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Do You Really Own Your Web Site? Maybe Not
Here are some important tips for you to remember and some questions to ask your web site design or development company. If you don't understand the 'ownership' issues when you are buying a web site design or web based application, this is must read material for you! Don't get caught paying twice.
I recently interviewed a new client who was looking to add the functionality of a database to their existing web site. Their current webmaster had completed a business logo and designed the initial interface for the site. The clients asked their webmaster for a quote to add the functionality to the site and he returned a price that far exceeded the clients’ budget.
Long story made short, we found a great application that already exists that would meet the clients’ needs for substantially less than custom development. The client advised the previous webmaster that they were moving services. Do you think they got to keep their original web site? Nope. We had to start over again, which unfortunately meant that this customer had to pay for extra design time that they had effectively already paid for.
Here are some important tips for you to remember and some questions to ask your web site design or development company.
Web Design Source Code
When you hire a web designer or a developer they are going to produce a web site or web based application that your business is going to be dependant on. In fact, a web application may be your whole business. This is absolutely the case where a business is 100% online and depends on the process built into their web site. E-commerce stores are a perfect example of a whole business online.
Web designers create web pages with a compilation of images and hyper-text markup language (HTML). The HTML is a text based standard language that most every web designer in the world knows. The HTML is what is used to hold the structure of your web site together. It keeps the pretty pictures and text all in the right places. Your web browser interprets that HTML and shows you the web site images and text.
Your web designer will start your design by “drawing” your web site in a graphics program. Macromedia Fireworks and Photoshop are two tools that are very often used by professionals. Your designer will draw the site using shapes, colors, images and fonts that are all piled up in layers to create the final “look and feel” for your new web site design. The designers will then slice up the images and use the resulting smaller images to build your working website using HTML to hold it all together.
Here is the key. You need the original art file that was used to design your web site in Macromedia Fireworks or Photoshop or whatever software your designer uses. If you don’t get the source file, your next web designer will have to start your design from scratch if you want artwork changes. This is no walk in the park if the original images that were used are not available. Macromedia Fireworks source files have the extension .PNG (yourWebsite.PNG). Photoshop files have the extension .PSD (yourWebsite.PSD).
Another design issue that you may run into in the future is fonts. If your designer uses fancy fonts that are not installed by default on your computer or your future designers computer, you will have to substitute different fonts. In some cases, choosing a new font is not a big issue. However, if you could image that the font used in the logo for Coca-Cola® became unavailable because Coke® changed designers it would most likely cause them real damage. They need the font used in their logo or corporate branding and so do you!
Questions to ask your web designer
1) When you are finished designing my web site will you provide me with the source files used in the design of my new web site?
2) Will you transfer the ownership (copyright) of these source files to me or my company? Or at least give me perpetual license to continue using them and to make revisions?
3) Will you provide me with the names and files for all non-windows fonts used in the design of my new web site? At the very least, because there may be real copyright issues with transferring the fonts, you need to know the names of the fonts and where you can buy copies of them for your project archive.
Web Application Source Code
Web developers create programs that work as applications on the internet. They create code that is compiled, usually in real-time, at the web server. The code will, for example, connect to a database and extract a set of data. The data will then be compiled into an HTML table (so that it is readable) and then sent from the web server to your web browser as pure HTML. You will not be able to “view source” and read the scripting language because it never leaves the web server. If you “view source” from the web browser, you will only see the HTML.
Some of the code that your developer writes will be protected by copyright. Your developer may also buy code in the form of server components, use code blocks for functionality from other programmers or purchase complete application in order to finish your program. You need to ensure that the developer tells you that you can continue to use the software that they develop for your business for an unlimited period of time, and that if there are any licensing restrictions or reoccurring licensing costs that they are disclosed to you before you start the project. Find out if you will be bound forever to a hosting or server plan for you application.
Here are some questions you may want to ask your web developer
1) Will you transfer an unlimited a perpetual license to me or my company to use the application that you develop for me?
2) Will you disclose any licensing restrictions to me regarding the application?
3) Will you write code using common standards or languages that I will be able to move to another hosting provider or eventually to my own server?
