Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Using Blogger to make a website for a community group

This article explains the issues that community groups and non-profit organisations can face with managing their websites, and explains how Blogger can be used to address them.

Community groups and websites - a common scenario

Many community groups and non-profit organisations set up projects to build a website.   Often, an enthusiastic volunteer offers their time and expertise.   Or a third-level student makes a website as a course project.

The new website is launched, often with a party.   It looks great, and the content is fresh and exciting.  Things are great.

But a while later, something needs to be changed.   Maybe the address.   Or the meeting date/time.   Or maybe someone complains about one of the photos that was used and wants it removed.

If the group is lucky, the enthusiastic volunteer or the student is still around, and happy to do the change.   But more and more changes are wanted.  Over time, the enthusiasm wanes.  The student graduates and moves away.   The volunteer starts to resent the amount of  time needed,  Eventually, the student is nowhere to be found or the volunteer just says "no".

In the "lucky" scenario, the next step is often that the group finds money to negotiate a support contract with the former volunteer's company.  Hopefully, the company charges them a fair rate for the work.   It may not feel fair to the group, though, because they don't know what the market rate for this sort of work is, or how long things really take.   In the "unlucky" scenario, the group has incorrect information on the internet that cannot be changed because no one knows how to change it.

Blogger offers an alternative way of doing things

Blogger is Google's tool for building "blogs" - essentially diaries kept on the internet.  See Blogs, bloggers and Blogger  for a full explanation of these sometimes confusing terms.

But Blogger is now a lot more sophisticated, and can be used for other things too.

If a website is built using Blogger:
  1. The software used to build and update it is free
  2. The hosting is either free if the address is, or  only the cost of buying a web-address with DNS hosting if the address is   You don't have to pay for file-hosting, because Google provides this for free.
  3. It's simple to make updates, after the initial set-up is done - see How to edit a post in Blogger for the simplest updates you can do.
  4. It can even be set up to update itself when someone emails a certain address (which you only tell to people who you want to be able to do updates!)
  5. Whoever updates the website doesn't need any special software:  just a computer with internet access.
  6. It will work in all the different web-browsers (with some with very rare exceptions).
  7. By default, it's structured like a diary:  most recent info first, older info further down.   Which makes it a good fit for "newsletter" style things, which is often a great fit for community groups.
  8. But it doesn't have to look like a diary - you can give it a "home page" in a variety of ways - and if you want, you can even make it look like a "real" website.

Issues, Risks and Disadvantages

Of course there are risks with using Blogger- or indeed any other cloud-based software.  Google could change their minds about any aspect of it (though I doubt that they will do anything drastic or expensive).   There are limits to what it can do:   I wouldn't try to use it for any website that needs to integrate with on-line sales.     It may be perceived by some people as "lower quality".   You don't control the hosting:  you aren't paying for it, so you don't have any rights as a customer.

These risks are all real, and in some cases they will be so serious that you decide another approach is better.  But for some groups, the advantages will outweigh the risks.    And often they are not as large as you'd think.   There have been a number of cases where customers thought they were safe because they were paying for a service - but nevertheless the company providing the service decided to stop doing so.

A final thought

No matter what tool you use, building the website is the easy part: lots of people can do it, and they'll all be happy to tell you what a bad job the last guy did.

The hard bits are getting everyone to agree:
  • Who the website is for (ie defining the audience)
  • What you're trying to achieve and how you'll know if you get there (ie setting the aims & objectives, knowing how you'll measure them, and doing the measurement)
  • Defining the policies for how you will work:   what content?  who decides what to show, and what not to?  who is responsible for doing updates ?
  • Simple, cost-effective, ways to keep the content up-to-date
  • Making enough training materials, so that when the current person doing updates leaves, their replacement can learn to do them too.
  • Figuring out how to set the site up with search-optimisation approach (SEO) built in  - there's no point in building a website if no one can find it reads it!
If anyone otters to build you a website, make sure that their plan covers all these issues, so that you aren't left with an embarrassing white-elephant on the web, with your name on it.

Related Articles

Blogs, bloggers and Blogger - an introduction

Getting started with Blogger

Using an URL you already own for a Blogger blog

Setting up your custom domain

Updating your blog by email - using mail2Post

Giving your blog a home page

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