Setting up a website for your Humanist group

This article may be of interest to local Humanist groups who wish to set up a new web site or update their existing site. It includes a summary of the benefits available to a Humanist group of running a web site, as well as links to some recommended resources, tools and services.

The previous version of our website went live in March 2006, but we’ve had a website online in one form or another for the last six years. Most local Humanist organisations have a web site, and there are obviously the websites of national organisations such as the BHA, NSS, IHEU and American Humanists. See the links page for more links to other Humanist organisations.

Why have a website?

  • They’re cheap (even free!)
  • They allow you to communicate with your group, but also with supporters, people who need ceremonies, people who are curious, other groups, and individuals all over the world, giving you access to audiences you might otherwise find it very hard to communicate with
  • They are easy to update as often as you wish
  • Depending on what you set up, they can allow you to hold discussions, surveys, polls and chats
  • They allow you to distribute newsletters, educational resources and information
  • It is now easier than ever to publish a wide range of media through your website, including documentation, audio (podcasts), and video.

Links and recommendations

A variety of solutions are available, depending upon your group’s budget and technical knowledge.

Website hosting

Hosting for your website is available from a variety of different places, and is usually cheap, and sometimes even free!

  • Hosting is often provided as part of a package by your Internet Service Provider
  • Free hosting is available for local Humanist groups from humanists.net (not available at the time of writing)
  • If you set up a blog (see next section) with Blogger or WordPress, this is hosted free of charge
  • Free hosting is also available from geocities.com, a Yahoo service, and several other places
  • Paid hosting is available for anything from about £2 a month from hosting companies. By paying for hosting, you tend to get more features (including e-mail accounts).

Blogging

A blog, or weblog, is essentially an online journal. People have kept personal blogs for some time, but now more and more organisations, and the media, are blogging as well. Blogs are, or should be, immediate, fresh and lively. It is easy to start and maintain discussions – interesting blog posts will be followed by a stream of comments. You can moderate (remove) unsuitable comments.

Services like Blogger and WordPress are free, very straightforward to run, and allow you to maintain a constantly updated journal, including images, documents, links and other media. You can even set Blogger to publish your blog to your own group website, so all of your information is presented in the same place.
I’d highly recommend blogging as a cheap way to maintain updates for a group site – the only weakness of a blog may be that the chronological arrangement of content may not work so well when it comes to presenting static information such as group member profiles, ceremonies info etc.
See also the note below on BlogJet.

The latest version of Blogger allows you to have some static information on your page (MN – Jan 2007)

Online web publishing

Depending on what hosting package you get, it may include a “site builder” which allows you to build your website online. These systems tend to limit you to a small number of pages, have proprietary, inflexible designs, and don’t let you do a great deal with the site other than add static pages with simple images. Not highly recommended. Hosting companies who provide online site builders include Fasthosts and 1and1, and this facility is also available with Yahoo’s Geocities service.

Web publishing software

FrontPage
The standard software for easy web publishing is Microsoft FrontPage, which comes packaged with Office, or is available to buy separately. FrontPage is good for most beginners.

Dreamweaver
Suitable for web designers with a bit more confidence, Dreamweaver has a lot more flexibility.

Nvu
Free web publishing software can't be a bad thing.

BlogJet
Highly recommended for updating your blog – BlogJet is a simple and reliable way to compose new posts on your own computer and upload them when you are ready.

Image manipulation software

Programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Fireworks are very expensive, but are the standard professional tools for working with photographs and creating things like buttons and icons. There are a lot of cheaper, or free alternatives:

Picasa
Free photo manipulation software from Google, Picasa is very straightforward to use, and can even produce photo albums ready to publish to a website.

Adobe Photoshop Elements
Free with many new computers and printers, or available to buy for about seventy pounds, Photoshop Elements is a cut down version of Photoshop which does everything most people need.

PXN8 is a free online photo editing tool.

This web page has a large list of free software.

Content Management Systems

The Suffolk Humanists web site is driven by a Content Management System (CMS) – this allows us to compose and edit content online, accept comments, run polls and surveys, and provide content and services to registered users. We use the Drupal CMS (as do the IHEU and The Onion). It’s not too straightforward to set up, so isn’t recommended for beginners, but the system itself is free, and widely supported. Drupal needs a database to run, and web hosting including that feature can be slightly more expensive.

Tutorials, support and resources

I’ve put together a simple presentation on what any Humanist group considering setting up a new web site should consider, as well as some basic notes on creating accessible content. Download the presentation here (PowerPoint slideshow 450kb).

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