Web strategy update
By Ed Mitchell 26th November 2013
This is a brief outline with notes about where the Transition Network web project is at in November 2013. The year 2014/15 is going to be a big year for the web project; Transition Network is undergoing a huge organisational strategy re-fresh in response to organisational needs and the big changes in the Transition movement, and it is clear to us that the current site needs to be overhauled.
I suggest that you start with the presentation and see this blog post as my notes. NB: this is work in progress and thoughts in motion – nothing is confirmed yet.
We are always interested in feedback, suggestions, advice and support. We are going to open a collaboration space as an ‘International Technical Hub’ and are seeking the development of a group of international techs and information architects to hold this project over the next 3-5 years, gradually spreading the decision-making power…
- Transition Network web service update presentation
- Transition Network ‘version 3’ planning wiki page
- International Initiative Registration Service workflows
- TN’s web strategy big picture explanation
- Sarah McAdam’s (Transition Network’s delivery director) strategy update
Sections in this blog post
- The presentation at the staff meeting
- Challenges and questions and where we are
- Transition Network’s Web hosting IT set up
- Maintenance assessment
- Transition Network’s roles
- The three key types of high level web components
- The importance of ‘universal’ and ‘nationally specific’ materials
- The Information Architecture of a Transition Initiative online profile
- Key decisions wrapped up in this process
- Building a growing technical and information architecture group
- A very rough high level timeline
The presentation at the staff meeting
Challenges and questions and where we are
The Transition Network web project has been going for 4 years. From a small, UK-focused start, we have seen a growing need to respond to the international growth of the Transition movement, various sub-projects work and not work, large volumes and news and comments flow through the site, many technical changes, ‘organic’ site development, etc. etc. Here are a few highlights of what we’ve learnt:
- Website is like an old Apple Tree
- Site bountiful but unclear
- Project and Initiative addition plateau recognised
- Constructive criticism about lack of overall site coherence is fair enough
- Connection to registered TIs is weak (approx 30% replying to our mails)
- Big resource from years of creativity
- Great potential now we know more, and are better at communicating
- Needs a core identity and related structure based on Transition’s vision and story
- Can offer support pragmatically – rooted in strategy
- Budget questions: value for money? Most suitable service?
- Web project and politics: how political are our decisions? (e.g. hosting with WordPress or independents? deep tie-ins with Facebook and Google or rejection?)
Transition Network’s Web hosting IT set up
- Live server gets bigger:
- November 2010: 1GB RAM and 2 processors on live server
- February 2013: 3 GB RAM and 2 processors
- November 2013: 8 GB RAM and 14 processors
- 2013’s hosting cost:
- Puffin: Live servers: £1,136
- Penguin: Admin: £644
- Parrot: WordPress: £520
- Back ups: £290
- Total: £2,590
Based on big growth from Q2 onwards in 2013, we can expect more demand and more cost
The main website Transitionnetwork.org is becoming older and more complex every day. We will attend to radically simplifying it over 2014/15. Over the summer of 2013 we encountered worryingly regular site timeouts which took a lot of work to iron out, and which now appear to have gone. We are not sure if these were related to internal drupal inefficiencies, drupal 6 struggling with scaling generally, external pressure on the site (a significant upturn in spam and other bots), or hardware problems with the web servers – we figured it was probably all four – and did some deep software work and hardware updates.
Over this year, we have learnt that the website maintenance is a real and significant cost that needs to be factored into our budgets. We are currently spending approximately £1,000 per month on maintenance.
- If you are interested, you can see the maintenance wiki pages or the ongoing maintenance tickets to get a full and clear picture of what we spend on what and why
We assume that, having done a lot of under-the-bonnet work this year, the maintenance costs will not spiral out of control (which they can on old sites), so we will stay within this budget until the new ‘TN v3’ site comes along, and hopefully won’t have so much incumbent stuff to deal with.
