New School/Old School in Web Design

Web 2.0 tools have changed the bound­ary lines between techies and pro­gram staff in many non­prof­its over the past few years. At least, they should have, though I know of var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions that haven’t made the con­cep­tual leap to the new roles.

OLD SCHOOL: Webmaster

Let me explain by talk­ing about my own chang­ing work role. Even a few years ago, I was a paid staff web­mas­ter. You could divide my work into two large cat­e­gories. The first was techie: I man­aged server accounts, set up required data­bases, designed sites. I got into the HTML code, the PHP, the Javascript, CSS, etc.

The other was con­tent: when program-oriented staff had new mate­r­ial they wanted on the web­site they would email it to me or walk it over. I would put in my work queue, where it might sit for weeks if it wasn’t an orga­ni­za­tional pri­or­ity. When it came time to add the mate­r­ial I would boot up Dreamweaver, a rel­a­tively expen­sive pro­gram that was only acces­si­ble from my lap­top and I would put the mate­r­ial onto the web­site. Need­less to say, with a process like this some parts of the web­site never got very much attention.

At some point I start sneak­ing in a con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem for frequently-changed pages. This seemed very hack­ish and not good at first but over time I real­ized it greatly speeded up my turn-around time for basic text con­tent. But the orga­ni­za­tions I worked for still relied on the old model, where staff give the web­mas­ter con­tent to put up.

NEW SCHOOL: Web Developer

Nowa­days I’m a web devel­oper, a free­lancer with an ever chang­ing list of clients. I typ­i­cally spend about a month putting together a site based on a con­tent man­age­ment (like this) or auto­matic feed sys­tem (like I did for Philadelphia’s William Penn Char­ter School). I do a cer­tain amount of train­ing and while I might add a lit­tle con­tent for test­ing pur­poses, I step back at the end of the process to let the client put the mate­r­ial up them­selves. I’m avail­able for ques­tions but I’m sur­prised about how rarely I’m called.

Here’s two exam­ples. Steady­foot­steps is a blog by an Amer­i­can phys­i­cal ther­a­pist in Viet­nam. When we started, she didn’t even have a dig­i­tal cam­era! I gave her advice on cam­eras, started her on a Flickr account, set up a fairly generic Mov­able Type blog with some cus­tom design ele­ments and answered all the ques­tions she had along the way. She went to town. She’s put tons of pic­tures and embed­ded Youtube videos right in posts. Here’s a non-techie who has con­tributed a lot to the web’s content!

Penn Char­ter is a school that was already on Flickr and Youtube but wanted to dis­play the con­tent on their web­site in an attrac­tive way. I pulled together all the magic of feeds and javascripts to have a media page that show­cases the newest material.

They’re very dif­fer­ent sites, but in nei­ther instance does the client con­tact me to add con­tent. They rely on easy-to-use Web 2.0 ser­vices: no spe­cial­ized HTML knowl­edge required.


I got an email not so long ago from an old boss who man­ages a monthly mag­a­zine. Her site has been rad­i­cally rebuilt over the years. Dreamweaver is out and con­tent man­age­ment is in. They use Dru­pal, which my friend Thomas T. of the Philadel­phia Cul­tural Alliance tells me won the recent pop­u­lar­ity con­test among non­profit techies. This is great, a def­i­nite step for­ward, but what con­fused me is that my old boss was ask­ing me whether I would be inter­ested in return­ing to my old job (the suc­ces­sor who over­saw the Dru­pal upgrade is leaving).

They still have a web­mas­ter? They still want to fun­nel web­site mate­r­ial through a sin­gle per­son? Every staff­per­son there is adept at com­put­ers. If a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist can fig­ure out Flickr and Mov­able Type and Youtube, why can’t pro­fes­sional print design­ers and editors?

