Sunday, 6 March 2016

2 lessons from the web sustainability projects

To read more on about the Web sustainability project at http://websitesustainability.blogspot.co.uk/ . The project is essence was to consider ways to rescue websites that are at risk and make them available sustainably - in effect at no cost, easy to maintain and transfer to a new host/user.



A. Migration to Google Site
1. Introduction
The project started by looking at 'rescuing' a site (www.emkn.org) by copying content to a Google Site version. The advantages and disadvantages have been found for this approach, and some suggestions have come out of the project.


2. Why Google Sites?

Google Sites (www.google.com/sites/overview.html) was investigated initially as a suitable platform for several reasons:
• It is a freely available resource, allowing this approach to be replicated with other at risk resources.
• It allows changes for individual pages or the entire site remotely by subscription
• It supports native RSS feeds for:
o Announcements pages
o Comments
o Recent site activity
• It integrates with a number of Google-based tools (such as Analytics, Webmaster tools, YouTube, Google Docs and Picasa).



3. What we found?
As each page essentially needs to be provide individually (producing templates of portions of the site help, but each page does need to be produced individually. For a site with a large number of pages this is extremely time consuming.

A major problem with Google Sites for this project is CSS can't easily be transferred, though to a large extent HTML can, the formatting of the site has to be redone.



4. Other options?
A quick option is to use the public folder of a  Dropbox account a URL can be created and if we are talking about content that is not going to change and yet you want it still publicly accessible, but really it is being shelved for later use; this is a reasonable option. It is free (if you have a free account) and publicly accessible but it does have some drawbacks:


  • The URL produced is a little cryptic - it doesn't really bear a direct relationship with the site's name or content. So is a poor option in terms of Search Engine Optimisation point of view.
  • It is difficult to add some common web analysis tools. Google Analytics is easy you, but tools such as Google Webmaster tools are much more difficult to work with.
  • It is only really use for static content.
  • As with all the free options there is the concern that it is only an option will the service running is available.
Amazon cloud route is currently under investigation, initially there are still some of the drawbacks common to the Dropbox route, namely:
  • The URL produced is a little cryptic - it doesn't really bear a direct relationship with the site's name or content. So is a poor option in terms of Search Engine Optimisation. Saying that it is a little better than the Dropbox option as you can include a site name within the URL.
  • As with all the free options there is the concern that it is only an option will the service running is available.


5. Flat and static sites versus dynamic sites.
For this type of activity, it is unlikely to come as little surprise that static website are easier to transfer, especially if you don't have direct access to the files on the original sites server. Tools such as WinHTTrack Website Copier (http://www.httrack.com/) extract the HTML returned from the server which could be a problem for PHP based sites, where the copying tools would extract it as HTML and for some the hosting sites option using more dynamic technologies is a little problematic without a re-building of the site, the case in point being Google Sites.



6. Outcomes and suggestions
Google Sites based solution are appropriate if there are a small number of pages within the site, where you have some flexibility of the design of the site (especially if the site it is not reliant on CSS) and the pages are essentially static pages. If your site does match any one of these, it is best to look at alternatives, such as dropbox and amazon S3. Otherwise Google Sites is a good option, especially as it has the backing of major company.

As with all sites (or perhaps even more so due to these sites not necessarily having support, but still useful), following good Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) principles are important. The site, we hope, is going to be use by others but the resources behind the site are likely to minimal. Following good SEO principles at least gives the site an improved chance of being picked up by others and the search engines. One possible advantage of the Google Sites approach is URL produced as standard is a little more easier to interpret than some of the other techniques, which could have some benefits from a Search engine optimisation prespective. 



B. Sustainability Challenge

The area of sustainability of websites should be an important consideration for any funding that involves public money, both during the life-time of the project and after it. Especially when government funded agencies are being rationalised finding ways to keep the sites going even if they are not updated further, they still provide a ‘snap-shot’ of the resources at a particular point in time. This project looked at possible sustainability options and has the following recommendations:

·         A sustainable web solution should be considered for funded projects. There are a number of free options.
·         Google Sites is an appropriate solution if the number of pages is small, the formatting of the pages is not too complicated and it is a new web site.
·         Amazon is appropriate for both new and previously developed material is being migrated.
·         Dropbox is as in the Amazon solution appropriate for new and previously developed sites and is appropriate if only basic tracking tools such as Google analytics are needed.
·         Sustainable web solutions proposed are good as a back-up or archiving solution; but also can be used as the main site if the domain name is redirected to the new site.





As with all sites (or perhaps even more so due to these sites not necessarily having support, but still useful), following good Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) principles are important. The site, we hope, is going to be use by others but the resources behind the site are likely to minimal. Following good SEO principles at least gives the site an improved chance of being picked up by the search engines. One possible advantage of the Google Sites approach is URL produced as standard is a little easier to interpret than some of the other techniques, which could have some benefits from a Search engine optimisation perspective. 


Some of this has been disseminated on a posting on a University of Northampton blog of ‘expert opinion’ (http://blogs.northampton.ac.uk/expertsatnorthampton/2011/09/27/web-sustainability-its-gone/) aimed at disseminating ideas from the university to the wider community. More details are available on the project's blog: http://websitesustainability.blogspot.co.uk/



All views are those of the author and should not be seen as a reflecting the views of any organisation the author is associated with.

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