Karl Elliott

Domain prices increase

From 1st March, Nominet has increased the costs of .uk domain names by quite a significant amount. This means that your hosting or domain provider will undoubtedly be passing these price rises onto you as soon as you get to your renewal date. Our host, Krystal, has already contacted us to inform us of this.

I gather there is some controversy around these price rises, but as they are happening, it’s best that you know in advance. So check your renewal dates for your domain(s) and keep an eye out for a price jump in the near future.

#domains #news

Karl Elliott

Anyone using the Raspberry Pi yet?

The Raspberry Pi is now four years old – and they’ve just released a new version (the Pi 3). (See here for a story)

I’m really interested to know is any non-profits are using the Pi as a dirt cheap, single use computer. The cost is so low that a Pi could be dedicated to a specific task (running a rolling presentation to a screen in your reception area springs to mind). So is anyone doing this? I’d really like to experiment with this, but I think although the cost is low, the entry point for technical skills is pretty high.

But in a world where the cost of computing is dropping drastically and quickly how easy is it actually to get a useful task to be completed with these new tools? I’m keen to explore the concept.

If you’re experimenting with the Pi, then let me know – I’d be really interested.

#rpi #experiment #hardware

Karl Elliott

A Facebook page is complimentary and should not replace your website

Should you have a Facebook page for your non-profit? Absolutely – as long as you know how to manage it properly, use it as an ongoing communication tool and know who the audience is that you are communicating with. It serves a very useful purpose.

But should you ONLY have a Facebook page instead of a more traditional website? My opinion is no.
Many people are on Facebook, see all its’ positive aspects, note that it’s ‘free’ and consequently argue the case that charities, smaller businesses and voluntary or community groups can manage with just a Facebook page to get online.

But I suggest that Facebook and a website are different things. Complimentary to each other, both useful (for different purposes), but not one to the exclusion of the other.

Some of my reasoning:

  • Facebook is not under your control. It’s their tool, they structure it, manage it, design it and change it as they see fit. You don’t own or control your web presence via Facebook in the same way you can with your own website.
  • You have no ‘brand’ control. Certainly you can adjust your profile, but it’s still a Facebook page mentioning you, rather than tying in with any other aspects of your organisational branding..
  • Don’t forget that Facebook is not totally ‘free’ anyway. The tool is free (but so is WordPress for building a website). But you need to invest (potentially significant) amounts of staff or volunteer time in order to ‘feed the beast’ and keep the Facebook page alive and valuable to your visitors. If you’re using Facebook for that conversation then this is time you certainly need to invest. And, yes, building a website needs a different upfront and ongoing investment of time, but don’t get confused over the concept that Facebook is free.
  • Facebook is a closed system. Not everyone is on Facebook. If your audience is there, then fine. And you can make sure your Facebook Page is public, but there are many people who won’t visit Facebook – you become invisible. Your website is open to all.
  • In fact you might be totally invisible to many people. In public bodies and businesses large and small, Facebook (along with many other sites) may be blocked or hidden away behind that pesky firewall. Your website isn’t. So if you’re only on Facebook, you may well not exist (except until those employees get home or mobile away from that IT imposed firewall).
  • Noise vs message. There’s a lot of noise and stuff going on in your visitors time lines. Is your message getting through to them at all or is it being swamped. Your website can keep that message clear, focused and as permanent as you want. Yes, you need to plan your messages well for your website, but at least it’s you controlling the message distribution, not Facebook.
  • In Facebook you rely on your visitors continuing to be interested in you. Start slipping in your ‘news’ or your focus and they may lose interest in you. Very quickly your news disappears from their timeline and they start forgetting you… You still need to remain interesting on your website – keeping attention is not simple, but don’t make assumptions that your Facebook posting is being ‘seen’ either.
  • Where in Facebook can you control your background information? Those downloadable documents, the forms you need visitors to complete, the information that promotes your organisation. On your website that’s easy – but where can you post it via Facebook.
  • Search engine optimisation. Yes, Google might possibly find that information or content from your Facebook Page. But that’s highly ineffective and totally out of your control. Your website gives you the power over SEO (to some extent at least). It helps you get ‘found’.
  • Reputation. Just like the mechanic with a faulty vehicle or the web designer with the ‘website under construction’. Just having a Facebook Page and no website ‘tells’ your audience something. What does your funder think of that? Do they think you’re more amateur and only interested in Social Media? Your Facebook Page better be pretty impressive to overcome that perception as to why you’ve chosen to not have a website.

