When building a new ecommerce website for SwissArmyKnife.com, the client had a need to be able to customize mouse-over labels on their product photography that would be integrated with product attributes already separated in the database. While creating image maps is a pretty basic process using html, and is built-in to consumer tools like Dreamweaver, we had to replicate this functionality in order to ensure that the labels would not be redundant (see screenshot below). One improvement our developers made was to enable the user to draw complex shapes for the hot spots, rather than limiting them to rectangular areas. (For more detail on this project, read my blog post from September, 2008.)
Many of our clients have made blogging a central part of their content strategy (for more on this, see our newsletter from September, 2008, Is it Time to Start a Blog?). While there are many free blogging tools available, including Wordpress, Blogger, and TypePad, we have also created our own blog tool that is integrated with our CMS. This allows for a seamless relationship between various content types on a site and the blog articles, not to mention avoiding having to install and maintain two different content management systems for one site. Of course, in principle, blogs could have been listed under examples of using third-party applications, too.
Our previous newsletter was all about doing video on the web, so I won't go into much detail here. Video is becoming a much more important aspect of content strategy for many of our clients. Among them, some have opted to use free tools like YouTube, Vimeo or Viddler. However, many need a custom application in order to ensure that the video content is related closely with other content, such as specific products or services, as well as to more seamlessly integrate the player itself within the site's design.
The above list could go on infinitely, really, because for the most part, all of our projects tend to have some sort of custom development. What varies is the scale and complexity of the functionality. In fact, the principle behind our proprietary NewfangledCMS is that it is customizable down to even the screen used to edit content so that the site can be as effective to the user and owner as possible.
If you weren't too budget conscious before, surely you will be in 2009- for obvious reasons. Every dollar you include in your web budget will be scrutinized. Thankfully, using third-party applications can be an effective way of keeping costs low without sacrificing functionality that is essential to your web project. Just make sure that you use your planning phase strategically to ask the right questions and prioritize appropriately so that when you do choose to integrate an outside application, you choose the right one.