by Terry Kleeman
Asian Languages and Civilizations
This is a not-too-convoluted tale of my search for a website. This website would serve to represent my academic work to the world, but more importantly, function as home to the Daoist Text Initiative, basically the continuance of an NEH Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers that I directed and co-taught here on the CU campus last summer (2011). I am a member of the CU-Boulder faculty teaching Chinese language, thought, and religion in the Asian Languages and Civilizations department. I have a moderate level of expertise with computers and the web; I used to format simple webpages in HTML for use in one of the predecessors to Desire2Learn but never went beyond that. Before that I had a simple webpage that I composed in Word then saved as an HTML page, but it disappeared some years ago (more on that mystery below). So I think I am a pretty average user of information technology in most ways.
My goals in creating a website were several: I wanted a personal webpage that relayed my academic interests and served as a repository for some of some of my earlier publications. I also wanted a website for the NEH Seminar that I was planning for that summer. There were some specific requirements from NEH, too, so I did not have a completely free hand. I would need at least a page describing the Seminar, a page of technical information on who was eligible and how to apply, and a page about Boulder and accommodations here.
The next step was deciding how to create these webpages. Converting Word files never worked well, and it did not seem a reasonable option for a website with so many different pages. I had once taken a workshop through ITS (now OIT) on using Dreamweaver to design a website, but you could only use the online version of this software on campus, I had no funds to buy a personal copy, and I rarely had time while on campus to play with websites, so my limited skills had atrophied. I first looked at a program I found recommended online called Rapidweaver (http://www.realmacsoftware.com/rapidweaver/overview/). It proved fairly adept at putting together simple webpages, but I found that if I wanted anything as complicated as a table to organize navigation buttons, I would have to buy or find online some more code to add to my basic program. I didn’t really understand how the pieces of software were supposed to interact, and ultimately abandoned the program. I also didn’t like that it put a distinctive logo for the software on each page it produced.
I’ve been a Mac user for several years and a colleague had mentioned using iWeb to make his personal website, so I decided to explore that. It turned out to have an easily understood interface and templates for several types of webpages that seemed convenient. I was able to cut and paste elements from what I had created under Rapidweaver then go on to add photos, images, etc. quite easily. Thus I was able to produce several fairly readable webpages. Initially, I hosted them on the iWeb site. iWeb has now been discontinued by Apple, so this is no longer a viable option, but the software still works on the latest version of OSX.
I was eventually able to move the website from iWeb to university servers, but this was not without incident. It turned out that my university web account had been blocked back in 2004 because of fears I had a virus. I always wondered why I couldn’t find the simple webpage I had put up in the early 2000s. I replaced that with the new pages produced through iWeb and my basic website was up. I created an easy to use shortened URL (using TinyURL) for the website and advertised it widely. This website was effective in gathering participants for our NEH Seminar, which was held with only minor snafus from July 18 to August 5 of 2011.
Leading up to the Seminar, we had applied for and been awarded a supplementary Digital Enhancement Grant, that gave us around $10,000 to build a website that would make available the products of the Seminar to a wider audience of scholars and students. In our proposal, we promised to build a grand website with a variety of features that would appeal to a wide swath of people and would be effective in promoting the study of Daoist scriptures. These features included an archive of translated texts (together with the original text), a crowd-sourced glossary of technical terms, guides to teaching specific aspects of Daoist history and culture, and a calendar of ritual events and observances related to Daoism. Of these, the glossary and calendar were conceived of as group projects with scholars from around the world contributing new definitions to the glossary and new events to the calendar. Moreover, we undertook to maintain and develop this website for a period of at least five years.
I was clearly out of my league, and simple website creation aids like iWeb or Rapidweaver were not sophisticated enough for such a task. Moreover, there would be special problems with this website because of the use of Chinese characters, some fairly obscure, that would have to display correctly on a variety of different computers and other electronic devices. I was particularly worried about keeping the Chinese text and translated English text aligned somehow in the Translation section. Clearly, I would need a trained web designer with some specific skills.
The search did not prove easy, in part because I really did not know what I was looking for, but also because of university regulations. OIT has many trained web designers, but they could not work for me because my project was not funded by the university. Nor could any OIT staff point me to a specific person at OIT who might be interested in doing this on the side, as this would be showing favoritism. At the same time, my departmental administrative assistant warned me about the difficulty of getting someone totally new into the university payroll system. The best I could do was to send an email to a site where it would be made available to everyone who might be interested in this. I would have to have a pretty clear idea of what I wanted in order to advertise it.
Another issue was where to host the site. My current location, on a college server, only permitted a site of 50 MB, which is quite small. A friend who runs a similar site devoted to Buddhism suggested that my site might eventually grow as large as one GB. He also pointed an advantage to hosting on a commercial site: the IT staff is available 24/7, whereas most universities shut down for the weekend and are available only limited hours during weekdays. Asking around, I found that many knowledgeable friends recommended InMotion Hosting. Looking into this, I found their most economical business-class plan offered unlimited disk space and unlimited monthly transfers for $5.95 a month. Over five years, this would amount to roughly $360, a sizable amount, but workable within my budget, assuming the web designer was not too expensive.
In my continuing quest for a web designer, I filled out a form on the University Communications website, stating my needs. I was soon contacted by Jon Leslie, Assistant Director of University Communications. We eventually talked on the phone, then met in person. After explaining my needs, and the special requirements for dealing with Asian scripts, Jon told me that his group was interested in using this as a test case for integrating non-Western scripts into CU webpages. He also informed that the university was testing an industrial-strength hosting platform, and that we could host the website on that site for free. He was able to accommodate my $2,000 budget for website design, and I am now anxiously awaiting my brand new website. I am sure that there will be a lot of work in the future setting everything up, but I am optimistic I will end up with an attractive, functional website designed and hosted by CU. I have two graduate students working on preparing and proofreading material to be placed on the site. I anticipate that all will be ready by the end of the summer .