Creating village web sites

A fair few people end up on this site because it appears well ranked in Google for “village web site” and also having followed links from Village SOS. This site is something of a pioneer in the field of “hyperlocal web sites” (as terminology later came to define them) having first been set up in 2004. The idea of this site is to give Cheddar its own identity on the web that is controlled by the people who live and work in the area – more information about the site’s beginnings can be seen in the lower right margin here.  All too often you will see a “local” web site that is actually part of a national chain and is festooned with non-local adverts and perhaps more sensationalist articles, often from outside the immediate local area.

There are many other communities who want to set up a similar web project and Martin, the webmaster for this site, shares some top tips:

  1. Assign a web editor. Sites like this need a web editor / webmaster who has the role of overseeing the site on a day-to-day basis. You may have other contributors, but if nobody has overall responsibility for it, the site will end up as a mish-mash of different writing styles, with potentially inaccurate or incomplete information, and risks becoming out of date. As soon as the site becomes an untrustworthy source of information, people will stop using it.
  2. Don’t give key roles to someone who isn’t on-line very much or has poor computer skills. Sounds obvious, but for all the automatic publication (such as RSS feed widgets) that is possible these days, at the end of the day someone has to have the responsibility of updating event calendars, moderating discussions, upgrading software and widgets, dealing with site security, adding or changing business listings, etc. etc. And if the hosting goes down for some reason your community will be in the dark until someone rectifies the fault.
  3. Consider your site aim and editorial policy. This site for example aims to remain fairly neutral and acts as a means by which people can seek out more information or contact other members of the community who have an interest in a certain topic or who have a product or service to sell. It’s often used by young researchers and students so the content has to be suitable for all ages. However other types of local site may have a specific agenda to put forward. The site editor’s personal opinions on a given topic would be best expressed explicitly as a response to a forum discussion however.
  4. Consider how the site will be funded. Web hosting and domain names don’t grow on trees, and if your site is particularly busy it’s not unreasonable to expect to pay someone for their time spent maintaining and moderating the site and any discussion forums, renewing the domain name and hosting, and so on. As you can see, this site is advertising-supported, but you may be able to find a business community sponsor in your area or perhaps access some grant funding. If you load someone up with the job of maintaining the site (especially if they have a day job to fulfil to pay the bills) without some sort of remuneration, don’t be surprised when the site gets put to the bottom of the pile of priorities they have!
  5. Consider the platform on which the site will be constructed. The forerunner of this site was a standard HTML site built with Adobe Dreamweaver web site software, but over time this proved laborious to maintain. With improvements in the WordPress self-hosted software in recent years it’s become a very flexible and useful tool for this sort of work, so the content was copied across to that platform and developed further. Novices can pick up the basics of editing pages in 15 minutes and it also allows for multiple contributors as well.
  6. Promote the site off-line. Depending on how internet-aware your community is, you may have to do a lot of donkey-work in the local community, at the library, PTA, village hall, local paper, etc., creating awareness of the web site with notices and leaflets, to show people how it can help them. If you have a lot of internet novices on your hands there are some resources at Go Online that may help with this.
  7. Invite comments and seek ways to improve what you offer. Change things around if people are finding it hard to navigate the site. Perhaps add a poll from time to time. There are new web services and applications springing up all the time that you could make use of. What’s on this site today is far beyond its initial content (which was just basic listings for businesses, accommodation, clubs and charities). Google Street View, live flatshare, job and property listings, local dating, and a local Flickr photo gallery are just a few new features that have been added along the way. Have a look at the ideas on Talk About Local which show the type of content other hyperlocal web sites are making use of.
  8. Stay abreast of trends. There’s always some new internet trend just around the corner, make sure you can tailor your site to use the latest software plugins or widgets. For example this site recently added in code to report Foursquare activity for our main visitor attractions.
  9. Monitor your traffic. Cheddar Village uses the Statcounter site to provide summary details of popular pages and also provides details of how people found the site. You can use this information to understand your visitors’ behaviour better, and provide information to potential advertisers.
  10. Be a tweeting village or tweeting town. Set up Twitter searches using tools such as Twilert or within desktop tools such as Hootsuite looking for mentions of your town or village. Respond to feedback and direct people to helpful pages on your web site.

If you would like Martin’s help with your community site, or would like to republish this article elsewhere, you can contact him via his business web pages.