Category Archives: Websites

No #net2welly website yet, but we have a plan

NetSquared Wellington website plan: very messy writing on whiteboardWhen I turned up to facilitate the “A new #Net2Welly website in an hour?” meetup yesterday, I was prepared to get stuck in with website installation and design.

I had hosting arranged with Crazy Domains, and checked they had WordPress ready to install at the push of a button. I’d already paid $14.95 for the net2welly.org.nz domain.

The plan was to work in small groups on different aspects of website development. I envisages people working at three or four tables covering: installation and set-up; graphic design; structure and content; and testing/ launch.

With only half of the 12 people who RSVP’d actually in the room — poor turnouts being one of the drawbacks of the informal meetup format — these plans quickly changed. It made sense to work as single group.

And we didn’t go anywhere near the control panel, DNS set-up or plugin directories. Instead, we arrived at the end of our hour long workshop with a plan.

Skipping the talking part of the process and essentially doing things on the fly would most likely have a led to a train web wreck. Maybe not fatal, but highly likely a site heading off the rails. Discussion what will be valuable our community and narrowing the focus are fundamental starting points.

As we started Alan Royal shared Rudyard Kipling’s timeless advice: “I keep six honest serving men (they taught me all i knew); Theirs names are What and Why and When And How And Where and Who.”

And that’s exactly what we covered: our goals, linkages with the big picture NetSquared vision, how would the website sit alongside other community IT initiatives in Wellington, who is the audience, what content could we easily co-create as volunteers, how will people interact, and what will it take to ensure the website is accessible to all.

Ultimately, we had to decide whether a website will be a valuable addition to communities in Wellington. After a round where everyone had their say, the answer was yes. Our goal is offer a virtual extension of our regular NetSquared Wellington meetings: part learning, part networking, part social.

As well as meetup and other event notices, we plan to share short posts about stuff we learn about using technology for social change. Maybe this is from a workshop or webinar network members attend. Or perhaps brave experiments with coding or online communication.

Anyone willing to abide by some simple community guidelines will be able to create and add a blog post. Brave stuff in a world where everyone constantly pleads they’re “busy, busy, busy”. Busy, schmbusy: we’ll give it ago.

Other ideas we’ll explore include:

  • a project space that could connect people with IT needs with those with skills to offer
  • a page with resources or sign-posts about essential, useful online tools and ways of doing stuff
  • sharing the good words and connecting people via a popular social network (or two).

First we have to build the website, something we’re due to begin together on Tuesday 12 August. Come along, all fingers and devices at the ready.

Even though we didn’t actually build the #net2welly website in the allocated hour, we’re off to a great start.

Sharing EYC unConference gems

Animated discussion about tech topics around table, at EYC unConferenceSpontaneous. Serendipity. These two words are still echoing in my mind from the wrap-up session of the Engage Your Community (EYC) unConference.

At our closing session last Saturday we asked all the co-learners to shout out words about the day. These ‘s’ words really did capture the spirit of out time together.

It may seem a terrifying prospect to start a learning event with a blank agenda. We didn’t know what would be covered. Who would talk. If people would jump in to learn together.

But jump in everyone did. There seemed barely a wasted minute. Discussion about using tech and the web for community was loud and continuous.

Included in the list of topics covered were Google tools, accessibility, basics of web design, responsive design in wordpress, Chalkle community learning and online collaboration. The full agenda is recorded on the front page of the EYC unConference wiki.

The final session was an experiment: we called it speed geeking. In a fast and furious session people learnt about wikis, blogging and URL shorteners.

The topics for this session were chosen through an impromptu voting exercise, and the ‘presenters’ volunteered to speak on the fly. The format had people moving every 10 minutes between the three topic tables.

Our motto for the day was that no burning question would go unanswered. We’ll have to await for the report on the evaluation forms people filled in to see if we achieved this.

As one of the co-organisers, I left happy. My litmus test of success was whether I enjoyed myself and learnt things, and seeing if people stayed until the end. I maybe biased, but I’d say all were achieved.

As for my own learning, I’ve already been following up on some links. These include to site monitoring services like site247x.com and WordPress emulator called Instant WorldPress, sadly Windows only.

Thanks are due to:

  • Andrena for her work coordinating everything
  • Our volunteers on the day – Keith, Eileen and Justine, all NetSquared Wellington stalwarts
  • Massey University for hosting us
  • Microsoft NZ and Wellington City Council for sponsorship support.

When we debrief about the event next week, our agenda includes the question of when to run another unConference. I’ll report back after we talk. If this is something that you’d like to help with, don’t hesitate to raise your hand.

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We’d love to add more photos to this album – get in touch if you’d like some help sharing.

Websites aren’t going anywhere

White ship's anchor, stowed,

Some things we take for granted: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Pigs don’t fly. From little things, bit things grow.

But when someone says websites aren’t relevant any more, well, that’s not a statement that’s easy to swallow.

In the last few months this message has been repeated to me by three or four folk. The rise and rise and rise of social media is the main reason given: people can stay in touch and find out everything about our organisation without going to a website.

