Wednesday Mar 28, 2007

Creating Community Blog Sites for Your Group or Church

A big focus at Sun is building communities. I think I have one example how to create your own communities. I was asked by my church group to help them figure out all this new "blogging" technology. I'm not a big arty "PhotoShop" web site guy, I'm just a good UNIX admin guy who knows how to set up things that work. I could probably create a site on my own, but I'm busy and I like to keep things simple

1. Pick a Good Web Hosting Company - I found GoDaddy to be as good as they get at the cost. I'm not sure if they are a Sun customer, but they do the job with good customer service. Their customer service is so good, I find it a bit annoying that they call my house every time I change my hosting plans. This type of complaint is something I can live with.

I know a lot of you guys are going to say.. Well Jon.. don't you have a bunch of servers at your home? My answer is this.. A colo site can offer more than what I really want to commit myself on. I don't want to be responsible for 7x24 backups and availability.

2. Select a good blogging Server - GoDaddy made it really easy to setup the blogging site. They offer WordPress free. The installation of WordPress is really simple. At the moment, I'm happy with WordPress. It is all PHP and MySQL based. It offers plenty of open sourced Themes and Plugins to meet my needs. I'm up and running in less than 2-3 hours.

3. Search the Internet for a good Theme - The default WordPress themes are really boring. They are supposed to be that way. I did a Google Search for Church themes, and I found a really good one called Living OS DELTA. It was open sourced, and it had everything I needed.

4. Backup that Website!! - Soon you will find yourself playing around with the PHP and CSS files. At some point, you'll change something and wish you didn't. A backup will help you to bring you back online from those big Ooops! moments. This means two things: First FTP the whole site to your PC and burn it to a CD/DVD (if you can), and Second dump your MySQL Database into SQL. If you need to rebuild your site, you will at least have all the data needed.

5. Pull Existing Blogs onto Your Site - Most blogging sites fail, because people want to blog somewhere else. You will never hit critical mass if your group is scattered across multiple blogging sites.. such as Blogger, Xanga, MySpace, even Blog.Sun.COM... People don't have the time to log into multiple places to express their ideas. Also people want to have their own identity The better approach is to aggregate their sites. This means your Blog site will "subscribe" to these other sites and pull the entries from their site on to your site.

This whole technique is referred to as "syndication." I got this Syndication working by using a WordPress plugin from Charles Johnson called FeedWordPress. This works by locating the XML-RPC or RSS feed for those sites. I can then syndicate them to my site. The downside of this is that I need to call a URL to force an update to make this work. I guess later I can write a CRON job to make a WGET call to these URLs.

The finished website : The River Church Community - San Jose, California

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