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  1. #1
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    Teaching others how to maintain sites

    I'm not a web designer, but I've been using the HTML 3.2 hand-markup skills I learned to make my X-Files fan site many years ago to maintain the sites of a couple of choirs. A few months ago, I got the bug to make them ADA-compliant, else I would still be blissfully unaware of CSS and XHTML.

    While I've been reading about modern markup techniques, a couple of singers asked me to make sites for them. I told them I didn't know enough to take their money, but that I'd like the opportunity to practice on their sites before I undertake a gut rehab on the choir's site. I'm waiting for them to send me files and copy.

    Their sites will be straightforward, on the XHTML side at least. But I'm concerned about how I'm going to explain to them how to maintain their sites once I'm done. I imagine having to type up a manual, where I explain every rule/tag on each page, what it does, and how to change it. Which would be educational for me, but a chunk of work, and I'm afraid it might overwhelm the singers, who have no previous web site experience.

    I've looked around online for resources, and it seems like the community of amateurs with sites on geocities, etc that I sought help from when I started out has gone, along with the low-end WYSIWYG editors, eg, FrontPage, GoLive. New webizens have blogs, but, even tastefully skinned, they look transient to me. I wouldn't recommend one in place of a static site, unless the user was going to make frequent blog-y updates.

    Which takes me to the next concern, how I'll turn over the choirs' sites eventually. I'm afraid that if I re-write everything with modern mark-up, it's going to be even harder than before I came along to find someone who's able and willing to keep performance dates current. I've read about a few open source cms's, but I get the sense that they require someone who can troubleshoot PHP/MySQL hanging around in the background. I know of a few churches who've contracted out for that service, but the choirs are both pretty close to the bone, financially. Does anyone have advice on how I can plan for my obsolescence?

  2. #2
    Follow: @AlexDawsonUK silver trophybronze trophy AlexDawson's Avatar
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    The simple answer would be to provide your choirs with a CMS. Content management systems are basically a way to allow people with no knowledge of web design to log into their website, add content, images, and other bits and pieces without having to type code. It works like a blog, you can click a “add news item” button for example and type what you want, and the CMS will do all the work about generating mark-up, managing the content and usually comes with stuff they may find useful such as statistics.

  3. #3
    Follow: @AlexDawsonUK silver trophybronze trophy AlexDawson's Avatar
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    PS: CMS engines don’t usually require debugging as their tested to destruction by beta testers, once its online, it’s easy to maintain, doesn’t require previous knowledge and it’s a decent way to go for people with no knowledge of coding.

  4. #4
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy Tailslide's Avatar
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    Further to Alex's suggestion I'd like to suggest WordPress as being very easy to template (or just use one of the thousands of free "themes") and simple for the client to use without risk of them messing things up too badly!
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  5. #5
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    Thank you for your replies. I've installed a couple of WP blogs in password-protected directories, for the board of the choir and one of the committees, though they haven't used them yet. This weekend, I downloaded a plug-in, and researched how to change a default option. Neither of them worked as advertised, and I haven't got them working.

    I know about the codex and forums, and I'll visit them again this weekend. I realize most open source products don't "just work" like Firefox and NoScript. Sitepoint's intro PHP book is on my to-read list. But it makes me leary of planning more ambitious customization, or handing it off to another beginner. I'm not picking on WP; from what I've read, it's the most admin-friendly of the open source CMS's.

  6. #6
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    If the updates are going to be more along the lines of "Next practice on Tuesday at 7 30" rather than a blog then CushyCMS might be the answer. You can define an area on a given page that your users can edit and no database is required. I think the only downside is that you have to store your ftp info on the CushyCMS server but they have a good reputation as far as I've seen so far.

    I'm too new to be allowed to post a link yet - maybe www dot cushycms dot com gets through the filter?

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by agsone View Post
    If the updates are going to be more along the lines of "Next practice on Tuesday at 7 30" rather than a blog then CushyCMS might be the answer.
    Thank you. I looked it up and read some articles about it, and it looks like it might be just what I'm looking for. I found a tutorial about how to install it:

    Vandelay Design Blog
    Tutorial: Set Up a Client's Site to be Editable with Cushy CMS

    and more about it in a comparison of CMS:

    Web Distortion Blog
    13 Free CMS Options for Web Design Professionals Reviewed

    Cushy's the second review, and the author goes into more detail about ftp security. If I were creating a site for a business that handled financial or other sensitive data, I'd probably find it too risky.