I thought I’d restate why I say community organisations still need to a well maintained, easy to use and attractive website in their online communications mix. NB the reasons don’t apply equally to everyone.

A website allows your organisation to:

  • Control what goes where. The relative weighting given to content and the structure are all decided by you. 100%. You’re not left stranded by the arbitrary decisions of a faceless multi-national corporation.
  • Make available essential, if somewhat dowdy, accountability documents, eg annual reports. These are in there rightful place, alongside any news, organisational information, etc.
  • Publish longer research, essays or other articles. Not just bon mots.
  • Add multiple ways for people to support you: sign petitions, volunteer, give stuff or donate cash. Donating isn’t only about collecting one-click gifts, it can entail things like membership, longer term APs or bequests. This information needs to be available, alongside a button or link.
  • Host dedicated areas for your constituents or network members. This could be about discussion, archives or e-learning. Private and simple are often key features.

Of course, there are times when a website does little for an organisation, except suck in time and money. I’d be the last to suggest a website is mandatory. Yet, nor would I too easily dismiss them.

In my experience, websites act as an anchor of an organisation’s online presence. Solid, dependable and even somewhat immutable. Reflected in a tightly packed few pages is information about what you do, how you’re making a difference and how people can get alongside you.

For those that care what people say after visiting an organisation’s website, not something that everyone is too bothered by, then keeping things spic and span is essential.

Is your website still a core part of your orgnisation’s communications mix, or has it been eclipsed?

Useful resource

Aspiration Tech highlight the differences between web and social using spectrums of online engagement. Get some insights into why social can achieve different things to websites.

Photo credit: Phill Lister

Moving website host, and home

A photo of packing boxes ready to be moved by Frank Gruber

Earlier in the year a couple of visitors to this blog mentioned to me that it took a long time for pages to download.

It’s a truism to say people expect sites to load quickly. Too slow and (potential) visitors are gone before you can say “page load”. I’m not aware of specific benchmarks, but anything longer than a few seconds is too much.

Looking at the “Site speed” statistics on Google Analytics I noticed the average page load time during April for people in New Zealand was nine seconds. The figure is an average, so for some people it would be slower.

Comparing this figure with another website I look after, I noticed the average page load time was seven seconds faster. Admittedly the crèche website has considerably less content, but the time difference is marked.

After sleeping on these two bits of data I decided a switch my website hosting provider was with looking into.

I know what prompted me to shift my hosting offshore to Go Daddy based in the USA: the blog had been hosted on the webserver I was looking after for my brother in-law. It would occasionally stop purring under my desk. The reasons I choose Go Daddy have long since faded away. Regardless of my thinking, Go Daddy is cheap and easy to use.

After more sleep, I decided that move website host I must. Settling on locally owned OpenHost, based in Auckland, the time for the big move was upon me.

I didn’t want to manually recreate the website as I had done a few years ago. Widget by widget, it was a painfully slow process.

This time, emboldened by the simple sounding instructions on the WordPress website describing how to transfer a blog, I decided to do this myself. Usually when editing a config file is mentioned, I dive for shelter and get some help.

Despite getting some great support from the helpdesk at OpenHost, the blog pages you’re now visiting have yet to move to my new host.

Somewhere, deep under the hood, lies a gremlin. Whether it’s a mod_rewrite rule, .htaccess file or something else, I am stumped. In fact, way beyond stumped. I know my limits so I’m calling on my friendly WordPress support guy Cody Rapley.

Once the shift has been completed, I will keep an eye on the site speed statistics. Regardless of the results, I’m pleased to be supporting a local company with quality service.

Fortunately, my other recent moves have gone much more smoothly.

For unrelated reasons I’ve also transferred where my email is stored and processed. I opted for Mail as part of my existing Google Apps account. I could still use IMAP mail, which I prefer, there is a heap of free storage (10 GB per user), and there’re loads of other integrated features.

Now I’ve scratched more than the surface of Google Apps, I reckon it is a very good option for smaller community groups who want an email service, calendars, shared directories and more.

I was able to make the transfer myself with a minimum of fuss. It was only me, not 10 users, so it was fairly straight forward. If I was doing this for an organisation I’d definitely get help.

The final move I’ll mention, involved dealing with plumbers, a moving company, the bank and real estate agents. It’s three weeks ago now my family moved from inner city Wellington (where I’ve lived within spitting distance of Civic Square for 19 years) to Raumati South. We’re a block from the sea with a fabulous garden but now 40 km from the city.

In the process I’ve temporarily lost my home office. Discussions last late into the night about grandiose plans for a studio/ sleepout at the bottom of the garden. I know good things take time, so in the meantime, I’ve signed up for a desk at the Powa Centre in Ghuznee Street. Between 7am-8.30am and after 5pm the Centre is a yoga studio, at other times it’s a co-working space.

I’ll be in town Thursday and Fridays if you’d like to catch-up over a cuppa. I can show you where to find the site speed details, and swap notes about the trials and tribulations of moving website host, and home.

PSPerhaps it goes without saying, I’ve had good reason for being silent on this blog. Now I’m settling back into things, you’ll likely hear from me more frequently.

