gadget

Shutdown -h now

The end of an era for Firefly

One line of “server code” signaled the end of a product that shaped nearly 1000 companies’ websites for 20 years across South Louisiana and beyond.

Today we put to rest the last server that ran the “Website Gadget.” The Gadget, as we often called it, was one of the first dynamic content managers for the web. It made editing websites easier for 20 years. It served some of the biggest brands in Louisiana. Reily Foods, LEDA, Sugar Bowl, Acadian Ambulance, Superdome, and many hundreds more.

The Beginnings

We had an office in what is now the First Horizon building downtown. The “dot-com” crash was still happening and far worse, 9-11 had just occurred. But with all of that, we were excited. We had an excellent team. Our 2nd and 4th employees, Tracy Ralston and Scott Doré were tackling new issues and solving them daily. Business was good for custom websites. We began to realize that we kept having to solve the same challenges for customers. Make a contact form, and create an email list or a news section.

In the early evening of April 2002, we ordered pizza to discuss our pitch for a new website for LEDA. We wanted to propose something that really set the room on fire. We are not entirely sure where the spark came from but within 24 hours we had large “easel pad” pages hanging on all the walls of the office.

The concept seems simple by today’s standards. A way to make the site custom for each audience. A way for the administrators to easily present new economic data with charts made by the website. Basically the ability to add, edit, and delete pages easily on your website. This would allow LEDA to update its economic data and charts in a couple of days. That process before the Gadget took weeks.

From this, the Firefly Digital Website Gadget was born. A central place where managing the pages of your website could be done by anyone that has the skills to work with Microsoft Word!

The Growth!

Sales took off. We landed clients as fast as they called in. We were empowering so many organizations. From 2002 through 2012 we grew to nearly 600 companies we could call customers. Some clients even had two or three sites under the Gadget.

But it did have a cost. Our staff was stretched. The clients got very little personal touch. We began to learn the term “churn”. The very tool that allowed us to grow so fast was also a barrier to a real relationship with customers.

Also, competitors were developing similar content management systems. We also began to hear of this blogging tool called, “WordPress”.

WordPress had an army of developers all creating great things that our small team could not keep up with. In 2015, we began the long move to bring our staff and clients to use what became the most popular content management system in the world.

Making a Smart Choice…

Another big thing was happening in the company. By 2014 one of our early employees, Casey Bienvenu, had developed a little product that allowed magnet schools to do enrollment lotteries. Firefly decided that we could nurture that product by partnering to develop “Smart Choice”. This later became a huge product that was purchased by enough school districts that we could state that 5% of the children in America were going through the Smart Choice system. This system was then sold to SchoolMint, who learned the benefits of being based in South Louisiana and relocated here.

A new dawn for a new company…

The sale of Smart Choice required that Firefly Digital, Inc go with it. With this split, Firefly Marketing Solutions was born. Website clients slid over to the new company. The race was on. We knew our future was going to be providing valuable digital marketing services to key-focused industries. Maintaining the old Gadget code base was just not viable in the future. 

During the pandemic, we took the opportunity to convert sites. Our plans to transition web clients smoothly from Gadget to WordPress was going well. We saw the opportunity to make the changes that were long overdue could happen while we all worked from home.

The other shoe dropped

In August 2021, one of the pillars of the Gadget and a good friend, Scott Doré, suddenly passed away. Scott knew “where all the bodies were buried”. Without him, the mission to get clients on a system that did not rely on seasoned programmers became paramount. All of the custom systems he authored and supported had to be moved to a development partner.

Credit is due

So here we are. 20 years after the birth of a revolutionary product, our last gadget clients have moved to their new websites. The Gadget solved a lot of problems by giving customers control over their content a decade before anyone knew about WordPress. We are grateful to many.

  • The Developers – Scott, Tracy, Casey, Brett, Matt, August, and more. Brilliant work from young minds, many have moved on and found their passion.

  • Mike Spears – The branding genius. The vision he brought to solidify what could be done and how to show the value is all his.

  • Our Clients – Always looking for more. Each and every one helped refine the key feature set for those who come after them.

  • Our Staff – Each one that came through, learned how to work the system, took feedback, and helped us make it better.

So, when you go to update a headline or replace a photo on your website next, be a little thankful. The Gadget and many more independent systems helped bridge the content management gorge until a CMS supported by a multitude of developers could emerge.