Pollinators hosted a peer learning session to discuss the relative merits of different web platforms (which includes ‘content management systems’ or CMS) for different users, audiences and purposes. This post outlines some general recommendations from the conversations, and has specific suggestions for different users or purposes.
This session was mainly attended by those who professionally build and develop websites, and their experience is relevant to anyone wanting to create one. This conversation continued pre- and post-session within the ‘Digital Cluster‘, which members are able to join and contribute to.
Pollinators also has upcoming free training sessions on planning a website, creating an online presence (even without a website), or using cloud technologies if you are a community group or club.
Some key considerations for anyone, which should be thought about prior to choosing a platform:
- Purpose, audience, your organisation’s “business model”, and necessary functions of your website.
- Creating an ‘online business card’ with a single page can be done in 5 minutes with about.me, flavors.me, same with a basic blog with tumblr, however creating an online community with member’s access requires a different platform, as would a site that was mainly about e-commerce transactions.
- Resources you will have available to manage the site after you’ve created it.
- Some platforms are very powerful and customisable, but will require ongoing maintenance and updating (e.g. WordPress.org). Other commercial offerings update themselves and may require no maintenance, hosting etc.
- Skill level of the people who will contribute to or update the site.
- The ‘behind the scenes’ interface of different platforms varies significantly. Consider the frequency with which you will do updates, blog posts or upload new photos and products, and who will do that — a developer, specific staff member, or anyone.
- Existing online services you already use which you may want to build on or integrated with.
- If you already have a Facebook page, Etsy site, online community or blog, consider how you might integrate, migrate or complement that existing online presence.
- Where could this go or grow in the future?
- If you have visions for growth and expansion, consider what features may be useful. Different platforms are more or less easy to expand, grow, be upgraded to handle millions of visitors, or move to another platform.
Once you’ve thought about that, you can consider some of the many platforms available. The ones we touched on in the discussion included: WordPress, SquareSpace, Wix, Weebly, Joomla, Drupal, tumblr, about.me, flavors.me, SilverStripe, Ning, .net (Microsoft) and discussion of ‘custom CMS’ which are usually owned by particular developers or marketing companies that will sell you a website package. Many of these are in completely different categories aimed at different users, but what most have in common (Drupal may be the exception) is that you buy something that helps you create and manage an online presence without the need to know how to write computer code…and potentially without having to hire a developer.
This was our assumption in this conversation…that the people in the organisation would have some level of active involvement in updating the content and look of their site, a) because they want to, and b) because doing it themselves is cheaper and faster than getting a developer. That assumption may be true for most small to medium organisations. It’s also going to be true that those organisations will usually get a professional developer to help them at some stage, with hosting, branding, set-up of the site, or some of the maintenance.
Please note: this is intended as a summary of the conversation and not a comprehensive guide or objective evaluation. Anyone considering any of these platforms can do their own research, ask questions of other members or their existing developer, and attend digital training.
If you are looking for a fully-featured site that may include blog, photos, branding, e-commerce, social media integrations and ability to evolve into the future, then WordPress or Squarespace seem to dominate the choices:
- WordPress.org is open-source, very flexible, powerful, fully-featured platform that can be used by people who are prepared to invest some time themselves, or involve a developer. WordPress is a the default choice for most developers in Geraldton, so there’s no shortage of local help. There are also millions of developers producing plug-ins and services that enhance the basic wordpress.org offering. The user interface for WordPress can get complex on more advanced sites, and can get beyond the person that wants to DIY. WordPress.com is a hosted version of the service which is easier to start on but with less power and flexibility in look, themes and functionality. Currently many Pollinators members sites (and our own) are built on WordPress.
- Squarespace is commercial product with a drag and drop interface that has made it increasingly popular with people wanting to DIY. Everything is integrated and created by Squarespace itself so you don’t have to worry about hosting, plug-ins etc. It can handle quite complex sites with e-commerce integrations. A couple of Pollinators members have built or run sites with Squarespace recently, and are very enthusiastic about the advantages over WordPress for their needs.
If you are just wanting to get a basic online ‘business card’ so people can contact you, but you aren’t going to list products, grow a community, or blog, then about.me or flavors.me are very straightforward options.
If you are part of a community group or club that may want to mostly facilitate online conversation amongst members, then options like Facebook Groups, Nings, Groupspaces, Google Groups etc. should be considered and some of these can at least appear on your ‘static’ website or be integrated into it. If you want to really integrate your community, charge people subscriptions with a site that has more features, then Wordpress with Buddypress or similar may be worth looking into.
If you want to list and sell your products e.g. craft, art, photos, then it may be easiest to use TicTail (which has lots of apps and customisations) or Etsy if you are selling things handmade. There are specific platforms for photographers…which we didn’t discuss. In all cases these platforms can substitute for your own site or be linked from or integrated into it.
If you want a blog to just share what you’re doing, grow a community then tumblr is fast and streamlined, with some customisability. Squarespace and WordPress.com can enable you to get started quickly but also have great scope to add and expand in the future.
No-one in our discussions recommended or advocated for using a custom CMS owned by a commercial company, as you simply don’t have access to the code and are effectively ‘locked in’ to using them for evermore. A couple of members we’ve spoken to unwittingly went down that path and it’s turned out to be quite expensive. Again, this may reflect the bias of the group who attended and who are Pollinators members!
Wix and Weebly were also not really recommended because, although they are initially free, they are commercial and it costs more to add integrations or ‘apps’, and make them look decent and work well. They are not SEO-friendly (i.e. hard for Google to rank and for your audience to find) and if you leave their platform you can’t export your content.
Ok, hope that’s a help and look forward to comments!
For developers and those with experience, this conversation is ongoing within the ‘Digital Cluster‘.
For those looking to develop a site, there are upcoming free training sessions on planning a website, creating an online presence (even without a website), or using cloud technologies if you are a community group or club.