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Web Site Features: an overview

This overview introduces the kinds of features that a website can offer and also describes the tools and skills needed to develop a website. It was created for a Cristian Aid Charity Signpost International who needed a feel of what is possible and the work involved .


General comments;

The web excels at making material available 'on demand' and proving self-help for frequently asked questions (FAQs). In addition to web-pages a wide variety of formats such as multi-media are supported and can be downloaded or 'streamed'. Other intranet services such as email can also be integrated to varying degrees. In addition to static web pages which are fixed and always appear to be the same, dynamic pages are created in reponse to a user request usually by extracting data from a database. Forms and web 'applications' allow users to make selections, enter data and perform other complex operations. More advanced web applications provide community interaction services.

Some content will have Data Protection issues and may not be suitable for general consumption. Login-in authentication could help protect sensitive content.

You will also need to consider accessibility issues as some users may be using special browsers (e.g. blind users). However the issues are well known with the basics being easy to implement (though the details can get complex) and on-line checking tools are available.


Types of features you can offer on a web site (or via external services);

In general you can:

  1. Deliver information - static/dynamic pages, multimedia, multi-languages, accessibility, downloadable documents, site search, webcams
  2. Provide News and notification - pages, blogs, RSS, forums, news servers (mail lists)
  3. Collect information - forms, forums (email)
  4. Get payments - links to merchants or own account to collect. Will need special software installed on server.
  5. Enable community discussion and team work - forms, forums, Wiki (mail lists)


Content ideas;

  1. Diary/calendar
  2. Info about organisation; what you do, beliefs, contact details
  3. News from organisation, projects and outworkers
  4. Organigram
  5. Staff roles and bios
  6. Prayer lists
  7. Photo gallery for events or out-workers
  8. Reviews of events, books, films etc.
  9. Blogs for leaders or out-workers
  10. Youth group section and materials
  11. Dowloadable newsheets: pdf good for print but web page much better for viewing
  12. Dowloadable PowerPoint presentations and sermon notes
  13. Downloadable or streaming media including sermons and videos
  14. Sermon feedback / discussion
  15. Online forums for discussion on issues


Random Examples;

But not necessarily the best example of each.

  1. Form
  2. Online Donation
  3. Online shop
  4. Mail list - the web 'interface' to the the email list and archives
  5. Group Server - web interface with loads of features including mail list and RSS
  6. Web Forum (AKA message board or discussion board)
  7. RSS feed
  8. Blog
  9. Wiki - try EditText and foot of page. Also the impressive wikipedia
  10. News server
  11. Content management system - plone


Other useful internet tools & technologies;

  1. server scripting for dynamic pages and database integration (SSI, ASS, PHP, iHTML...)
  2. news groups for group work (e.g. google groups)
  3. instant messaging (IM), voice over IP (VOIP) and video conferencing all provide cheap international communications
  4. intranet and extranet for communication to staff and related organisations
  5. email and web access to email
  6. exchanging data/services with 3rd parties (semantic web, web services)


Types of authoring tools;

  1. Hand crafted - just a text editor and file transfer tools. most flexible but v. techy and steep learning curve.
  2. WYSIWIG web authoring programs - let you create pages like word processor and some support for admin.
  3. Content management systems - getting content published quickly with a common look applied for you to simple text. Teamwork and community features. Possibly best in longterm but expect to setup on server and tune.


Skills and activities;

Managing a website requires numerous skills in addition to basic content creation.

  1. basic ICT & network skills
  2. publishing/graphics-design using computer tools
  3. holistic design - a website is not just a collection of pages, consistent look & feel
  4. navigation design: where am I, where can I go, what can I do?
  5. information architecture: what and how organised
  6. mass market design requirements: browser differences, accessibility (e.g. work with screen readers), size, colours, standards, extra software (plugins)
  7. emarketing - search engines, directories, other sites
  8. admin - backups, publishing, checking for problems like broken links, checking standards conformance
  9. data security and data protection
  10. additional technical skills for advanced sites - database management, server side programming and integration with other tools (e.g email, lists, credit cards)
  11. self hosting requires even more techy skills like install/config of server and other packages,



Don't be put off, all this stuff can be learnt when needed and is refinement for 'best' site. Web sites are a work in progress anyway and are constantly evolving. There are loads of sites to look at for ideas & guidance.

Here is a short article with advice on website authoring. It covers all the basics of how to create a good focused site and avoid useless, frustrating features (well at least as far as I'm concerned).


13 Apr 2005