With All Thy Getting, Get a Site You Can Update

14 comments | Posted: 19 January 06 in General, by Andy Knight

A website that can’t be updated is a website that isn’t worth having. A site that never changes says to the onlookers, “Move along, there’s nothing to see here.” It communicates that your organization has said all it has to say.

Everybody wants to easily update their website. Duh! It only makes sense. They don’t want to learn code. They don’t want to read HTML tutorials. They don’t want to fiddle with an FTP program. They shouldn’t have to pay a developer should they? That shouldn’t be asking very much, should it?

But before I began using the free, open-source Content Management System Textpattern, it was asking a lot of me, as the developer, to create a site that was easy to update. I would have to inform the client that, yes, I could build a simple CMS, but there would be some tradeoffs.

The first tradeoff was the cost. Laying out the MySQL database; building the PHP forms to insert, update, and delete content from the database tables; and programming the content pages to pull the appropriate content from the database was time consuming. And when the client is paying by the hour, the cost quickly escalates.

The second tradeoff was flexibility. Creating a simple CMS was a little time consuming but not extremely hard. However, building a complex CMS that was flexible enough to grow with the organization—and still be affordable—was downright impossible. By the way, I had experimented with other open-source CMS tools (like Mambo), that were supposedly very stout and flexible, but for some reason, they were always way too complicated to setup.

Those tradeoffs were unacceptable in my mind, but for a while, I kept those thoughts to myself because I didn’t know a better way.

Now I’ve Seen the Light

Over the past few months I’ve setup three sites for clients using Textpattern. Each time it gets easier, and each time I get a little more impressed with its flexibility.

If you were able to peek under the hood of Godbit, you would find a well-oiled, fine-tuned installation of Textpattern that’s steering the ship. I periodically take peeks just so I can see how Nathan Smith did it and learn from him.

I first thought Textpattern is only great for blogs. Now I think: “Wow! This is great for almost any website, especially for organizations who don’t have a webmaster on staff.”

Of the three sites I’ve setup with Textpattern, only one of them, my personal site, is a genuine blog. Of the other two sites, one is a children’s ministry, and the other is a financial organization. Neither of them has dedicated website staff, but it doesn’t matter. No one outside the organization needs to know. It can be their little secret.

My wife is becoming a wonderful writer as she blogs about her experiences as a mom. She’s not a web geek like me, and she would never write down these memorable experiences in her life if it weren’t just walk-across-the-street simple. Not because she’s not smart, but because she is smart and she’s too busy to waste time on something that’s not simple.

What’s at Stake For Churches and Ministries

If you’re a church or ministry leader or have influence in your church’s website decisions, don’t settle for a site that can’t be updated in-house. If you do, then let me guarantee you: No matter how beautiful and hip the design is, if it’s not updated, then it will be obsolete one month after it launches.

A church member will visit the site once after it launches. He will visit a second time in a week or two to see what’s new. If nothing has changed, then he might not ever visit the site again. And just like that, you’ve missed your chance to communicate to that member through your site.

Someone else may be interested in visiting your church. He may go to your site to look up service times and your address. After his visit, he may check the site again to see what’s changed. If nothing has changed, he may never come back to the site again …or to the church. And just like that, you may have lost a potential member of your church.

A seeker may stumble across your church’s blog sometime. She may find it honest, authentic, and edgy enough to pique her curiosity, so she starts reading. Father may start casually drawing His net around her, pulling her into the shore of His grace. Then, if you stop posting to the blog, there’s a good chance she’ll unsubscribe from it. And just that fast, a potential convert could be lost.

Don’t misunderstand. The stakes are high. More than any other type of organization, you have a message that really matters. Don’t hinder that message. Make sure you get a site that you can easily update. Look for a web designer who understands Textpattern, or some sort of CMS.

Learning Textpattern Yourself

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. - Proverbs 4:7

Nathan Smith has written a nice little tutorial on Templating in Textpattern. There is also a forum, a wiki, and a resources blog to help you out.

Although I’ve focused on Textpattern, a couple other wonderful CMS packages worth mentioning are WordPress and Expression Engine. But no matter which one you get, with all thy getting, get a site you can update.

Discuss This Topic

  1. 1 Ryan Heneise

    Great article, Andy. You’re right on – it’s really important to have an easy way to update your website.

    In addition to Textpattern, I also use and love Typo, which is more suitable for tech-savvy web developers because it gives you a lot of easy flexibility in terms of what you can do with design. Typo makes it possible to break a blog out of the blog mold.

