Save yourself the aggravation and engage in other less painful activities like piercing your toenails. Still want/need to do it? You’ve been warned.
There is no doubt that any enterprise in this modern world must have a cybernetic portal to survive. Gun Clubs are no different and have their own particular challenges that will drive any web developer nuts. Thankfully, we are now in an era of very advanced web tools that allow almost any amateur (like me) to develop a somewhat decent website and make your club look decent.
I’ve been in charge of my club’s site on and off for almost a decade. I went from manually coding every page to using FrontPage and now I am in the WordPress train. Although the “carpentry” side has become much easier, the job never is. Here are some pointers learned the hard way and I hope they help if you are still committed to get into this mess.Let’s start with the basic website.
1) Get a good webhost. And I define good webhost as one that has a great and patient customer service and very little downtime. I use Best1Hosting and it was chosen by pure luck and hard economics. Tim Langen and his crew, while not a huge company, have not failed to keep up with somebody whose #1 question is “What was my password for the H-SPHERE control panel again?” and their servers have been reliable as heck.
2) Content, content, content. Since the beginning of the interwebs, content reigns supreme. Forget flashy stuff, ultra cool graphics or rad apps. People will come to your website for content (A.K.A. information.) Beer foam is nice looking, but if there isn’t any golden refreshing liquid underneath, people are bound to get frustrated. Before even thinking about getting rid of the HELLO WORLD page, gather all the relevant information about the club and keep it handy. What shooting disciplines do you offer? What days do you shoot? Where do you shoot? Range rules, cost, contact people with phone numbers and email addresses. Eventually there will be a Scores page if you are running regular competitions.
3) Keep it simple, orderly and update regularly. A website splash page that has not been updated since Glock released their Generation 2 series will send visitors away. Even your own fellow club members will not share the site for fear of embarrassment. It does not mean you have to do a radical change of look every 48 hours, but do keep it updated every month or as events happen. A confusing web design will tick people off; make sure that the links for any relevant information is clearly visible and that the information itself is not confusing.
Now, do you really need a Club’s Forum? I can’t believe I am gonna say this, but I think a forum is a great thing to have for a club provided you keep real tight reins on the son-of-a-gun. 99% of your future Tagamet intake will be directly related to the forum.
The forum provide members with a fast and easy way to stay in touch with other members, share or request information and comment on Club comings and goings. Now, that is not to say that forums have a way to augment the worst traits among some individuals when it comes to discussing, but even that has a partial solution. Yep, there are no magic bullets here either.
1) Run a good Forum software. It should give the Administrator (You) as many tools as possible to create and control the forum. In my opinion the best Free Forum software out there is Simple Machines Forum. You can pretty much have a very complete forum up and running in about an hour providing your webhost has SMF preloaded in your account.
2) Again with Content & Order. Plan ahead what you need and design the boards to cover the topics you club requires. The good news is that if you forgot something, you will be able to create it rather quickly and make everybody happy. Boards will generally divided in Club News, Match announcements, Scores, New Members and guns & gear. I would recommend adding a Humor/ Other Stuff section to keep Off Board topics to invade other territories. You can also create hidden boards for Club Business so Board Of Directors members can discuss stuff amongst themselves and do have a Moderator’s only board so your back up people can relax and openly discuss who should be banned…trust me it will happen.
3) Rules! You need them! Have them & enforce them. Regular nice people In Real Life will become Web Turds when given access to a keyboard and a forum. The rule of thumb I have seen applied with success is “Don’t post anything you would not talk about in Church in front of your very religious grandmother, her friends and their great-grandchildren.” Still some people apparently do not go to church or their grandmothers were Height-Ashbury Hippies who lost half their brains with LSD during the Flower Power era and really do not care for language or manners. Be ready to be called names and being equated with every dictator and despot in history, that is part of the job but be forceful enforcing your forum rules.Also, get yourself a couple of Moderators to help you keep the peace and order of the Forum.
4) On Free Speech. I am just going to quote directly from our forum rules page:
Yes you have a right to express your ideas and address grievances but this is a private forum and you are subject to the rules posted above. It has been my sad experience that those who complain the loudest about his/her Freedom of Speech being trashed by the Admins or Mods are those who like to abuse the Freedom. If you have an intense desire to engage in Cyber-Gladiator Fights, you are cordially invited to open your own forum and set your rules. It will not happen here PERIOD. The TSSA Forum is not the Flavian Amphitheater and you are not Spartacus.
4) Usernames. Forum Members must use their real names! I caught this fantastic way to keep things quiet from the 10-8 forums where you will see very little Keyboard Kommando shenanigans. More than anything this rule has kept the BS in our forum to a room noise level. It is hard to become insulting to another Club member when he knows your name and you have to face him in real life at the next match. This dovetails with the next item:
5) Keep the Forum private and for Club Members only. Basically nobody else should know what is the club doing but club members. This mean no automatic acceptance to the forum. You must vet every person that applies for the forum which means they must be a Club Member already and you know them or at least have seen him shoot at the matches. It keeps away riff-raff that only want to screw around in forums and also helps you detect spam bots since they will not follow the username rules.
6) Keep the forum alive. We have 225 members registered in our forum. Only 24 of them have more than 100 posts yet most check the forum at least once a week. So basically 10% participate in any way while a majority just watches. Do not complain, it is a blessing. But even though you barely have that 10%, it would be zero if you don’t keep it active somehow and the information you need your shooters to get would not be shared. It will be your duty to post something to get a discussion going, relate info, tell a joke, etc. At this time I have posted 2619 times in the forum and my nearest “competitor” who is in charge of many things in the club, knows his stuff and has very constructive news and advice for everybody has less than half number of posts at 1184.
PS: Be smart. Don’t get involved in the site, forum and scoring matches too. Look at me! I am wasting away!
PS2: Here are the our Club’s rules in case you need to have some sort of guideline.
UPDATE: If you are reading this post April’s Fool Day, be advised I played a nasty prank on my fellow club members altering the colors of the forum. I do not have that much bad taste. 🙂