Website maintenance.
September 21, 2006 6:23 PM   Subscribe

How do you keep your websites properly maintained?

I'm what you might call a Typical Webmaster.

I manage a big, big site (a school site for a university), five big sites (different departments within the school) and then a couple handfuls of event-based, research-based or student-org-based websites. There are probably 20 in total.

It's just me doing the design, code and maintenance for these sites. This means that they get created (or upgraded) and then all too quickly outdated because I have zero time to spend working on them post launch.

If people notify me of updates or corrections, I make them. But I am unable to be proactive with that end of things because we're either busy creating new sites or upgrading outdated ones.

We're employing content management systems where they make sense and are doing what we can to keep content fresh and up-to-date, but that plan is only as good as the folks who create the content are at creating it.

What I'm looking for is some sort of system to remind me to bug various "owners" of information on a sometimes random/sometimes routine basis.

There probably isn't an easy answer for this, but if you've got an electronic or hipster-variety tickler/reminder system that works well for you -- or have had any success in managing higher ed websites (or just a random slew) -- I'd appreciate hearing about your strategies and/or successes.

I'll be happy to chime in if I've left any details out that need further explanation or elaboration.
posted by 10ch to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about moving to a system where the "owners" can update it themselves? I've done two different CMS migrations for different higher education groups (one university and one academic library) and most CMS's present an edit view that is very Word-like. Plus you get tons of workflow/content management stuff that can mitigate any issues you might have.

I know this isn't exactly what you asked for...but if you can do it, it's the right answer.
posted by griffey at 6:44 PM on September 21, 2006

Where-ever possible, make the people with the information responsible for getting it on the site. (Of course, this means making sure that it's dead simple to do this)

I do the web sites for a number of non-profit organizations, each of which has a bunch of departments/programs/etc. with their own news and updates etc. I've actually recently switched a couple of them over to using a blog platform (a category for each department/program/whatever, with the person who used to e-mail me the info for that area now set up as the editor for that category). The key is that posting to the web site is no more difficult than sending me the e-mail with the info -- just fill in the subject/headline and paste in the message-body/article and press the button. Absolutely no more ability than that is required.

These web sites have really taken off. The members of the organizations are excited about the web site because there's 10 times as much useful information there and always something new.

Maybe not the exact solution for you, but something to think about. In most cases, the only reason that the information has to pass through you before going onto the site is because of a technical hurdle that doesn't necessarily have to be there. Doing the design/architecture and providing the text are completely different jobs and there's no reason that the person doing one needs to have any involvement in (or even knowledge of how to do) the other.
posted by winston at 6:52 PM on September 21, 2006

School / University stuff usually has a semester cycle, a year cycle, and a month cycle. It goes on a calendar. I remind these people a couple of times, and that's it. Deflect blame to the content owners if they don't keep up. This can be done automatically with a footer reading "page maintained by ... Susie Secretary."

CMSs sound nice, unless these are people with demanding and weird requirements (custom coding), or people who can barely manage a Word document. Often, I find myself buffing the content to correct spelling, grammatical, and formatting errors, because Very Important People will be looking at those pages.

Just out of curiosity, griffey, what CMSs do you like?
posted by adipocere at 7:07 PM on September 21, 2006

Check out ExpressionEngine. Very powerfula nd flexible.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:22 PM on September 21, 2006

Response by poster: OP, here...

Good stuff, adipocere -- I like the "page maintained by..." suggestion for accountability. Sounds like you may have experience with the kind of folks I'm working with (most notably the Very Important People that have to be considered).

For folks suggesting CMSs... to be clear, I see their worth when content owners are invested in actually owning/updating their content (and can do so while not embarrassing themselves or the uni). We're already using Drupal where applicable and WordPress when a blog or poorman's CMS will do. But the question is more about successful strategies-slash-systems that can be employed to track pages that need to be maintained and/or to encourage owners to maintain them.

I'm thinking more along the lines of tickler systems, calender reminders, post-it notes, whatever... just successes you've had in managing a whole lotta sites that aren't just online brochures, but can unfortunately get by as such.
posted by 10ch at 7:50 PM on September 21, 2006

Best answer: similar question here with great answers.
posted by b33j at 8:00 PM on September 21, 2006

the dept that I work for (dept website, intranet, teacher resource site and 95 odd schools for years 1 to 12) is rolling out the mysource matrix CMS, my coworker being responsible for setting up templates/designs for each school, and for training teachers how to use it. So far it has been more or less successful, the teachers are able to learn how to use the CMS without too much trouble, they just need some extra coaching on why it bad to put 4mb jpegs resized as thumbnails on the page. the CMS has workflow built into it: designated pages need approval before publishing, pages can be set to remind the owners when to update, or can be set to self destruct. (i pretty sure,i don't use it regularly.) The tricky part is setting up the page templates.

we are switching the schools' websites to CMS first, the department's intranet and extranet are still maintained with dreamweaver, and for a while there I was doing the workflow with MS outlook - tasks with due dates, ad hoc i know.

