When we set out to rebuild qmethod.org from scratch, we knew it had to be more than just a website:
- qmethod.org should serve as a repository of resources on all things Q (now all migrated from the old website).
- qmethod.org should serve as a social network for the Q community, offering facilities for debate and interaction.
- qmethod.org should serve as an I4S membership site, distributing information about society events and making its members contributions visible.
Obviously, we also wanted a public-facing website that looks professional (because it is, and stays technically up to date).
As a small, academic society, we knew whatever software we chose had to meet some additional criteria:
- The software had to be cheap, both in terms of start-up costs and long-term maintenance.
- The software had to be future-proof, so that whatever information was entered could be easily ported to the next, better platform in the future (and there always is). We learned to hard way from some link rot in the old platform how crucial it is for science to maintain a robust record.
- The software had to be easy to use for all users and administrators, because people want to get on with their lives.
There are many all-purpose hosting products out there that offer the specs listed above, and some specialised offerings that excel at some of the features. Only a few these offerings meet our needs as a small, academic society.
wordpress.com is the strictly pragmatic choice among those products. It is a general content-management system (CMS) that is good enough for most of what we need. Because it is a) very widely used, b) based on the open-source, self-hosted wordpress.org but c) offered as a hosted, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) service, it is cheap, future-proof and convenient for users. Crucially, once all content is on wordpress.com, I4S might then migrate to a different service quite easily, something that isn’t often possible with custom-build and/or proprietary software.
To be sure, there will be edge-cases that we can’t implement elegantly within the confines of wordpress.com (automatic membership management) and some things that can’t be done at all (any number of plugins). Some of you will have come across products that can do this or that thing (much) better.
It is important to recognise that for a small organisation as ours, these limitations may be regarded not just as bugs, but as features. The greatest platform isn’t much use if it is too expensive to maintain, too hard for administrators to manage and too cumbersome for users to engage. We chose wordpress.com (for now), because it could easily be edited by any member, and even if we (Stephen and I) get hit by a bus, anyone with some lay technical interest could take over management. With this setup, there’s no one you need to go through.
While this simplicity comes at the cost of some features, we have been able to get an astonishing breadth of functionality out of the CMS wordpress.com.
For now, let’s get the tech out of the way, and focus on what matters much more, for any community: content and engagement.