Confused About CanChild

How can it cost $100,000 a year to host a website?

By Ryan McGreal

Posted December 18, 2009 in Blog (Last Updated December 18, 2009)

I'm confused: according to the Hamilton Spectator, the website for CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research is threatened with shutdown after the Ontario government decided to discontinue $100,000 in funding.

This isn't research money. The Centre is based out of McMaster University and will continue its academic research into issues around childhood disability. They will continue to submit articles to medical journals. They just won't be able to publish those articles on their own website anymore.

On the CanChild website, the organizers have listed the services for which the provincial $100,000 funding provides:

  • Develop educational materials and resources that are evidence-based
  • Respond to individual requests for information and support
  • Post our research findings on the website
  • Make our measures available free of charge
  • Support professionals through the service provider communication network
  • Host and maintain the website

I have tried and failed to contact anyone at the Centre to ask how the money is allocated among these activities. The email I sent to CanChild generated an auto-responder that repeated the message on the website, but I never received a direct response from anyone there.

I'm confused because I maintain a website as a hobby, and it sure doesn't cost me $100,000 to do it.

I develop materials. I receive, edit and format several submitted documents per week. I post them to the site. I maintain the code base on which the site runs in my spare time. I respond to individual requests for information and support.

I'm not the world's most productive guy, but it doesn't take that long.

Some context: while CanChild gets 4,000 hits a week, my site gets around 15,000 hits a day - so I know they're not paying all that money for bandwidth.

I pay around $10 a month, which works out to just over one tenth of one percent of the provincial funding CanChild receives.

Granted, some of the items on this list might require a dedicated staff person - particularly, responding to individual requests for information (though no one responded to mine) - but without knowing how many requests the organization receives, it's hard for an outsider to assess whether it requires a very well-paid full time employee.

As for hosting the website, posting documents on it and making them available free of charge, there's absolutely no reason that should cost even an appreciable fraction of the funding on which these activities apparently depend.

Perhaps the threat to shut down the website is simply a hardball marketing tactic on the part of CanChild to keep the money flowing - mean government bureaucrats cut off funding for disabled children makes for great copy, after all - but on the face of it, the funding seems vastly disproportionate to the amount of work it ostensibly pays for.

Again, remember that the actual research CanChild produces - presumably the far more expensive part of what they do - is funded through other means and is not affected by this cut.

Alternately, it may be that the people who run CanChild are simply clueless about what is involved in running a website. After all, the site runs on classic ASP, an old website platform that Microsoft deprecated in favour of the .NET infrastructure seven years ago.

(Disclosure: I recently - and finally - replaced the classic ASP code running with a more modern technology stack; so I don't fault them for using classic ASP.)

The important thing is that it doesn't look like the CanChild website is running on anything like a modern content management system. On the other hand, nor does it look like the people running the site are at the forefront of web technology.

The fact is that a lot of the grunt work involved in maintaining the site - creating, formatting and updating web pages - would simply go away if they migrated the site to a decent CMS like Drupal, Joomla, Movable Type, Plone, Wordpress, or any of the myriad of available systems.

It seems to me that someone earning a big chunk of $100,000 a year as a web developer ought to know about some of these.

Am I missing something here?