CoreDogs for site makers

You want to make a site for a small business, school, neighborhood group, whatever it might be. You want the site to be good. For example, if it’s for a school, you want the site to:

  • Use the school’s branding: colors, logos, slogans, etc.
  • Have good navigation, with easy-to-use nav bars.
  • Have well organized content.
  • Be, well, cool, or at least coolish. Maybe you don’t want someone to look at the site and think, “Whoever did this is an amateur.”

There are several ways to create the site.

Use an automated site builder

Tools like Google Sites are way nice. I use them sometimes for simple, short-lived projects, when looking good isn’t an issue.

But automated site builders are limited. You want to put a small photo of the school mascot in the upper right of each page? Maybe you can do it, maybe not.

Advice: I recommend exploring Google Sites. It’s free and relatively capable.

Build the site from scratch

Many Web sites are simple, static sites. A site for a pet store might give the store’s location, hours of business, contact details, this week’s sale items, areas of special expertise (“We know dogs!”), and other basic stuff. No online shopping cart, blog, Twitter feed, etc.

CoreDogs will help you learn enough to create static sites like this. And make them good.

Advice: Build your first basic site from scratch. You’ll learn a lot. But think about switching to a CMS at some point. Speaking of which…

Use a CMS

Let’s say you want to add a shopping cart to the pet store site. And a blog and Twitter feed. And discussion forums. And a Facebook share button. And photo galleries.

You wouldn’t create a site like that from scratch. You’d use a CMS, a content management system. A CMS is software that runs on a Web server. It creates Web pages when browsers ask for them.

One thing a CMS does is give you a template for each page. When you create a new page, you give the content for the main part of the page, and the CMS will take care of the menus, header, footer, search box, and so on. You can be more productive this way.

CMS template

Figure 1. CMS template

CMS are wonderful. They let you build way cool sites, and manage them, without being a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon. Or a rocket surgeon.

But you have to know what you’re doing. When you use a CMS, you need to:

  • Install it.
  • Configure it.
  • Maintain it. For example, install security patches.
  • Customize it. Add you own branding and such.

All of these things are easier to do if you understand the basic technology behind the CMS.

Suppose you want to change some colors in your Web template. You look in the help documents, and read, “Edit the CSS file. Find the appropriate styles. Change them like this…”

What is a “CSS file?” How do you find it? When you do, how do you edit it? With Photoshop, or what? What are the “appropriate styles?”

Are there inappropriate styles? Do they say the wrong things at cocktail parties?

CoreDogs will help you learn what all these things mean. You’ll be able to manage a CMS, and make it do what you want.

Advice: There are good open source CMS out there. For a small company or nonprofit, there is no need to buy anything. Save your money. Really.

  • WordPress is designed for blogs. But add modules and it becomes a general purpose CMS. It’s easy to learn.
  • Drupal is my CMS of choice. It’s harder to get started with than WordPress. But if you work through the CoreDogs lessons, you shouldn’t have much trouble. You can read more about why I recommend Drupal.
  • Joomla is very popular as well.

Hire someone

You can hire someone to build a site, if you have the money. But you have some issues to deal with.

Knowing what you want

Go to Disney’s site, and you’ll see animation, movies, games, all sorts of Cool Things. But is that what you want on your site?

Take the pet store’s Web site. What do people want when they go to the site? Would a cool animation of a fish tank help them?

And these things cost money. Would the fish tank animation pay for itself? Would it get more people into the store? How much cash do you have to throw around, anyway?

You need to have a good, realistic vision of what you want. A good consultant can help you create that vision, but that costs money, too.

CoreDogs can help you work out what you want. You’ll know how Web sites work, and what you can expect from the technology. Not all the details, but you’ll know the basics, the core.

Evaluating the contractor’s work

Many contractors are ready to take your money and promise you a great Web site. But they might not deliver.

How do you hire good contractors? And how do you evaluate their work?

It’s easier if you know something about Web technology. You can talk to contractors intelligently, and understand their answers.

Another thing: CoreDogs talks about work practices. For example, good Web developers think about reuse. This means doing a chunk of work once, and reusing it all over the Web site. CoreDogs explains why reuse is a Good Thing, and how to do it.

When you are interviewing a contractor, you should ask about reuse. CoreDogs will help you evaluate the answer you get. And if you don’t get a good answer, don’t hire that person.


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