I've been thinking a lot lately about the future direction of Puffbox. The company has been in existence for two and a half years, and things have gone pretty well. I'm consistently busy, with regular offers of interesting projects: sometimes too many offers, actually. The mortgage gets paid each month, and there's no immediate threat to a pretty comfortable status quo. So I'm not worried as such; just keen to stay ahead of the game.
The 'WordPress (etc) into government' campaign seems to have been successful; partly through my own efforts, I hope. We've got some departments doing some really quite adventurous things, and others dipping toes into the water. There's now a clutch of us freelancers / consultants selling our expertise into Whitehall, and a few instances of departments doing it for themselves. And with WordPress itself maturing as a product, it feels like we're entering a new phase.
It's a shift from 'look what we can do' to 'how can we do it properly?'. A realisation that high-profile sites really can't rely on individual developers, no matter how multi-talented - for the benefit of the developer as much as the client, possibly moreso even. The accumulation of a year or two of actual real-world experience.
I can see several possible directions Puffbox could take. But I'd like to get some input from those actually inside government: the clients, current and potential. What would be of most interest to you - practically, strategically, financially?
- More of the same. Keep doing what I'm doing, designing and building modest, innovative sites and apps. But bring in other similarly-skilled people to share the load. We'd continue to use off-the-shelf hosting services, or departments' own arrangements. Sell the benefit of our longer experience: sure, you could do it yourself, but we'll do it quicker and better.
- Move into hosting and support of WordPress sites - not just sites I/we build necessarily, either. 'Business class' rather than 'coach': expensive, but with a package of WP and plugin upgrading, security, etc etc to merit it. I'd need to form some kind of relationship with a tech guru or two; good news is, I know a few already.
- Focus on a couple of specific WP-based apps of specific interest to government. Perhaps a 'press office' function, skinnable to slot neatly into departmental sites. Or a locally-hosted Basecamp-style project management app. Or a UserVoice-clone. Or an online content aggregator. Or a 'social intranet' based on BuddyPress. Or a consultation platform. Hire them out for an ongoing fee, as opposed to selling a one-off deliverable.
- Develop an expertise in something new - RDFa? Data/API? Geo/mapping? Emailing? Video hosting? Possibly WordPress related, possibly not.
- Does it weaken the 'government expertise' pitch if I start to look at more political or commercial work?
It could be one of the above, or several at once, or something completely different. But I can't shake the feeling that now is the right time to be doing something. What would you want from me, guys?
If you don't feel comfortable commenting publicly, drop me an email. And remember, I never refuse the offer of a coffee.