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Moving away from Google Maps

A while back I wrote about Google Maps charging.  This caused an uproar around many map dependent sites.   (Brian Timoney, ever reliable, delivers snark on that front.)

I, for one, don’t begrudge Google the chance to charge for their excellent product.  What that does, however, is make certain business models that were previously viable now unviable.  That is, if they remain with Google Maps.  In my previous post, I went over some alternatives.

The company I work for, after evaluating all the alternatives, including paying Google for a license, has decided to go with Mapquest.  While the API is not as gorgeously documented (both on the company site and on the web), it has the same licensure as Google Maps used to (free for any publicly accessible website), with much of the same base functionality.

I’ll be very interested to see how many people are doing such high value work with Google maps that they can afford to pay for licenses or per use.

On Being Disrupted

This is a tough post to write.  I’m at the tail end of an evaluation process for my company that ended up with us deciding to go with a third party vendor for software which powers key area of our business.  It is augmentation rather than replacement, but still.

It was hard for me, because this particular key functionality was previously provided by custom software that I helped build over years.

I like to build things!  Like most other software developers, I get excited about building stuff.  One of the unmentioned frustrations of many software developers is building something and then seeing it shelved.

However, it was clear from the survey of solutions that there were three choices:

  1. buy something off the shelf
  2. get better as software developers and really, really accelerate our development
  3. have the business be negatively affected by this piece of software

Now, #3 is obviously not a good solution.  #2 is a great solution, but is hard to put into practice, especially in a short time frame with a large code base (though we are trying to use some of the agile methodologies to make our software development more productive).

#1 it is.

Was this a wise choice?  Talk to me at the end of the implementation, but I am hopeful.  We did take several steps to protect ourself (after all outsourcing core business functionality can be deadly), including:

  • a long, laborious evaluation
  • engagement with multiple vendors, and
  • building a set of criteria to help us determine if this outsourcing is meeting our needs

One thing that helped me take this decision a little less personally is to redefine in my mind the value of software to the company.  It’s not the particular implementation of the software that provides the value.

Unlike a software company, my company doesn’t exist to write software (see Five Worlds for more on different types of sofware development).  Instead, software exists to serve the company.  Having something off the shelf provides the similar functionality for much cheaper.  It also allows me and other members of the software team to write software that is unique.

Having been a contractor and having worked for a startup and consultancy, I’m used to being the disruptor.  In this scenario, I was the disrupted (ht, David Skinner).  It’s a humbling place to be, even if I wasn’t disrupted out of a job.

Word to the Wise

I recently read this post about startup team success from Paul Graham.  Always fun to read Paul–I have a few sites I remember and type in periodically (haven’t used an RSS reader since Bloglines), and is one of them.

The older I get, the more I see that being resourceful and having follow through are very very valuable traits.  This post just confirmed that.

The corollary to that is, if you don’t think you are going to follow through on a suggestion or a favor someone asks of you, it’s far better to say no up front than to fail to follow through.  That is going to be a tough lesson to integrate into my life, but it’s the flip side of that coin.

Building A Site With Google Sites

I recently built out a site for a local tax firm, Cahill, O’Kelly and Associates using Google Sites.  I’ve already talked a bit about using Google Sites for your web presence, but I wanted to share a bit more about my experience.

The reasons I chose Google Sites over something more flexible was pretty much based on what I determined was best for the client.

  • the client is not super technical and was wary of a website
  • I wanted the client to be able to update the site so they wouldn’t have to pay me to
  • they were not super picky about design of the site, so were willing to pick from a template for look and feel
  • site was small and functionality desired was limited (brochureware)

All of these added up to doing something that was quick, cheap, low risk, and easy.  If any of these decision points had been different, then Google Sites would have become a less attractive choice.

Good things about Google sites

  • easy to get going
  • easy to integrate with all of googles other services (analytics, webmaster tools, google forms, etc)
  • lots of templates to choose from
  • hosting is free

Things that suck about Google sites

  • the footer links are out of your control
  • some of the templates require photoshop knowledge to customize (background images)
  • no easy way to roll back changes to your site
  • some of the admin UI is clunky
  • scrolling around the look and feel customization page was difficult

Tips for developing on Google Sites

  • make sure your customer fits the profile mentioned above
  • educate your client on the limitations
  • make backup copies of your sites before you do big look and feel changes.  That way you can manually view the differences and roll back if needed
  • get to know google forms, as that is the only way to do interactive forms that I found
  • be prepared to spend some time tweaking the layout
  • be prepared to do some training on how to edit the site

All in all, Google Sites is a great solution for a certain type of client.  Consider adding it to your toolbox if you do site development.