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 ning.com, 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 @yahoo.com. 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 ning.com. 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 ning.com.

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 govtrack.us.

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 ning.com 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 ning.com - 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 ning.com, 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.

Thanks,

Peter

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I checked on this. The email feature on this web site is pretty low tech, and does not have the ability to add a signature. I sometimes even find it difficult, when I want to address an email to more than one person. I could not find any ability to add a signature to emails, blogs or discussions.

However, I have read that ning.com will soon be introducing some sort of programming or scripting language, which may make it easier to add or change the behavior of features on this site.

For email, another option would be to start emailing one another directly. Then you could use whatever email program you were familiar with, and be able to have signatures.

Some may be concerned about privacy, and may not want to give out their email address. So, another option is to give everyone an address on our domain, so you would have an address that ended in @912centralpa.org. This address could be set up to automatically forward to your private email address, or I could create a separate email account with that address.

We should probably discuss these issues once we have gotten organized.
Thanks for the follow-up.
Cork
Theresa,

Yes, I have been reading the Ning Developers network, and about their web programming API.

I haven't completely given up on Ning, but as a developer, I usually like having more control.

For example, I feel it is important to be able to back up the content on the site, and be able to quickly move to another site, in the event the site host (in this case, Ning) shuts down. Ning has realized this, and I found somewhere in their forums or blogs, that they are planning to add a backup feature.

I don't want to make a hasty decision, and disrupt everybody, just on a whim. I am planning to have a committee, consisting of both people with technical knowledge (maybe Bill Ames and myself), plus anyone else who is interested, specifically to discuss issues of the web site, email, and other internet issues. If you are interested, you are welcome to join! In the end, I would explain the issues to the entire group, and vote on it, before taking any action.

-Peter

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