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About an inexpensive, low-effort, and versatile website platform


For a long time I've needed a website platform that is versatile while also being easy to use and maintain. I've found that I can use Google Sites, in combination with a minimal paid G Suite Basic account, and satisfy my rather stringent requirements better than I could have hoped. In the process of the evaluation I've gotten clearer about my requirements. That clarity, plus some nuances in the way I'm achieving them, is worth describing.

Here are my crucial criteria:
  • Easy to use and navigate.
    • The editing interface is fairly simple and easy to use, and the nuances, to get complex functionality, are of the sort that I like - discoverable, if you ask sensible questions.
    • Page layout is fairly easy to understand and employ. It's sometimes constraining, but that can actually be a good thing for me, in so far as it tames my tendencies to communicate in overly elaborate ways. The constraints have not prevented me from doing any of the sophisticated things that I actually have needed to do.
    • In particular, the content layout machinery is restricted in a way that ensures responsive page scaling (responsive web design), so that the same source layout preserves order and readability when presenting on everything from small mobile screens to large desktop displays. The lack of that in my prior platform has been an increasingly serious problem in the mobile age!
    • I like the overall sense of coherence. Feature gaps that have bugged me (eg, wanting a page table of contents) are filled as time passes, gradually and refraining from bloat.
  • Versatile access control
    • I can designate site visiting access and, separately, share site management access with fine granularity. For example, by associating visitor access with a Google Group, as a whole, I was able to create an event portal site easily restricted to the group of people in the group. Plus I wanted to establish the Google Group anyway, for email coordination!
  • Integrates with cloud resources on which I depend, for example Google Drive/Docs and Google Groups (but integration is not only with Google properties)
  • Very inexpensive
    • A lot of the sites I build are for informal, low-cost community endeavors, like DC Contact Improv and ¡DC Movement Research! Monthly fees for the sites platforms would be hard to sustain - a recurring hassle for the people responsible for the sites.
    • By judicious use of G Suite with Google Sites I'm able to situate an unlimited number of websites in their own domains, essentially at just the cost of the domain name purchases. (I actually pay for G Suite Basic with a single user, which has recently risen to $6/month. That's the cost of one user total, divided across all the websites I maintain, not one user per website.)
  • Reliable and easy to maintain
    • System operation, network access, backups, all that stuff is taken care of for free, and it's quite dependable.
Satisfying each of these criteria is, in itself, a big deal. Having them all met is fantastic!

The platform I used previously, the open source content manage platform Plone, is free and pretty versatile, but it has not been low maintenance. I was maintaining it myself, on a cloud host. If I used a Plone service provider I would have to pay them, and still have to engineer the configuration and network and user management nuances. Pshaw!

Most cloud website platforms offer a free tier, but wind up charging when it comes to situating your sites in your own domains. Lacking that feature is not a small thing - finding a site, and remembering its address, are both much harder when the site is embedded in the hosting service's domain. You have to remember which hosting service it was, plus the idiosyncratic embedded-site boilerplate, plus the name of the site. Not good - and even more, very counter to respectable brand identity.

Embedding your site resources in something like Facebook is, to me, a terrible option. Facebook is chaos. You are very restricted in what you can do, how to do what you want is often obscured or confounded by features you don't need or want, and when people find their way to your area, they still are surrounded by all the incidental activities that's impinging on their account and on your area. Even more not good. Facebook might be good for establishing connections, but it's not so good for distinguishing a clear identity.

In addition to the two community sites I mention above - DC Contact Improv and ¡DC Movement Research! - I implemented a member portal (mentioned above) for the recent Spring East Coast jam, which I help to organize. It provided an excellent basis for sharing registered-participant info, community-originating activity proposals, sharing of contributed event photos, a ride sharing board, and so forth. For example, Google Docs integration means I could use spreadsheet forms for collecting event activity proposals which display the submitted proposals, continuously updating on the website. There's enormous capability there, easily engaged!

I plan to migrate my personal site, myriadicity.net, as well as the primary eastcoastjam.com to Google Sites as time allows. I'm very happy to have this great option!

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