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How to put my neighbourhood on the Internet, again
May 9, 2011 3:09 AM   Subscribe

Give me a recommendation for an out-of-the-box website or web service to support a neighbourhood association? Complicating factors: time, ease-of-use, low maintenance, open to everyone ...

For a number of years I've been involved with my neighbourhood association. (Note: not "neighborhood", we're in the UK in leafy West London.) We're a loose-knit group of nosy do-gooders: we put on events, pass out information to people, watch out for relevant issues and developments, occasionally make representations to the local government. A long running need has been for for a group website, if only just to post the dates of meetings and events. However, this seemingly simple need has been difficult to fulfil.

Before I came on board some years ago, someone was maintaining an odd website, where the webmaster had to manually edit and upload file from his computer. Unsurprisingly, the website fell into disuse. I took over the task and, on a spare server I was using for other work, setup a CMS and opened it up for all members of the committee. After about 18 months of struggling with tech support requests, lost passwords and various messages saying "it doesn't work" (granted, probably my fault for using Plone), I passed it onto the next volunteer. He moved it to another system, where things reverted to the gatekeeper mode (i.e. the webmaster was the only one who can make changes) and - after a year of people complaining it was too hard and slow to get anything onto the system - has thrown in the towel and suggested moving to Facebook.

So:

* Does anyone have suggestions or experience in running a neighbourhood association website?
* There are some various "my neighborhood / locality" websites and hosted services around for residents to share information, although many of them appear to be US-centric or specifically for home owners associations. Any recommendations or pointers there? Bonuses for UK-centric ones.
* I'm very reluctant to go down the route of installing and hosting a CMS again - it cost me a lot of time and caused a lot of interruption for very little payoff. But it might be possible if someone can recommend a low maintenance, simple, runs itself package that I don't have to upgrade constantly.
posted by outlier to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Would a wiki server suit your needs? You can get them pre-installed with different hosts.
posted by Harald74 at 3:33 AM on May 9, 2011


He moved it to another system, where things reverted to the gatekeeper mode (i.e. the webmaster was the only one who can make changes) and - after a year of people complaining it was too hard and slow to get anything onto the system - has thrown in the towel and suggested moving to Facebook

Gotta say, Facebook is pretty good at this stuff. It's free and they do all the hosting and programming work. Your users can add events and messages through a pretty straightforward interface. Is there a reason you wouldn't want to use FB?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:41 AM on May 9, 2011


Would a wiki server suit your needs?

I'm a little sceptical of the ease of use (see wiki-markup and non-existent organistion) but it's an idea and my experience is a few years old. Thanks.

Is there a reason you wouldn't want to use FB?

Myself, I was unsure of Facebooks functionality in this regard, and it'd be good to put some documents up (minutes, posters for events etc.) The more pressing issue is that we have a few stridently vocal anti-Facebook members. Still, it may be worth the ranting just to get the job done simply.
posted by outlier at 4:00 AM on May 9, 2011


A society I'm involved in had the same problem of the out-of-date, difficult-to-update website - we recently switched to Facebook and it is definitely easier for all the committee members to have access to that account. Plus a lot more people now actually see our content, because members who wouldn't check our website can now get updates easily, through a service they already use. Not sure how to get around the problem of Facebook-sceptics though.

If you need to upload documents than maybe Google Docs would work?
posted by maybeandroid at 4:10 AM on May 9, 2011


Please bear in mind that while Facebook might be easier for the administrators and some members, you'll lose anyone who isn't a member of Facebook. I'm not, for example (although I don't live in your neighbourhood, I am somewhat active in mine).
posted by amtho at 4:13 AM on May 9, 2011


My local neighborhood group is using a Yahoo Group. It's not perfect, but the technology barrier seems to be low enough for everyone to participate.

I'm a member of another group that uses Big Tent, which mostly works but can be a bit annoying about trying to market to your group.

You also might want to consider Drupal Gardens, which is a hosted version of Drupal that would require only a little upkeep on your end.
posted by JuliaKM at 4:20 AM on May 9, 2011


Facebook's group function is, in my opinion, terrible, and it just got worse and less flexible in the last few days. I wouldn't force anyone to overcome their anti-FBism just to be confronted with the hideousness that is FB Groups.

