Friday, January 1, 2010

Setting Up An Activist Website

Essential Functions
1. A webpage to post articles and information about the website. This essential function is available free and is a good way to get one's feet wet - saves lots of time and makes for a much better full website. Plus this webpage can be edited from any computer anywhere in the world.

Take time to select a useful WebSiteName. This name will be used in multiple places. Sorter, easier to remember and type is better. Use .com - it is what everyone knows and is less expensive. It is best to have the ability to TAG each article posted to the webpage with multiple categories. These tags, also called labels, are used to sort the articles into the various categories - essential for an informational website.

2. A project email address. Used for the project, not a personal email address. The project email address should forward to a personal personal email address

3. Periodic email news about the website
2.1 A subscription list that viewers can subscript to and from.
2.2 An email sent to all subscribers periodically, at least monthly.

4. A hosted website using the select website domain name.
4.1 with a contact form
4.2 with a list serve that sends out the periodic newsletters, add subscribe and unsubscribe buttons to the home page.
4.3 with email addresses for the domain - at least one to be used to reply to people that contact the website. Don't put this email address on the website - it invites spam.

5. Twitter and Facebook for the website. Set up twitter first and use it a while and then set up Facebook - a Facebook PAGE not a Facebook Profile. Pages are for groups/organizations/projects. Profiles are for individuals. A Facebook PAGE has essential functions that Profile pages do not have.

6. Social Networking and Content Management Webpages that require User ID and password for access
Only when there is a specific well thought out need are these functions needed.

These social networking and content management functions are essential for websites dealing with a good deal of information that needs to be sorted and presented in various dynamic ways for various members of the website. These pages can be edited dynamically on line.

Here are some of the basics of setting up an activist website.

This is a step by step evolution that allows a website to mature as new functions and tools are integrated into the website.

This is an inexpensive way of creating a very sophisticated activist website. It is done one step at a time - as needed.
The end result is a website design that uses each step as a prototype that can be adjusted based on how the website is actually working (not imagined) and to meet the actual needs and opportunities as they come up.

Basic Framework For Activist Websites
Nurturing Public Participation, Public Education, Public Enthusiasm
that nurtures a better world for everyone - people and nature

Once you have outlined what you would like your activist website to to the follow steps can be used to create an Activist Website.

1. Take some time to sort out a WebSiteName for the website, twitter, blog etc. One generic WebSiteName that is simple for people to remember and may or may not directly refer to the issue/issues you will be covering.

The WebSiteName can be an umbrella title for the various issues you want to cover. As the issues accumulate text and links, the issues can be grouped together and have their own section on the website - this can be done with a Tagged Blog which is a simple quick way to do this - other ways may seem like possibilities. These other ways can end up simply not being practical - they take to much time to set up and or make entries etc.
1a. Choose the WebSiteName.

For public communications you will need an email address and ID/password that does not identify your personal email - this reduces spam. This email address identifies the project. A Google mail email address can be used for the 5 steps below. Preferably this public email address will be Emails to this address can be forwarded to your regular email address.
1b. Set up the Project Email Address

A Tagged Blog will be invaluable for an activist website and is simple to set up and can even be, initially the first page for the activist website. To have your own WebSiteName this costs $15/yr - domain name registration. The name can be redirected to the initial free tagged blog website. A good way to get started and prototype what the initial home page content will be.
1b. Create the Tagged Blog and it's initial webpages. Use the Project Email Address as the ID for the Tagged Blog.

2. Set up and make available a Public List Serve for the WebSiteName. This is the primary way the website communicates with its subscribers. This allows anyone to subscribe and unsubscribe on their own. You will receive notice of subscriptions and unsubscribes. You can delete inappropriate subscribers as needed. Subscribers will receive emails that keep them up to date on what is going on with the project. The project website is the 'library'. The listserv is the 'Newspaper' that lets people know what is in the library. With the listserv many more people with go to the website on a regular basis.

It is very useful to created a subscription listserve for the project so everyone interested can sign up and get periodic emails about what is going on with the project and updates to the projects website.. These emails will get forwarded to friends and get more people viewing the website.

This can be used to let people know about issues the public site is concerned with - direct text messages, links to interesting articles, photos, etc. For photos you might consider Google's Picasa - it may have some advantages over Flicker. Make sure where ever you put photos for the public to view they are from someplace with the public name you have chosen - they could simply be put in a folder, called images on the public face website, or in the blog or - there are plenty of ways to do this - some more cumbersome than others. You need to test this out and use it for several months to see what works for you and to learn how to do it. Waiting until it is needed simply doesn't work - you can test this theory as much as you want - if the results aren't the same each time let me know.

3. Set up Twitter and Facebook for the public name. I suggest setting up twitter first. Get used to how it works then set up Facebook. Twitter keeps the messages short, very readable, less extraneous junk, and can include links to further info that people want. You can post the periodic public emails to the public blog so they can be available from Twitter.

Quite useful for chronicalling all the links related to Project. Very useful for Twitter and Facebook folks.

4. Add some entries to the Tagged Blog. Make sure to each entry has appropriate tags including the various issues you are covering. It is essential to take the few moments to make sure each blog entry has all the possible relevant tags you can think of for the entry. You will use the tags to develop issue lists that display all the articles you have posted relative to a tag or tags.

This is where the project provides an invaluable service to people really interested in finding substantial content on various issue. By using tags generously for each blog entry incredible things can be done with searches that can not easily be done without TAGS.

See the AfD News and Good Reads on this website for examples of how tags can be used to access specific information:

5. Set up a website for the WebSiteName that has additional pages, links etc.

It is very useful to get the first 4 points up and running before doing much with the website.

Initially the blog can be adjusted to be the website home page - without needing to set up the website. This saves considerable time and allows the blog to be a quick prototyping tool of what you want on the WebSites home page.

At some point there may be a substantial reason to have a website that can include links, specific information about what the project is about, subscribe pages, donate, slide shows, movies etc.

6. Set up webpages that require User ID and password and or Database structures. There is a way to create websites so there is public access for anyone and sign in access via email and password for people to access more of the website. You can assign various types of access to website users. This kind of website also allows you to update it live via the web. It is done by the very famous open source Drupal with it's database foundation and content managment capabilities.

Once you have the first five items up and running well, Drupal might be very useful. It is fairly intensive to set up. A quick way to set up Drupal social networking is by using Drupal Commons which has most all of the set up work done. Once set up the skills learned in the above 5 steps should be sufficient to add all sorts of content to the Drupal webpages and control who has access to what.

I'd be happy to work with a person that wants to do the non-higher tech aspects of this.

As you probably well know there is plenty more that can be done. But for now getting ALL the first 4 up and running is what is needed for a solid activist project. Once this is in place and you are updating it on a regular basis then other embellishments can be added as time permits.

When you have a name or a list of possilble name for an activist project and an outline of what the project is about let me know and I'll offer some thoughts and comments on them and which can better serve what you are going to do.

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