Web publishing: now officially ridiculously easy

So, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m no coder. I’m no designer. I can write a bit. And I can install and configure software, but then so can you if you’ve got pretty much any kind of mobile device. I understand (sort of) FTP and file permissions and basic Unix commands (I mean really basic) and I (sort of) understand how data files on computers morph into web pages on other computers.

And yet somehow this technical illiterate has managed to launch a website for his wife’s primary school with no help whatsoever from anyone who knows what they are doing. It’s WordPress, of course. It’s on its own domain (with 34sp). It’s got accounts for half-a-dozen teachers who can log into it and update it. It’s got a Twitter widget which I’m reliably informed will be actively used. The website’s got all the data about the school: term dates, contact details, newsletters from the head. It costs, all-in, maybe 90 quid for the first year. Including the domain. It looks rather nice too, thanks to a WordPress template by Worldoweb which is somewhat quirky (both visually and – ahem – technically) but which I’ve been able to hack about a bit.

It’s even got an RSS feed, for Christ’s sake.

So tell me: why isn’t everyone doing this? And why do so many school websites look so terribly awfully rubbish?


19 thoughts on “Web publishing: now officially ridiculously easy

  1. “So tell me: why isn’t everyone doing this? And why do so many school websites look so terribly awfully rubbish?”

    Because so many people have be trained to believe that computer systems are supposed to be over-complicated. When given the task to build a web site, many people will automatically reach for the proprietary solution. It’s only the geeks (and a small, but growing group of semi-geeks like you) who know about tools like WordPress, Drupal and Ning.

    This is a idea that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. I wrote about it (with the emphasis on MPs’ web sites) back in April[1]. I also launched a social network in my lunchtime yesterday using Ning[1].

    You should also look at the slides from Will Perrin’s talk “Spread the Web” talk that he gave at Opentech this year[3].

    [1] http://blog.dave.org.uk/2009/04/overcomplicating-matters.html
    [2] http://blog.dave.org.uk/2009/09/sw12-social-network.html
    [3] http://www.slideshare.net/bill_per/spread-the-web-opentech-2009

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    1. A geek just called me a semi-geek. Whatever happens in my life from now on in, I can move on knowing I have achieved something.

      Seriously, good points all, and will look at those links. I think there’s something else, though. I don’t think we *care* enough in this country about doing this stuff.

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  2. I think it’s tempting to focus on how easy or difficult this is to do _technically_, when, as you rightly point out, the question really ought to be: why don’t more people think it’s important to make information available in a helpful way. Most of the public services I want to find out about, for instance, hide away the key information (opening times, prices, contact details) in pdfs or worse. Why? How much easier would it be to post up the text file they created in the first place? But more to the point: why don’t they _care_ whether people can find this stuff out?

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  3. Greenwich Leisure Limited are one of the worst for this – now run virtually every outsourced council sports centre in London, yet every one has to be searched for, then opening times etc downloaded in a PDF form – yet front page is full of press releases etc. Does anyone at GLL really believe anyone is looking at their website for any other reason than to find out when their local pool is open?

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  4. Erm… Can’t access the site at present. WordPress is generating a “Error establishing a database connection” message.

    Would love to see it!

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  5. @Andrew Levy

    Oof! Funny! Actually, I can see it fine, and no-one else seems to be having trouble. Weird. There’s a stupid Flash twitter widget on there. Maybe it’s that? “Client” wanted it. Stupid “client”. I’m taking it off for now.

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  6. Such an interesting discussion. I was at my vet the other day and learned that they don’t even have an Internet connection in the office so the youngest vet of the practice has to look stuff up on her friggin’ iPhone.

    This is supposed to be one of the most ‘wired’ areas of the USA (Silicon Valley), but plenty of small/local businesses are still not connected. I also found out they only just launched their web site, which is fully devoid of character/personality, probably cost them a fortune, has a terrible domain name because they’re so late to the game, and says at the bottom of the page: “Please note: Feline illnesses cannot be diagnosed via the internet. If you have a sick cat, please see a veterinarian.”

    While this is of course true, I’m amazed they haven’t used the Internet both to their advantage and for their customers’ benefit too. When I told my vet they should blog because that rapidly-changing content will help their indexing/ranking, her eyes lit up with excitement. The very idea of connecting with their loyal customers, having fun with cute ‘kitty patient’ pictures while perhaps also offering serious and useful information, was so appealing to her, but alas, her curmudgeonly head of practice wouldn’t want such a thing.

