Monthly Archives: May 2005

Non-profits: are blogs better than websites?

It’s a common scenario for your average non-profit (and a lot of small businesses as well):

1. You need a web presence. Goes without saying, right?

2. You have limited staff and budget, and nobody in your agency has the time, skills or desire to design your web site.

3. Even if you can budget a few grand to get the local HTML student to design a site for you, there are some inherent problems with this approach:

a. That student is moving to Methuselah after the job and won’t be around to maintain it.

b. The site needs regular updating to be viable, and nobody even wants to know what “ftp” stands for, much less “xHTML” or “CSS “.

So, why not set up a blog? Admittedly, it is more than just an alternate publishing method. It’s a different approach to communication. The traditional non-profit web site is brochureware: it describes the organization’s mission and programs; it asks for donations; and it provides contact information. Blogs can ask for donations and provide contact info as well, but they are not static descriptions of organizations and their services. A blog is a dialog with an organizations constituents. Using it as an overt marketing tool would be disastrous — nobody wants to hear sales pitches in a blog. So, again, why take a completely different approach to the web from the standard?

1. Brochureware requires web design staff, contracted or in-house. Blogging sites like blogger.com and typepad.com have professional, CSS templates designed that remove the need for in-house or outsourced HTML development.

2. Once your contractor creates your web page, updating it generally requires in-house expertise in html, ftp or ssh, and a host of other acronyms. Blogs are easy to update, and require only the most basic computer skills.

3. How many CBO’s do you know of who have brochureware web sites that are out of date and stagnant? A common rule of thumb on the web is that your content must be regularly updated for your web site to be appreciated. Again, blogs are easy to update.

4. As social service providers, isn’t a web interface that opens up a dialog more appropriate than the traditional marketing approach? Blogs offer a more authentic way to communicate with constituents. Web sites are more commercial in nature (in general).

5. RSS (Really Simple Syndication). Blog content can be subscribed to; web sites have to be visited. This might still be an obscure point, so I invite anyone to check me a year or two from now and show me that I’m wrong about this: we are moving to a model on the internet where users subscribe to information, and only visit the sources when the feed provides incentives. This will be the standard web paradigm. Brochureware is going to start depreciating as users become more savvy – and demanding – about how convenient it is for them to access your information. All popular blogging services provide built-in subscribable feeds as an option.

6. Repurposing content. As your web presence grows, the blogging format is distributable and republishable (building on point 5). For example, I also have a more traditional web site. I use the blogging model to create numerous sites for different audiences, and maintain them by providing content in one place that the other sites subscribe to via RSS. If you envision growing a true web strategy, the technology that bloggers use is geared toward labor-free redistribution of content, and that fits well in a budget-strapped environment.

Of course, you still need an on-staff resource, and it might have to be someone as far up the ladder as the CEO to set the right tone. But the tech skills required are minimal – blogs are all about what we have to say, not the trappings of how we say it. So I think it’s a compelling opportunity for budget-strapped non-profits to not only get on the web, but possibly be more effective with the web.

New plan for Content!

Regular vistitors to the Coconino County Home Page know one thing well: there’s not much reason to be a regular visitor to the site. The page tends to be updated annually, as opposed to regularly. This is defensible: I chose my subject matter for a number of reasons, the primary one being my love for it, but the secondary being the relative low amount of updating that would be required. And, as readers of my Site Notes know, my third motivation has always been to just have a web site where I can keep my skills (such as they are) fresh.

So I’ve done a few things to make adding content simpler, taking advantage of the latest buzz on the Internet: Really Simple Syndication (RSS). First, the bookmarks are now managed using del.icio.us, a very powerful bookmark sharing site. I highly recommend it! Second, I’m using RSS to centralize content creation for about four different web sites that I maintain, which will make it simpler to publish to krazy.com.

Over the next half year or so, I will be migrating Krazy.com to a full RSS/blogging platform called WordPress.. Don’t be concerned – the updated content on the site was blog-like long before I ever heard the term, and it will not change dramatically when it’s moved to the new platform. For those interested in the techy details, I will chronicle this more thoroughly in the site notes.

Why blog?

With over 8 million blogs out there (as of March, when I saw Mena Trott, founder of blogging service Six Apart, speak at the NTEN Non-Profit Technology conference), there’s a real good question as to why someone like me would add another “sad, default-Blogger-templated website” to the giant heap of the same out there. Well, I have a few reasons.

Mainly, while most people set up blogs and then notice how conveniently they can distribute them via RSS (Really Simple Syndication), I got here from the reverse direction. I have a need to strategically publish content to a variety of web sites, and RSS is an effective tool to do it. By maintaining a blog, I can pretty handily write all of that content here and then selectively copy it where it needs to go. The destinations for these posts include www.krazy.com, my website devoted to the classic cartoon “Krazy Kat” and it’s author, George Herriman; a private web site inside San Francisco Goodwill that I maintain (running on Drupal), where I blog on technology issues relevant to my organization and role as IT Director; and, possibly, the Digital Divide Network, where I am hoping to be more active.

Secondly, I think I have enough web street cred to be legitimate. I wasn’t born on the web yesterday. In 1989, I ran a computerized Bulletin Board system (BBS) out of my home. I wrote software to convert Usenet newsgroups to PCBoard BBS format so I could carry them for my callers. I registered krazy.com in 1994, and had a web site up there by January of 1995, a little earlier than most of you, right? Since about 2000, you’ve been able to find my web site at Google by typing “krazy kat” in the box and pressing “I’m Feeling Lucky”. The Coconino County Homepage is the first unsponsored link at just about any search engine when you look for either “Krazy Kat” or “George Herriman”.

Third, I hope to grow this into more than just a blog. WordPress supports adding additional pages, and RSS feeds on related topics, as well as forums and other features are likely additions in the months to come. Ultimate goal: port the whole Krazy Kat web site to WordPress as well.

Finally, this is not a place where you’re going to hear cute stories about my dog, and I promise to keep the “blogging about blogs” itch scratched, as much as possible. I will discuss related technologies, but from my perspective as a technology strategist, which I think puts a broader slant on things then just “ain’t it cool”. I’ll also throw in some biographical/political/pure opinion stuff, but I’ll try to keep it entertaining.

So, again, welcome!

Welcome!

Okay! After a few fits and starts on various blogging services, this is it – my own blog, hosted on my own server, with a title appropriately culled from Krazy Kat, my muse. WordPress is clearly a suitable platform, powerful, flexible, hackable. Look for a bit of early remodeling as I make the site look right. Good to be here – more to come!