I’m not saying building a website is easy or ‘better’. It’s simply that you must not ignore the issues and factors that surround that possible over assumption or over reliance on Facebook. Yes, use it – in fact embrace it if your audience is there and needs you to interact and communicate with them. But where’s the harm in complimenting it with a decent website? Think it through before you assume.

#article #socialmedia #facebook

Karl Elliott

Deciding who sees what

If you have users who log into your website, then occasionally you need to show them some different content to what non-members (guests) can see. Clearly WordPress allows for private posts and there are plugins to restrict the entire website to logged in users (VANEL uses this for our private internal staff website). But sometimes you just need to show different words to different people.

The concept being:
If you’re a guest YOU SEE THIS, or if you are logged in YOU SEE THIS INSTEAD.

I’ve just sorted this out on our VANEL Digital website. The website is mostly a blog, and WebClub or IT Network members have a login to the site so that they can participate, write content or add posts.

So on the front page I wanted to show some ‘promotional’ wording, buttons and boxes to visitors (guests), but to leave all that out for our members and just give a quick ‘latest news’ sort of update to them. After all, if they’re already members they hardly want the marketing words in their face each time they visit the site.

The plugin I used in this case was a Shortcode free plugin from Themify. This not only allowed me to add in some columns, pretty boxes and effective buttons for the promotional bit, but it allows and shortcodes. Meaning that by enclosing whole parts of the content of a post within the correct tag I can instantly decide who sees what.

So that’s a very recommended plugin available from Themify here. I’ve also been experimenting with Restrict Content plugin from here. Seems even more powerful but extremely useful too.

Finally, I used the simple but effective login-logout plugin to make a clear widget in the sidebar guide visitors and members alike to know how to login or out.

Simple techniques but useful if you’re choosing what content to show you visitors.

#experiment #plugins #wordpress #users

Karl Elliott

WELCOME to VANEL Digital

At VANEL we champion the use of digital technology for the voluntary and community sector. Our guess is that you are probably not experts at website development or computer support.  So that’s where we come in.  Our services are here to support you. (or scroll down to get to the main blog.)

WEBSITE SUPPORT

WebClub membership supports you with technical advice as you develop your website or digital projects.   We can maintain your website for you to keep it secure and operational with WebClub Gold. We meet up quarterly for a digital discussion via WebClub: Together. We provide easy and clear web training including our popular “Cooking up a website” introductory course. Of course you can always use us to develop part or all of your website or digital solution with WebClub: engineered.

MORE…

We have initiatives around finding Digitally skilled volunteers and related to Digital Mapping. More ideas for technology support are always being explored.

IT SUPPORT

We can provide lightweight and cost effective remote IT support over the internet to deal with many of your ongoing IT issues. We also provide onsite IT support within North East Lincolnshire. We do IT consultancy in areas such as database design or email configuration.

TRAINING

We provide both bespoke and scheduled digital technology related training. “Cooking up a website” is our popular introduction to websites and we have a series of WordPress related courses, sessions about Mailchimp or other digital tools and other themes such as “Technology for Trustees” or “Effective online funding applications”.

Interested? Need cost effective technology related support? Read more about all the ways we can help here or simply get in touch for a conversation.

Karl Elliott

How do you know when your website goes down?

If you rely on your website for communication, then it needs to be available all the time. Generally VCS websites are less ‘uptime’ critical than, for example, a retail website which loses custom every time the website is offline. But if your website is down/offline then that sends a message to every potential visitor. But how do you know if your website is up or down? You’re not visiting it hourly or more are you? You need a way to monitor it.

So today I’ve been playing with ways to monitor our websites (and the websites of the clients that I look after). There’s a variety of ways to do this. One I’ve used a lot on our WordPress websites is the Jetpack plugin. Using Jetpack allows you to connect your self-hosted website to WordPress.com – the hosted version of WordPress and it includes as part of its extensive portfolio of tools a way of monitoring your website. I’ve installed, configured and used Jetpack to monitor sites in this way for a while now and it seems to work well.

