How can I make a website? Or two, actually.
December 22, 2014 10:18 AM   Subscribe

I need to make two websites and I am not sure how best to go about it. One needs to be a nicely maintained place to park documents; one is a place for me to post class materials and can be sort of bloggy in feel. I have a weird constellation of website abilities and am not sure how best to proceed.

A little more about the websites:

One is for a volunteer organization which is run on fairly serious lines. It needs to be a place where we can gather resources - links, PDFs, possibly embedded video, contact information. It will be updated with new information only and would probably best be organized with a main front page and then branching other pages.

One is for a class I teach. I'd like to be able to put up class notes, reading recommendations, PDFs and ephemera. The main purposes are student access to PDFs and having a more public profile for the class, as I get inquiries about it sometimes. It should be a fun site and will be updated regularly.

Skills I have: I've done a little bit of Wordpress content management but not for a couple of years; I am learning Drupal at work; I can do various CSS and HTML things; and I'm up to speed on using WYSIWYG content management systems generally. I would be open to this as either a "here is a totally easy thing, go" or a "here is a way to teach yourself more skills" situation.

Basically, I have never made a website from scratch, only added pages and managed content on ones other people have created. (I mean, I used Blogger and stuff like that, but I would rather not do that on these projects.)

What would you recommend?
posted by Frowner to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I would look at Squarespace. I tested them a few years ago and came away impressed. For what it's worth, I've used WordPress a lot, and I really don't like it. I end up fighting with the editor all the time, because it sticks in blank lines where I don't want any, won't stick blank lines where I do want them, won't position photos where I want to be be positioned, etc. It also has a non-intuitive dashboard interface (non-intuitive for me, anyway).
posted by alex1965 at 10:27 AM on December 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Squarespace is dead easy to use, if you can afford it.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:39 AM on December 22, 2014

Apologies if you've thought of this already, but check with your school to make sure they don't have requirements for or restrictions on course websites. At the college where I currently work, all class material is required to be collected and presented via an enterprise product (in our case, D2L; at my previous university, Blackboard) for accreditation compliance.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 10:47 AM on December 22, 2014

Response by poster: (This is actually for a community ed course I run - we should be so organized that anyone would care what I put up!)
posted by Frowner at 10:51 AM on December 22, 2014

Also recommending squarespace. Even as a very experienced web developer, it's what I'd use if all I needed was a simple informational type site. It's a good product, and my time to build from scratch is worth way more than the $10/month they charge for a small site.
posted by cgg at 10:52 AM on December 22, 2014

(I mean, I used Blogger and stuff like that, but I would rather not do that on these projects.)

Why wouldn't you want to use Blogger? If you know a little CSS and HTML, that combined with their user-friendly interface for customizing the layout and appearance, it sounds to me like you could do something perfectly nice here.

I am wondering if you just do not realize that? It took me a long time to realize how flexible and customizable BlogSpot is. I initially thought the templates were fixed packages and I spent time looking for a template I liked and changing the template on my one BlogSpot site over and over, never really happy. At some point, I figured out that the templates are starting points and you can customize a whole lot of it.

About a year ago, I migrated all of my sites from Word Press to BlogSpot (except the sole site on BlogSpot that I had before that) and I have been so much happier than I ever was with Word Press. A great deal more of my time goes into actual site development these days instead of into looking for a better template for the millionth time, downloading updates and other essentially fruitless crap.

Because I also know a little CSS and HTML, I have been able to do some special tweaks on some of my sites where I was unable to find built-in functionality. They have a section for adding custom CSS. For my skill level, it has been far easier for me to tweak BlogSpot than it was for me to try to customize Word Press by going into the code. If I add custom CSS on BlogSpot, I am not risking screwing up the codebase because if I don't like what I have done, I can just clear the CSS out that I added, no harm done, instead of trying to figure out what part of the codebase I modified -- which is a lot scarier and seriously intimidating, given my limited knowledge of coding.
posted by Michele in California at 11:33 AM on December 22, 2014

Google Sites is free and offers the ability to do everything you have described. Granted, it's not fancy, but it will get the job done.
posted by davidvanb at 11:36 AM on December 22, 2014

How to make a shitty website.

It tells you free tools to use and how to find a cheap VPS host.

Your first website is going to be shitty until you learn how to make a better website.
posted by Orion Blastar at 11:41 AM on December 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing SquareSpace. I have some web design skills as well, and I wouldn't waste the time on a custom site for something relatively simple that doesn't need tons of customization.
posted by cnc at 12:08 PM on December 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you should use Evernote for this.
posted by cda at 12:14 PM on December 22, 2014

I've used Google Sites for a group project-type thing, and it would work for a class too. It's not the most elegant option but it's free and easy.
posted by radioamy at 1:03 PM on December 22, 2014

Do you have access to a Linux machine or a Mac? You might want to consider using a static website generator like Jekyll. I think the Hyde theme is a solid base, and I use it on one of my own sites (URL in profile). You just need HTML and CSS for the templates, and write content using Markdown.
posted by starbreaker at 1:31 PM on December 22, 2014

If you're learning to use Drupal at work, I'd suggest considering Drupal Gardens for these sites so that your personal experience helps you a little at work and vice versa. Some of the other options listed above are a bit easier to use, but with your HTML/CSS experience, you may actually enjoy the customization options you have with Drupal Gardens.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:32 PM on December 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I use Weebly for my site. The basic version is free, and it's dead simple to use.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:34 AM on December 23, 2014

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