this website and its shenanigans. It has to stop.