End of the Web Sustainability Project

With Google Sites as each page essentially needs to be produced individually (producing templates of portions of the site helps, but each page does need to be produced individually), for  a site with a large number of pages this is extremely time consuming. A further problem with Google Sites for this project is CSS can't easily be transferred, though to a large extent HTML can, the formatting of the site has to be redone. For this site with around 500 pages Google Sites, with the site needing to look as close as possible to the original is not the most appropriate solution, but other techniques investigated are more suitable. Google Sites is an appropriate solution if the number of pages is small, the formatting of the pages is not too complicated and it is a new web site.

A quick option is to use the public folder of a DropBox account a URL can be created and if the content is not going to change and yet you want it still publicly accessible,; this is a reasonable option. It is free (if you have a free account) and publicly accessible but it does have some drawbacks:
  • The URL produced is a little cryptic - it doesn't really bear a direct relationship with the site's name or content. So is a poor option in terms of Search Engine Optimisation point of view.
  • It is difficult to add some common web analysis tools. Google Analytics is easy you, but tools such as Google Webmaster tools are much more difficult to work with.
  • It is only really useful for static content.
  • As with all the free options there is the concern that it is only an option will the service running is available.
Overall though this is a reasonable quick route for hosting content that is unlikely to change and if the DropBox account and a new email address to set up the account are specifically set up for the project, then transferring ownership or sharing access is uncomplicated it just means giving the email and password to the other person.
Amazon cloud route is an alternative, there are still some of the drawbacks common to the Dropbox route, namely:
  • The URL produced is a still a little cryptic - it doesn't really bear a direct relationship with the site's name or content. So is a poor option in terms of Search Engine Optimisation. Saying that it is a little better than the Dropbox option as you can include a site name within the URL.
  • As with all the free options there is the concern that it is only an option will the service running
  • You also can though add to the site  tools not available to the DropBox options such as Google and Bing Webmaster tools.
Overall though this is a good hosting option that is unlikely to be lost due to the backing of Amazon. Directly transferring the site is problematic not from technical stand-point but administratively. A credit card is need when setting the initial account, those details would need to be changed early in the transfer process. Amazon is appropriate for both new and previously developed material is being migrated. More details on setting this up can be found at either http://websitesustainability.blogspot.com/2011/07/initial-work-with-amazons-web-service.html or in Dan Frost’s article in .Net magazine (Frost, 2011a, Frost, 2011b).
Both Amazon and DropBox are appropriate for new and old sites.
An alternative that was investigated was adding the content on to another site such as www.sustainabilty.net  but this is reliant on the person owning the site being willing to add it to their site. There are other problems with approach it is not easy to transfer control of the site through this route. The advantages though can included the site being more accessible to mobile devices which is a service being offered by a lot of the paid-hosting services.

For this type of activity, it is unlikely to come as little surprise that static website are easier to transfer, especially if you don't have direct access to the files on the original sites server. Tools such as WinHTTrack Website Copier (http://www.httrack.com/) extract the HTML returned from the server which could be a problem for PHP based sites, the copying tools would extract it as HTML and for some the hosting sites option using more dynamic technologies is a little problematic without a re-building of the site, the case in point being Google Sites.
Feedback from users was collected using http://www.esurveyspro.com/ but was distributed using emails extract from email address on the site but also through LinkedIn contacts. Though the email address and IP address were not collected, the email route was investigated first, but when the call went out on LinkedIn, the response rate increased, suggesting using social networking sites can be an effective dissemination method.

The questionnaire included questions about the navigation of the site in general and the Tube Map carried out to see overall do the users like the site and what changes would they look for. The aim being to provide some information for later developments of the site, but refining the site is not the focus of this work. For the sustainability of the site questions about are people actually interested in the site? There is some evidence that they are.

In the survey for the site http://www.web-sustainablity.net/emkn/ 78% of the responders (N=15) said they would use the site.

Quotes from responders
I do use the Tube Map, as it has some excellent information, links and contacts etc Would be open to seeing this retained and or further updated and developed so that it can be a really interactive tool.
Site contains lots of useful info that I was not aware was available

One responder said “Perhaps a search box on this page that users could use to quickly locate the item on the map would complement the site” Search boxes were added  to the sites in response to this comment in a sustainable way (see  http://websitesustainability.blogspot.com/2011/07/adding-search-to-site.html for more details).

1.2    Immediate Impact

The main benefit is to the wider community is that options for the making sites mores sustainable have been considered.

For the stakeholders an ‘at-risk’ site has been protect and available for when the site has to be removed from the current paid hosting option.


1.3    Future Impact

Some of this has been disseminated on a posting on a University of Northampton blog of ‘expert opinion’ (http://blogs.northampton.ac.uk/expertsatnorthampton/2011/09/27/web-sustainability-its-gone/) aimed at disseminating ideas from the university to the wider community.
Tracking of the sites usage through and the blogs usage will continue, through Google Analytics in all case but where possible though appropriate web tools.

2       Conclusions

Google Sites based solution are appropriate if there are a small number of pages within the site, where you have some flexibility of the design of the site (especially if the site it is not reliant on CSS) and the pages are essentially static pages. If your site does match any one of these, it is best to look at alternatives, such as dropbox and amazon S3. Otherwise Google Sites is a good option, especially as it has the backing of major company.

As with all sites (or perhaps even more so due to these sites not necessarily having support, but still useful), following good Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) principles are important. The site, we hope, is going to be use by others but the resources behind the site are likely to minimal. Following good SEO principles at least gives the site an improved chance of being picked up by the search engines. One possible advantage of the Google Sites approach is URL produced as standard is a little easier to interpret than some of the other techniques, which could have some benefits from a Search engine optimisation perspective. 

3       Recommendations

The area of sustainability of websites should be an important consideration for any funding that involves public money, both during the life-time of the project and after it. Especially when government funded agencies are being rationalised finding ways to keep the sites going even if they are not updated further, they still provide a ‘snap-shot’ of the resources at a particular point in time. This project looked at possible sustainability options and has the following recommendations:
·         A sustainable web solution should be considered for funded projects. There are a number of free options.
·         Google Sites is an appropriate solution if the number of pages is small, the formatting of the pages is not too complicated and it is a new web site.
·         Amazon is appropriate for both new and previously developed material is being migrated.
·         Dropbox is as in the Amazon solution appropriate for new and previously developed sites and is appropriate if only basic tracking tools such as Google analytics are needed.
·         Sustainable web solutions proposed are good as a back-up or archiving solution; but also can be used as the main site if the domain name is redirected to the new site.

4       Implications for the future

  • First another site (or more accurately part of a site) whose contents are likely to lost in a restructuring of an organisation might possibly be 'rescued' using one of the methods discussed.
  • Amazon S3 approach is under investigation.
  • A paper based on this work is under-development.
The blog will be maintained by the project manager as long-term personal project, it is hosted on Blogger so is free. The site www. web-sustainablity.net will be maintained as a personal site.

5       References

Frost D (2011a) “The web dev’s intro to the cloud (part 1) “ .Net summer 2011 pp 100-102
Frost D (2011b) “The web dev’s intro to the cloud (part 1) “ .[online] URL: http://www.netmagazine.com/features/web-dev-s-intro-cloud-part-1   [Accessed on: 29/9/2011]