The 9-12 Project of Central PA

"You Are NOT Alone!"

In another post, Web ideas, Bill Ames made several good suggestions about improvements that could be made to our site. I recently focused on how our site was organized, and tried to make several improvements. These improvements were mostly in the internal organization of the site. I think that Bill's suggestions are valid, and none of my change should negate his points.

Here are the results of my effort:

Menu Bar

We were nearly at the limit for the number of items that can be on the red menu bar. So, I used sub-menus to collapse the menu bar. If you point to the Information or Content menus, a drop-down menu will appear, showing more choices.

Most of the functions we all use frequently are under the Content menu: Events, Forums, Blogs, Groups, Videos, Photos.

The menus "Main", "Invite", and "My Page" are placed there by, and cannot be removed.

The menu "Information" contains the fixed content from our site. In that menu, I added "About Us", which contains the introductory text from our web site, which is primarily meant to be viewed by new visitors to the site. (More on this later).

The "Members" list, and the "Meetings Minutes" page are also accessed from the Information menu.

In addition to these changes, I also configured the menu bar so that a non-member cannot easily access the content, the member list, or the meeting minutes. If you want to see how this works, you can sign out, by clicking on the link in the top right area of the page, and then go to our home page. Make sure you know your password, so you can log back in!

Main Page

New Visitor Welcome Message

A large amount of real estate on the main page was occupied with a message welcoming new visitors to the site, introducing our group, and stating the rules. I felt that this information would be helpful to new visitors, but not that interesting to those of us who are regular users of the site. So, I moved it to a separate "About Us" page.

It is stil important to direct new visitors to the site to that information, however. So, I added a WELCOME message to the upper left area of the page, with a clickable link directing people to that "About Us" page.

Anyone wishing to read the "About Us" page can do so, using the Information | "About Us" sub-menu, or by clicking on the word "here" in the Welcome message on the top left area.

Fixed Informational Text

I merged all the fixed text that was in the left column into one single Text Area. This fixed text included the Welcome Message, the email address, the nine principles, and the 12 values. Merging these into one area saved space, because we no longer need a title and a separator line for each item.

The Nine Principles and Twelve Values are important. But they use up several inches of space. We could save space by making them appear in a pop-up tool tip, or by moving them to another static page. I invite people's opinions on that matter.

Email Address

Most web designers will tell you that it is not a good idea to put an email address on a web site in clear text. The reason for this is: programs on the internet (called spam bots) crawl the web, in the same way as the google search engine does. Their purpose is to collect email addresses to send spam to.

For that reason, I replaced the text email address with an image of the email address.

Most web sites that want to provide a means for visitors to contact them no longer use email. Instead, they provide a "contact us" form, with some sort of verification, to prove that the visitor is an actual human.

If we continue to use email as a point of contact, we now have a domain name, and it would be better if our email address used that domain name, rather than But, before publicly displaying the new email address, I would like to make sure the new domain name is OK - please read the post about the Domain Name for more information.

The 912 Project Banner

I moved the 912 Project Banner to the top center area of the site, and turned it into a link that will take you to Glenn Beck's 912 Project site, if you click on it.

Ideally, I think that banner should be a little smaller, and located in the header of the page, but that doesn't seem possible on That banner occupies alot of space, so I would appreciate peoples comments on whether we should keep it on the page, or not.

Now, I reduced the size of the 912 Project Banner, and moved it to the left, right above the 9 Principles and 12 Values. Clicking the banner will still take you to Glenn Beck's 912 Project site.

Reorganizing The Main Page

I decided that the central area of the web site should be devoted to the content that is most used by those of us in the group. So, I moved all the important content-related fields: Latest Activity, Featured Forum Posts, Recent Blog Posts, Featured Videos, and Featured Photo Albums, to the wider center area, in that order top to bottom.

I moved the event list, and list of featured groups, over to the left column, because those things don't need as much space.

I moved the music player to the bottom of the right column.

Right Column

These items in the right column: The User Inbox/Settings area, the advertising bar, and the web site creator area, are all forced to be there by

I am particularly unhappy with the advertising bar, because it often displays ads that oppose our group's principles, and it takes too much space. More on this issue can be found in my post about our Web Site Host.

