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June 30, 2010 / Mick Morrison

Draft guidelines for website redevelopment

The AAA website (http://www.australianarchaeologicalassociation.com.au) is a key to our education and promotional strategies, and in 2009 received an average of 108 hits per day (with 71% of those being from first time visitors). Website statistics and our understanding of our users indicates there are five main groups who utilise the AAA website:

  1. AAA Members (ca 750 in 2009)
  2. Other professional archaeologists who are not members
  3. Students, teachers and people wanting to study archaeology
  4. Other members of the general public
  5. AAA Executive

The membership database associated with the website also serves as the main administrative repository for information about our membership, and is where membership records are maintained and manually updated annually.

As reported in the 2009 Webmaster’s annual report, it has been five years since the website was launched and, despite its popularity, it is not serving any of the user groups identified above in particularly efficient or effective ways. At present, maintaining the web pages and membership database are complicated, time consuming tasks that are particularly onerous responsibilities of the Webmaster and Membership Secretaries; however, website and database technologies have improved dramatically and this need not be the case. Further, the website is now looking somewhat ‘dated’ and without wanting to radically change our branding there have been suggestions from the membership that it might be time for a fresh look. As such, the AAA Executive feels it is time to work towards a relaunch of the site so as to allow us to better meet the expectations and needs of our various user groups. Accordingly we have formed a sub-committee to oversee this important task.  The AAA Website Redevelopment Sub-Committee comprises the following people

  • Sam Bolton (Webmaster) – webmaster@australianarchaeology.com
  • Luke Kirkwood – luke.kirkwood@gmail.com
  • Mick Morrison (Treasurer) – treasurer@australianarchaeology.com
  • Dan Rosendahl (Membership Secretary) – membershipsecretary@australianarchaeology.com
  • Sean Ulm (Journal Editor) – journal@australianarchaeology.com
  • Lynley Wallis (Chair) – president@australianarchaeology.com
  • Andrew Wilson – wilson@acl.arts.usyd.edu.au

After preliminary meetings held last month in Brisbane and Adelaide, the AAA Website Redevelopment Sub-committee has identified the following proposed stages and timeline:

In order to ensure that the redeveloped website better serves the needs of our members, as part of Stage 1 we are seeking the input of all membership to help us develop a draft document to guide the redevelopment, thereby helping ensure the process results in the best outcomes for our organisation and membership. Some of the specific issues relating to the AAA website (as initially identified by the AAA Website Redevelopment Sub-Committee) are detailed below in order to make clear where the key concerns / areas for improvement lie, however, please bear in mind that the issues identified below are not set in stone, but rather are a starting point. Note also that many of the issues raised below are interlinked with other over-arching issues, such as facilities provided to Members being integral to the Content Management System implemented, and where the website is hosted, so in our comments below issues may be raised under more than one heading.

We are most interested in feedback from members. If after reading the following, AAA members have further input, advice or comments they wish to make on this matter please feel free to post a public comment at the end of this post (please note that comments will be moderated). Alternatively, if email or mail is your preferred medium, you can write to Lynley Wallis (President) at president@australianarchaeology.com or by mail to

Lynley Wallis

Aboriginal Environments Research Centre

PO Box 6114

University of Queensland

St Lucia QLD 4072

The deadline for comment and feedback is 20 July 2010. The full guidelines can be viewed here.

Website hosting

At present the AAA website is generously hosted at the University of Western Australia (since this is where our current webmaster was based until recently). While there are advantages in this (eg no fees), there are also disadvantages (eg limited ability for non-UWA people to be given permissions to update particular web-pages, our Webmaster has completed her PhD and moved from UWA, and we are reliant on the hosting institution to handle our web-based financial transactions, which is not ideal for them or us). Moving from a university-based host to a commercial host would provide AAA with greater independence over our website, and full control rather than being limited by institutional frameworks.

Content Management System

The Content Management System (CMS) which currently sits behind the AAA website is limiting (in part because of its age, which precludes it being updated easily) and requires a large amount of manual work on the part of the Webmaster and Membership Secretaries – this work could instead be achieved automatically with an improved and updated CMS. An improved CMS would also allow all members to add content to our website for items such as conference announcements, upcoming lectures, weblinks, register entry, recent projects, quotes etc, which will greatly enhance the quality and usefulness of the site. It will also allow for a faster, more customisable and easily managed website where changes can be rapidly implemented.

There are numerous open source CMS options available that are relatively easy to use, including Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, and ModX. Using such software would have the benefit of keeping our initial outlay costs to a minimum, make it easier to maintain the CMS, and would be sustainable in the longer term (ie more likely not to disappear if the specific company who designed a CMS for us went out of business), as well as reducing our ongoing technical costs.