Update (25 July 2012): The site was transferred by the aforementioned Cody Rapley, who didn’t break into a sweat. According to a reliable ping the site is now loading faster on its new OpenHost. Yay!!

Photo credit: Frank Gruber

Announcement: register now for webinars for NZ NGOs

Group of people in seminar with questioning looks on their faces by Melbourne WSG

For webmasters and other people running NGO websites in Wellington there is an abundance of ways to learn about the craft. As well as fairly regular NGO focused workshops, conferences and networking sessions, there is a whole raft of opportunities for professional website designers, content producers and others.

This is of course fabulous for organisations based here. But if you’re running a website for an NGO in Gisborne, Greymouth or further afield, I’m not aware of there being many opportunities to access training or to connect with peers.

Of course, there is plenty of written material available. This is great, but you can’t really enter into dialogue with a resource manual, nor make connections with others.

If you are really keen there’s nothing to stop people from getting up early to join in online presentations from USA, UK or other far-flung lands. The content may be great but connecting with others across time zones isn’t easy.

In my mind this I adds up to something of a gap, and an opportunity. And to steal a phrase, I’ve been thinking.

So, without further ado, I’m delighted to announce that next month I’m offering two online sessions for NGO website managers working in Aotearoa New Zealand. These two hour long webinars* will deliver some advice on keeping your website up-to-date and accessible to all visitors. You can find out more and register on the webinar series one page.

Webinar 1: Three ways to get insights into what your visitors want. Presenter: Stephen Blyth, Common Knowledge. 2pm Friday 23 March 2012.

Webinar 2: Learn how you can ensure all your visitors can access your website. Presenter: Mike Osborne, AccEase Ltd. 2pm Friday 30 March 2012.

Along the way I would love to hear your feedback. This will help the team running the sessions learn how things went. We want to know everything from time of day, price, content and any technical issues you face.

If there is demand I’ll look into running further sessions later in 2012.

As well as running a series for NGO website managers, I realise many people will want to explore how to use different tools to support the work of their organisation or network.

To help get you started I’m offering monthly drop-in session focused on running effective online meeting and webinars, what tools to use, and so on. You can come along to a casual session for an introduction, with plenty of time for questions.

At this stage, I am using the Citrix GoToMeeting/ GoToWebinar platform which TechSoup New Zealand is distributing to NGOs at a discounted rate for the first years subscription.

Find out more and register for an upcoming drop-in session. The first one is on 2pm Friday 13 April.

Now that the brochures are in the post and adverts online, I’ll have to wait to see if my hunch is right about NGO webmasters wanting to learn how they can improve the quality of their websites. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think.

* A webinar is an online presentation with opportunities for participants to ask questions and make comments. Or according to Webopedia a webinar is “Short for Web-based seminar, a presentation, lecture, workshop or seminar that is transmitted over the Web. A key feature of a Webinar is its interactive elements — the ability to give, receive and discuss information.”

Update (4 April): Recordings, links and other resources are now available now.

Photo credit: Melbourne WSG

Web analytics texts – free to good shelf

Two people in Google Analytics training session, reviewing reports by Viget LabsEarlier this year I was bitten by a web analytics bug. I wanted to learn all I could about how website stats could help me understand what visitors were doing on the websites I was working on.

The basic reasoning is thus: learn about how people are using a website then give them more of what they want. Reviewing analytics can also help to identify problem areas, which can then be addressed. Clues are available to show how effective marketing is, whether the website is showing up in search results, and ultimately whether it’s worth the effort being put in.

Fired up, I embarked on a stack of learning. Much was practical as I delved into the stats available from the Google Analytics package. Extra input came in the form of volunteers Michael and Pandu through a project I submitted to the Analysis Exchange. I almost completed an online course offered by Market Motive. And I read a lot. There is so much freely available on blogs it’s possible to drown in analytics.

Frustrated at the unstructured way my learning was going and worried I might miss something important, I bought some texts on web analytics. I wanted some experts to share tricks of the trade.

Now, much as I think this area of measurement, analysis and reporting is important, I’m not going to dig any deeper. A primary consideration is I’m less interested manipulating figures. This requires a fair amount of time staring at numbers/ graphs on a computer screen.

So, I’m giving away the three texts I bought.

The books are:

Google Analytics by Justin Cutroni (O’Reilly, 2010, 201 pages) [Taken]

Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics by Brian Clifton (Sybex, 2010, 501 pages) [Taken]

Web analytics 2.0: the art of online accountability & science of customer centricity, by Avinash Kaushik (Sybex, 2010, 475 pages) [Taken]

If you want to take one of these books off my shelf, all you need to tell me how you use analytics for your New Zealand based not-for-profit organisation. Send an email, or make a comment on this blog post. I’m limiting the give away to one per organisation. First in, first to get a book.

I’m hoping my quest to keep my bookshelf under control (and my mind uncluttered, come to think of it), will help someone out. And it means I can focus on the things I think are most important right now (which I won’t list for fear of running out of space).

Photo credit: Viget Labs