Help my lab have a solid website.
November 16, 2012 3:22 PM   Subscribe

My PI needs a new lab website. She has asked me to look into free hosting/sitebuilder type services ala Google Sites. What is the best service, what are some examples of well-done lab sites using that service, and what are some tips for getting the most out of it?

Hey, I've been asked to help put together a new website for my lab and the PI would like to use one of those free site building/hosting services such as Google Sites. A pretty simple page is all that's needed, something that can serve as a place for her to publicize her projects, host bios for her lab members, display her publication history, etc. Nothing major.

The emphasis is on cost (i.e. free), ease of setup, looks, and flexibility. What would be the best way to go? Is Google Sites the standard for this sort of thing, or are there superior alternatives? (Could a Wordpress blog or something be pressed into service somehow?) What are some great examples of laboratory websites following this model? Can you offer any tips for getting the most out of our chosen service? (How do we get something that looks decent?) Also, are there any features/pages that would be good to have on a page like this that might not have been considered?

Thanks very much for the advice, as always.
posted by Scientist to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would consider a blog. Publicized projects would fit as blog posts, lab member bios could be put on to a page, and her publication history could also fit on to a page. You can upload .pdfs to the media library and then hotlink to them. The free version is moderately extensible through widgets, has enough hosting for the relatively low-key needs of your PI, and is also easy to import and export should she ever want to move the site elsewhere.
posted by codacorolla at 3:35 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by ronofthedead at 3:37 PM on November 16, 2012

Funny, I just finished overhauling my lab's website on a MediaWiki platform when I transferred the server to new hardware; it was Moinmoin before. (Sorry for the self-link, but you did ask for examples, and I for one think it's great.)

Actually, there are two wikis: one public-facing, readable by everyone, but only editable by lab members. The other is an internal wiki, requiring a login to view or edit. You can see the content of the public one; the internal one has information for students and staff for running experiments, analyzing data, etc.

Are you sure you can't get hosting through your university/school/department? I don't remember ever seeing one hosted offsite. There are free/cheap wiki hosting sites out there though.

I think Wordpress is great, but it's clunky and inflexible if you're not updating it regularly like a blog. You can get a little more flexibility for paying something like $25 a year.
posted by supercres at 3:42 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I host at, have written Wordpress plugins, and managed a university Wordpress network with hundreds of personal and lab sites on it. I once taught a digital humanities workshop on doing exactly this with

I would not use for this. They reserve the right to display ads on free sites, they offer essentially no design control for free, and the code cleanup they have the editor do by default is infuriating.

I haven't used it as much, but I'd actually suggest Tumblr. If you can stand the branding on free sites (or know how to hack it out), Blogger and Moonfruit are also reasonable.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:09 PM on November 16, 2012

Response by poster: I should have been explicit: she expressly desires to avoid using on-campus hosting as she has had problems with it in the past. That is a big part of why she is redoing her site right now in the first place.
posted by Scientist at 4:10 PM on November 16, 2012

With those restrictions, I would go with Google Sites. Not to sound like a broken record, but you can set it up as a wiki.

As a counterpoint, here's the lab of a former postdoc that's built around blog software (I think).

On preview and rechecking-- nope, that's a wiki too. But it doesn't look like the normal Wikipedia/Mediawiki layout.
posted by supercres at 4:22 PM on November 16, 2012

Best answer: My former lab uses Weebly. It's very easy to use and looks fine.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:47 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

There's also popslice. Here's an example. Here's my former lab's page on Google Sites
posted by dhruva at 5:17 PM on November 16, 2012

I thought Wikidot looked good for this kind of thing, but don't have any experience with it.

There is a special free plan for education use, which gives you a bit more than the regular free plan.
posted by philipy at 6:35 PM on November 16, 2012

My lab's (very simple) site is on Google sites. It was pretty quick and easy, but it's not fancy.
posted by JMOZ at 7:35 PM on November 16, 2012

I don't like Google Sites, too restricted. I can't figure anything I want that's outside the normal template.

Wordpress is probably fine.


If you don't want to be stuck with a template there are a whole bunch more options, though all of them are more complicated. Google, Amazon, and Microsoft all have free tiers for hosting your own site.

Microsoft was by far the easiest, but that's assuming you have visual studio and are comfortable with it.

Google App Engine involved various downloads and python type things. The python stuff you can basically ignore, just find a basic server template thingy.

Amazon is probably the simplest overall, it just has a horrendous UI, Once you know how it's really simple, otherwise good luck. Lots of documentation, but not terribly clear. Two options here.
The filehosting part. Cloudfront or something like that. Really simple once you find it.
Then there is aws which is cool. Virtual computers and all that. Really simple to run your own server, or wiki, or even a drupal instance. Just make it simple on yourself: find some instance that somebody already created so you don't have to worry about installing and configuring all that.

So, anyways, I have way to much to say about my stumbles in the dark. If you want more of this just send me a message. I have a fancy computer and it makes me feel important.
posted by Folk at 10:33 PM on November 16, 2012

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