DanceXchange, fresh from creating a massively expensive film that could have been made for coppers and a free lunch for TheSpace, is at it again with another massively expensive website project.
The "spec" for this online portal of doom, a remodelling of the website westmidlandsdance.com (snappy, Ed!), describes it as;
"digital platform that will showcase the best dance in the West Midlands region; and signpost opportunities for people to get involved as participants, audience members and producers."
Signpost huh? That's one of those words used by social media types to
extract speaking and consultancy fees make you understand that your website has to have a point, because signposts point at things ..... geddit?
The cost of this little exercise in futility is, brace yourselves, £22,000. Just in case you think you're reading that wrong it's twenty two thousand pounds.
So, let's take a point by point look at the things this "digital" website needs and see what's what.
DanceXchange lists the key functionality as follows;
"An easy-to-use content management system"
This is a given for any website but it's basically just the behind the scenes tool that let's you publish material to your website. Most of the established ones, like WordPress or MovableType are free. Even the ones that are not free can be had for buttons.
"An interesting approach to presenting feature content; videos, images"
We're not entirely sure what an "interesting" approach to presenting something means but putting your video material on a web page with little to no extraneous clutter is very simple, unless you work for YouTube.
If you want fancy effects, like making the background go dark or whatever, then there are a myriad of free "jquery" tools that can make that happen.
"Comments on pages"
Can be had for free using a number of providers, we use Disqus.
Well, the CMS can handle all of this, it's nothing really special or you could use a free service like Scribd.com or one of its variants. Did we mention that they are free?
"Homepage with a section for the latest added content"
A homepage that can be updated? Really? We shall alert the village elders although we're pretty sure the elders don't use the internet!
"Embedded Facebook and Twitter content/streams [and the] ability to share content to popular social networks"
All of this can be achieved by anybody with the ability to use cut and paste on a computer. Twitter and Facebook provide the widgets to do all of this, again, for free.
"Registration for users on the site [and] Ability for registered users to upload content via submission pages e.g. events listings, organisational/artist profiles."
So, a web form then? The registration part suggests that this will act like a social network for professional people which is a great idea because they don't already exist.
Oh wait....... we forgot about LinkedIn and cell phones and Twitter, etc. Also, getting people to sign up is one thing, getting them to actively use it, that's another trick altogether and do we really need another website for folks to sign up for?
If you really want an interactive forum then dozens are available, for free, that could easily be plugged into DanceXchange's existing website.
"Fully accessible, and viewable on all web browsers including, on mobile phones A mobile version of the site."
Article19 is "fully accessible" on mobile phones and you know what, we didn't do anything special to make that happen. Even if we did, it just needs something called a "stylesheet" to make your website look different on a cell phone compared to a desktop web-browser. Estimated cost? about £100.
"An effective web stats package, to monitor success of campaigns"
Google analytics, completely free of charge and can more than cope with the 32 people who might, one day, use this website.
"Mailing list sign up integrated with our existing databases"
Use MailChimp, or one of a dozen variants. They might not "integrate" with your existing database (which DX is rebuilding at a cost of another £8,000) but they have the advantage of working very well, being easy to use and they don't cost £22,000.
"A searchable map function detailing local opportunities"
Perhaps the most complex thing the spec sheet is asking for. The trouble is the map feature is completely superfluous. The job advert for this site states that it is for local use, in the West Midlands.
Dancing folk are, for the most part, nomadic. They go where the work is. They tend not to look for work or connections based on geographic data. If the job is in Coventry then that's where they go, if the job is in Belgrade, then that's where they go.
On a Country wide scale it might make more sense, but not much and on a global scale even more sense but on a regional scale? Not so much.
Within the massive £22,000 cost DanceXchange would also like at least one year of hosting, a place for the website to live. A company like MediaTemple, based in the USA, can offer a fast and very reliable service for just $240(US) per year. If you plug a service like Cloudflare (a content distribution and caching service that makes websites a bit more responsive) into the server then add $0 to the cost. Cloudflare also has a completely free option.
One Thousand All In
You could argue all day about the particular merits or lack thereof of such a website or whether anybody is ever going to use it. We, here in TheLab™, will wager than hardly anybody will use this "service" and by January 2014 (one year after it opens) it will have been forgotten.
What you cannot argue is that everything DanceXchange want in this website can be implemented using free, existing services, including their existing, very expensive website. It's not at all clear where they even got the number 22,000 or where that money is coming from.
Building the design for the site itself should cost no more than £1,500 (and that's being generous) if you ditch the pointless mapping and sign-up features. Websites are fundamentally nothing more than a few simple templates if there's no application (like Twitter) running underneath.
We don't think that anybody needs to be reminded of the massive funding cuts that have beaten the arts to a pulp over the last 18 months. Cuts that are not going away anytime soon. Such frivolous spending on a service of questionable utility that may or may not be used by a very small number of people is ludicrous.
If you want any further evidence that this site will simply fail to deliver anything meaningful, take a look at the last website that DanceXchange spent £25,000 on: www.dedicatedtodance.tv
It's been like that for years.
No one was immediately available from DanceXchange to comment for this piece.