Transition Network’s roles
As part of our strategy re-fresh, Transition Network has identified that it has four main ‘roles’. This gives us clarity over what we are doing and what we have the resource to do, and what we prioritise (which has previously been very challenging). It also gives us a steer on the types of high level web presences we may need.
- UK National Hub
- UK specific support
- International Secretariat
- Support the emergence of the National Hubs group
- International Development
- Support spread of Transition globally
- Transition DNA
- Up to date description of Transition story
- How, why, where, what
Three key types of high level web components
At the very highest level, we see three key ‘types’ of the things that make up any website; think *high* level socio-technical patterns and sections that map to those…
- Staff and Board
- Social Reporters
- Externals if suitable
- About Transition, TN, DNA etc.
- Projects information
Directory of support materials designed around the Transition DNA and support
3. Directories and Relationships
- Directories of Tis, Projects, People, (Events)
- Relationship management system to promote relations between National/Regional hubs and Tis, TN and hubs, TN and TIs
- Stripped back to absolute simplicity and utility, focused on ease of use and re-usability globally
- No information requested unless it helps a TI get relevant support
- Updating requests built in – regular (tri-monthly) email alerts to points of contact for check-in
- Logically designed along lines of Transition DNA/support/health check
- Set in a regional-based CRM logic to support
- Tis with their basic findability (base TI data: name, location, point of contact, www, summary)
- Tis with simple project management / group health tools (diagnostics for group health check)
- Regionally clustered TI groups’ inter-connections through regionally-organised events and updates
- Researchers with health assessment of movement through TIs’ health updates
- Simple global map of International TIs
The importance of ‘universal’ and ‘nationally specific’ materials
Taking into account the growth of the Transition movement internationally, and Transition Network’s ‘roles’ recognising the different needs of different stakeholder groups, we see a need to provide methods and materials for different audiences. As well as the materials, the technical modules need to be able to be re-useable – for example a national hub could adopt the universal support section by importing the drupal features and then translating the content and administration to make it nationally specific.
This is a really big deal! We are working on this in a small way with the International Initiative Registration Service and building relationships with other ‘movements’ or organisations in a similar international position.
- Materials and methods that are part of the core building blocks of Transition, and are relevant to Transition worldwide
- Nationally specific
- Materials and methods that are relevant to a country only – ie a national hub
So the various services and site elements that are appearing as good to have in TN v3 need to be used in different ways – this means that to pursue this goal, we are going to need to have different websites with different views on the same information in different languages.
TI information architecture
The TI ‘object’ has over 30 fields for users to fill in of which only about 4 are searchable, and therefore inter-connected to the rest of the site.
We need to strip this back to absolute basics, map it to the incoming Transition DNA, and offer users a massively simple and useful, pragmatic service – which is a reason for a TI to add a TI to the directory.
Five layers, or ‘leaves’ to the TI information architecture
- Slimline, ultra-simple, re-usable in all countries and languages, portable to other networks and services
- Point of Contact (Registered user)
- Status (official/unofficial? active, dormant, thriving? etc.)
- Health Check:
- Simple (sliders? radio buttons?) tool for Tis to monitor their health regularly based on DNA
- Diagnostic elements based on Transition DNA
- Simple report – with links to support materials
- Behind the scenes relationship management to keep everyone up to date and connected as suitable
- Regular update requests to points of contact for TI status and contact
- Regional network development: regional hub comms tools for events and newsletters
- Research and reporting:
- Reporting capacity based on information in 1,2,3 above for researchers, support, fund-raising, communications, health check of movement
- TN currently has long TI profiles with requests for much information. Not used in searches etc.
- Therefore of no value to TN or TIs. Obstructs form completion. Any information in extended leaf needs to be relevant.
