Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Where we came from and where we are going

After finishing my previous post about IM for tech support, I just started getting a little reflective. Maybe its the Moby playing in the background or my overall somber mood today, but either way, I decided to blog this.

So, to start this journey, we'll use an old friend...The Way Back Machine.

We start our journey in October 2000, before my reign as the webmaster:


We then visit December 2000 and what are probably my first little changes to the LCLS website.


It isnt until March of 2002 that we start to see some real changes in the site. Things get wider, and bluer.


Looking closely at the March 2002 page, we see an announcement, one that would literally change the way LCLS did business on the web.

On June 17, 2002 LCLS Launched CLeO (although we did not call it CLeO just yet). To this day CLeO remains as the backbone of all the web services LCLS offers. This shot from August 2002 shows a very young CLeO integrated into the LCLS website:


It's not until April 2003 that we first see CLeO on the website as the offical name of our CE registration system.


Then, in April 2004 we can tell that I decided to use the entire screen area available in the browser, as well as a little style change:


That is the last really useful screen from the Wayback Machine. The rest are missing graphics and style information, so they look pretty plain (aka bad).

LCLS Today
The current LCLS website is really a realization of my vision for it. Years ago I saw CLeO as the leverage I needed to push LCLS towards a "portal" (how web 1.0 is that? ;) ) with customizations and services avaialable to those who had an account in CLeO.

Years ago I was told to check into XML. Along the way I tried many experiments with XML (The Extra! used to be stored in XML on the website and formatted with a little ASP scripting).

Today I offer RSS in many places on the website. I use XML for all the menus you see on the right or left hand side. I created an API that lets me access my data in a standard format (using XML). And, at the backend, is a SOAP-based webservice (XML again...) that lets me authenticate a CLeO account from any where else on the net (though I have only used it for cross-domain projects hosted by LCLS thus far).

Looking back, I can't tell you the exact steps I took to get to where we are. I just know that I learned something new every day and I didn't give up on any problem until I found a solution (even if I scrapped it two days later).

One thing I can tell you is that I had (have) a director that supported and encouraged my creativity and staff that understand the value of the web. I think you could have all the talent in the world, but if you don't have the support of people you work with and if they are not on board with where you want to go, then your talent will not reach it's full potential.

Where do we go from here
A big part of what I do also involves taking a look forward. Though I think in some cases I looked too far forward or, at least came with complicated solutions while looking forward.

The web has largely been unpredicatable. New things are always happening, someone somewhere is always innovating, and visionaries are envisioning things that eventually turn into tangible products and services. But let's face it; most of us are not gifted with such vision, nor the luxury of time to envision anything but lunch and the next time we can sleep.

Web 2.0, a term that is thrown around quite a bit lately, puts the web into a different context. A context that I realize in some ways I was working in, though without the label and without many of the things Web 2.0 brought us.

The web is about the users. It's about what they need and their data. I can cram all the features and cool programming I want into a site, but in the end it's all for naught if it has no value to my users.

CLeO was a big push for LCLS. It brought a phone/fax based system onto the world-wide web and forced our users into using a web-based product. That was a true value for the staff at LCLS. It reduced typing and manual labor, it increased access to our data and reduced errors in our CE statistics.

It was a push, but it was the last time I would need to push my users that hard into something. In fact, since then I've been trying to make up for it by offering kinder, gentler services that take advantage of CLeO and add value (hopefully) to our website for our users.

Where are we going? We're going to some places our users are ready for and some they will be soon.

In a way, the little nook of the web I'm responsible for is an endless beta-test. We've found things that work and things that don't. The things that don't work are scrapped; the things that do are enhanced.

At the end of the day I think we've added value to our users' experience by offering web services and enhanced access to data.

Where is this going? I really don't know. But I can tell you that the days of data being locked in closets, accessible only to those with the right software and the right key are gone.

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