How’s your website today?

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When I wrote about the awful online presences I encountered when I was car shopping, it was hard not to become despondent. People who communicated with me about the article had all manner of things to say – the main focus being service – but one comment made to me personally by a prominent lawyer and magistrate here in Trinidad was the most telling.

“That could be a template for any online presence in Trinidad and Tobago.”

This person, older than myself, with less technology knowledge than I have, had made an observation that intuitively I agreed with. Web presences are horrible in Trinidad and Tobago, partly because everyone knows someone who is a ‘computah man’ (feminists, get on that) who will do something for them cheap – but not well.

I deal with companies that have good online presences for the most part, mainly because I spend so many hours a day in front of a computer. I’ve found asking for recommendations to be an annoyance since people actually do seem to have more opinions than rear orifices. So, how many bad ones are out there? I didn’t know. I still don’t really know.

What I do know is that the majority of businesses in Trinidad and Tobago with successful online presences deal mainly on Facebook pages. This is not just here in T&T: Facebook business pages are evolving globally.

In so many ways, a Facebook business page makes sense – it’s effectively a business website that handles the basics very well, and it costs no money to start up. A little effort on the part of the business can go a long way in how a company is perceived. In fact, it’s hard to find a down side to all of this other than the fact that the control one has over one’s presence and reach is completely up to Facebook.

There are, however, other issues. For example, there are no real archives to refer to, and it’s almost impossible to search for something that isn’t posted about within the recent history of a feed. It also doesn’t take payments, which isn’t too bad in Trinidad and Tobago.

Online payments are something that local banks have made difficult enough to be prohibitive – an odd thing to do in a country that is so hard up for foreign exchange, I witnessed a student trying to get US$40 out of a bank yesterday to pay for some materials and was asked for, yes, photocopies of her identification (again), the official email printed and copied, and so on and so forth.

The idea of allowing people to collect foreign exchange on websites is an alien one to local banks and the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, which doesn’t have it in the National ICT Plan.

So, getting back to the original statement that I then intuitively agreed with, I have to say that on the surface it seems right – but really, it’s not as right as it used to be because of Facebook pages. Oddly enough, the person who said it also manages a Facebook page which is what lead me to explore that more.

What I wrote about the new car sales industry’s online presence is not a template for other businesses.

What we have in other spheres is the same problem with web presences, but not across industries like the new car sales industries. In fact, the foreign used and used car sales sites are better, though far from ideal – I’d tell them what to fix, but instead I’ll let the market decide (or who knows, maybe start my own!).

What we really have is a disconnect from the global economy enforced – consciously or not – by banking and government, both of which will likely point at each other while the global economy moves beyond the horizon.

Small moves in the right direction would have a networked effect in this regard. It would first employ people locally for local business owners, developing the local technology people, bringing in foreign exchange, which in turn put more money into the economy, accessible to every level of society.

It starts with small moves, and the first move is to start making it an issue of government. After all, the National Investment Fund is at the least an interesting option for investors, where the government stepped in and allowed an investment that claims returns higher than the banks.

And all of this means that web presences would improve because Trinidad and Tobago would be competing in the global market, instead of simply being a stopping point for shipments.

Unless, of course, Trinidad and Tobago is somehow ashamed of what it could offer the global economy other than a dwindling supply of oil and gas.

Taran Rampersad

Taran Rampersad has over three decades of experience working with technology, the majority of which was as a software engineer.

He is a published author on virtual worlds and was part of the team of writers at that won the Utne Award.

He is an outspoken advocate of simplifying processes and bending technology’s use to society’s needs.

His volunteer work related to technology and disasters has been mentioned by the media (BBC), and is one of the plank-owners of combining culture with ICT in the Caribbean (ICT) through CARDICIS and has volunteered time towards those ends.

As an amateur photographer, he has been published in educational books, magazines, websites and NASA’s ‘Sensing The Planet’.

These days, he’s focusing more on his writing and technology experiments. Feel free to contact him through Facebook Messenger.