Friday, November 6, 2009

Behind the Scenes of the Church Website


The power of a website comes from the people using it, not the people making it.
~ Chris Edwards


I volunteered to design our church website. There are times I know that I can do something, but I don't know how I will do it. First, let me just say that I truly like designing websites. Well, I probably like the designing of the graphics and layout the most, but it is those little bits of code that make it all work that is the most tedious and challenging part for me.

This all started in 1995, many upon many generations ago in cyberspace, when I designed my first webpage—and I write "webpage" because that is exactly what it was: one long page that you had to scroll down to get to all the information. Back then it was just as expensive to host one webpage as it is to have an entire complex website now, and while you could do some fancy stuff, it was wiser not to because everyone was on dial-up and your website could take several minutes to load. Yes, the Internet certainly has changed and I have done a few websites since that first one, each one more complex than its predecessor.

Now, to make that one page, I first had to learn HTML (hypertext markup language) code, that is the foundation that makes the invisible but necessary formatting of the webpage for those you who are using only WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) composers that are so popular now. HTML code is still necessary to know and is used on most sites, although you don't see it. I still use the "Edit HTML" option the most when writing my blog, because I am used to viewing codes. Oh, and, besides HTML there are several other codes now!

All these codes mean more versatility and complexity. I like more versatility, but the complexity is a bit overwhelming at times. I am not going to bore you with examples and details, but let me just say that the rules that make a code work are rather finite and unforgiving. If you don't do what you are supposed to do, then it does not work like it is supposed to work. If you don't know what I am writing about, be thankful that the technology has advanced to give you the option of WYSIWYG, so you don't have to know.

That being said, a church website can be done in the old fashion way: a simple HTML website. With a few enhancements using CSS (cascading style sheets), there would be greater simplicity of the webmaster and a bit more versatility in the design. However, that makes it so that any time anything has to be added, removed, or updated it would have to be done by the webmaster. There is good and bad in that. The good side is that there is no one else messing with the code so it is less likely to be messed up and the bad side is that no one else knows how update information on the website should the webmaster be unavailable.

Solution? Content Management Systems (CMS). If you are a blogger like me, you have been using one. You can type up your information, press the submit bottom, and wah-lah!—it appears on the blog itself looking quite professional. You basically are just adding content to a shell program that does all this stuff with codes so you don't have to.

Problem? Setting up this kind of wonderful user-friendly system is the complicated part. I have never set up a CMS before even though I have confidence that I can do it given my past experience. However, there is a learning curve for any of the content management systems, but the one most versatile, of course, has the steepest. The beauty of it is, once it is in place, each department will be able to maintain their own updates. I have some very good ideas in mind, like it would be ideal if there is an update on the site that the information would automatically be emailed to the members instead of having to both separately. This is entirely possible with the right modules in place.

The part I am not sure about is the time factor. I have never done well with deadlines, particularly when I am being creative and trying to make it look and work like professional website should. There are just a myriad of adjustments to make from color to placements to spell checking and testing each change and I usually design some original graphics. My husband, who is on the church board, just mentioned it would be good idea to give an estimated date of completion and am sure I must have looked like a deer caught in headlights!

My mind reels with the holidays being upon us, my aunt and uncle are coming for a visit in a month; I need to finish painting the trim in the living room (not sure if this one will get done or not); we need to move the Princess back into her room and get the stuff from her room out of four other rooms; my whole house needs cleaned and decorated for that family visit; my daughter has a piano recital; she and I need haircuts; the piano needs tuned; I need to meet with another (this will be the fourth one) roofer to give us an estimate on our hail-damaged roof so that I can take that information to the Georgia Insurance Claims Department so our soon to be ex-insurance company will have to justify why my roof does not have hail damage when every house in my neighborhood does (a rant for another time, perhaps); baking holiday treats to give as presents; and still homeschooling along the way; an article due in a month; and now the church website....when will it be done?

All I can say is that I am working on it, even though no one can see what I am doing. I am going through that learning curve for this CMS stuff, but for now it is like one giant jigsaw puzzle to me. Eventually, the pieces will all fit together in place...eventually.

~ My Lord, guide me so that I keep Your priorities in my life and help me create the website my church needs. ~

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Thank you fellow travelers for walking and talking with me along this journey.