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Local websites need to shape up

In a bid to improve the general quality of local web products, we have posted articles here before about ‘broken websites‘, especially those by ICT service providers. The local web development sector seems to be suffering from a very devastating plague (that is strangely limited to it), this in turn is not doing any justice whatsoever to Zimbabwean companies. We have carried out an emergency diagnosis and discovered the following symptoms:

1. Undeveloped web development

Many potential consumers or netizens constantly complain of visiting local websites to find decent visual aesthetics only to be frustrated by incomplete links. Most critical pages have a ‘coming soon’/’under construction’ signpost that never arrives or gets ‘built’. Other sites have critical sections that greet you with the not so friendly message; ‘lorem Ipsum…’. We’re still trying to figure out why on earth certain developers find it appropriate to display Latin placeholder text in place of modern languages. Chances are your own website might be suffering from this ailment; it’s advisable to manually check the sitemap for such undesirable elements.

2. The Joomla  bug

Along with Drupal, WordPress, Joomla is one of the world’s most prominent Content Management Systems (CMS). It represents a step forward in the evolution of the internet as web designers and their clients (entrepreneurs, marketing and media practioners etc) can do away with complicated processes to keep their websites fresh. Such systems are skeletal in nature as the developer is expected to provide the flesh in creating a sound body.However local sites we’ve seen seem to be abusing this as they do not add much to the frame besides changing logos and text. What you then see is a double whammy effect when certain templates are used or modified wrongly, which leads to cheap looking sites (that cost a fortune) or grotesque instances where the site looks like its upside down due to incompatibility. CMS platforms are a blessing to non geeks (the masses) however when misused they are nothing but a most despicable curse.

3. The Flash syndrome

Flash adds visual appeal to websites, however it is a feature best saved for niche websites as lot of devices and some web browsers are not compatible with it by default. In the era of the mobile web, flash is prehistoric (it doesn’t work) and neither is it relevant on a sleek iPad or other tablet devices. Another problem with flash is search optimisation. Web spiders don’t really like websites built exclusively with Flash. There’s a lot of extra needed to make flash websites search ready, and even then, directing users to specific pages on a flash website is nightmare. And as if that’s not enough already, Flash is bandwidth hog especially when a developer is generous with the sounds and embedded movies.

After acknowledging the aforementioned pointers on flash, it is surprising why some developers build sites that welcome you by flying all over the place

4. The Stone Age symptom

Another absolutely irritating symptom concerns websites that have content way beyond its sell by date. If contemporary content is put up for particular events, promotions etc it does not make sense to leave it there for over two years. Imagine seeing a massive banner for a 2009 sports event in 2011. What is really surprising is that if energy was exerted to put something up, why can it not be re-exerted to take it down? Local websites need to demonstrate good communication skills by maintaining content with relevance to the times.

The above are very important areas for entrepreneurs, marketing practitioners and web developers to be aware of when building brands as they can either contribute to or destroy a brand’s perceptions.


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48 thoughts on “Local websites need to shape up

  1. i agree with you very much and i believe, most of our local companies doesnt have someone specifically set to look after the website. One person will be doing all the IT at any given time, thus most of the things tend to suffer. Companies should employ more people, with knowledge of their field, not just getting people because they know something about computers.

  2. The web development education system is still dull in Zim. You are taught to make sites using tables, & only end in the design phase. For web programming you’d have to do a month’s course(PHP), & we all know web programming is much more than a month. Javascript, jQuery, SSL, reCaptcha & many fundamentals are not taught.

    But a bigger problem than this is that those already in the field have the mind that in IT once you have learned it ends there like how those in other fields do it. In IT you have to learn something every day where possible because languages & trends are evolving.

    Then the biggest of all problems is the lack of web developers daring enough to implement new and innovative ideas. I have noticed that almost everyone in IT has a couple of every interesting ideas that actually could work but there’s this fear to step out of the crowd or even to ask for assistance. If you have an idea network with others and find help maybe that’s where we are failing because in IT you can’t go at it alone you will need a team and that’s why fellows like me are there.

    Let’s begin the revolution.

    1. Well said Sam… I think that is it everyone is either to afraid to step out and fail, or thinks that if they tell one person about their idea it will be stolen and they will make the million$$$. There are so many opportunities out there…

  3. I understand that for those who are developing websites internally it will always problem to develop a website when you are also the one who is doing other IT responsibilities. Unless if there is a webmaster dedicated to the website companies will have a problem.

    However I have problems when you have an organisation without the capacity to internally develop their website and they are shortchanged by the web developing companies. This is a major worry. I am also concerned by some of these web developing house who do not have running websites or they have websites with the above mentioned problems. How can I have the confidence to give you a job if you cannot do a good job for yourself.