New Features

I added two new features that I thought might be of interest to the group.

The first is a "Latest News" box, that can be found in the right column. I set it to display recent news headlines from Fox News, and from the Centre Daily Times. By default, it shows Political headlines from Fox News - but you can change it to show Latest News Headlines, World News, or Local News (from CDT), by clicking on the tabs near the top of the box.

The second is a list of legislation that has recently seen any activity in Congress. It appears at the bottom of the left hand column. This is just one of dozens of useful news feeds from

I put this here, primarily to demonstrate this ability. It might be a feature that is more useful to the Issues Team, and we may move it, if no one else is interested in it.

For now, I would appreciate any feedback on either of these new features.

Forum Organization

The forums are useful places to discuss topics of interest to the group, and there are many intersting discussions. However, the discussions were all in one big list, and it was difficult to find a particular topic.

So, I created several different categories for the forums, and sorted all the existing discussions into those categories. If you visit the Forums page, you will see the list of Categories, each with a brief description. As you start new discussions, please try to post in the appropriate category.

The original single category, that contained all the discussions, was called "Uncategorized". Originally, I had intended to delete that category, after I had moved all the existing discussions out of it. However, the list still shows that there are 17 discussions in there, even though if you actually enter that category, you will see there are none.

I am afraid that if I delete "Uncategorized", I will inadvertently delete intersting discussions, that are somehow still linked to that category. I want to contact tech support before taking any further action, but for now PLEASE DO NOT POST IN "UNCATEGORIZED".

I welcome any feedback on my list of categories. If you have any suggestions to improve the organization of the forums, please let me know.

There is no ability to similarly organize the Blog posts, so for now they will still all appear in one big long list.

Use Of Features

Now, I would like to make some suggestions about how the various features should be used, particularly Forums, Blogs, Groups, and Comments.

Forums should be used for discussions. If you are posting about a topic, because you want to discuss it with other people, use the forums. People posting in the forums have the ability to reply to the main discussion, or to reply to other people's posts within the discussion, and these conversations, called "threads" are indicated by indenting each reply, making it easy to follow the course of the discussion.

Blogs should be used for posting articles that you wrote, or that you have found elsewhere on the internet, that are of interest to the group, and where you are posting to inform or educate, more than to start a discussion. People can add comments to blogs, but the comment feature is not as sophisticated as the forums, so it is harder to actually carry on a discussion there.

When posting articles from other sources, please be careful about the Terms of Service or Copyright rules of the other source!

Groups should be used to form a smaller teams within our organization, that are focused on a particular subject or task, where the discussions of that group are not of interest to the whole organization. Within groups you can add static text and widgets, or you can discuss things in a forum that is private to the group. You can use the comment wall to add comments about the group, or you can send a message to all members of the group.

You should use the forum function within the group only for discussions that would not be of interest to the group at large. For example, the team planning for Memorial Day might want to have a discussion about that event, which would take place in their forum.

As a counter-example - and with the understanding that I am making suggestions here, and I really don't want to step on anyone's toes - I would like to suggest that the group "Friends of the Second Amendment" exists (at least as of now) soley to encourage discussions about the second amendment. There is now a forum category devoted to the second amendment, which also exists for such discussions, and so the separate second amendment group might not be needed.

Again, I only suggest this for purposes of discussion.

Comments exist in multiple places throughout - blogs, videos, groups, and personal pages all allow comments to be posted. It is hard to tell whether a person will be alerted when you post a comment, because they may have enabled or disabled such notifications in thier profile settings. If you direct a comment towards a particular person, and with the variety of discussion features on, your comment may go un-noticed by the person you directed it towards.

For that reason I suggest comments be used only for public remarks about the topic of the page where you are posting, and where you don't really care whether anybody reads it, or answers. Posting comments on personal pages is not a guaranteed way of communicating with a person, and the recipient of such a comment is unsure what mechanism he should use to reply. (Should he post the reply on his own page, so that there is a coherent conversation visible in one place? Or, should he post the reply on your page, in which case only half the conversation is visible in either place?

