Why a new website?


Note that this refers to the demonstration website that was running before it went live in October 2017. What follows should be read in that light.

This website, created in 2017 using WordPress, is intended to demonstrate how the DA could benefit from a new website.

I’ve set out below the reasons for its creation; details of its main enhancements over the existing site; and some new directions towards which it could be steered, to the benefit of the Association.

Creation

The former DA site (see here – Internet Archive copy) was very attractive and well-designed, but it was severely constrained by its design: it was not possible to add new content areas (such as Recent news) without major reworking. Its design also meant that it did not perform well on mobile devices – not a significant factor when it was created, but it is today, especially amongst the young. The configuration of the old site led to it being only infrequently updated by one person, and it was hard to tell when anything had been added or changed. In contrast to this, any membership organisation should have a website that is regularly and overtly refreshed with interesting information. This will encourage all visitors to keep returning to see what’s new and by demonstrating the dynamism of the organisation will help persuade non-members to join.

This demonstration website is intended to show that it’s possible to create a site that’s easy to maintain, update, and extend – by multiple editors, if required. It will scale well onto mobile devices. It can (if required) accommodate feedback from its readers. I’ve attempted to customise it to DA design standards by copying graphics, colours and design elements from various recent DA publications and the existing website, though I have introduced some new elements too. The nature of WordPress means that more or less any design can be wrapped around the content and all sorts of animated, sliding, and pop-up effects are possible. However, in view of our existing membership profile it seems appropriate that we should build a gimmick-free website that provides an experience not too far removed from the familiar process of reading a paper document.

The basic framework here was copied from the old website and I think that all the content there has now been replicated, though not always in the same format (except that many of the photos are not yet included for technical reasons – they’ll be reinstated later). In many cases the content has been greatly expanded, often incorporating information that has been published in DA News and elsewhere. See, for example, the reports of the 2016 President’s Symposium and the 2017 Conference.

Enhancements

Some of the significant enhancements are:

  • A complete Events system which shows forthcoming events as a list or in a calendar format. It has a separate page for each event (example), and it also provides in the sidebar (on the right of every page) an always up-to-date list of the next six “Upcoming events”. This system provides so many useful facilities that I decided to abandon my original idea of simply making editable the Events Diary that’s based on the six-monthly printed list.

    A typical WordPress editing screen, less fearsome than it might appear – click to see full size

    And although entering the information into this system is more onerous in bulk than just editing an existing list, I hope that in future the Branches and Sections will want to own and maintain their own events (the WordPress system is designed so that people can add and edit content after only minimal training; it’s similar to editing a MS Word document with a bit of form filling thrown in). We can now add far more information about each event, and can advertise changes and booking status (e.g. “Fully Booked”) with ease. And of course we are freed from the requirement to only publish a list every six months: new events could be added on an ongoing basis.

  • Also in the sidebar is “Latest news”, which lists everything significant as soon it is added to the website. Minor news items are amalgamated into a Notices page which appears under “Latest news” and which I expect will be updated quite often. The news updates are intended to work together with the Events system and regular changes to the main content of the home page to provide the frequent updates that should encourage visitors to keep returning to see what’s new.
  • I’ve greatly expanded the information available about Branches and Sections. Each now has their own page under which – the plan is – their secretary (or other nominated officer) will be able to add and edit their own pages. See, for example, South Devon Branch (under heading ‘Branch postings’ towards the end of the page) and Entomology Section (under ‘Section Postings’).
  • The above Branch posting example, however, perpetuates the way we’ve been forced by paper printing to amalgamate the reports that we write about our events into six-monthly summaries for publication in DA News. We are no longer constrained in this way and it would be possible, for example, to add a report to the Event page as soon as it can be written. See this event for an example of this; I must admit, though, that I’m not yet sure if this would be a desirable feature.
  • Most old content would not be removed but left to build an archive which would in time extend to hundreds of pages. As I update this (28 June) we have 173 pages already! To help locate content there is a search function (click on the magnifying glass icon on the top-right of every page) and also Categories and Tags – see the lower part of the sidebar on the right. This page is in the “Demo site” category; to get the idea of how tags work you can click on a few words in the ‘tag cloud’. Categories have been likened to a book’s Contents, and tags to its Index.

New directions

Using WordPress to build the new website makes it relatively easy to expand it into new areas:

  • The WordPress system has many ‘plugins’ available that provide additional or enhanced facilities. These can be explored if particular needs are identified. The Events system described above is an example of a plugin. Another one is a feedback form that allows readers to send emails direct from web-pages to designated people: see the example on the Contact us page.
  • Readers’ comments, leading to discussions, can be implemented if required. This demo includes a few: see “Leave a Reply” at the bottom of this page – feel free to comment here if you wish. Comments can be restricted to specified pages (as here), and further restricted to DA members if a log-in system is introduced. I’m ambivalent about including these facilities when the website goes live: on balance I think comments and member logins should not be allowed initially – a later enhancement, perhaps.
  • We can extend the content that we host in many ways to make the site more interesting to our members. It could become the hub for ongoing projects. We could add integration with social media (Twitter and Facebook), a blog (if we can persuade anyone to write one), links to externally-hosted videos of lectures, etc. Member-contributed photographs could be another area to explore, possibly using them in the graphical header at the top of each page.
  • We should definitely include more information about Devon itself, rather than just about our own affairs because this would draw in many more visitors via the search engines. The content that we include should be able to draw the interest of both the general public and scholars and researchers. Possibilities include transcripts of papers and reports from our Transactions, short articles contributed by members (quality control would be important, of course), an audio pronunciation guide to Devon place-names, a Notes and Queries type section, etc. I’ve created a fledgling front page for this type of content here.

Summary

Implementing proposals like the above will, I believe, benefit our existing membership by providing them with more information, more regularly. By showing a dynamic website to non-member visitors we can anticipate that some of them will want to join us. We will also increase the recognition of the Association and help to eliminate that oft-repeated claim “Devonshire Association? – never heard of it!”

 

Note: the demo website was not linked from anywhere else on the internet and it had the “don’t index” flag set, so it should not be noticed and indexed by any search engines. But to avoid any possible problems while it’s still under construction I obfuscated most of the personal details.

 

This page has been updated several times since it was first published on 9 April 2017.
See the Webmaster’s blog for further updates.