Administrators of masonic websites in this jurisdiction are requested to adhere to the "Regulations for masonic websites"; to consider the "Guidelines for masonic websites" when designing websites; and to read this "Statement regarding discussion of masonic business on the internet"
Suggestions for building a website
by W Bro. Norm Ryder
Before one starts to actually produce a website there are several decisions that need to be made. I have prepared a check list of points to consider during the development of a website. This is not intended to be a technical discussion on web design but rather a primer on aspect to consider at the beginning of the project.
Probably the first most important consideration is why do you want a website?
A website is really in a similar class to a sales brochure and the same general considerations apply. The intended use of the brochure and intended market are first considerations. Recently I developed a website for an isolated lodgemany of the members travel over three hours to attend, most visitors too will have travelled a distance to attend. The prime purpose of the website is to encourage more visitors to attend; for this reason there has been particular attention paid to travel conditions and the weather in the area (the area has a reputation for being very rainy). As many visitors may travel to the area with non-members or for that matter wish to incorporate a bit of a holiday while there, the site also includes information on attractions in the area. The particular lodge is relatively unique in that it is able to make significant contributions to local charities, the lodge also is blessed with several brothers that have produced some very interesting papers for masonic education. These last two items are also incorporated into the site. Other lodges will have other unique reasons to attract visitors. The important point is to have a purpose for the site whether it is to attract visitors or new members, provide masonic education, and the possible list goes on. Once the purpose is determined the next step is to determine some of the technical aspects of the site. Probably the first one is cost.
Most lodges have brother skilled in web design or willing to take the task on and learn web design. After a webmaster has come forward the main cost factor is in hosting the website. Most internet accounts have a certain amount of included web space in the regular account. This means a website can be hosted in personal space for free. The address for these type of pages is typically something like |
http://www.~jsmith.isp.ca/lodgename/ a long and difficult name to remember. For the lodges that are prepared to pay for separate hosting the cost is in the order of $300 a year with the advantage of having a simpler web address as well as an identifiable presence on the web and other opportunities, typically these sites have an address of
http://www. lodgename.ca or similar. Part of the cost is controlled by the services and type of Internet Service Provider (ISP) used to provide the web hosting.
Generally there are two classes of ISPs those that provide support for Microsoft based systems and those that don't. This support is independent of the operating system the webmaster or any website visitors use. Some ISPs offer a choice of options in this area: non Microsoft or Windows based, Windows supported or Windows and FrontPage extensions. Generally speaking the non-Windows based systems rent their web space for a lower charge per month and often have a lower initial setup fee. The controlling factor for selecting a host provider is not only cost but also the skill or web development programme the webmaster will be using. I also recommend special consideration be given to the quality of help or support the ISP will provide the webmaster. A phone call or discussion with several ISPs should give one a good idea on whether they are the type that will actually provide relevant help.
The difference between Windows and non-Windows supported websites
The prime consideration on this matter is the use of FrontPage Extensions. FrontPage Extensions are a special feature within FrontPage that makes web development quick and easy for novices. The big problems are the cost is higher (about $10 a month) and if the site is moved to another site that does not support the extensions it will have to be redesigned, even if the site is moved from one ISP that supports extensions there are probably changed that need to be made. Most of the features on a FrontPage extensioned sited can be duplicated on other sites but the skill of the webmaster becomes more important. When making this decision it is important to recognise that the first webmaster will in all probability not be the only webmaster and provision for succession needs to be made. Personally I develop both sites with FrontPage extensions and without depending on particular requirements. For people viewing the site it makes no real difference which choice is made here as most web browsers can access either type of site with little problem.
Difference between obtaining a domain name and using a brothers personal web space
I have already mentioned that the use of a domain name is simpler to remember the address but the cost is higher. One advantage in having a domain name is the opportunity for lodge-based email addresses. Most hosted sites allow for the use of personal email address in two ways. A lodge brother can have an email alias which will allow email addressed to him at for example
firstname.lastname@example.org to actually be redirected to his personal address. If a brother does not have his own email address, he could have an email address and access his email either at public email sites or when visiting a friend. The lodge can also make use of these email addresses by having separate email addresses for each officer. In this case for example email to the Worshipful Master could be directed to the current Wprshipful Master and the next year changed to reflect the change in the lodge officers. If the lodge wishes to have a domain name but does not wish to spend the money this does provide the lodge a way of distributing the cost directly to the members on an optional basis. Each member that wishes to use a lodge based email address could be asked to pay an annual fee. One advantage with using a lodge based address is a brother could chose to give the address out only to other freemasons. This would allow incoming mail to be sorted into a masonic folder in most email programmes or if the mail came to the masonic address one would know it probably came from a brother and be able to quickly identify it and deal with it in a timely manner. After these questions have been answered, the next matter to deal with is the actual content.
This is an area where the webmaster should be helped by many other lodge members. Those that can help are not limited to brethren experienced or familiar with computers. One lodge I have discussed web development with has unique furniture. If they chose to display some of their furniture on the website, the skills of a photographer will be useful. Similarly if a lodge wishes to feature masonic education, a brother skilled in this area would be useful. The most challenging part of web development and administration is content and artistic layout. Surfers on the web expect web pages to change regularly both in terms of content and layout. A site with good content and layout today may still have good content and layout a month from now but in the world the content and layout becomes stale quickly and must be changed very frequently; if he is not helped, the webmaster becomes stale on new ideas quickly. When developing websites for lodges there is also one important consideration. Most Grand Lodges have a set of rules and or recommendations for lodge websites. In British Columbia and Yukon there are two pages at GUIDELINES FOR MASONIC WEBSITES and REGULATIONS FOR MASONIC WEBSITES
Compliance with these rules and regulations is important. I advise having someone else review the website to see if they comply.
Many search engines rank or list a page earlier in their results based on the number of other websites that link to yours. It is useful to contact a number of webmasters that you feel may be receptive to listing your site. Most expect a reciprocal arrangement where you include their site in your list of links.
Of course a website that no one knows about is not of much use. After the website is built, attention to some hidden details is important. Behind web pages are meta tags. Meta tags have many uses. The prime use is for search engines. There are a number of tutorials on the web and even some websites that guide you through the process of creating these important tags. Once these tags are in place the next step to consider is to contact the various search engines to index your page. This step can be one you pay for or you can do it on your own by contacting some of the major search engines. Most search engines have a link to contact them to list your page.