As a last note, before posting videos or articles, please check to see whether someone has already posted that same video. I think we currently have three copies of (or links to) the "Thomas Paine We The People Stimulus Package" video, for example.

So, please feel free to comment on the web organization, and features that I have arranged.



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Replies to This Discussion

Thanks, Peter! I appreciate your efforts to make it more user friendly. It would be so much easier if we could make this work for us rather than have to switch over to an entirely new site. Again, thanks for your efforts.
Thanks Kris. I hope that everyone thinks my changes are useful.

There are some potential dangers to staying on, and there are some clear benefits to establishing our own site, which is why I would lean in that direction. I don't know whether you read my post on this issue. If we did change, it could be done in an organized fashion, with minimal impact on the membership. There are even ways to transfer the content of our current site to a new site.

But I am not trying to dictate anything, or rush into anything. Some others have made similar comments to me, so I think it is a matter we need to discuss. If we decide as a group to stay here, I am fine with that!

Thanks for the correction. I corrected my statement in the main post.

If someone comments to your profile, and you reply there, that person does not get a notification. And, if you reply to the comment in the other person's profile everyone sees only half the conversation.

My point is that the comments feature is not an ideal way to carry on a conversation.

Again, these are only suggestions. I am trying to come up with a set of guidelines, so that everyone understands how the features of the site are meant to be used, and which feature is best to use for a particular purpose. If two people really want to converse by making comments in one another's profile pages, I am not trying to stop them!

But I don't want someone to think I am ignoring them, if they post a comment to me somewhere, and I do not respond to it, just because I never noticed it!

I addressed this issue in another topic:

Please read that topic for a better description of the "dangers" of remaining on this site. I am sorry if my choice of words seemed a little strong, and I did not mean to offend you, or suggest that your decision to start a site here was bad.

I am not complaining about the ease of use of the features on this site. In fact, I think most of the features work well. Some have said that the site is a little disorganized, which is why I have made an effort to organize it a little more nicely.

Most of my complaints go to one specific point - on this site we have no control over our own information and data. We are completely dependant on the features provided by ning; we cannot easily back up our own group's data stored on this site (at least, I have not been able to find a way to do it in ning's documentation); we cannot control which content on this site is visible to members, and to visitors; and we are in trouble if ning shuts down, or decides to change or remove a feature that is valuable to us.

The danger I speak of is: loss of information that is valuable to our group, or the risk of losing our site altogether if ning shuts down, with no ability to quickly establish another site.

If we have our own site, even one designed on another platform, such as Joomla, then if our web site host fails, we can be quickly up and operating on another host, with all data intact, in a day or less!

As I stated, I don't like the ads, either. Yes, we can make the ads go away, but it costs $25.00 per month - I think this is a little steep!

But, again, if nobody is concerned abou the issues raised in my Web Site Host post, then I am fine with remaining here!
I support finding a different host for the site.

What about offering a "Patrons" level of membership with the organization for $10, $15, $20, or $25.00 per year (whatever the math works out to), to ensure we would have enough income to fund the site costs? I'll contribute an amount in that range if it will get us a faster site with more autonomy.

The steering committee is currently meeting, to determine the group's structure, including what the definition of a 'member' is. Once we have the organization, we can, as a group, figure out how to fund the group's activities, including the web site (if needed).

At least two members of the group already have web hosting plans, and have offered to allow the group to use them, for now, to host the web site, should we decide to move.

Also, please keep in mind, that it would take time to develop and establish a new site. I don't want to make this decision lightly, and rush into it.


To clarify:

There is web software out there that allows us to create a site that is both a content site, and a networking site. In addition, we can add custom features, such as a web version of our lending library, that keeps track of which books are owned by each member, and who has borrowed them!

As to the size - my web host, costing less than $10/month, gives me 8000GB/month of bandwidth, and over 400GB of disk space. Ning limits us to 100GB of bandwidth, and 10GB of space. After that, ning charges us $10/month for each additional 100GB of bandwidth, or 10GB of space. I also don't see a way to determine how much space or bandwidth you have already used.

