The Benefits and Principles of Web Engineering

An emerging discipline is stretching itself across the professional Web world, one that some say will help pave the often bumpy road to the Internet for aspiring and practicing professionals and the customers they serve. It is called Web engineering. Although the title remains relatively unkown, (introduced in Brisbane at the 1998 WWW7 annual conference), many Web pros have been applying and advocating its principles for years.

Loosely defined, Web engineering incorporates principles and guidelines to design, manage and maintain complex websites, applications and functionality with a keen eye toward usability, performance, security, quality and reliability. Simply put, Web engineering takes existing best practices and formalizes them into a sound methodology that everyone can comfortably adhere to and understand.

Several professions, including software engineering, publishing, accounting, medical and legal fields have used the processes to produce better services - and Web professionals can benefit from their experience.

Others agree and, to their credit, have led the cause. In a 2005 paper titled "Web Engineering: Introduction and Perpectives" by San Murugesan, of Southern Cross University and Athula Ginige of University of Western Sydney, they state "Many organizations are heading toward a Web crisis in which they are unable to keep the system updated and/or grow their system at the rate that is needed. This crisis involves the proliferation of quickly 'hacked together' Web systems that are kept running via continual stream of patches or upgrades developed without systematic approaches." Essentially, as the Web continues to grow at an exponential rate and methods of producing and managing websites becomes more fragmented, a standard is necessary to promote a professional environment and create a consistent user experience.

However, what's been missing from the effort to support Web engineering principles - and the title of Web Engineer - is a solid business case for why Web engineering is important to the aspiring and practicing Web professionals and those that teach, hire or employ them.

For the practicing Web professional within the enterprise (large sites and applications) Web engineering can provide:

  • Processes, techniques and principles that can improve upon the development, deployment and management of sites and Web applications saving time and valuable resources
  • Better metrics and ROI benchmarks that can be shared across departments, business units and among external clients
  • A respectable title to existing skill sets that are often misunderstood and taken for granted by human resource and hiring manager communities
For the small to medium business Web professionals (Webmasters, Web Designers and Web Developers) Web engineering represents:
  • Resources to better educate their customer base (internal and external) regarding the complexity of the skills required to develop and manage today's websites
  • Keeping up with industry advances and developments that can be effectively and efficiently incorporated across all departments
  • Promoting a higher level professionalism on the Web
For the World Organization of Webmasters (WOW), Web engineering represents:
  • An elevation of the profession and promotion of a higher wage scale
  • Validation of its organizational efforts to standardize and support the Web profession dating back to 1996
It's time to take the Web profession to a higher level. Perhaps Web engineering will not only be a boon to the industry but elevate the status of Web professionals worldwide. Managing complex and useful websites is no easy task, and using basic engineering principles is one way to improve and standardize the ongoing development of the Web as a whole.

About the Author: Bill Cullifer is an Executive and Founder of World Organization of Webmasters (WOW).