Building a website for your small community group

July 31, 2006

While in my secret superhero identity, I sometimes have to teach lawyers and law students how to build websites. This used to be a complex task, starting off with HTML and Netscape Composer; and the websites created were inevitably fairly ugly and (more dangerously) very inflexible.

For my own personal/professional site I used Dreamweaver, which has a powerful templating system, but Dreamweaver is expensive and increasingly complex to learn.

I have also been responsible for helping a few small community organisations in getting websites up and running, and have been looking for years for a better way for the millions of small community groups to build websites. I’ve tried out Zope (too complex) and Plone (too inflexible) etc on small community legal centres, amateur choral societies, etc.

If I had to advise a small community group with limited technical and monetary resources (and this includes most non-mega-churches) on how to build a website for their group today, I would follow Scott Well’s advice on Boy in the Bands and build something on WordPress.

WordPress can be used to create both a blogish “News Page” and also static pages (with, importantly, static URLs. See my “About Me” page at the right). It has built in a templating system with a number of nice looking templates, and a built in Users facility so that the group can give editing passwords to a number of people (and take them away again if necessary).

The downside to WordPress for small groups is that, although very easy to use, there is still technical skill required in setting up the host computer with the required MySQL, PHP and WordPress itself (I share Scott’s fetish for flat file databases 🙂 but alas that is not the way of the world). There are, however, some fairly cheap hosting services which will set up a WordPress hosting site for you. A small group could also start off on a free site like this one, and move to something bigger and better if necessary.

(Tip to organisations which are essentially umbrella organisations for small community groups – why not provide free hosting and subdomain for member groups?)


3 Responses to “Building a website for your small community group”

  1. Brian Says:

    I second this advice! I’m currently helping the Episcopal Church Women in my diocese setup a site using WordPress. One of my main reasons for doing so is that it will be easy for them to update it themselves, without knowing any HTML. Plus, it’s free!

    Dreamhost will install WordPress for you, and setup the required database, all from a handy web-based control panel.

  2. dave marshall Says:

    For developing or just playing with PHP and MySQL, I recently came across EasyPHP (

    It looks a bit intimidating, and the in-depth documentation is in French, but on a standard Win2k machine it installs and runs beautifully, giving a complete Apache/PHP/MySQL server on your desktop that just starts and stops when you need it.

  3. dave marshall Says:

    The download I used was EasyPHP 1.8 final, btw.

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