I just finished moving a small group with some similar requirements over to Google from Yahoo. We're using a Google Group for a mailing list, and a Google Site for all the other stuff. Because of the way you can embed Google Docs into the site, you can give different people the ability to edit different bits of the site really easily, and it's all WYSIWYG editing so no one has to be technically inclined.

A for-pay option might be Meetup.com, which is focused around events and RSVPing, but also offers mailing list, message boards, group pages which can set up to be edited by just group administrators or anyone in the group. It also allows your group to be fully public or fairly private. I think it's about $100 a year, though, so depending on whether you have a budget, it might not work for you.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:29 AM on May 9, 2011


I used PBWIKI for a long while on a project I was running. Unfortunately my WIKI has gone now so I can't show you it, but the result, while not exactly eye-candy, worked very well and was well-suited to a multiple- user setup & easy to use. The basic package is free.

Otherwise I see recommendations coming in for Google Sites & Docs which are hard to argue with.
posted by Boggins at 7:43 AM on May 9, 2011


I am trying to get something going here and I am using Wikispaces.com to organize links (and there will be space to describe the link). It's easy to add admins to Wikispaces. Then on Wikispaces I have links to neighborhood Facebook pages. If you are not "on" Facebook you can still read the posts. I used to have a Yahoo group for my neighborhood and several people refused to get Yahoo accounts to join. That's why I am moving to Facebook. Maybe you can't comment but you can see posts without logging in.

Then if you have documents you need to share you can host them on Google Docs.
posted by cda at 8:29 AM on May 9, 2011


No, there is no "neighborhood website" package to install, why not just start with a Google Calendar and go from there? You don't have to solve future problems that you don't even have yet (since they aren't mentioned in your question). Beyond that, Yahoo groups is a fine way for people to crab at each other. Don't YG's have a calendar, too? Maybe just that, then.
posted by rhizome at 10:57 AM on May 9, 2011


Thanks for all the productive answers. Given the general support for Facebook, I think I'm prepared to try it and see what happens, with Wikispaces as a possible alternative.

Facebook's group function is, in my opinion, terrible, and it just got worse and less flexible in the last few days. I wouldn't force anyone to overcome their anti-FBism just to be confronted with the hideousness that is FB Groups.

Can you expand on this, jacquilynne? What changed?
posted by outlier at 1:27 PM on May 9, 2011


One of the FB groups I'm active in just got changed to the new format, and it's now basically less functionality than we'd get if we had a Page.

All of our discussions have been converted to wall posts. There's no landing page or any way to put basic information or description up that can be used to keep people apprised of current events or even what the group is about. It's just a wall of wallness.

There seems to be a way to schedule events and view photos, though I have no idea how one adds photos anymore.

Plus, in true FB fashion, when they converted us over to the new group format, they assumed everybody wanted to get an email every time someone commented on a thread and a bunch of people dropped out of the group because of the spamminess rather than try to figure out how to fix their options again.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:58 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, not good. Thanks for the detailed reply.
posted by outlier at 2:08 PM on May 9, 2011


Have you looked at http://www.i-neighbours.org?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:51 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only way Facebook is working for me is I get our local lost pet wall posts as rss in an rss feed. I bookmarked one fan page for a missing person in Libya and that was useful to check in and see what was new. But to hope that i see posts I like on my wall. Forget about it. that's a mess. I never look at my wall. Plus I have the notice emails filtered as "read" and automatically moved to a separate email folder so that's not a problem.

My home town newspaper uses Facebook well. They only have one or two posts a day. And it's all the important stuff like council meetings and parade information. So you aren't overwhelmed. I read it in RSS.

I tried I-Neighborhood but I couldn't get anyone else interested. And most people I know are on Facebook.

The hardest part is communicating the url. Even if I give someone a flyer with the url on it lots of people have trouble with a long url. And no one finds iNeighborhood on their own.

I checked on i-neighborhood and for all of Spokane there is only one group and it has 8 people in it. And no new activity. It is such a battle to get people to join. I really hope they do make it because I think something like this is really needed. Not the Wikispaces-Facebook kludge I talked about. Maybe some big tech company could rescue them and get them some marketing help.
posted by cda at 3:12 PM on May 9, 2011


Low maintenance, simple, run itself package?
WordPress.
posted by bru at 6:40 PM on May 9, 2011


Have you looked at http://www.i-neighbours.org?

I knew I'd seen sites that that around. Thanks - it's a bit US-centric but there must be a UK version around somewhere.
posted by outlier at 12:50 AM on May 10, 2011


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