So You Need a Website - Part III - Updating and Maintaining

Updating and maintaining websites has historically been a problem, particularly in small offices.  When there are only two or three or four people in your office, odds are that one of them is not going to be a webmaster.  And so what we've always done has been to farm updating our website out to a contractor or a volunteer, which means we've had to wait until they got to us in their work flow or until they had the time available from their real job to make our updates.  Or if we happened to have someone in our office capable of making updates, it's always been one among many job duties, so there has still always been a bottleneck to get through before the updates were made.

When I started looking at redoing our website, that bottleneck was something I wanted to avoid.  I wanted a website that anybody in our office could add content to, without having to know how to contend with html coding, and with a nice, easy-to-use graphical user interface.  (Or GUI - commonly called a "gooey" interface.  I love that - it makes me think hot fudge sauce is involved somehow.) GUI interfaces are found in programs such as Microsoft Word, where you have icons and menus to work with, which makes entering text and applying formatting very easy.

Again, Drupal turned out to be the answer.  Once it's set up, adding content is very easy; it's a matter of clicking on a menu, choosing the type of content (blog post, article, etc.), then typing in the text.  If you want to add pictures or link to a file, such as a pdf, it's a little more complicated, but only a little.  It's certainly within the grasp of anyone who has even moderate internet skills.  In fact, Laura Watson, who does most of the posting to our website, recently said that she used to dread having to update the website in her last job, but it's so easy with this website that she doesn't mind at all.  That's exactly what I was aiming for when I put this site together.

Everyone on our staff has the capability to create content, so just because I'm the only one who understands a little about website coding (and believe me, I only know a little more than the very basics), updates don't have to wait until I have the time to do them.  Thus we're able to put new content on our website on a regular basis.  The way it has worked out is that we each write a blog post once a month, with occasional guest writers from outside our staff, so we have new blog posts weekly.  Laura also writes additional articles and adds information from our weekly email newsletter as well as other content as it comes up.  So we have a website that provides a reason for people to visit more than once, and does so in a way that is easy to do.

Maintaining the technical, or back-end, part of the website is a little more complicated, but not tremendously so.  Because Drupal is open source software, it is constantly in development.  If you've read the first two parts of this series of posts, you may remember that Drupal consists of the core software plus modules that provide extra functionality, plus themes, which provide a unified appearance for a site.  Our website was constructed using version 7 of Drupal.  The Drupal version doesn't get changed very often, since that's a major change.  It's like changing the version of the operating system you use on your computer - going from Windows 7 to Windows Vista, for example.  They're in the process of preparing Drupal 8, but it hasn't been made public yet.  There are occasional minor updates to the Drupal version, but they're pretty rare.  They do take some expertise to run, but they're not difficult.  I would consider that a minor training issue rather than something that required bringing in outside help.

Modules are updated more frequently, and themes are updated very rarely, but both are generally very easy to update.  Drupal will notify you when there is an update available, and all you have to do to run a module or theme update is go to the Updates page and click on the update you want to run.  Although I have run into problems with a couple of updates, that's more an issue with the complexity of our website setup than it is with Drupal itself; a simpler website should be simpler to maintain.  As an example, I built my personal website in Drupal.  It's very simple, and I haven't run into any problems in updating anything on it.

WordPress, the other very popular open source software choice for websites, should be even simpler than Drupal to work with and maintain.  So there are now some very viable, economical options for churches that want websites that are easy to update and maintain.

Next up?  The last post in this series - what's new in the world of websites?