  8. #8
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    I've used Mambo CMS for a several sites and most people find it easy to use. If you're not needing CMS features, then I build a standard site and have them buy a copy of Adobe Contribute.

  9. #9
    SitePoint Guru marcel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by israelisassi View Post
    I've used Mambo CMS for a several sites and most people find it easy to use. If you're not needing CMS features, then I build a standard site and have them buy a copy of Adobe Contribute.
    Our users always found Joomla/Mambo rather difficult

    I'd vote for Wordpress or Drupal.

    You can train them to use Posting software to add content to Wordpress and Drupal.

  10. #10
    SitePoint Zealot RogueScripts's Avatar
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    As mentioned above wordpress or a similar CMS is the best way to go for small client sites like this. Makes it so they can easily create their own pages and manage their site after you are finished setting it up.
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  11. #11
    SitePoint Enthusiast Rblakney's Avatar
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    I agree, I usually recommend wordpress for those clients since they are already used to simular interfaces.

  12. #12
    SitePoint Zealot zealus's Avatar
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    Just my 2 cents - Wordpress is by far the easiest to learn out of everything offered in the topic. Additionally, since the release 2.7 you can easily update the software to the latest revision with a couple of clicks which to my mind is the biggest advantage over almost any system for a beginner. Keeping a web site updated is one of the hardest things my clients have encountered so far, so WordPress just created one of the silver bullets for non-technical users.

  13. #13
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    Just this minute finished taking a client -- had struggled a bit with Adobe Contribute -- through maintaining pages on a Wordpress site.

    In terms of the cost, functionality for backend CMS and front end via plugins, and flexibility via themes, Wordpress is hard to beat for small-medium sites.

    Another vote for Wordpress, then
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  14. #14
    SitePoint Guru marcel's Avatar
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    Wordpress is the easiest to use.

  15. #15
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    Wordpress is a popular option but still it is a blog platform. I would suggest Joomla CMS for your websites. I have been using it for a couple years now and it is by far the most powerful platform out there once you learn it. There are a lot of components and mods you can add to give your site a lot of different features. Check it out!

  16. #16
    SitePoint Evangelist
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    I can fully understand why everybody's pushing you in a CMS direction... but I don't understand why you would want to go that way.

    Based on your OP you want to learn more about building sites... and sadly implementing a CMS isn't really going to do that for you.

    I would suggest, especially since you're doing this for free and for yourself more than the singers, that you try to build the site from scratch.

    Plugins and extensions may sound great... but trust me.... MANY times you will spend more time @#$@^&* with plugins than you would have just building them from scratch.

    I would suggest that you pick up a php and mysql book and do a little reading. Markup your site with XHTML and use the php to store content to a mysql database. In the beginning building a login system may be a little advanced so just use a password protected directory to house the admin files. Make a few simple pages for editing the content of the pages and house them in the PWP directory.

    Then build a few simple pages that pull the content (textual at least) from the DB and display it to the public.

    Now before everybody fires back at me about how great Joomla or Drupal is please take into consideration that the OP was wanting to do this project to learn... and though you will learn some things using these cms's, there's nothing better than diving in and getting wet!

    Best of luck whatever you choose to do! Remember Google and Sitepoint are two of your best reference points, but it is always helpful to have a handy dandy reference book around.

  17. #17
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy
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    I have to agree with rustybuddy.

    I'm a huge fan of CMS solutions my favorite being Drupal because it is by far the best but all that aside, the question (I believe) was about building sites and adding maintainability to existing sites... That was that the question, right?

    Anyway, I would suggest continuing your learning curve and have the maintainers of the sites get Adobe Contribute for edits & updates rather than Dreamweaver, GoLive or any of the full featured web tools. We have a few clients who manage their sites quite successfully using Contribute.

