Blog/20131210 We need a website

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More from B's blog:

Some older entries are here.

"We need a website! Where can we hire a developer?"

I've had quite a lot of conversations with various people recently, saying that they would like to build a web presence and/or have better tools for collaboration. Often, the thought is that a developer is needed, to set up your own site, while at the same time the budget is very limited.

I always say that it's best to look at what free services are out there, and whether you are willing to trade some of what you need (including perhaps some branding and ownership) for getting a better service more cheaply.

The standard recomendations are to look at

  • Social networking: Facebook, Twitter, Google+
  • Wordpress for website and blogging
  • Google sites for websites
  • Flickr for images
  • YouTube for video
  • For collaboration, the Google services (including Google Drive, calendar, mail) work well, and there's also Google Apps for Education.

The drawbacks are that you have to take what's there in terms of facilities. This means not being able to fully customise the experience (including branding and facilities), and it means not having full ownership of your data (because it's in the cloud, basically another person's computer). However, on the positive side, there are quite a few existing features (e.g. including mobile apps), and it's free. Moreover, you probably want some presence (e.g. on social networking sites) anyway, so it's a good step to take. Also, using a service like the above, it means that ownership can be decentralised. If somebody else want to take over running a particular part of the site, they can just do so, rather than having to get (say) a university-login (which they may not be able to to get). Some solutions like wordpress are neat, in that you can migrate to your own server when you feel that's necessary.

To develop your own site (even if you used an existing content/learning manamgenent system), that has your own facilities (say) for social networking and for document sharing, from scratch, you'd be looking at a very significant start-up cost, as well as ongoing maintenance cost. For most organisations that's really not feasible.

So in the first instance, it makes sense to launch on a combination of the above tools, and look for somebody who is (say) savvy about social media, and can manage your presence on those sites, rather than looking for a developer to develop your own site (which doesn't even address the question of who will manage the content on that site!).

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