The Webright’s Progress!

So far I have made a request to the populace via Facebook pages and mailing lists, and created a corresponding page here http://rowany.lochac.sca.org/helpusupdatethissite.

Complimenting this, the page showing the structure proposal is http://rowany.lochac.sca.org/sitestructureplans

The page you are currently reading adds much more technical detail to existing information found in the pages linked above. It more fully outlines current plans, along with steps I’ve already taken.

 

STEP 1 – DONE) Asked a number of people for their thoughts regarding the Rowany site and potential future direction

This was very non-empirical primary research, I just asked a bunch of people 🙂 However, initial feedback was rather unanimous:
– At present, the site does not really serve any purpose well other than being able to say there is a site. Other resources are being used for roles the web site could be good at performing.
– At various times in the past there may have been this or that plan for improvement. These did not eventuate for logical reasons.
– Communication and information delivery are currently being directed through a number of external avenues, but this is not really ideal.
– The main problem: not everyone uses every resource, so if a person with a message does not cross-post to ALL communication channels, a bunch of people miss out and complain. Most seem to accept this as the norm but are not satisfied.
– The main two channels being used are mailing lists and Facebook groups, however the Google calendar, individual Facebook Events and potentially others tools are also used to varying degrees.
– Most frequently, ALL of these places are not updated together OR with only incomplete details @ some places compared to those posted on others.

STEP 2 – DONE) Some brainstorming

Updating the Rowany website to become a central, active and growing resource is one solution to tackle most of the issues identified above. It is the only viable solution I can think of considering the nature of both people and the SCA as a volunteer organisation. If done correctly, it should also provide many more benefits while not adding further negatives.

The aim would be for the Rowany site to perform major functions other external internet based resources are currently being used for. Ultimately it should be able to perform ALL major functions. It should be able to do this instead of, or in tandem with those external resources currently in use. The only way to achieve this is for it to become the central place those major functions are performed, and then automatically replicating the information involved to external resources if desired / required.

Example: instead of posting to the Rowany Warriors Facebook group, someone would instead post to the Combat section (or more specific sub-section) of the Rowany site, which would then replicate that post TO the Rowany Warriors Facebook group.
Example: When posting to the General Rowany section on the site, that information should be able to then also automatically post to the Rowany Facebook Group and to the Rowany mailing list.

The desire should not be to stop people using Facebook (an extremely valuable tool with many benefits), it should be to instead develop the Rowany web site for functions it SHOULD be performing. Currently the website is performing the function of a brochure and not even doing that well. I have had comments about the lack of newcomer information for example, something that used to be on the site (along with many other things).

The main way to achieve the above ideology is through automation. This is actually not very difficult. The tech involved is not rocket science and I am essentially starting from scratch as the current site is quite bare-bones anyway (not such a bad thing).

The obvious up front benefits would be:

– Reduction in the amount of repeated work which is currently happening for people to cross post to all potential resources
– Consistency of information.
– Centralising the process, while still…
– Letting people who wish to create information continue to do so freely
– People will no longer have to remember to post everywhere
– Information will be available to anyone with internet access (without having to sign up to Facebook)

Negatives:

– It will take a while
– I don’t have full control of the site so am considerably slowed corresponding with Masonry
– Am I building something that no-one will actually use (some types actually just wish to complain)
– Unless done correctly this could cause problems (although highly unlikely considering the current volume of hits the site is getting)

Possibly more, but negativity isn’t my forte, so onward…

Short list of requirements:

Add more discussion type functionality on the site to truly provide an alternative to the likes of Facebook  Some options are:
– Use the existing WordPress “post” functionality, adding membership functionality and further roles so anyone could contribute and comment on those contributions. I feel this is required anyway as it adds flexibility and future proofs to website for any number of potential needs at a later time.
– Adding a forum (such as bbpress plugin for WordPress or add entirely different forum package onto the server).
– Adding a social networking structure (such as Buddy Press for WordPress).

Automate posting to Facebook
– Ease of use once configured is a must
– As there are more than one Facebook group involved, this requires getting information from one or many places on the site TO one or many places on Facebook (this would be dependent on the category of the originating post).
– A plugin is already installed across a number of the Lochac Multisite WordPress installs. From what I have read, it looks like it may meet requirements. However, I have not performed testing as yet.
– Another obvious contender for this is RSS feeds.

Automate the process of grabbing posts and comments from various Facebook places and bringing back to appropriate areas of the site.
– This functionality is already planned in future development for the same plugin mentioned above. However, no time-frame is given regarding how long this may take.
– I have not looked to see if there are alternatives (such as other plugins). Scraping or developing something could achieve this but that would take programming and a fair chunk of time to implement and get working well. Finding an existing solution that uses Facebook’s APIs would be MUCH easier.

– A membership system should be introduced. At present we cannot even create users so each officer can be responsible for updating their own area of the site. There are not enough roles configured. Regardless, in that scenario, Officers will just use Facebook instead. Besides that, it would prevent discussion.
– For security reasons, people would need to register with the site.
– Perhaps this should not grant automatic acceptance? Instead, verification of a user member number may be a requirement to consider.
– This provides a fairly simply security mechanism, reducing spam and moderation need.
– Not may non-SCA people would have correct information or bother to sign up if they did.
– Further roles would then need to be decided on which cover all potential scenarios a person may find themselves in.
– Capabilities beyond those currently on the very basic WordPress install would also need to be introduced to cater for the desired roles.
– I already know of a few “membership” type plugins (or combinations of plugins) that would likely suit the proposed scenario.
– Authorisation and access to functions and parts of the site will need to be configured based on the roles.

STEP 3 – DONE) Developed initial plan and tested existing comms channels for help / feedback

– Developed a proposed site structure hierarchy outline for the Rowany site which should, at least initially, cover most functions and areas being used actively within the Barony and Kingdom (which we would link out to).
– Created areas on the site itself to:
A) Detail proposed structure changes and request input / help / information regarding how and what to update on the site
B) Request people generally post their information to the Rowany site if they are posting anywhere else

– I BLASTED out a fairly “in your face” long blurb to three Facebook groups about the two above points to see what reaction I received.
– Pretty much NO reaction on one.
– The post got deleted on the other saying off topic.
– I was asked if this related on the third, replied, the reply got liked a few times but that was the sum total reaction.

– I created a fairly neutral email about proposed changes and sent that to Rowany, surrounding area and Lochac Announce mailing lists to see what reaction that received.
– I actually received (almost) a handful of replies

– My conclusion: Just get on and do it myself. I received about as much reaction as I was expecting. Few people are interested at this point, for any number of reasons I can come up with. A fairly obvious reason is the status quo, people are now used to posting and seeing posts on Facebook with the odd like, maybe a comment, but generally no reaction. So, I’ll build it and they MIGHT come if it works well and I gently introduce the beauty of the change 🙂

STEP 4 – CURRENT) Started implementing changes

– I have created all initially identified categories (about 75) and some of the page structure to move forward.
– I have identified a number of technical aspects for the Masonry team to address and continue to send things through as I find them.
– Created an area on the site so people can see ongoing discussion regarding the revamp process. I add feedback as I receive it (or make time to add it).
– I’m also creating an area on the website itself to store and update the changelog and foundation documentation for site webrights. Politely, I didn’t receive as much of an introduction as I would have liked even after asking a lot of questions. I’d prefer that not happen for anyone else.