Now I don't think we are in danger of exceeding ning's limits, but I wanted to point out that disk space (and bandwidth) is not a concern, if we decide to move to another host.

Finally, it would be hard to create links between another content-related site, and our social networking site. If we still wanted to control who has access to the other site, users of such a cross-connected site would have to log in twice!
Some people have asked me if it would be possible to change the behavior of forum discussions. Some discussions have several replies, causing the discussion to be displayed on multiple pages. For those discussions, you must scroll to the bottom of the screen, and click on a page number to find a reply that has been moved off the first page. Some people find this behavior inconvenient, and have asked if it could be changed.

I checked in the settings, and there are only two choices that affect how forum discussions are displayed. The first is "Threaded", which is how it is set now, where you can follow all the conversations under a discussion, and you can see visually who replied to who. The other is "Flat", where all replies are simply listed in one chronological list, just like they are for Blogs. Note that the Flat setting would not prevent the replies from spanning multiple pages.

I prefer the Threaded view, because it is more conducive to carrying on conversations. In the Flat view, it would be hard to determine who the post was replying to. But I wanted to let you know what is available, in case anyone had other preferences.

Please let me know!
More information on the issue of comments or discussions that span more than one page...

I have found a setting that will change the order of comments, on any of the features that allow them. This includes blogs, photos, videos, personal profile pages, groups, and events, but does not inlcude forums. If I change that setting, comments would be sorted so that the most recent comment would be displayed FIRST, after the original post.

Does anyone think I should change that setting?
I think it would be a good idea to have a splash page (or portal, if you will) under the new domain name, and then a link (or several links) to the ning site for members. We could post information for public consumption on that page, too.

Creating a site that would duplicate ning's functionality would be a big PIA. I've managed a lot of forums and interactive sites, and they are difficult at best, nightmares at worst. They always get attacked by spammers, for one thing, trying to post links to porn and ED drugs. Ning seems to do a good job of keeping them at bay.

As for hosting, I would recommend that the organization get their own hosting so that it's not controlled by one individual, should said individual ever have an axe to grind. GoDaddy, for example, offers hosting for about $3.00 a month. I think we can handle that. Also, having a dedicated site (as opposed to a masked domain on another site) would greatly benefit SEO.

Regarding the posting of email addresses online, I haven't had much trouble with it, honestly. Do I get spam? sure, but it's no more than I get on any other account, and spam filters are working better and better these days. There are bots out there to defeat any attempt at masking an address, some even use OCR to read gifs and jpegs, so it's largely a quixotic endeavor.
The splash page is a good idea. But, I think that we would have to figure out whether we wanted to use our own domain name on (which is possible for $5/mo) first, so we can decide on the correct way to set it up.

I do agree that it would take some effort to set up our own site. However, there is no magic in's ability to keep spammers at bay - they simply require that you be a member of a social networking site, before posting comments or discussions on that site. Were we to set up our own site, we would do the same. I have been a member of the anti-spam community for several years, so I have plenty of methods for dealing with forum spammers.

I know that the host you mentioned seems to get alot of business. I am familliar with them, and their history. There are several reasons that I would prefer not to use them, but let's discuss that once we are more organized.

I have had an email address posted on a public website for years. After it had been there only a few months, that address got 20 to 100 spam emails per day (unfiltered). However, I have been reporting such spam to blacklisting services. As I have done so, the amount of spam received at that address has dropped significantly over the years, and now amounts to 0 to 3 spam emails per day (unfiltered).

I don't know who is receiving email sent to the address posted on the site right now, and I don't know how good yahoo's filter is, or even if it has been activated for that address. For now, I thought it better to spare that person from having to deal with a large volume of spam.

As to the bots - yes, they exist. And, yes some can read gifs or jpegs. I view this as a temporary solution. Once we get up and running, I would rather use a Contact Us form, with a Captcha, like most other organizations do.

At any rate, once we get organized, I was going to suggest that we establish a Web Site committee, which would be tasked with discussing all these sorts of issues, and make recommendations to the Executive Committee.

I may have missed it, but is it possible to add the ability to have a "signature" automatically applied whenever we add anything such as email, blogs, discussions.....



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