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BEC Website Report

The BEC website was overhauled a year or so ago. The objectives of the new design were to:

  • - Project a more updated image to the public,
  • - Increase communication to our members,
  • - Provide access to the BEC’s wealth of legacy information.

 

 

If volume speaks for itself then we have roughly increased our reach by 1000% compared to 2004. At the time of writing we are getting over a million hits a year, by over 50,000 visitors. The site is hosted on my own hosting package at no cost to the BEC, using a number of open source (read free) software solutions which are frameworked around Joomla, a powerful content management system.

To entice visitors to a website you need to combine a number of factors, which are often listed as breadth, volume and dynamic content. The main source of content that the BEC owns is the entire back issue of the Belfry Bulletin. Sales of back issues of the BB have been zero for many years so we had nothing to loose by publishing them. But how do you get virtually 50 years of printed material into HTML? In a Herculean effort, which was to take 4 years, Andy MacGregor (BEC no 550) converted every single issue into Microsoft Word. All I had to do was convert this into HTML and sort out all the images which contrary to my initial thought proved to be non-trivial. By March every single issue was available on line.

We now also include the ability for current members to download a PDF or HTML version of the latest BB when it is first published. While this isn’t extensively used to date, a number of members have download copies and in the long term this could be used to substantially reduce our printing and distribution costs. I don’t see this as replacing the BB as there will always be members who want to feel the paper in their hands.

The front page of the site has been constantly updated to include news of events and items of interest to our membership. With a static content site when you’ve seen it you’ve seen it. A full -featured photo gallery is online which empowers members to create their own albums and upload their own pictures. We now have a large collection of historical and current images of the club, it’s members and activities.

The only constant these days is change. Back in the days the BB was published every month and our members all knew what was going on. In recent years the BB editor struggles to deliver enough content to warrant publishing more than 3 copies a year. I saw a need to improve communication to our club members and the obvious way forward was to do a monthly email newsletter. The mechanism for achieving this was available early in the year but there was little impetus to use it. Over the summer I had many conversations along the lines of “I’d have been there if I’d know it was going on”. Now that there is a database of users email addresses and a software tool it is a trivial exercise to send a regular email out by email. The first of these was sent out to publicise the highly successful Belfry BBQ and it is hoped that this is adopted as the communication method of choice to compliment the BB.

While most of the content is available to non-members only fully paid up members of the BEC can register and see protected content. To date we have just under 40 members registered online which I believe is a reasonable start. There is considerable scope to enhance the usability and features if demand warrants it. Other current features include a forum, Google maps of selected cave locations, an online address book, a strippable model of what cavers wear and more! Security is one of the key elements of the site and members’ personal details are protected from the general public. The BCA also have plans to develop tools for the caving community including an online membership database system.

As an example of how the BEC is not just a caving club but also a community. Earlier this year I received emails from a Ray Gladman in the States and also his brother Ken in Australia who were trying to track down their other brother Keith who they’d last heard from in 1961. I could see that he was a BEC member from 1960 to 1986 but nobody knew of him anymore. By pure coincidence in July he emailed me about the website and all three were overwhelmed to be reunited.

It’s your club, use it!

Cheers,

Henry Bennett

BB Editor’s Report

Having kept this post now for 3 issues there is not much to add that has not already been mentioned in the editorial intro’s and Hollow Hills.

I have no plans to throw in the towel. I would like to thank Henry B and the Wig for their advice and support.