What is the proper way to test a website idea?
November 5, 2011 5:10 PM   Subscribe

What is the proper way to test a website idea?

I want to get a website developed to test an idea. I am trying to figure out where is a good place to start. I tried freelancer.com but was extremely disappointed with my experience.

Where can I find capable freelancer/ web developers online? or is it a better option to work with a local company?
What should I be looking for in a developer?
In addition to mockups what else would help the developers?
What is the proper way to protect your interest when working with freelancers in regards to confidentiality, ownership of the work etc.?
posted by djfreex to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Mockups/documentation should be a functional specification that spells out exactly what every single bit of the user experience will be.

If you don't know how to write code, it's hard to know what problems are hard or what ideas are good. I could see this going well if you're an expert at something not web-related, and want to use the web to share your knowledge or work, and in that case hiring a developer makes sense. I could see this going badly if you have an idea for a new type of website, and in this case I'd recommend actually learning to make websites yourself so you can come up with better ideas.

If you share more about your idea, you'll get better advice.
posted by sninctown at 6:55 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Heya -- I'm an independent developer who, to put it in simple terms, works with clients to take projects from conception to reality.


If you came to me asking this, I'd start with a few questions:

1) How detailed is your idea?
2) What's your budget?
3) What's your past experience conceiving of an idea and making it real?

If you have a budget, then you can find good UX people and developers willing to help out. But you'll need to create relationships with people to find them. Depending on where you are, try to hunt down a BarCamp or some other gathering (MeFi Meetup?) where you can talk to developers. Finding a good match for someone to work with is So Much More than just finding someone with the right line-items on their resume, obviously. Which is why sites like freelancer.com oftentimes suck.

But with money you can hire people, hold most/all of the ownership, and have a more traditional work-style (boss-employee) relationship.

If you don't have a budget: Go to these events and talk about your idea to designers and developers. You'll get feedback. And you stand a chance of finding someone who's excited about it and might work with you on it.

Will your idea get stolen? Here's the thing: Everyone has a Great Idea in technology. Your idea is your precious flower -- but no one else will give a shit unless you sell that idea. So go talk to people about it and convince them that it's good. That's how you get people to help out if you have no money. *But.* You're going to have to work *with* them -- they will be your partners, not your employees. Co-owners.

Again, if you have money, just give everyone NDAs. I hear they're not really worth much, but if it makes you feel better, go for it.

As for what you need to give a developer: As detailed a description of the final product, the better. Wireframes rock. So does a clearly written product description. Really think through every interaction. How will the sign in/up process work? What happens in the million little cases where a user might do something unexpected or "wrong?" Think through the littlest interactions. You can do this on your own or hire a UX designer -- but, really, I cannot stress how the more documentation you have up-front, the fewer problems you will have with developers during the creation process. Don't expect a developer to fill in all of the gaps for you. Some might. Some will try and do a bad job (even otherwise good, smart developers). If you have a vision, communicate it as clearly as possible. Honestly, this process might also make you refine or even reconsider your core idea. Maybe there's an even better idea lurking inside!

Anyway: I realized I may have drifted from your original question a bit. :-) But hopefully there's something useful for you in here. Feel free to MeMail me (or whatever) if you have more questions. Like I said, being on the opposite side of this question is my day job.
posted by chasing at 7:04 PM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a freelance developer. chasing already nailed a lot of the business-related stuff.

As for communicating with your developer(s), helping them, managing expectations, etc. be aware that your wireframes and mockups almost never capture the entire experience of a living, breathing website. A real site can have animations, transitions, hover effects, content loaded in via AJAX, blurbs of text which are actually 10 paragraphs long instead of the 1 paragraph of "lorem ipsum" in your mockup. The size of uploaded photos, you name it -- the "real thing" can be quite different than the mockup.

If your developer is good, they'll plan for the "real thing" by default, often without even needing to bore you with the technical details. If your developer is less than good, you might get something brittle that breaks when the conditions aren't as perfect as those you mocked up.

Also, you may have some ideas which seem great to you but the developer thinks are bad, or are borderline impossible (if another client asks me if I know any clever ways to circumvent the Facebook API to scrape data, I just might scream). On the flipside, your developer might have a bunch of great ideas, low-hanging fruit, etc. that you haven't even considered. A developer that you can COMMUNICATE with is huge. I don't understand how the people who try to hire foreign rent-a-coders manage to get anything done.

Also, to cross the layman/geek divide, behavior driven development can be quite useful. Take a look at Cucumber. As long as you understand the first and last steps, you're golden!
posted by adamk at 8:23 PM on November 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

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