There is no hard and fast rule of thumb for how long a website can last. But wanting to maximize your investment in your freshly minted website is certainly understandable – both in time and in dollars.
The website design and development industry, and indeed the entire digital marketing world, is one of rapid change, constant evolution, and guaranteed disruption. It relies on a complex assortment of technologies, companies, organizations, and people that are often at odds with each other. Even when there is agreement and standards are created, it’s up to each individual entity to adhere to what’s been agreed upon – which can be a daunting task given the state of change.
To make matters more challenging, the technology companies, including the big guys like Microsoft, Apple, and Google, never support a product forever. They eventually End of Life their software, forcing consumers and businesses to upgrade at some given point in time. You may have noticed this when running Internet Explorer in Windows XP lately, or tried to download the latest iOS on your iPhone 4. Or sometimes, companies simply discontinue products completely with little to no warning, as Google did with Reader.
Then there’s the rare instance – when one company discontinues another company’s product, as was the case for Adobe Flash.
When it was released Flash empowered designers with a level of rich interactivity and animation that was previously impossible in a web browser, and unleashed a completely new type of website interface design. During the height of its popularity there was simply no alternative if you wanted that type of interactive experience. But with all monopolies, come disruptors. In this case the disruptor was a goliath in the form of Apple, which refused to allow Flash into the web browser on its mobile devices for fear of it damaging their mobile app business model. Suddenly the most ubiquitous technology the world has ever known, installed on over 99% of computers, would start it’s fall from grace. Without an adequate replacement technology in place it would not happen overnight, but eventually it would happen. Flash is now primarily used to develop mobile games and apps (the irony) as well as some uses with DRM video and 3D animation where there is still no adequate alternative. It’s successor HTML5 has since enjoyed a surge in popularity once the W3C finally announced it was a finished specification last year. We used to build a lot of the best, most awarded websites in Flash, and now we built a lot of the best HTML5 websites.
Are we worried that HTML5 will also be replaced by something new and we’ll have to evolve again? I’m not worried about it – I can guarantee it. If you’re not prepared for that then this isn’t the industry for you.
When we start a project with a client we begin by determining the overall business goals and objectives. Business goals and objectives always exist within a certain time frame. Pixelcarve is sought out because our work delivers a certain type of experience to allow those goals to be met. If we didn’t leverage the common technologies of the day then we would become paralyzed and would never produce anything – never being of contribution to our clients in any way. We stand by the decisions we made to build websites in Flash in the past, and we stand by our decisions to build websites in HTML5 now. Because the reality is that we would not have been able to deliver the exceptional product that we’re known for without those choices.
All technologies have faults – none of them are perfect. HTML5 still suffers from cross-browser compatibility challenges and weak rich-media features such as video and 3D, and Flash was so weak with SEO and mobile that we had to build an entire custom platform around it to overcome those issues to ensure that the solutions we built for our clients delivered maximum value.
Let’s look at another example – there are several large institutional-type companies such as banks that still use Windows XP and IE8 even though Microsoft has End of Life’d them and discontinued support. Those platforms were used to achieve a certain result that only those products could do at the time, and so now they have to be rebuilt for modern standards and that can’t happen overnight. They will no doubt have to be rebuilt again in 5 – 10 years as technology leaps again. Knowing that eventually Microsoft would not support those products – should those banks have not built the platforms they needed to operate on? Of course not – you use the best technology at the time to produce the result that you need.
And you’re certainly not going to walk around naked because you’re afraid to buy pants that will go out of style next season.
This is the nature of the business, and there’s really no fighting it. Times change, technologies evolve, marketing adapts, and the world pushes forward – some technologies win, and some technologies lose. There are currently hot technologies that can be used to build websites, perform SEO, increase conversions, be responsive, etc. – some of them will exist in 5 years and some of them will not. There is no way to know what will be disrupted, what will fail, and what will succeed. But it would be irresponsible marketing to not leverage the ones now that can help your business now if the ROI is there.
Currently websites are a critical part of marketing any business – but maybe they won’t be in 5 years. Maybe a vertical platform will take over and websites won’t even exist. Wired Magazine prematurely predicted that 5 years ago. Perhaps people will only use in-app ecosystems to find what they’re looking for? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe people will only browse websites on watches. Maybe screens will disappear entirely and we’ll only look at things through virtual or augmented reality. Will conventional, 2D websites built in HTML5 (or 6, or 7 for that matter) even be relevant?
Unfortunately, I can’t predict the future with any real certainty – no one can – we can only do our best to focus on creating design that is timeless, building technology solutions to achieve business goals and objectives, and work with our clients to help them define, communicate and realize their visions.
So back to the original question – “Can I future proof my website?”. A website, and in fact all of your digital marketing initiatives, are living breathing things that will require constant change and adaptation. If you’re not comfortable investing into an industry filled with this much change, evolution, and disruption, then I would encourage you to find alternative methods to help you grow your business.