    Once you have mastered front end markup html/css/javascript/, then you'll be more apt to tackle one of the many CMS solutions and make it your own.
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  18. #18
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    I don't know a lot about the popular CMS options, but I thought it would be worth putting in a vote for CushyCMS, mainly because the OP has beginner skills. Wordpress and others will definitely have more features (that you may need), but Cushy is really easy and the basic version is free. If there is an easier CMS, somebody let me know. I'm lazy that way.

  19. #19
    SitePoint Zealot zealus's Avatar
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    That's a second time someone is promoting that cushy stuff. It's a hosted commercial CMS that doesn't have a single advantage over said WordPress and/or Joomla.

  20. #20
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    Well, the advantage I meant to highlight was its simplicity, since that might appeal to the OP. It's commercial so far as the paid version goes, but the free one is nice. It's pretty low-power, I guess, but sufficient for a simple site, I think. I've only played around with it so far. Haven't used it with a client, but I found it likable.

  21. #21
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    is blogger better than wordpress?

  22. #22
    SitePoint Guru marcel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by john.smit00 View Post
    is blogger better than wordpress?

    They have been known to delete content and entire blogs. Even recently

  23. #23
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    zapf,

    As you design the site really pin down exactly what the maintenance/updates requirements are going to be and design the site accordingly. If the site is to be maintained by beginner volunteers be sure to keep that in mind and keep everything simple.

    Use lots of comments in your code. Keep notes as you design. Make sure you will be able to locate photo originals, what fonts you used, etc. down the line when memory fades. Write up at least a mini version of the manual you referred to.

    Explore some of the free wysiwyg editors. I briefly tried page breeze which was recommended to me as a possible solution to a situation similar to yours. I really didn't like the code it wrote. I might check out nvu and some others. For now I am doing the updates myself.

    Find yourself an apprentice or two. I am sure there is somebody who would like to learn the basics of making a simple web page you could teach to do the updates.

  24. #24
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    Thank you again to everyone who's replied since the last time I was here.

    My original post described several goals, which lead in different directions. Since then, I've decided my priority right now is to learn how to do everything I already know how to do in HTML 3.2 in CSS/XHTML, eg, centering a photo, or writing an announcement with several different font sizes and a .gif next to it. I'm going to go with static web sites for now. I would probably use WP if we were updating several times a week, but it's more like once a month, at most.

    Cushy CMS appealed to me because it sounded like a way to define an area inside a static site, and make it so that someone who was used to a word processor could add news and events without knowing anything about markup. But I can probably do that by defining certain blocks as where the news and events go, with specific CSS rules for the material, and leaving instructions to only type in the box. I'm worried about telling people to rely on an outside company in order to update. What if the company goes under?

    I'm not going to worry about handing off to the singers right now. One is newer to computers in general than I'd assumed. He doesn't have a home internet connection, so I'm afraid trying to teach him how to use an ftp client, etc, in the near future would just give both of us a headache. The other has just been diagnosed with a serious illness, and I imagine a web site is the least of his concerns.

    I've recently gotten a web hosting account of my own, to have a place for experiments, including WP. But I don't quite trust all those little scripts running around under the hood. One thing I like about a static site is, I know everything that's on the server, and what it does.

  25. #25
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy
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    Well it sounds like you'll be handling things on your own for a while so now that you have an account, why not set up some "test" copies of your sites to experiment with.

    I would get a trial version of Contribute and see how that works for doing updates. It's sort of like visiting a site in an internet browser but once you get to a page you want to adjust you click the edit button and the page re-renders inside a word processor type interface. Very intuitive.

    You could also as you mentioned try out the various scripts included in your package (in test subdirectories/subwebs). The scripts will run at full strength without problem unless something happens (physically) to the server, database or scripts themselves. The nice thing about Joomla, Drupal, WP is that they are huge projects with enormous manpower behind their development and testing. Those little scripts are pretty much bullet proof. If your site goes down, it's more likely that the database or server has crashed than a fault with the CMS.

    Oh, something that wasn't mentioned for development, is that you might want to use FireFox with the web developer toolbar and Firebug extensions. I find these tools invaluable for debugging tricky CSS layouts and for checking for valid xhtml or css markup.
    Andrew Wasson | www.lunadesign.org
    Principal / Internet Development


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