Another technique I like the look of is using a Google spreadsheet (populated with details of the websites that need monitoring) and a set of macros that can automatically contact you if the websites are up or down. Not tried this one yet, but there’s more details here.

Each of these techniques seem to require setting up a range of logins and cross connected accounts or playing with macros (that have the potential to not work). So I was looking for another way to do it.

Hello Uptime Robot. Free to register and free to monitor up to 50 websites. Within a few seconds I was setup to monitor several of my sites with no plugins or complex account connections. So far I can recommend this tool. The dashboard is clear and useful for checking up on a range of sites (or you could just do it for your one site). A paid option would allow you SMS text alerts, but I’m just going for a specific email address (I’ve setup a specific email that only receives uptime reports) and then that email address can be checked from my phone/tablet/PC etc.

We’ll see how well this works over time (at the moment our websites seems to be pretty reliable for uptime!), but Uptime Robot is one of my new tool recommendations. Without any effort on my part I’ll now get a notification straight to my phone each time there’s a problem with any of our websites. It’s then of course up to me to investigate further and resolve the problem. But at least I know.

#experiment #monitoring #websites

Karl Elliott

WebClub update

There’s a new full description of what WebClub is, just published here.

We’ve also described the new pricing for our WebClub Gold ongoing website maintenance service here.

There’s also a description of our WebClub Together meetups here, and our next actual meetup will be on Tuesday 1st March 2016. Watch this space.

Karl Elliott

New website for Shalom

We were very please last year to be asked by Shalom Youth Project to help them to build a website. And I’m even more pleased to now say that their site is finished and live and handed over to Shalom to manage themselves.

You can see the site at www.shalchurch.org.uk.

It’s a WordPress site (of course), relying on Themify Builder to get the structure together.

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How it happened

Shalom decided they wanted a site after the Skint TV programme earlier in 2015 in which they featured. People had been getting in touch as a result of the programme, but lack of a website was holding them back. They did have a Facebook page but this was poorly supported too.

So one of their volunteers helpfully did a bit of fundraising (running a wet half-marathon) to raise some funds which ultimately paid for VANEL to design and build the basic website.

Through a number of design meetings we worked with Shalom to get the structure of the website assembled by then end of 2015.

But a very large part of this project was to train John Ellis at Shalom to manage, edit and maintain the structure of the website himself. WordPress is powerful, but essentially extremely easy to work with. So after a bit of training and some follow on support, John uploaded more photos, edited text, laid out boxes and so on and helped get the site ready to be launched.

So by early 2016 the website was ready for public consumption.

Now

The website is live, John is adding regular news and is able to do all kinds of day to day edits and maintenance of the site. They are now working on their Facebook page and on adding donation functionality to the site too.

The site has been well received and really serves the purposes that the church and youth project set out from the beginning. John has been a fast learner and the gratification for me is in seeing a website that is of live and active use for a group who are doing edits themselves.

Karl Elliott

Vision of the future

Every so often it’s worth thinking about the future. Microsoft do this, and in 2015 they shared their personal vision of the future (below). (Waiting now for their 2016 vision!)

Worth a watch. See how the tech is throughout our lives. Now reflect on how well our non-profit sector is working with technology for the benefit of our organisations, our beneficiaries and clients and our communities. Are we ready for the here and now, let alone the future?

Karl Elliott

experiment.

It’s a long time since I published Issue 01 of “experiment.” (it was back in March 2015). We’ve not been able to finance another issue since then, but I’m still hopeful. I’m also aware that quite a few of our Members and Friends may not have seen a copy of the original issue (which was published using Big Lottery funding), and as I still have some available I’m more than happy to send one out to any organisations that ask. If you can stump up £1 donation per copy then that would also help me to seed fund another issue.

What’s experiment. ?

It’s a 20 page, tabloid sized, newspaper that we’ve printed through the excellent newspaperclub service. You can see the newspaper itself on their website by visiting http://www.newspaperclub.com/vanel/vyd29umt-experiment-01 but you can’t download it from there because we’re keen for you to read the physical copy!

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This issue focuses on the topic “Effective online funding applications” – a key and important topic for any charity or voluntary organisation, so we’ve dedicated a chunk of the newspaper to this theme. Other than that, we cover a range of ideas and stories related to the effective use of technology within non-profits with the hope that something inspires or motivates you to start using technology in better or different ways.

If you’re interested, drop me a line.