Members of the AAA Website Redevelopment Sub-Committee are preparing summary information sheets about the benefits and disadvantages about the following open source CMS software:

  • Andrew Wilson – Joomla
  • Sam Bolton – Drupal
  • Mick Morrison – WordPress
  • Luke Kirkwood – ModX

If AAA members are familiar with other open source CMS software that they think might serve AAA well, please let us know about it or, if you have experience with the above examples that we could benefit from, please let the relevant Sub-Committee member know so they can include your information in the summary sheets.

Members

At present AAA members do not receive much in terms of content via the website and this could be improved

Ideally we would like to give individual members the capacity to check their membership status, and update their email and mailing addresses in the database (at present the membership secretaries are required to manually update every individual membership record every year, and to manually respond to member enquires and physically update address changes in the database). Also, as noted below, it could be helpful to offer members an online payment system for membership fees and for conference registration (and potentially merchandise in the future).

It has been suggested that we might consider adding an entirely voluntary alphabetical, searchable register of members which would include optional listing of things such as members Name, Email address, Mailing address, URL, 100 word description of your interests, tick box options for specialties etc.  This could be somewhat similar to the listing of members that AACAI have on their website and on OzArch, and in addition to being useful to current members wishing to contact other members (which is sometimes difficult to do now with the demise of AusArch), would be useful to members of the public and other professionals wishing to contact specific individuals. We reiterate that this would be a voluntary listing – ie members would choose whether their name and contact information is listed, or what specific components of their contact information would be shown, and members would have the capacity to change their displayed information themselves, whenever suited them.

Executive

The current membership database is extremely basic and needs to be better integrated with journal mail-outs etc.  For example, determining who is a current member and creating mailing stickers for only those members is not an easy, automatic task.

At present, membership renewals (and new memberships) require double handling of data by the membership secretaries as the information that members enter themselves into the online subscription page is not automatically captured and imported into the database, but is rather printed out and membership secretaries must manually update all the information in the database. This creates a large workload that is unnecessary given technological developments since the membership database was originally developed.

At present there is no central repository for AAA administrative documents – whenever the Executive changes, individual executive members must forward on to the new Executive the various electronic and physical files they have – and often this is near on impossible to do (such as is the case with email).  There is now the capacity to have our website serve as a central repository (securely maintained) for documents such as financial statements, stationary, mailing lists, correspondence, submissions etc, access to which can be granted through strict passwords issued to the Executive.   The addition of such a repository would make the handover between Executives a much smoother and more efficient task, and ultimately would reduce mistakes or errors that impact upon members.

Conference

Every year the AAA conference website is essentially redeveloped by the host institution, creating unnecessary workload and a lot of ‘reinventing of the wheel’.  We would like to circumvent this issue by having the main AAA conference website hosted through the AAA website (which relates to where the AAA website is currently hosted – see above).  We could then grant the incoming conference organisers appropriate permissions to update these particular web-pages, and in addition to reducing workloads, this would have the benefit of the conference having a consistent URL every year.  As part of this, we would like to work towards having conference registration centralised on the AAA website using a similar payment system to that proposed to be used for annual membership renewals.

Directing all web traffic for conference registrations though the AAA website will also increase the likelihood that visitors will take time to explore other elements of the website. This will contribute overall to the visibility of the Association.

Ecommerce portal

While there was initially concern about e-commerce and whether online banking would be ‘safe’, time has clearly demonstrated that many of these concerns have now been adequately dealt with. Online banking is now commonplace, with most large organisations offering their clients the opportunity to pay bills electronically as well as by more traditional methods.

At present, approximately 80% of our members are choosing to renew their membership electronically, using the payment facility currently offered through UWA (see hosting issue above), and conference registrations are often handled by the particular organisation tasked with hosting the conference each year, meaning that this changes every year. Hence, tracking conference and journal income is more complicated than it should be, and we are reliant on other organisations to handle our income, rather than having primary responsibility for it ourselves.

We propose to add an e-commerce portal to the AAA website that could handle:

–        Annual membership renewal/subscription

–        Annual conference registration

–        Merchandise sales (while we don’t have any yet, discussions have been held as to how this might change in the future).

We are aware that any addition of an e-commerce portal would need to be secure, user-friendly and low cost, and offer medium to long term sustainability for the organisation. It has been suggested that since AAA banks with CBA, we should initially investigate what options they can offer us in this direction.