- This is also the ‘nationally relevant’ layer – so information that is not ‘universal’ (ie applied across Transition groups universally), but ‘nationally relevant’ (ie to their country)
Key decisions wrapped up in this process
1. How to collaborate and on what and who and when
2. Transition DNA/story/building blocks: Strategic TN
- Vital Transition taxonomy agreement: Themes? Stages? New support taxonomy? Location? (this is what what options users are offered in profiles and the logic of the site and user workflows)
- Key messages, strap line etc. : more comms than web, but vital
- tied in closely with ‘Information Architecture’ (IA)
3. Relationship/Engagement/’Membership’ model: Strategic TN
- TI motivation to bother add themselves is rooted in support framework and relationship model
- TI status – official/muller? active/dormant/thriving? etc.
- UK national model – relationship building rooted in regional events? Something else?
- Model looks like:
- TI — Regional hub
- Regional hub — National hub
- National hub — Global secretariat
- TN — model above in UK
- TN — model above not in UK
- TN — external partners (e.g. GEN, Wiser Earth, Gaia Uni)
4. Information Architecture
- currently have multiple taxonomies in different directories
- different categories for the content types (projects, Tis, people)
- using themes, stages, projects’ taxonomy, TI IA, events…
- there is a very important piece of work to rationalise these
- starting with the building blocks and support framework
- e.g. in away days – we identified a new taxonomy for the support section, *and* said that the ingredients would be useful for groups in thriving – SO – these two have different taxonomies
5. Support framework design: TN support
- Tied into Transition taxonomy
- Tied into Relationship model
- What the TNv3 site offers and not
- e.g. NOT sites for Tis – but hooks to enable modular connections at machine level
- Online collaboration suite (Space) for staff, projects, national hubs, DNA… regional hubs? The more we offer, the greater our tech and support overhead will be
- absolute minimum migration?
- how to assess what information is (a) required (b) relevant (c) connected etc.? Process?
- massive site strip; back to basics to go first to simplify before move
- remove PSE, Sharing Engine, CMS, Forums
- possibly don’t migrate non-base data for Tis?
- Introduce new Tis status classifications?
- Introduce other ways to encourage TI updating
- CRM layer
- usability – e.g. site users see nearest Tis based on location with a question – ‘do you know this TI?’
Building a growing technical and information architecture group
Transition Network’s recognition of the international developments and ambition to spread the power of decision-making and authority, coupled with the very ‘now’ situation of there being lots of technical and information specialists being asked to produce websites for Transition groups and national hubs in different ways, and there being lots of tech out there already, and different networks with different technical solutions with different data structures …
We are going to re-visit the ‘Transition Technologists’ long held ambition to provide a space for an international technical group to convene, have a location to meet, network, and start to explore what a Transition web technical project looks like at various scales from different angles.
Transition Network is only one player in this global phenonenom; we want to make sure that its current position of being funded and relatively advanced technically and organisationally is shared increasingly over the next 3 years.
A very rough timeline of how things may pan out
This is a 3-5 year project. Transition Network is doing its homework behind the scenes to get the pieces in place (see decisions above) over the winter 13/14. Then the web strategy work and comms strategy work can take place.
- Autumn 2013 (Sept-Dec)
- Staff, board, key projects and stakeholders review big picture, concepts, rough timeline
- Pruning and tidying: remove Community Microsites, PSE widget, News Engine
- Edit exiting site to make it relevant and useful now – particularly support
- Budget preparation and funding blurb writing for 2014
- International Initiative Registration Service (IIRS) build
- Core comms concepts: Transition DNA/story
- Winter 2014 (Jan-March)
- Core comms concepts: Transition DNA/story
- Site users’ survey and early user-expert advice
- Edit exiting site to make it relevant and useful now – particularly support
- International Initiative Registration Service (IIRS) trial: Portugal
- Information architecture: Tis, People, Projects
- Support framework design
- Relationship ‘deal’ agreed (Tis’ status, engagement model)
- Migration planning: rigorous and disciplined packing
- Secure budget for development
- Group formation of international techs/IAs
- TNv3 site development incremental roadmap
- Spring 2014 (April – June)
- Start TNv3 site build
- TNv3 site migration