    I wonder.

  4. that is true: one is also saddened to think that these guys are not aware that any conent on the Internet is read by people other than Zimbabweans. you tend to wonder that these guys send a wrong message about us not being educated in terms of web design and web development. the problem appears to be that people tend to take web maintenance as a footnote which is not part of company branding and public relations.

  5. Web developers in Zim need to learn how to develop sites from scratch, using web frameworks like zend and codeigniter if they are php inclined or perhaps ruby on rails or django if they are ruby or python inclined. Anyone with half a brain can install wordpress or joomla.

      1. Joomla, WordPress, etc are content management systems targeted at hordes of site visitors. Web frameworks (Zend, CakePHP, Django, etc) are web development tools for programmers who build custom applications from scratch. If a customer asks me to develop a web-based stock control system I don’t use Joomla or WordPress for that! You use a web frame, Django, CakePHP etc, and whip the application from scratch. But if you want to publish news/content and attract tons of visitors and earn those advertising $$$, kinda like what our host TechZim are doing, then bring on that Joomla or WordPress system.

        1. A high traffic website like this one SHOULD be built from scratch. You will learn a lot from the mistakes you make. It will definitely make you a better developer. Don’t take the easy route, like I said anyone can install wordpress and a few plugins… This is my opinion.

          1. @JamesM:disqus – That’s the difference between a Web app and a website. Use Framework for web app, but CMS for website, otherwise you are re-inventing the wheel when you create a custom CMS for website.

             @Debonair:disqus  , I respectfully disagree. It’s a case-by-case thing, but there are usually no compelling reasons to do a website from scratch. A person who cannot modify a (Joomla) template correctly should never be trusted with building from a web app from scratch. It’s all about adding value on time and within budget: if a project can be completed by installing WordPress and coding a new plugin – that’s exactly what need to be done. whitehouse.org and a host of other US government websites run on drupal, FYI. I’m sure those qualify as ‘high traffic’.

            We need more developers and not just ‘solutions integrators’ (install drupal, download theme, download a couple of plugins. stir. serve). Learn the APIs people.

      2. I hear you there man there is no need to re invent the wheel. But it is also important as a developer to sharpen your skills and day I built that as opposed to I installed that, and added that template or plugin and replaced a few images and logo.

        If thats all the developer can do then they have not earned the title developer. Many devs in Zim are chasing a quick buck. And they are not concerned about quality work and learning the craft that is web application development.

        1. oh yeah! joomla has made it very easy for anyone to sell themselves as a webdeveloper, no doubt!

          i personally feel that if people want to have a blog or website for their own use, and then opt to use joomla/wordpress (because they are not a developer by trade) then theres nothing really wrong with that…because thats kind of why these things exist.

          BUT, the minute you try and sell yourself as a webdeveloper because you only know how to use joomla, then i think you’re a perfect example of points 1 & 2 of this techzim article

          its like calling yourself a group CEO, when you own a tuck shop 🙂

    1. I couldn’t agree more. Joomla, dotNetNuke, WordPress and Drupal are all really really useful & can help you beat deadlines. But we all know that our education system doesn’t give us 10 percent of what we should all have mastered. For most of us we are literally new to the web industry which itself is not too older than 3 years, an choosing the path of these web development tools really cripples your mind in that they set a starting point for you which means you cannot go beyond that. This could very well be the reason why we don’t have those out-of-this-world ideas(in terms of functionality) because when such a challenge comes to a web developer they will be blank.

      I don’t regret the 4 hours of sleep i get daily because if it weren’t for them i wouldn’t be developing the hospital systems & numerous other web & non web-based systems i’m working on.Your statement is true, but a true appreciation of it will come to one when a unique challenge comes.

  6. Local web market immature, and may never graduate from its adolescence. Why?? The internet is a global grand stage, you have no option but to be compared to Facebook, twitter and the flamboyance of Google doodles. 

    The internet is now a social landscape and you developers have to take that direction. You can’t match American creative genius (yes you can’t) but you could use their blueprint.

    My advice, start something social, I have no idea what. Get every developer to contribute code, graphics, widgets and all that makes Facebooks glitter. Once you register .co.zw as an existent domain in the naive internet users mind, only then can we start creating local websites that would “match” global standards, and have locals visiting as well.

    Good Luck

      1. Dude, easy with the strong language..You could validate your argument by mentioning “some great zim web designers”. I am fairly young but have been a web designer for 10 years and have met a lot of designers, well that’s what most of them are. Please note that I did not mention anything being wrong about the web developers, the industry is just not growing. 