New web technologies

In recent years a wide array of web technologies have become available.  As our website is the key element of our publicity and educational strategies, it has been suggested we update it, by incorporating:

  • A blog – this would have the benefit of raising our profile, promoting the website, provide a forum for dynamic, interactive content and potentially increase our membership. While the form and scope of the blog require further discussion, we propose that only AAA members could contribute but that posts would be freely available to the web. We suggest an edited and moderated blog with a strict editorial or content policy overseen by a single blog editor. This policy would outline the AAA’s position in regards to posting/commenting about job adverts, commercial enterprises, the parameters/scope of the blog,  ethical matters and so on. Two people (possibly relevant state representatives and the blog editor) would need to approve all posts and comments posted to the site. We would also propose to licence the blog under an Australian Creative Commons 3.0 Licence
  • Searchable register of members (see above, voluntary listing inclusion) – see other comments above
  • Better integration and utilisation of Flickr for making available images (with appropriate permissions) to school students for projects. There is already an Australian archaeology group on Flickr which provides a good example of how this service might be used
  • A web feed that users can subscribe to via RSS or email so that they can be automatically notified about blog posts,  events/publications/notices, or other for website content updates)
  • A community wiki covering aspects of archaeology in Australia or by Australian-based archaeologists, and that would be developed/edited by AAA members;
  • Integration with social networking services including Facebook, Twitter, Google Friend Connect and so on. Both a Facebook and Twitter account have been set up, with an initial posting about the AAA Awards for 2010 followed by updates about the latest issue of the journal. These services feed into each other, and so only one has to be updated rather than both.  These allow us to post news items which are delivered to people immediately, without them needing to remember to check the website. This allows us to “keep out there”, and not necessarily just with our members, but also to other members of the public who choose to follow our services (which might help encourage greater membership subscription).
  • Mobile versions of the website for next generation communication devices.

Students, teachers and general public

As noted above, a key user group of the AAA website are students, teachers and members of the general public looking for information about archaeology in Australia; this is increasingly likely to be the case given the draft National History Curriculum. At present the AAA website does not contain a great detail of information about Australian archaeology, and hence more resources and content about archaeology would convey a better sense of what archaeology is and encourage repeat visitation and use of our site by primary and secondary teachers and students.  Our website affords us a unique opportunity to widely show case what Australian archaeology is about, and what archaeologists based in Australia actually do, and at present we do not capitalise on this. At present, there is a paucity of accurate resources relating to Australian archaeology on the web and so increasing accessible educational content could reasonably be expected to have a significant impact on the visibility of the Association.

One suggestion to improve this aspect of our website is to develop a Wiki (which all members could contribute as much or as little as they like).  This is a sub-project which the Website Redevelopment Sub-committee plans to talk to certain members to in coming months in order to initiate it with key sites in Australia and around the world (that Australian based archaeologists are working on).  If you have a particular interest in being involved in the Wiki development, please let Lynley Wallis know, since we are keen to put together a Wiki Sub-Committee to oversee this component.

Further at present we list links to other websites, but don’t provide additional information about the content and quality of those websites; the latter information would be valuable to teachers and students who are not familiar with what particular websites and projects represent good practice or good value.

Web Sponsorship

The idea has been raised (not agreed to) of including a small area on our website for advertisements from consulting firms, or equipment supply companies etc. This could serve as a service directory for members as well as resource for other users. The rationale behind suggesting this is to generate income to support the ongoing website hosting costs and to fund one off special projects to develop content for the website, however we are aware that we do not want this small area to become a key component of the home page – rather if included it would be a small discrete component off to the side that would not over power the organisational elements of the website. Google AdSense or other similar schemes might be one avenue to pursue with regards to this issue.

Websites we like or don’t like so much

It is often helpful to be able to point web designers in the direction of websites that we do/do not like the ‘look’ of, to give them some guidance in terms of what we might like the relaunched AAA website to look like.  In addition to those listed below, if members have any suggestions of particularly ‘good’ websites we would appreciate hearing about them, and particularly what it is about them that is so appealing.

  • Council for British Archaeology – the clean lines and well structured site make it easy to navigate, and it is visually simple
  • Society for Historical Archaeology – the research resources and current projects sections are useful, latter since they provide some comment on what the linked pages cover
  • Institute of Field Archaeologists – while the ‘clean’ feel to the page is nice, there are far too many menu options
  • Archaeology World – an oldie but a goodie by our own Peter Hiscock! What is great about this website is that it actually provides useful resources to the user
  • The American Anthropological Association have recently developed a blog as a separate page to their primary website. It highlights how a blog can be useful to promoting the activities and interests of a professional association and its members.
  • Society & Genomics has a professional layout comprising a very simple three column layout that includes no “guff” and is very straightforward.

Prioritising the new website rollout

We realise that in raising and attempting to address some of the above issues and concerns, we may be setting ourselves an unachievable task – at least in the short term!  Hence we propose prioritising the roll out and trialling of the different components of the website in terms of the site’s audiences:

1. Members and Executive functional requirements (hosting, CMS, members database, e-commerce portal, conference)

2. Members additional facilities (optional contact list, Web2 components etc)

3. Other audiences (resources for students, teachers and general public)

We need your feedback!