My hourly rate ranges from two to five times what she’d be likely to pay, so I turned her down. But I did ask why she wanted a web­mas­ter. Now that they’re on Dru­pal it seems to me that they’d be bet­ter off switch­ing from the web­mas­ter to the web devel­oper staffing model: hire me as a free­lance con­sul­tant to do trou­bleshoot­ing, staff train­ing and the occas­sional spe­cial project but have the reg­u­lar full­time staff do the bulk of the con­tent man­age­ment. I’d think you’d end up with a site that’s more lively and updated and that the cost would about the same, despite my higher hourly rates.

I’ve heard enough sto­ries of places where sec­re­taries have come out of the shad­ows to embrace con­tent man­age­ment and have helped trans­form web­sites. I’m the son of a for­mer sec­re­tary so I know that they’re often the smartest employ­ees at any firm (if you walk into an office look­ing for the expert on advanced Excel fea­tures you’ll surely find them sit­ting right there behind the recep­tion­ist desk).


I’m try­ing to join the band­wagon and use Dru­pal for a upcom­ing site that will have about a dozen edi­tors. But there’s no built-in WYSIWYG edi­tor, no lit­tle for­mat­ting icons. Sure, I myself could eas­ily hand-code the HTML and make it look nice. But I don’t want to do that. And it’s unre­al­is­tic to think I’m going to teach a dozen over­worked sec­re­taries how to write in HTML. The inter­face needs to work more or less like Microsoft Word (as it does in Mov­able Type, Cushy­CMS, Google Docs, etc.)

Most Dru­pal sites I see seems from the out­side like they’re still old school: staff web­mas­ter through whom most con­tent fun­nels. Is this right? Because if so, this is really just an insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of the con­tent hack I did six years ago. Can any­one point me to lively, active Dru­pal sites whose con­tent is being directly added by non-techie office staff? If so, how is it set up?

Reach up high, clear off the dust, time to get started

It’s been a fas­ci­nat­ing edu­ca­tion learn­ing about insti­tu­tional Catholi­cism these past few weeks. I won’t reveal how and what I know, but I think I have a good pic­ture of the cul­ture inside the bishop’s inner cir­cle and I’m pretty sure I under­stand his long-term agenda. The cur­rent lightening-fast clo­sure of sixty-some churches is the first step of an ambi­tious plan; man­u­fac­tured priest short­ages and soon-to-be over­crowded churches will be used to jus­tify even more rad­i­cal changes. In about twenty years time, the 125 churches that exist today will have been sold off. What’s left of a half mil­lion faith­ful will be herded into a dozen or so mega-churches, with the­ol­ogy bor­rowed from generic lib­er­al­ism, style from feel-good evan­gel­i­cal­ism, and orga­ni­za­tion from con­sul­tant culture.

When dioce­san offi­cials come by to read this blog (and they do now), they will smile at that last sen­tence and nod their heads approv­ingly. The con­spir­acy is real.

But I don’t want to talk about Catholi­cism again. Let’s talk Quak­ers instead, why not? I should be in some meet­ing for wor­ship right now any­way. Julie left Friends and returned to the faith of her upbring­ing after eleven years with us because she wanted a reli­gious com­mu­nity that shared a basic faith and that wasn’t afraid to talk about that faith as a cor­po­rate “we.” It seems that Catholi­cism won’t be able to offer that in a few years. Will she run then run off to the East­ern Ortho­dox church? For that mat­ter should I be run­ning off to the Men­non­ites? See though, the prob­lem is that the same issues will face us wher­ever we try to go. It’s mod­ernism, baby. No focused and authen­tic faith seems to be safe from the Forces of the Bland. Lord help us.

We can blog the ques­tions of course. Why would some­one who dis­likes Catholic cul­ture and wants to dis­man­tle its infra­struc­ture become a priest and a career bureau­crat? For that mat­ter why do so many peo­ple want to call them­selves Quak­ers when they can’t stand basic Quaker the­ol­ogy? If I wanted lots of com­ments I could go on blah-blah-blah, but ulti­mately the ques­tion is futile and beyond my figuring.