    I also like Contribute and RapidWeaver, both of which are really great for less tech-savvy people who need to be able to edit their pages in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of mode.

     
  2. 2 Matt

    Great article Andy. I agree, a static site loses repeat visitors. Like you said, the stakes are high—the Church has the most to lose.

    Personally, textpattern is confusing. However, Wordpress seems to be a nice platform; it too can be transformed to be more than just a blog and updated easily. I’m sure textpattern is great, I just haven’t taken the time to learn it.

    Keep up the good work and articles,

     
  3. 3 Mike Montgomery

    You’re preaching to the choir, so to speak.

    If you were able to peek under the hood of Godbit, you would find a well-oiled, fine-tuned installation of Textpattern that’s steering the ship. I periodically take peeks just so I can see how Nathan Smith did it and learn from him.

    Hmm, that sounds great. (I learn from Nathan all the time….) I confess that I often ask myself questions about how best to use the various txp:conditional tags, how the same page template can drive all the different sections, how to link to different content that uses the same section/page, etc.

    Any chance you could publish the page template(s), portions thereof, or the forms you’re using for gb.com?

     
  4. 4 Rob

    Great write up Andy, thanks man. I definitely agree with you when it comes to TXP. The more i use it the more i realize that it is truly a CMS and not just an engine for blogging. Between the plug-ins and the ability to create custom php calls there’s nothing you can’t do.

     
  5. 5 Karine

    Hello. I am one of the static web site developper. I am also looking for something that would help me update easily. I’ve set my eyes on WordPress, it has a lot of features I would like to use for my website. But now I’ve got to think about Textpattern. Too bad I don’t see some of the features on its website.

     
  6. 6 Nathan Smith

    Andy: This is so true. On my frequently asked questions page, I have a quote from my college pastor, said of the ministry training process: “There is no success without a successor.” If a website cannot outlive its designer, then it isn’t much good to anybody, least of all the client for which it was created.

    Mike: Good suggestion. I will post a tutorial later, on how Gb is put together. By the way, Andy's not "preaching to the choir" exclusively. After all, on the Internet, your target audience is anyone and everyone. Many pastors and church staff could benefit from his insightfulness, and I'm sure they will.

     
  7. 7 Jesse J. Anderson

    What’s with all this sucking up to Nathan crap?

    Seriously Nathan, you suck. Come on now, step off the pedestal for a second.

    ;)

    (I think I’m feeling ornery this morning).

    Seriously though, great article. I’ve done a few websites for youth groups (before I ever used any CMS) and the biggest pain in the butt was either (A) updating it for them ALL THE FREAKING TIME! or (B) trying to teach one of their incompetent interns how to do it.

    (wow, I AM feeling ornery this morning).

    I think I would prefer Wordpress to Textpattern becaue to me it’s much easier to setup and use.

     
  8. 8 nate klaiber

    Shoot, I made a big long post in response to this, and thought the preview meant it was submitted – Ill redo it later this evening, there are some good points both ways.

    Peace,
    Nate

     
  9. 9 Matt

    Karine,

    I looked for you in the forum user list but didn’t see you. So, hopefully you’ll see this comment:

    I just started developing with Wordpress. My site isn’t online yet or I’d show you some features.
    Here are some links to some sites that are running Wordpress:

    Steffensen Family
    Embeds Gallery 2

    Ordered List
    Member of 9rules

    Echo Faith
    Another Member of 9rules

    Binary Bonsai
    Home of some plugins and themes

    LesterChan
    home of some more plugins and examples

     
  10. 10 Nathan Smith

    Lester Chan’s site: “Best Viewed in Internet Explorer 6.” Time for a redesign. :)

     
  11. 11 GaMerZ

    LOL, I will redesign soon, but it can be viewed on most browsers, I am using FF.

     
  12. 12 Andy Knight

    Thanks for all your feedback and comments. Happy updating :)

     
  13. 13 Brian Slezak

    Great post. One thing you might want to take a look at is an initiative called Web Empowered Church

    The project is using the TYPO3 CMS to “web empower” the church. There are many tools that have already been designed with churches in mind. The goal is to make this as turn-key as possible, and bring more churches to ministry on the web.

    We are extremely interested in what makes a CMS product easy to use for the least technical user. If anyone has any feedback for us, we are listening on our forum.

    Brian

     
  14. 14 Cheyne

    Great article!

    You have been blogged on www.thewebdesignblog.com

     

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