One of the strange things about working in web development is that if the subject comes up with a new acquaintance there’s a relatively high chance that they will say something along the lines of “oh, I have a great idea for website…” and you can almost guarantee (whether the idea is actually any good or not) there is already a website out there doing exactly the same thing.
Working in this industry I often find myself thinking that everything has been done before.
If, like me, you have been watching the hugely interesting series of documentaries by the author Steven Johnson, How We Got To Now on the BBC over the past few weeks you’ll know that there’s good reason for this - even sites which seem like a genuinely new idea, such as Twitter back in 2006, actually come about due to a ground-swell of other ideas and projects. Much like the physical natural world described by Darwin, ideas evolve over time - light-bulb moments are a fallacy. And just like classic evolution the iterations of ideas which don’t quite work fall by the way-side and are soon forgotten, only those which capture the popular imagination have any shelf life.
The thing is, in this industry you can’t let the fact that it feels like all the good ideas have been done get you down - the only way to innovate is to get stuck in and build things. So there’s a web app out there that lets you do (almost) exactly what you need to do which would take an hour or two to set up - great, if you just need to get something done, go for that. But if you have a bit of time then dive in and start building your own version. Even if you end up using the original app you will have certainly learnt something new along the way or sharpened your tools at the very least.
Working in an agency environment the balance invariably tips more towards using readily available tools (for good reason) but any programmer who enjoys their craft will jump at any opportunity to try something new. We need to know when using a 3rd-party all-singing-all-dancing app is in our clients’ interest and when we can provide a more bespoke, custom made product which exactly fits their requirements.
Another aspect of this industry that can lead to a very real sense of fatigue is the speed at which things change. You’ve just spent the last 6 months making the best website of your career, it goes live; your customers love it and revenue increases. A job well done! Another 6 months down the line and you look back at your lovely new site and suddenly it doesn’t look so fresh any more - everyone out there is doing the same things, using the same design concepts, or worse, they’re doing new, more exciting things with different design techniques. Does that mean your original achievement is any less valid? No, of course not. It’s just a fact of the industry, like fashion things are constantly changing. And that’s what makes it exciting!