        I’d task you to show me a great Zimbabwean web application, say a news site, online ticketing system, a social network or our own craigslist.org ? Check http://www.100bestwebsites.org/ and Alexa rankings.

        Good Luck

      2. Dude, easy with the strong language..You could validate your argument by mentioning “some great zim web designers”. I am fairly young but have been a web designer for 10 years and have met a lot of designers, well that’s what most of them are. Please note that I did not mention anything being wrong about the web developers, the industry is just not growing. 

        I’d task you to show me a great Zimbabwean web application, say a news site, online ticketing system, a social network or our own craigslist.org ? Check http://www.100bestwebsites.org/ and Alexa rankings.

        Good Luck

        1. If you think of yourself as whack, then I suggest you say ‘I am whack , I am surrounded by whack people and I personally dont know any great Zimbos out there’ not to generalize. There are zimbos doing great things out there. 

    1. Yes & no. Yes we can match american genius in theory but nope we can’t and won’t do that now because we are lazy & aren’t willing to learn. We still think that we can hunch over a laptop & achieve what Facebook Engineering or even the wordpress team achieves. Until we pull as a team & sacrifice hours of leisure learning and thinking hard things aren’t going to get any better. did you see how quickly the PHP Developer Zimbabwe group did out? That was a good motive right there but no one was willing to take part. Shame

      1. Try to open afri-com using Opera, Google Chrome or Safari….. not the best site.

      2. Looks great in chrome, none of the drop-downs work. And something tells me they know it but can’t fix i because whoever made it used a template whose tags and javascript libraries they don’t understand.

  7. funny enough, the author of this article did not get his HTML list tags right. Each item is its own list, result being all items numbered as 1.

    how ironic

      1. hey, insightful article, got carried away with the html thingy (developers, sigh) 😉 

    1. nice, but i bet you are a developer who did his own graphics (like many of us out there). the body style images are nice but the rest need some extra work. great site dude.

      1. Thanks @d42127c365f57a8468ade503daba33f7:disqus you noted right. However I have since hired a wed desinger to redisng the interface, so expect a new look in the next 8 weeks. But thanks for the complement.

    2. Your site is great, some minor style issues but altogether a good site. What did you use to develop it, it seems custom…

  8. I think local designers suffer from a lack of international exposure. Not saying they don’t have access to other sites abroad, surely they do. But having worked abroad the work ethic is very different. Abroad great websites are process generated via a series of meetings, ideas and mockups, in Zim it’s one of those, ‘so you want a website, give me your company name,logo & 200USD , okay see you Friday, ndinenge ndapedza’.

    Also, it seems that the web designing is being carried out by developers. I can’t think of one guy (a designer) on the local scene who solely designs User interfaces period. They all seem to dable in between design and development, and having proficiency in both is a unique/rare combination.

    Great Article….!

    1. nice site but more than 3 font types on the home page…..uhhhh, not the best!

  9. Well constructed article Clinton. I think Zim developers should be focusing their resources on mobile websites (or mobile compatible websites) given that most (99.99something% LOL) of the population on the web are connecting via mobile devices. 

  10. The reason why we don’t have quality websites in Zimbabwe is because it costs a fortune to setup a domain in Zimbabwe. It has been monopolised by the ISP’s who set up ZISPA in the first place and they try to get you register through them and to get you to host with them. But ISP hosting facilities cost a fortune and are sub-standard a nd they try to lock you into their Linux hosting – “because it has no viruses”.  The best you can get is PHP hosting and MySQL database. They are all free but a good developer knows how bug-ridden these technologies are.
    Until ISP’s move with the times, there is little much individuals can do.

    1. some companies in zim charge between $10 & $30 a year to register a local domain…thats not really alot of money. ZISPA are the authority for .co.zw domain registrations..not the anyone else unfortunately.

      To register a domain, you have to do it through a ZISPA member..these are ZISPA rules, not ISP’s or anyone else’s.

      In any case, you can register a domain through a ZISPA member, and host the website with whichever webhost company that you choose (foreign or local).If the company that registers your domain, tells you a different story, then you need to consider choosing another ZISPA member to register your domain with… simple as that!

  11. Search for ‘Powertel Zimbabwe’, the search result looks like this:

    http://www.powertel.co.zw – Welcome to Powertel
    Joomla! – the dynamic portal engine and content management system.Products and services – Tariffs – Head Office – Harare – Network Coveragewww.powertel.co.zw/ – Cached – Similar

    This is embarassing. Looking at the source, you see this:

      www.powertel.co.zw – Welcome to Powertel 

    This is being lazy!!!!!

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