4) Can I move my application to another server in the future if it is necessary?
Use of Encryption
So your web developer says “yes” to the last four questions and you think, “great, I’m home free, let’s get started”. Then two years later you decide it’s time to move your web application to your own servers because your e-commerce store is screaming busy and the cost of bandwidth and hosting is killing your profits.
You start the process to move your application to your new server and call up your webmaster for help, but he has gone to University in the states and “isn’t doing that anymore”. You think to yourself, “I guess I should have used a more established company…” So you find a new webmaster. Incidentally, I am often told by new clients that I am their second, third and sometimes even fourth web developer. So we go to move the web site, but wait, something is wrong… portions of the source code are encrypted. Even the government couldn’t decrypt it. We have to rewrite those blocks of code and the client has to pay… again.
If your web sites source HTML or application scripting language is encrypted then it may have to be rewritten or you will have no way to add functionality, or to fix bugs, without involving the original developer who holds the key to the encryption. They are quite clever, aren’t they?
There are some good reasons to encrypt some portions of the source code, even on in a web application. Most web applications will contain, in the source code, the database, username and password within one of the files. This is a great example of a code block that should be encrypted before it is placed into a shared hosting environment.
If your web developer is going to encrypt portions of the source code, make sure you get a copy of the unencrypted source code for your project archive. In this manner you will be able to work with a new developer.
Questions to ask your web developer regarding encryption
1) Will you be encrypting any or all of the source code in the application you are developing for me?
2) Will you provide me with a copy of the original source code prior to being encrypted?
There are a number of technologies used in the development of web sites and web applications they include Pre-Hypertext Processor (PHP), Active Server Pages (ASP), Active Sever Pages dot Net (ASP.NET), and Cold Fusion to name a few. All of these scripting languages facilitate connecting web sites to databases and accessing functionality on the web server such as sending mail or uploading files. All of these technologies are widely used, widely available and there is a great number of developers that know these languages. There are some lesser known programming and scripting languages that may be able to do a lot of the same things as the more widely used languages. The pitfall is that you may have a more difficult time finding a programmer that knows the language.
Some web scripting or programming languages like Microsoft’s® Active Server Page or Active Server Page dot Net technologies are developed specifically for use on the Mircrosoft operating systems. These technologies are difficult, if not impossible, to run on a Linux operating system. When your programmer selects a language to develop your web application with, he may be marrying you to a long term relationship with a particular operating systems and software vendor. This is okay as long as you recognize the long term ramifications of these choices, some of which may be greater costs to you in the future.
Questions to ask your web developer regarding programming languages
1) Is the technology you use tied to one particular operating system or can I host my web site on my choice of servers with my choice of operating system? More specifically, can I host my application on a Microsoft web server and a Linux server?
Make sure that you are able to move your web site to a server with comparable standards in the future should you wish to do so. Moving a web site to a new server is not necessarily due to a break down in the relationship with your web designer. You may be forced to move if your existing server can no longer handle your traffic bandwidth. If your costs become too high in a shared hosting environment you may find it more economical to setup your own web server and host your own application.
If you do choose to host your own application this is where the cost ramifications of your earlier choices will hit your pocket book. For example if your site was developed using PHP, an open-source scripting language for websites, then the cost of your new server will likely not include any software licensing because the operating system (Linux) is free. If on the other hand your site is developed using .ASP or .ASP.NET, you are going to have to buy expensive server licenses from the big guy.
Can You Use Your Site Into the Future?
If you commission a web designer or developer to complete a project for you make sure that you have an agreement in place that clearly specifies that you can continue to use the project and the related source files when it is completed. Check the service agreement that you have signed with your web company. Of course if there is no documentation then you will not know if you own you web site or web-based application.
There are some good reasons for web designers and developers to protect their rights and to ensure their future earning potential. As the client or purchaser of web design services you need to understand where you stand with regard to choices that will be made on your behalf regarding your web site or web based application.
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© eKzact Solutions Inc. 2005
About the Author: David West is a Director and the operating partner of eKzact Solutions Inc. A full service web site design and web-application development company. eKzact Solutions puts small and medium sized business online! Visit us at http://eKzact.com
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