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What you can do with 24 hours and a bunch of web geeks Peter Griffin Jun 25

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If you want to make any sort of statement in the world these days, and particularly if you are asking for other people’s money to help you do it, you need to have a website.

fcpBut despite the rise of free website tools and hosted website platforms, to build a good website you really need to get people involved who know what they are doing. Unfortunately that usually costs a lot of money. Its great then that New Zealand hosts an annual competition that pits teams against each other to build websites for organisations that want to change the world, but can’t afford the accompanying website.

I was lucky enough to be on the judging panel for Fullcodepress, which was held at the Wellington town hall last weekend and involved three teams from New Zealand, Australia and the United States working non-stop for 24 hours on websites for three non-profit organisations. I waltzed up on Sunday just as the teams were putting the finishing touches on their websites. But the detritus of chocolate bar wrappers, empty coffee cups and the blaring rock music hinted at the frantic pace the teams had sustained the previous night.

I was a judge of the content on the websites – the way the teams and their not for profit organisations told their stories online. All the geeky technical bits about coding, and navigation and whether the site would view properly in IE6 were left to my more tech-savvy fellow judges. But in the end we gave the top prize to the Australians and this website for the Australian Lions Hearing Dog service, which pairs specially trained dogs with deaf people.

This wasn’t the most technically flashy website of the three, but it made good use of the real life stories the Hearing Dog service has come across to tell a compelling and very human story. The Codaroos opted to keep things simple and listened carefully to their client, which paid off handsomely for them. One of the judges, Xero’s  head of design, Philip Fierlinger put together some judging notes which reflect well the torturous decisions we made about who to give the prize to. Our decision, incidentally, was unanimous. Philip puts his finger on what gave the Codaroos their edge:

The key to success, comes back to that old chestnut: keep it simple, focus on the basics:

  • Tell a good story
  • Help people understand what’s important and why
  • Build on a strong foundation

That might sound like a formula for mediocrity, play it safe, avoid risks. Not true. You can be innovative within the constraints of simplicity. Look at Apple. Sometimes innovation is so simple you don’t even notice.

The Code Blacks site completed for the Te Hua Rangatahi Trust made some innovative use of calendaring and Facebook integration and shows a lot of promise. So too does the site put together by Team USA for the Timaru Mental Health Support Trust.

The great thing about Fullcodepress is that regardless of who won, three not-for-profits that previously had no or minimal web presence now have fully-functional, professional looking websites that are easy to maintain.

I was struck while listening to the comments of the web teams by how much use they had made of free content management systems – two of the sites were based on WordPress, the Code Blacks’ site was based on New Zealand-made opensource content management system Silverstripe. What you can do now using these technologies, the various plug-ins that are available for them, and interfaces with free social networking tools is incredibly powerful.

The victorious Codearoos

The victorious Codaroos

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