The biggest problem for me is getting management to think of the website as PR/publishing. they tend to think that it is an IT "thing" and that they can buy a website the same way one would buy laptops, servers and stuff. We are still in the IT department and the ministerial/pr/communications people are in another building. stupid. these people need to be involved, because they know the dates, the programs, and what is coming up.

Are you really all alone? Sounds like you need a hand with maintenance to allow you to plan/implement changes to operations. what if you're hit by the proverbial bus? your uni is out of a website...
posted by Tixylix at 8:55 PM on September 21, 2006

Best answer: Just one little thing that's not really about CMS... periodically run Xenu's link sleuth on your site to make sure all your links are still working. (Note: If you use an .htaccess file to protect your images, you will either have to take it down for a few minutes until Xenu finishes, or your image links will show up as dead.)

And Cool URIs don't change. But just in case, if the professors at the school link to an external website that they feel is vital for their curricula, they might want to either mirror the site or download it or print it or something.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:32 AM on September 22, 2006

Response by poster: OP again...

b33j -- looks like we are (were?) in the same dilemma. Have you had any success with the basecamp/google/excel suggestions?

IndigoRain -- great suggestions, thanks. "Computer-aided" maintainers of content is a great idea, where applicable. Anyone have any other recommendations in this regard?

Tixylix -- You are right that many think websites are an "IT Thing." In fact, I started here in the IT department, but have had success in moving into a role as a communicator. The tricky thing is that it's a communication technology. We really ride the line at times. As for "being alone" in all this -- that is and isn't the problem. I am alone right now and there are plans to hire an additional person to help at somepoint, but hiring another person isn't a magic cure. While it will surely help in getting the updates done, we will still have to have a system in place to determine what updates should be made. Note: I'm saying this more for myself than for you. :)

I was thinking more about my original question... and I thought of the scenario where I tag pages and owners of those pages and setup some sort of reminder system (hopefully without reinventing the wheel, as b33j's question asks) or maybe have a system where I carve out certain days of the month that I tackle certain things.

I'm already doing this in parts. Example: I have a recurring reminder in iCal on the first Monday of every month. It reminds me to email each department admin secretary and request that he or she look at the "employment offerings" page for his or her department's site. I usually (though not always) get a response with updated listings/deletions/etc. Maybe I should be spending a set amount of time everyday on *something* regarding proactive maintenance?

Ugh, it begins to get overwhelming and kludgy quickly. (Hence my hive query.) Help?
posted by 10ch at 5:02 AM on September 22, 2006

Best answer: Presumably, if you are running the site with static content, you could write a script that would run once per day - it would traverse the structure and look for pages that are older than 'x' days, bundle up all the URLs and send you an e-mail listing all the pages that are getting old.

If it's running on a db, simply write a script that will query the db and find pages that are older than 'x' and send them all to you. You could automate this by having a lookup that will send an e-mail to the relevant person saying (in more polite words than I can muster) "please take a look at this and inform me of any inaccurate or out-of-date information". This is simply a bit of Perl and/or shell scripting. As you are at an educational institution, you'll want to customise this kind of setup towards the cycle of the academic year.

Get in to the RSS and blogs thing. It may seem faddish - but more and more people are writing personal blogs and using sites like MySpace, so set up some departmental blogs or blog-like websites, brief them on how to use them and how they are individually or departmentally responsible for what they post - and just let the magic happen (of course, this will probably require some political magic). I'd be far happier if my college had some blogs that I could stick in my RSS reader with current events and information than having to actively hunt stuff down on their site. But then I Am Not A Typical User.
posted by tommorris at 6:59 AM on September 22, 2006

Response by poster: OP, again...

Iiiinteresting tommorris -- your server/db scripting idea could be especially helpful for departmental sites where oftentimes folder and file names are the same (e.g. undergraduates/degrees.php or about/facilities.php). I could setup different scripts to ping for related things based on this... brain is churning away at the possibilities.

As for the RSS and blogs thing -- we're doing our best to provide RSS, blogs (research based, internship notifications for students, etc.), event calendaring that plugs into myspace, upcoming, personal calendars, cell phones. The efforts are there, but universities are dinosaurs in this regard. By the time our work is translated into "current" technology-friendly deliverables, we're likely to be completely behind the times again.
posted by 10ch at 8:06 AM on September 22, 2006

Sorry for the late reply. I used the blogware platform from Tucows/OpenSRS
posted by winston at 8:08 PM on September 26, 2006

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