The danger of doing too much

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Deane asked his readers how to provide clients with an easy way to update a small portion of a static site. His particular example is a company who keeps adding and removing locations from their "Where to Buy" list. Apparently he’s got a lot of sites that need some sort of simple updates but don’t warrant a lot of custom programming because he’s toying with the idea of building a application framework that would let him handle these mini apps easily and asks his readers for ideas.

One person suggests using Wordpress or another lightweight CMS to manage these pages. Deane responds

This is great for things that fit that data model, but what about things that don’t? What if they want to maintain a list of Supreme Court cases, complete with about 10 extra fields of data.

I suggest Deane would probably want to start looking at a custom web app at that point. The stated goal of the framework is to allow a simple customer-editable section without requiring lots of custom programming. The list of Supreme Court cases sounds more complex than that.

Developers run the risk of doing too much when they spec an application. They start looking at all the possible edge cases for their app and trying to incorporate them. This leads to a sort of analysis paralysis where the design becomes so complicated that nothing gets built.

Start simple. Look at the problem you have and solve it. Don’t start thinking about how this isn’t going to solve X or Y. Solve one problem and iterate. Another case comes up that doesn’t fit in? Iterate. Design your framework to be flexible enough to handle iterations, but don’t over-design. You’ll never get anything done that way.

Be simple.

And for Deane’s original problem of letting a customer update a list of locations without requireing lots of validation routines and such, I’d suggest something simple. Give them a text field that overwrites a file. The web page reads that file and displays it. Perhaps add Markdown or Textile processing to the file if they want fancy formatting options. Five minutes of programming work and the customer’s happy.

Deane
December 15, 2005 11:12 AM

Providing the Supreme Court example was a huge generalization. As the rules I stated in the post indicate, I'm talking about a single table of data -- one table, a set number of columns, a bunch of rows -- with CRUD functionality. Could you do a simple table like this to list Supreme Court rulings on a particular topic? Absolutely -- a potential client actually asked me for this once, and I mapped it out on a napkin. But you pick your data. Let's go back to the "locations" example -- I'm very partial to a generalized app with SQLite as a backend, so it's all self-contained. (And, dude, when you put two n's in my name, I become a woman. "Dee-anne.")

Timothy Appnel
December 15, 2005 2:12 PM

Agreed. Throw Xinha[1] in with that text field that overwrites a file and your set. [1] http://www.hypercubed.com/projects/firefox/

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