Another piece to this issue came in some ques­tions Wess Daniels sent around to me and a few oth­ers this past week in prepa­ra­tion for his upcom­ing pre­sen­ta­tion at Wood­brooke. He asked about how a par­tic­u­lar Quaker insti­tu­tion did or did not rep­re­sent or might or might not be able to con­tain the so-called “Con­ver­gent” Friends move­ment. I don’t want to bust on any­one so I won’t name the orga­ni­za­tion. Let’s just say that like pretty much all Quaker bureau­cra­cies it’s inward-focused, shal­low in its pub­lic state­ments, slow to take ini­tia­tive and more or less irrel­e­vant to any cam­paign to gather a great peo­ple. A more suc­cess­ful Quaker bureau­cracy I could name seems to be doing well in fundrais­ing but is doing less and less with more and more staff and seems more inter­ested in donor-focused hype than long-term pro­gram implementation.

One enemy of the faith is bureau­cracy. Real lead­er­ship has been replaced by con­sul­tants and fundrais­ers. Finan­cial and staffing crises–real and created–are used to jus­tify a water­ing down of the mes­sage. Pro­grams are dri­ven by donor money rather than clear need and when real work might require con­tro­versy, it’s tabled for the facade of feel-goodism. Quaker read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers: no I’m talk­ing about Catholics. Catholic read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Catholics: no, I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers. My point is that these forces are tear­ing down reli­gios­ity all over. Some cheer this devel­op­ment on. I think it’s evil at work, the Tempter using our leader’s desires for posi­tion and respect and our the desires of our laity’s (for lack of a bet­ter word) to trust and think the best of its leaders.

So where does that leave us? I’m tired of think­ing that maybe if I try one more Quaker meet­ing I’ll find the com­mu­nity where I can prac­tice and deepen my faith as a Chris­t­ian Friend. I’m stumped. That first batch of Friends knew this feel­ing: Fox and the Pen­ing­tons and all the rest talked about iso­la­tion and about reli­gious pro­fes­sion­als who were in it for the career. I know from the blo­gos­phere and from count­less one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions that there are a lot of us–a lot–who either drift away or stay in meet­ings out of a sense of guilt.

So what would a spir­i­tual com­mu­nity for these out­sider Friends look like? If we had real vision rather than donor vision, what would our struc­tures look like? If we let the generic churches go off to out-compete one other to see who can be the bland­est, what would be left for the rest of us to do?

20080608-xcjchpscnwekhsh85kg2hr7nbf.previewI guess this last para­graph is the new revised mis­sion state­ment for the Quaker part of this blog. Okay kids, get a step stool, go to your meet­ing library, reach up high, clear away the dust and pull out vol­ume one of “A por­trai­ture of Quak­erism: Taken from a view of the edu­ca­tion and dis­ci­pline, social man­ners, civil and polit­i­cal econ­omy, reli­gious prin­ci­ples and char­ac­ter, of the Soci­ety of Friends” by Thomas Clark­son. Yes the 1806 ver­sion, stop the grum­bling. Get out the ribbed pack­ing tape and put its cover back together–this isn’t the frig­ging Library of Con­gress and we’re actu­ally going to read this thing. Don’t even waste your time check­ing it out in the meeting’s log­book: no one’s pulled it down off the shelf in fifty years and no one’s going to miss it now. Really stuck?, okay Google’s got it too. Class will start shortly.

Pen​n​char​ter​.com Media Pages

William Penn Charter School Media PagesOne ele­ment of a gen­eral social media con­sul­tancy project I’ve under­taken with Philadelphia’s William Penn Char­ter school is a dynamic media page. They had col­lected a large num­ber of pho­tos, movies and pod­cast inter­views, but the media page on their site was sta­tic and with­out pic­tures. I worked with them to come up with media poli­cies and then built a media site that auto­mat­i­cally dis­plays the lat­est Flickr sets and Youtube videos, all laid out attrac­tively with CSS. The Flickr part was com­pli­cated by the fact that Flickr doesn’t pro­duce feeds of sets and this required access to it’s API and fairly exten­sive Yahoo Pipes manip­u­la­tion. The orig­i­nal pod­casts were just uploaded MP3 files and I worked to col­lect them together via Odeo (host­ing) and Feed­burner (feed pub­lish­ing), which then pro­vides RSS and iTunes sup­port. The actual con­tent for the page is col­lected together on the Mar​tinkel​ley​.com server and embed­ded into the Penn Char­ter media pages via javascript. Other work with Penn Char­ter includes Google Ana­lyt­ics and Dreamweaver support.

