A website brief that's not

Bernard, 23 October 2012 · # ·

Great to hear last week from a colleague at another NSW public library planning a community project ahead of the centenary of WWI. They wanted to know more about our website scope and specification, and this post is a summary of development so far.

At a seminar at the State Library in September, I said Mosman was taking an ‘open source‘ approach. That will mean different things to different people. To me it’s about using non-proprietary web technologies and standards – the Open Web Platform – to enable a community to build a resource collaboratively over time.

The real magic – building up, link by link by link, a picture of each our service men and women – is soon to be revealed, and team leader Dr Tim Sherratt a.k.a. @wragge will share both his thinking and implementation. You can already explore his code for tools like QueryPic on GitHub.

But it’s worth going over a few first steps.

We purchased a domain name mosman1914-1918.net. Domain names are cheap and help ‘future proof’ your web presence. Should you choose to use third-party services – like, say, a hosted WordPress blog – mapping these to your domain name will allow you to migrate services in the future while retaining your web address.

You’ll also want a server, a computer on the web where you can install and host software like, say, Omeka, or the scripts that Tim Sherratt develops. Libraries may have access to a council server but outsourcing is an option. There are many providers out there and shared hosting can be cost effective. Ask for recommendations from other libraries and archives.

To manage the project, we are using free software installed on our server as well as web services (some paid, some free) and social networks. Here’s a partial summary:

  • This blog is published with Textpattern, a flexible, elegant and easy-to-use CMS. Textpattern is both free and open source. To get a design and column structure fast, we used the Foundation front-end framework, also free. It’s likely the main site will employ another framework, Bookstrap.
  • We’ve used Flickr at Mosman Library since 2006 and it remains a superb photo hosting and sharing service for only USD $24.95 per year. Flickr allows us to, for example, upload all photos from a pair of honour boards held in Local Studies, make them available in multiple sizes with a Creative Commons licence and ensure they’re discoverable to others, like the sons of one man and the grandson of another.
  • Flickr also has an API that allows you to leverage their service for your own development. For example, the man pictured at top left of our ‘Behind the lines’ home page is the man most recently researched by volunteer Geraldine Walsh, and the portrait and link is updated just by the machines talking to each other. We love Flickr and we love APIs. Especially Trove’s – which is worth a post of its own. The library we spoke with last week has its catalogue indexed by Trove, so their photos are already accessible via the Trove API.
  • Google Drive offers an online Office suite of programmes especially useful for collaborative work. Teams at the Build-a-thon shared access to a Google Doc for collaborative note taking, and Google Spreadsheets are helping volunteers to annotate a war diary and build a map. Google Spreadsheets are also an effective data collector for honour rolls.
  • Twitter is fun, but it’s also a useful tool to collaborate. At the Build-a-thon, and over the course of the project, we have used the hashtag #mosman1418 to identify updates, comments and links. Storify was useful for collating tweets and other social media updates about the Build-a-thon.
  • Tim has already posted on some fantastic collaborative approaches – see Mining Trove and Getting started with Zotero. Tim used Zotero to bundle together the resources he spoke about at the Build-a-thon.
  • Email newsletters are a great way to keep a community updated, and we’re managing our email list with Campaign Monitor. Campaign Monitor is a paid service, and excellent value for money, but there are others like MailChimp that offer a free basic package. Our newsletter design uses one of Campaign Monitor’s default templates.
  • Wufoo delivers RSVP forms for our events. Wufoo connects with Campaign Monitor so we can offer a simple email subscribe alongside the RSVP.
  • Our logo and poster design was outsourced to a local studio. As part of the brief, we used Pinterest as a mood board for the graphic designer.

Hopefully this post demonstrates that there are lots of ways to enable a community to work together effectively without spending a lot of money.