    So instead, they spent thousands on a bland, cookie-cutter web site, devoid of personality, instead of making the effort to build something themselves full of color which would truly connect with the local community, and perhaps more importantly, enable them to grow their business or attract new pet owners to their practice. Quite sad really.

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  7. Now officially ridiculously easy indeed – but updating it, maintaining it, getting the school to buy into the idea of communicating to parents via a website, getting teachers to share some of their amazing practice via a website, giving the school ownership of the project… well that’s all an entirely different discussion in my experience, and far from easy.

    The school website I started for my kids’ school since 2006 looks rubbish and clunky (www.hobbayne.net), but the school now regularly updates it (with a bit of help from me) because parents now rely on it for information… It’s substance over style in this school’s case but it works and no-one minds (it’s even starting to look quite retro!) It’s far from easy to get to the point where the school website is needed and valued, having the appropriate technology is only the start. After that, it’s people driven – if parents value it and senior management within the school support it, it will work. If the right ingredients aren’t there it will just sit there unused.

    A really important discussion though, because potentially schools could empower so many parents/carers to get more involved in their children’s learning this way. The Government requirement is for all secondaries and primaries to have a ‘Managed Learning Environment’ by 2012, so watch carefully because times may be changing…

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    1. I agree, Liz, and those are good points. In my case, I’ve given four teachers log-ons and taken them through some basic training, but it won’t be until one of them steps up and takes real ownership that the thing will come alive. Until then, I’m anticipating lots of weekend messages saying “can you update this, please?” And since I live with the head, it’s going to be hard to ignore those!

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  8. Hi I am the author of the theme. The theme was my first attempt after only using WordPress for a couple of months. The idea came from my daughters school blog as everything is done online nowadays and there are not many themes to choose from an educational point of view. I do plan on creating and releasing more educational based themes in the near future but in the meantime I will be more than willing to help you with any modifications that you may need.

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    1. Hi Tracy – great that you’re thinking of doing more educational themes. I certainly struggled to find any decent ones, and yours was a country mile ahead of anything else. One thing I’d ask for: it seems to struggle with and tags, which would provide some useful typographical control. Any reason you think that should be?

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  9. I think there is defintely something to be said about people not caring enough to do this stuff, but this really isn’t the whole picture.

    I have been doing some work recently in the voluntary and charity sector and the lack of knowledge there really is quite staggering. Because most of us here are so used to the web and IT in general, I think we sort of automatically assume that other people have a base line knowledge about these things and often they really don’t.

    I had to take the time to explain to one person that a browser and a monitor were not physically connected ( I try to give them some sort of mental model to play with rather than just leave them to their own devices as this can lead to further confusion).

    I have come to the conclusion that there is a whole swathe of the population who genuinely do not get it. That there is an entry level learning curve for using the web (and computers before that !)that for whatever reason they are not able to overcome. So creating sites using ning/wordpress or whatever – although only a short hop once you are over this learning bump – are for all intents and purposes, completely out of reach.

    This doesn’t of course explain instances of apathy, nor does it excuse the fact that our industry seems to be rife with people who make IT complex and mystical for their own ends.

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    1. Very, very true. I’m acting as a trustee at a charity, and there’s a hard core of people who really get it but then lots of people who’ve had no experience of Web publishing and don’t really even have the mechanisms to think about it effectively. Again, this does not seem to be quite the case in America in the same way. Why is Britain different?

      And IT systems: there are so many chancers and crooks out there you wouldn’t believe.

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  10. @lloydshep It is because you have written pages rather than posts, pages use the page.php template. I can sort that out for you. I do think you would benefit from using the new version of the theme, it’s cleaner and more polished. If you want to update the theme I will do all the customisations for you. If you want to keep the current theme I will customise the template for you to have tags on the pages template. At no cost of course!

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  11. Just checked the posts section, forgot about the posts on the right hand side! I am not sure why the tags are not displaying. I know recently I had to de-activate all of my plugins and then re-activate them for the tags to work. It could be that! Just check your posts in admin to see if the tags are assigned to the posts.

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