Update: Pen­n­Char­ter redesigned their web­site in August 2009 and the Media Page is unavailable.

Client Tes­ti­mo­nial:

Mar­tin has worked for our school to inte­grate Web 2.0 tech­nolo­gies
into our com­mu­ni­ca­tion mate­ri­als. Mar­tin is highly-personable and his
is an expert in cur­rent tech­no­log­i­cal approaches. This is a hard match
to find in con­sul­tants.” April 30, 2009

Michael Moul­ton, Tech­nol­ogy Direc­tor, William Penn Char­ter School.
Hired Mar­tin as a IT Con­sul­tant in 2007, and hired Mar­tin more than once.
Top qual­i­ties: Per­son­able, Expert, High Integrity.


Steady Footsteps

Blog by an Amer­i­can cou­ple liv­ing in Viet­nam and advo­cat­ing for greater motor­bike safety. The tech­ni­cal aspects are pretty straight-forward but the neat part about it was watch­ing the client learn about blog­ging and online photo
shar­ing as we worked on the site: I intro­duced her to Fli­crk, Picasa
and Gmail! She took to it like a fish to water and the site is full of great
pho­tos taken by her hus­band David. Read more about their
work doing phys­i­cal ther­apy in Viet­nam and their posts about life in Da Nang.
. Tech­nol­ogy: Mov­able Type, Flickr. Visit Site.

Publicizing your blog via Flickr

Inte­grat­ing the Flickr photo shar­ing ser­vice
with your blog is a won­der­ful way to eas­ily add pho­tos to your site.
With a lit­tle extra effort you can get Flickr to work for you.

Flickr in your blog

When you want to embed a Flickr-hosted pho­to­graph into one of your
blog entries, first start by going to the photo’s page in Flickr. Click
on the “All Sizes” but­ton on top (with the mag­ni­fy­ing glass icon), and
then pick the size you want for your blog post–small and medium work
well for blog entries.

Under­neath the resized pic­ture is a box with Flickr’s cod­ing (you have
to be look­ing at your own account and be logged in to see this). Sim­ply
cut and paste this into your blog entry and the pic­ture will appear
there. If you want your text to wrap around the pic­ture you’ll want to
add a lit­tle cod­ing to what Flickr gives you. Some­where inside the
“img” text you need to add wrap­ping instruc­tions. An easy place is
between the text that reads:

height=“180” alt=“whatever it says”

…now reads:

height=“180” align=“left” alt=“whatever it says”

Change left to right to have your photo align that way.

Your blog in Flickr

Many users don’t real­ize that peo­ple some­times find your Flickr
pho­tos and not your blog. Google indexes Flickr nicely and Flickr’s own
search is pop­u­lar. In the descrip­tion of your pho­tos you should add a
link back to your own blog. If you have a blog entry con­cern­ing that
actual pic­ture, link directly back to that entry.

You’ll have to hand-write the HTML link for this (sorry, Flickr doesn’t have a link but­ton). It should look some­thing like this:

Descrip­tion of the photo. For more read, <a href=“”>What I know about Flickr</a>.

Here’s a screen shot of the edit­ing screen for this Flickr entry:


That post about my trip to a leg­endary South Jer­sey locale is one of
the most vis­ited pages on my per­sonal blog. A good bit of it comes from
the links in Flickr!

Remem­ber to put a lot of desired key­words into your Flickr title and
all link text. Key­words are those phrases that you think peo­ple might
be search­ing for.