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Cabrini Connections Web Development Strategy

Large network. Over the years Cabrini Connections has built a very large and well-connected network of websites, blogs and wikis. It is nice to see so many good ideas and so much enthusiasm in one place.

Productive and progressive. Cabrini Connection was one of the most productive and progressive organizations, – constantly producing new web content and trying new technologies. Cabrini Connections even made an official technology strategy at the beginning of this century while almost half of American and the vast majority of the World’s universities lacked such a document.
Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.
Dwight David Eisenhower
Planning & Plans. Plans, especially technology plans are like a living being – they are as good as the amount of time and effort we invest in development and application.

Plan >> Ac
t >> Observe >> Reflect >> Revised Plan >> act >> Observe…
- Cabrini Connections’ path to success

So, let’s say a few words about our Web sites. Sustainable web site development has become a big challenge.

Quantity. Cabrini Connections /Tutor/Mentor Connection have 7 web sites. Those are:
  1. Cabrini T/MC Golf >> www.cabrinitmcgolf.org
  2. Tutor/mentor Conference >> www.tutormentorconference.org
  3. Tutor/mentor program locator >> www.tutormentorprogramlocator.net
  4. Tutor/mentor connection >> www.tutormentorconnection.org
  5. Tutor/mentor connection @ ning.com >> http://tutormentorconnection.ning.com
  6. Cabrini Connections >> www.cabriniconnections.net
7 web sites? That is more websites than the number of Cabrini Connections staff. If Google worked the same way, they would have over 20,123 web sites since that is the number of staff they employ.

Google. Well… they did not do that. Probably because they do not have enough time, money and human resources to produce so many sites. Google.com is enough. If there is a big project/service as Google Maps, they simply create a short subdomain like maps.google.com

So, what happened at Cabrini Connections? Do we have time, money and human resources for this many sites? We have to develop them, we have to brand them, we have to maintain technology, pay for servers… but do we get the results that match the investment (Return Of Investment: ROI)?

Strategy. Let’s have a look how is it explained in Technology strategy. On page List of web sites and purpose is stated:

We work from many different web sites because:
  1. they serve different purposes and/or
  2. they were created by different volunteers at different times.
Reason one. As you can see, reason one says that all those sites have so different purposes that they can not be together.

Is that valid statement?

All those sites actually support the same mission/purpose and that is:
  • Supporting structured activities that make a life-changing difference for youth living in economically and educationally disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Strategy, mission and cost. There are minor differences in the particular strategies each site uses to support the aforementioned activities, but there is no doubt that they support the same mission (they serve same purpose). Furthermore, those differences are much, much smaller than the price we have to pay for the development, maintenance and branding of 7 different sites.

Public/Private Ventures - Example Real world example. We mentioned how Google manages web development. But how do successful nonprofits do it? Let’s have a look at Public/Private Ventures (PPV.org) web site. Although they are a very big organization (national leader in creating and strengthening programs that improve lives in low-income communities, 60 staff members) they have just one web site. And if you click link [Program Areas], you will see that their activities are more diverse than ours. But still, all those activities are presented through just one site.

Reason two suggest that we have numerous web sites because they were created by different volunteers at different times.

What about that statement?

Knowledge then and now. 6-7 years ago, I would say ‘Yes’ that is a good reason. Why? Because at that time I did not know much about multiple FTP accounts and services as blogger.com or ning.com did not provide CNAME service; I did not know much about online collaboration. But today I know that there is no reason why 100, 1000, or more, like with Google.com’s website, users can not work together on one web site. All you need to know is how to create a folder or subdomain with separate FTP account and in no time you can have numerous individuals/groups working on a site or collaborating through the same site – everybody just in his own area or everybody together. So… today the answer is no: there is no reason why numerous authors cannot share the same domain.

To summarize, those statements are not valid anymore.

Statistic. Recently I conducted a small research study: 10 random students and 10 random volunteers were asked how many web sites we have? None of them know the right number.
The greatest danger for the new venture is to “know better’ than the customer what the product or service is or should to be, how it should be bought, and what it should be used for. Peter Drucker
SWOT analysis
SWOT Analysis
is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project. It involves specifying the objective of the project and identifying the internal and external factors that are favorable and unfavorable to achieving that objective. So, let’s make SWOT analysis for ‘7 web site web development plan’ and compare it with ‘1-2 web site web development strategy’.

SWOT analysis for 7 website web development strategy

Helpful to achieving the objective
  • Strength
    - Keeping Status Quo
  • Opportunity
    - None
Harmful to achieving the objective
  • Weakness
    - Time consuming
    - Fragmentized web
    - Expensive web development (different technologies, different websites…)
    - Impossible branding
    - Collaboration between users/sites is very limited
  • Threats
    - Misleading: 7 web sites can give impression that we are doing a good job. Unfortunately, that is very misleading conclusion. It is not important how much web sites we have, it is important how effective they are.
SWOT analysis for 1-2 website web development strategy

Helpful to achieving the objective
  • Strength
    - Easier development
    - One technology
    - Numerous users working together without technological problems
    - Strong, recognizable web site
  • Opportunity
    - Faster development
    - Branding
    - Becoming real Mentoring Web Portal
Harmful to achieving the objective
  • Weakness
    - Change – reorganizing web site is responsable and time consuming task
  • Threats
    - Losing data
    - Inproper redirection
So, what can/should we do? How can we manage our web development? As I said (and as you probably know), this is a big network with lots of good content, 7 web sites, much more blogs, maps, 2 web applications.
Management is the specific and distinguishing organ of any and all organizations. Peter Drucker
Status Quo. One way to plan development is keep it as it is – keep the Status Quo. In short term this is much easier solution; not much work, not much responsibility. But if we think about progress, cost, mission and results, then that is not an option. Maintaining 7 web sites is a full time job for a big team.

Management. Another possibility is making changes in direction of:

Unifying technology. We should use trusted technologies that fulfill all our needs and are supported by numerous users. That technology should be easy to use, easy to maintain and if it is possible – it should be free (open source). Fortunately numerous open source solutions, that are extremely powerful, easy to use, supported by millions of users and… are ‘designed for us’ are available. For example combination Joomla Content Management System (CMS) and Moodle Learning Management System can serve all our needs.

Planned and gradual process. Unifying websites should be a well planned and gradual process. There are numerous links to our sites. Therefore we should keep all domain names we have now as aliases. I If somebody clicks on an old link, she will be redirected to a new site. For example www.tutormentorexchange.net can be an alias for www.learn.cabriniconnections.net.

University ChicagoLand Example. I will explain how it works on one classical example. In our example we will use ‘University ChicagoLand’. This is one fictional university situated at 7 locations in the Chicagoland Area. Some of the campuses are situated more than 50 miles apart. so students and staff have to spend a few hours a day in traffic just to travel from one part of the University to another and some student have to skip classes because it is imposable to arrive on time. Furthermore, the University is paying 7 gatekeepers, maintaining 7 different buildings, 7 independent computer networks… Fortunately, after research the University management decided to change 7 distant locations for one where everything is on one place.
However, numerous partners and alumni have the old university addresses. But, that is not a problem. Simply all mails that come to the old addresses will be forwarded to a new location. So, as a result we will have better working environment, it is cheaper to maintain, and without travel problems… students and staff can focus 100% on education.

It works the same way in the digital environment. It is cheaper, easier to maintain, easier to develop and achieve results if we have just one web site.

Branding. A branding of 7 web sites is mission impossible. But a branding 1 or 2 web sites is something we can do.

Partnership. Since sharing the data/results we have costs little or nothing, and there are obvious benefits like improved results, better quality control, sharing costs, partnership is the way to go.