In order to ensure that the redeveloped website meets the needs and interests of members – our primary target audience – we require feedback, comments and ideas. So, if you have anything to contribute please use the commenting system below to let us know what you think. In particular:

  • How have other professional associations have used the web to promote their interests?
  • Do you have any concerns about a redeveloped AAA website?
  • As a member, what do you want from our website?
  • What are your thoughts on sponsorship or advertising?
  • How do you feel about using the AAA website for greater community outreach activities via a wiki, blog or the use of social media (facebook, twitter and the like)
  • Do you have any suggestions on a CMS?

While we specifically seek comment from AAA members, we also welcome general suggestions or ideas from members of other relevant professional associations who may be dealing with similar kinds of issues or problems.

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5 Comments

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  1. Richard Gillespie / Jul 1 2010 10:38 am

    I would like to able to download from the AAA website PDFs of research papers and other material in the AA print edition (published since the DVD came out in 2003). Most science journals do this now, though neither of the major Australian archaeology journals does. Has the possibility of moving to a fully online journal been canvassed?

    • Lynley Wallis / Jul 5 2010 6:11 pm

      Hi Richard

      Thanks for posting on this issue. This is something we’ve discussing with the current journal editors and we’d definitely like to incorporate more effectively in the new website, so it’s good to hear that it is something that (at least some) other members would appreciate too.

      In the meantime, you can download the back issue papers (with the exception of the current edition) as PDFs through the OJS system (accessed by any AAA members by simply registering at no cost online at http://www.library.uq.edu.au/ojs/index.php/aa).

      Cheers Lynley

  2. Birgitta Stephenson / Jul 6 2010 10:37 pm

    Firstly I feel obligated to comment with this appearing on my facebook site. Emails can be easily ignored but this popped up during my leisure time allowing me to explore further.
    Regarding the website I feel that it is important that a members portal or area should provide that something extra that can not be obtained by a “public” viewing. It should in some way be a value added addition that encourages subscription. This may be something such as an updated email list of members or instant journal downloads. Perhaps useful links with an explanation not just a random link.
    Another thought is to have a section similar to the Archaelogical Insitute of America which lists fieldwork at home or abroad that people could post directly. This section could also include lab volunteer, holiday vacancies and Archaeology Week postings. Allowing people to directly post would avoid additional work by the web master and ensure an updated and current list is available in one spot. Similarly postings of lab facilities and work undertaken by various facilities would be alllowing people looking to have work done ( either from Australia or overseas) to find a cross section of information in one location.
    These are just quick ideas which I feel obligated to send as you caught me … “face booking” so to speak.

  3. Alice Gorman / Jul 16 2010 12:48 pm

    Thanks to the subcommittee for putting such thought and effort into rethinking the site. Here are my thoughts:

    I agree that commercial hosting is desirable – it provides continuity, stability and access, and commercial services are, I suspect, quicker to adopt new platforms and technologies than university systems. One issue would be the cost – have the committee obtained any quotes yet?

    No ideas about CMS, although I know that WordPress is widely used and quite sophisticated.

    It’s a great idea to allow members to check their own status – I can never remember whether I’ve renewed my subscription or not! In terms of using the site to locate people, OzArch members can be searched, and this is where I would go first if I was trying to find someone.

    Also a great idea to have a central repository for AAA documents.

    I’m unconvinced, in the first instance, about the value of either a blog or a wiki. We wouldn’t want to duplicate the function of OzArch as a discussion venue, and while blogs are very easy to set up, they do require a lot of work to sustain. Since the AAA doesn’t produce a newsletter as such, a blog that performed this function might work. Another idea would be to use the blog for opinion pieces, that others could then comment on, in the line of Archaeolog (or is it Archaeoloblog). Wikis are great for allowing multiple people to work on documents, but as I read the guidelines the idea of this is to provide accessible material for educational purposes, and I’m not sure a wiki is the best format for that. It would be more useful, I think, to make sure that existing wikis like Wikipedia are accurate and up-to-date, in terms of reaching the student audience!

    Here is another website that might be useful for comparison:
    http://www.aiaa.org/

    And can I just say that a bit of animation never goes astray on a homepage.

    Alice

  4. Andy Fairbairn / Jul 21 2010 4:12 pm

    Hey all

    As usual I missed the deadline for comments by a day! Oh well.

    This all looks great. I strongly agree with a cllear and well structured portal for students, schools etc. I cannot express strongly enough that this is vital for archaeology in Australia at all levels, especially engaging schools – particularly important as we move into a national curriculum – and for uni students to give them some wothwhile career advice. Also, as some of the committee know, we are developing some free online courses for CHM and a central access protal would provide an effective means of promoting the use of that type of resource – which is aimed at improving public awareness of archaeology and increasing enrolments

    I agree with Alice on the unsuitability of a AAA Wiki for authoritative documents.

    Cheers and best of luck
    Andy

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