How can my non-tech-savvy Mum maintain her own website?
January 16, 2007 11:46 AM   Subscribe

My mother needs a very simple website for a small business. I'm reasonably technically competent and I don't mind doing some work to set it up, but I'd like my mother to be able to update the content on her own. What software should I use?

Mum runs Ubuntu Linux (which I set up for her). She's become comfortable with email and word processing, but only with a lot of careful instruction and hand-holding. Now she'd like a website for her reflexology business. I'd have no problem putting it together myself in HTML/CSS, but I'd like Mum to be able to maintain the content on her own, so HTML is right out.

So, I'm looking for some kind of very very simple content management system that will let me create a professional looking website, with just a front page and a few subpages (all static). It needs to work with my Mum's own domain (although she hasn't got one yet). It doesn't matter if I have to write some CSS or something to start with, but the ongoing maintenance of the content has to be extremely simple.

Reasonably priced solutions are fine (but free ones are even better!)

Bonus points for a hosting company that will provide this kind of system out of the box, and for something with good looking themes, because my graphic design skills are not fantastic.
posted by emilyw to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Wordpress? Drupal?

Actually, if it's simple enough, you could even try writing something in Perl or Python or whatever your language of choice is that prompts her for a few inputs (her new content) and spits out the HTML. Build her the site she wants today, then put that code into a script and replace all the content with variables. Loop through the variables and prompt for input; put some sort of graphical "this is the page that this bit of content will go on" helper if you're feeling ambitious.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 11:53 AM on January 16, 2007

Here's a trick I've used in the past. Find a simple wiki package (I used Tavi). Install it, twice. Point both installations at the same backend database. Now password protect one of them with .htaccess - that's the one that gets used to edit her site. Make some simple template modifications to the other one to make it not look like a wiki - remove the edit links (and delete the edit saving code for good measure), configure it to display WikiLinks with spaces in the middle, then add the site's navigation around the top. This wiki will be the public site.

If you're even mildly comfortable with PHP the above modifications shouldn't take more than twenty minutes or so. In return for that time investment you get a top class content management system with (hopefully) simple non-HTML markup and full revision tracking - so your Mum doesn't have to worry about screwing anything up as she'll always be able to get back to the old version.

This trick works especially well for sites that have more than one person collaborating on them thanks to the revision tracking, but it should be fine for just one person as well.
posted by simonw at 12:35 PM on January 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

I would definitely say WordPress -- once it is setup, it is simple for a non-technical user to update their content, and they can change the look and feel easily. You can set it up on a web-host very easily -- I use DreamHost, and I really like them (I am not affiliated with them)...

They have a "one-click" WordPress 2.06 setup which works awesome. From there, it is all about the templates, and you and the Moms can pick from hundreds! It is great!
posted by wonderwisdom at 12:45 PM on January 16, 2007

Thirding Wordpress. I would recommend getting a plugin that allows you to customise what exactly each user level can see and do. That way, you (as admin) can see all the options, whereas she just has posting and editing rights. Less confusing for her, less chance of something going drastically wrong.
posted by djgh at 12:55 PM on January 16, 2007

Another option is Contribute from Macromedia. I use it with some of my clients for exactly the reason you state. Unlike WordPress, the editing takes place right in a browser window, so it's very what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Requires some cash outlay, but I think you can download a 30 day demo.
posted by The Deej at 12:57 PM on January 16, 2007

Best answer: Google Page Creator For Your Domain.
posted by mendel at 12:59 PM on January 16, 2007

(What I mean is: in the browser window that looks like the page, not another page. WordPress is edited in the browser as well, but in Contribute, you browse to the page, and edit it directly, as if you are making changes in Word or a similar program.)
posted by The Deej at 1:01 PM on January 16, 2007

simonw - nice trick with the wiki.

I see two options:

1) Old school, which is what you've almost already concluded you need: a simple static HTML site with a clean, logical stylesheet. You'll be building it anyways, so you'll need to make the changes every now and then. And if she wants more control over the site and doesn't want to have to asking you for changes, then she'll have the incentive to learn about basic HTML (anchors, paragraphs, divs, etc.) and updating the site (e.g. FTP)

2) If you want to give her full control from day one, then it wouldn't be much work to write a little tool that just allows her to edit text files on the server. Then you just output these textfiles with something like Markdown, so she doesn't have to bother with HTML.

The homepage would be something like...

< ?phpbr>
$page = read_file_contents('home.txt');
print Markdown($page);


I strongly discourage anything like Drupal, Joomla, etc. which are more for a community of users and are inappropriate for what is essentially a static site. Also much work has been done on making WYSIWYG in-browser text editing (e.g. TinyMCE) but i find them to be slow, bloated and more confusing than just learning basic HTML.
posted by kamelhoecker at 1:04 PM on January 16, 2007

Response by poster: simonw, I think the wiki idea is fantastic, but Google Page Creator wins because it's less work for me (and completely wysiwyg for Mum).

I had a look at Wordpress but it looks very blog-oriented, and kamelhoecker, I think you underestimate the difficulty in teaching my mother the intricacies of FTP!

Thanks everyone!
posted by emilyw at 1:18 PM on January 16, 2007

Also along the same lines:

Weebly - Website Creation Made Easy

posted by Boobus Tuber at 1:43 PM on January 16, 2007

If you're planning on doing e-commerce:

posted by empath at 2:57 PM on January 16, 2007

I did this very thing for my wife's Landscape Architure web site. I know this is going to sound ummm.. dull, what I did was wrote the HTML (in notepad) built the pages, and then showed my wife where to make her changes. I formatted the HTML so the text stood out when viewing it in notepad. She makes simple changes using notepad, saves the HTML file, then uploads it to the web server. Teaching her how to use WSFTP was harder than teaching her how to make changes to the web site. After a few months, she was even posting photos. Yes the web site was fairly simple, but effective and it worked.
posted by BillsR100 at 6:18 PM on January 16, 2007

But as the questioner said above:

I think you underestimate the difficulty in teaching my mother the intricacies of FTP!

posted by The Deej at 8:09 PM on January 16, 2007

I haven't used the "for your domain" incarnation, but Google Page Creator is pretty darn easy to use. Assuming it's the same, she can have multiple pages and probably do everything she'd want for her reflexology business. She can do pictures, links, etc.

It can't do e-commerce, but she can include an e-mail link. No hit counter AFAIK, but she could use a special e-mail address (or Gmail's "+addressing") to track the e-mail activity she gets from the site.

Good luck and let us know where you land!
posted by altcountryman at 8:41 PM on January 16, 2007

Nvu works pretty well for editing static pages.
posted by flabdablet at 2:31 AM on January 17, 2007

What about They have a very reasonable package called "WebSite Tonight" and it includes hosting and email accounts. They advertise "Think you don't have the time or know-how to build your own Web site? Think again!
WebSite Tonight® makes it fun for ANYONE to create their own site -- without spending a fortune! It's so fast and easy-to-use, everyone will think you paid thousands of dollars to have it created for you..."
I've used godaddy for hosting services and have been very pleased.
posted by luckyshirl at 7:57 PM on January 19, 2007

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