The Empty House Syndrome

By Deane Barker

I’ve moved into a fair amount of houses by this point in my long life, and I’ve determined something: plans made when the house is empty will change drastically as the house starts to fill up with stuff.

You see, when a house is sitting empty, you look around and mentally make some plans about what will go where – I’m going to put the couch there, and the TV there, etc.

However, when you start moving into the house, you realize that a lot of stuff you had planned on just isn’t going to work. The couch is a little too long and it hangs over the door frame, and the sliding glass door throws such a glare on TV from that angle that you can’t watch it from three to six in the afternoon.

This is The Empty House Syndrome. Things are different when the house is empty. Everything is theoretical. When you actually start implementing your furniture, you realize that 20% or 30% of your plans just aren’t going to work.

It’s the same way with new Web sites: they get Empty House Syndrome too.

When you’re planning a Web site, everything is theoretical. You going to put this content in this section, and this menu will lead here, etc. But when you actually start filling a new site with content, stuff just doesn’t work. This menu needs a submenu (or six), you can’t get anyone to write the “From the President” column they promised, content that was supposed to fill a page is actually a paragraph long, etc.

I’m there now with a project. I have an intranet built for a client, but there’s nothing in it. I’m supposed to do training with the various departments to help them “move in,” but I’m nervous, because I know that once they start moving stuff in, we’re going to find out that the couch is too long for the section of wall along which it was supposed to go.

The tricky part about this is that you don’t want to find this out in the training session when you have 30 faces peering back at you wondering why you didn’t think of this before.

In cases like this, a little data entry never hurt anyone, even if you have to do it for free. So I asked my client for all the content for a single department, and told them I would enter this myself at no charge. This way, I can find out that there’s too much glare on the TV and move it before the client sees that my plans didn’t work out.

(Data entry comes up a lot with new sites. Who does it? We’ve started writing in a “data entry allowance” into our sales agreements, because you can get burned if a client just assumes you’re going to enter all their content for them and you hadn’t planned on it.)

I would propose that you should always do a little data entry for the client. Ask them for some actual content and put that in the system yourself, just so you can see the problems that are going to come up and fix them first.

Never hand over an empty house to a client, because when they can’t watch the TV for three hours a day, they’re going to complain.

This is item #250 in a sequence of 356 items.

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