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4.7 Internet Development

 

One of the possibilities considered during the course of the project was another experimental Archive "Weekend", this one dedicated to Internet training by a specialist trainer and the development of each community's Internet site, supported by the whole project team, and involving specifically interested and motivated individuals from each of the communities. The interest was clearly there throughout the communities to develop their websites and to see them developed; two members of the later Bodenham community and their partners gave up several days to try to tackle theirs, for example. With exceptions, however, the relatively brief (albeit sometimes several hours) tutorials during and between Archive "Weekends" were not sufficient to enable enough Community members to gain enough confidence and understanding, consistently enough, to take full control over their websites. Competing with other activities and concerns, and without the contiguous hours which are required for trial and error, experimentation and success, and without the camaraderie and support of a dedicated Archive "Weekend", the problem of Community members themselves managing and developing their websites remained largely intractable. Indeed, with so many other distractions and calls on their time, it threw up problems for project staff as well.

 

In that context, the project's success in implementing its first principle in terms of the Internet and the project design - "to explore how much might be possible, given the limited resources that most projects might have at their disposal" (2.7.7) - is indicated in the numbers. The factor outside the project's control was the number of visits over the course of the project, which was targeted at 75,000 and came in slightly above at 77,040. Other numbers, within the project's control, generally exceeded expectations:

 

  • The target for the number of live websites was 6 - one Main and 5 Subsidiary (Community) websites; 8 were created, of which 7 were Community sites. (An eighth website was created for another community; but the Community member concerned did not follow up, and the site, although present and available, did not go 'live').

 

  • The target for the number of audio/video selections uploaded and accessible on the website was 30, while the achievement was 38. There were no set targets for transcript selection or written accounts uploaded, but the figures were 23 and 19 respectively.

 

  • The number of photographs uploaded was targeted at 50 and came in at 428.

 

  • The number of documents uploaded was targeted at 50, and came in at 130. This included an entire thesis, and a serialised collection of letters home.

 

  • It was expected that the Main website would generate a total of 50 new pages, and Community sites another 50; the final totals were 139 and 244 respectively.

 

  • Against a target of 5, no online radio programmes were produced. Attention had gone instead into the 38 vs 30 audio/video selections, and also into Digital Stories. The target for the latter was 5, and 5 had been completed and uploaded by the end of the project. Another 6 had been completed and were awaiting authors' final approvals before going live.

 

What the figures conceal and reveal is the versatility and productivity available to even relatively small and relatively technologically naive organisations and projects. The Content Management System (Joomla!), and all of the components and plug-ins used were non-Commercial. These serviced three extended video interviews, edited by a volunteer, as well as all of the audio, documents, text, images and other functions the system was asked to handle. During the course of the project a volunteer, grasping the nettle, negotiated the open source photograph gallery component, and uploaded over 200 photographs in one day; another has repeated the feat since the project's close. Apart from templates, which were prepared by Trustee John Moorhouse, everything seen and heard in the project website from Conference recordings and PowerPoints to personal life narratives was produced in-house by project staff and volunteers. It is possible.

 

The second principle of the project design was "to do everything possible within the compass of an integrated website, rather than using separate specialist blogging or audio-video delivery sites, for example". In part this was for security reasons, working as the project was with potentially highly sensitive material; and insofar as there were no known security issues, this was a successful strategy. In part it was to simplify management and training; and given that there were eight independent websites to manage, with several Community members contributing from home, with no record of any disasters, this too was a success. In part it was also to open up the widest possible set of integrated tools to potential Community member website-builders. Although they were not all used on every site, and by the end of the project had not yet been used to their fullest potential on any of the sites, the tools and functions available within each of the eight websites were both uniform and reasonably extensive: They included audio and video play-back; three levels of access to content, from public, to registered, to restricted; the facility for registered users to load, edit and, with the appropriate clearance, to publish material from the front end of the website; blogging and internal social networking, including forums; a timeline facility; a map facility; and a Comment facility to enable users of the website to add their own thoughts and observations to web-pages. Again, it is possible.

 

The two Community websites which grew most during the course of the project were those of Wennington and Caldecott, and it is no accident that both had individuals who girded their loins and took the bit between their teeth to learn the software, and build. It may also be no accident that Wennington and Caldecott are the two communities involved with the project which are the most formally developed, as membership organisations. The other very successful community website is that created by old boy Terry Wilson for Red Hill School, which preceded and is entirely independent of the project, although uploaded significant material scanned during the Red Hill Archive "Weekend". Although not formalised to the same degree as Wennington and Caldecott, Red Hill has a strong and extensively networked community, evidenced in regular and well-attended reunions. It may be that passionate individuals, and organised communities, equal richer and more developed websites. What is certainly illustrated, however, is that the project team could do a great deal, and did do a great deal; but that Community member participation and encouragement is the essential stimulus and stimulant. It is because of Community members that the project was able to meet and exceed the various targets; with obvious substantial benefit to public awareness and understanding of their heritage.