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It's been mentioned before on this site how important it is to have a webpage.

Most academics don't have a lot of experience with web development, and do not realistically have time to learn it and keep the knowledge up to date.

What are some good ways/tools to create and maintain a professional website when the priority is minimizing long term maintenance burden?

My experience is that it's not uncommon that people will put in the effort to build a very nice website once, but they simply won't be able to maintain it long term. Either it's too much effort to add new content (too busy to do it), or they change institutions and it's too much effort to migrate the site (because e.g. the new institution's hosting doesn't support some of the necessary tools, such as PHP, etc.) Even if I put in the effort to learn a bit about web development today, I won't be using this knowledge contiually, so I'll forget how to do it. At that point it might become too much of a burden to keep a website up to date, so eventually I'll neglect it.

This question is about how to avoid this situation, and what tools or hosting methods to use to minimize maintenance burden so a home page can realistically be kept up to date.

The simplest solution seems to be to only use basic (static) hand-written HTML and maybe a simple CSS stylesheet. Many (most) academics are doing this. The result will probably not be very beautiful and will look like webpages 15 years ago, but it can serve the purpose. Are there any better ways? (Typing all that <p> and <em> and <pre> and <ul> is in fact still rather tedious and error prone compared e.g. to writing MarkDown here.)

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closed as off-topic by EnergyNumbers, scaaahu, Peter Jansson, aeismail Jul 5 at 15:19

  • This question does not appear to be about academics within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about web content management, not about academia –  EnergyNumbers Jul 4 at 17:27
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It is web content management but the software requirements come from an academic environment in an unclear and possibly unsatisfiable way (i.e. as usual). –  Trylks Jul 4 at 17:37
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Writing HTML by hand should be no problem to someone who knows LaTeX. And, as pointed out by mhwombat, there are decent-looking, free templates to take care of the design step. –  fkraiem Jul 4 at 17:50
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The fact that a so-called academic can't figure out HTML/CSS makes me sad. –  horse hair Jul 4 at 18:42
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The result will probably not be very beautiful and will look like webpages 15 years ago — So what? –  JeffE Jul 4 at 18:45

5 Answers 5

tl;dr: Wordpress (installing a Markdown plugin), Wikidot or, if you are a techie, Jekyll.

(My website is in Wikidot, I created for my group with Wordpress.)

See Software for Scientists: Website tools:

For personal homepages, lab notebooks and conference websites.

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Actually this is quite useful! –  Szabolcs Jul 4 at 22:19
    
I'd also like to point out the existence of Nanoc (with krandown), which is like Jekyll but possibly harder to use; and also to mention that those two tools do not have serverside dependencies, everything generated on your computer and uploaded to the server. –  user60561 Jul 4 at 23:17
    
And the anonymous downvote is for...? –  Piotr Migdal Jul 5 at 15:51
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I forgot about Jekyll, "trying it" is still in my ToDo list. Octopress may be an interesting option if choosing Jekyll. –  Trylks Jul 7 at 7:38

The main thing that needs frequent updating is your bibliography. Some people don't try to maintain a bibliography list; instead they put a link to their DBLP search results. For example:

http://dblp.uni-trier.de/pers/hd/h/Holland:John_H=.html

This may not show extremely recent publications, but it may be more accurate than one you maintain manually and forget to update!

Another option is to link to a Google Scholar search. For example:

http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=wfAPzPQAAAAJ&hl=en

Aside from the bibliography, I don't think there are any requirements that are specific to academia. There are so many options for creating and maintaining websites. Which one is right for you depends on how computer-literate you are, among other things, and would really be a boat programming question.


EDIT: To avoid dealing with the HTML directly, there are the usual suspects: Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal.

A "hand-built" website doesn't have to look old-fashioned. If you decide to go this route, you can find some attractive, free templates here: http://www.oswd.org/


EDIT: If you have a GitHub account, you can create a website for it using GitHub Pages. You can write your pages using markdown (there are other options as well), and you can have your own custom domain.

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I disagree about the question not being specific to academia. I considered posting it on a programming related site first, but from my experience it would not receive good answers there, because the problem is not technical and because many users of those sites won't even understand the real problem: not having enough time and motivation to maintain something that is not central to one's work, but still important. One possible solution is technical (find software tools to do it more efficiently), but it's not the only possible solution. –  Szabolcs Jul 4 at 17:02
    
To point is: most programmers will not understand the problem and the situation, and will either not give a useful answer ("just learn X cool new software tool, you have to put in the effort") or close the question. (Yes, I have already asked outside of SE.) –  Szabolcs Jul 4 at 17:03
    
I've added a bit more info that might be useful. –  mhwombat Jul 4 at 17:13
    
The tools you suggest are nice and useful. The reason why I ruled them out is that most universities do not support webhosting with PHP and databases. Also, the maintenance burden of these systems is higher because of more complex confuration and having to pay attention to security (constant updates, etc.) –  Szabolcs Jul 4 at 17:18
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Then we get back to just writing HTML by hand. The more I think about it, the less interesting the question seems. If you still believe that it's not appropriate for Academia.SE, I can delete it (but right now I can't, nor would it be nice, since you did write an answer) –  Szabolcs Jul 4 at 17:28

It's really not that hard to analyse the options.

1. Self-managed page

You certainly don't want PHP or anything server-side here, probably your university (institute or whatever) will provide you some web space that you "should" use and it's not going to run anything as fancy as PHP (let alone Python or Java). Which means that you have either:

a. some HTML with Javascript, possibly parsing BibTex files, should be feasible.

b. some script/program that generates the static web pages (and possibly updates them via FTP) and here you can program in whatever you want and do really cool things like updating your CV in PDF using LaTeX at the same time. But it's going to take a while to program it, unless you find it already done or you find someone else to do it (paying helps in finding, usually).

Everything is client-side, nothing on the server, no different reasonable options in this regard...

2. Linked page

If you are really worried about maintenance time then you can link to another page from the static HTML page, it may be updated automatically, which is great. Options are dblp and google scholar, among others. (e.g. Microsoft Academic Search)

The maintenance is zero, so there isn't anything more to reduce. This option works with static HTML with no Javascript, as opposed to the previous one.

3. Third party managed page

If you don't want to use that webspace provided by your organization, if you don't ever want to see any of the ugly HTML code, make design decisions with CSS, etc. and you don't want to do anything that even slightly resembles to programming but still have a nice webpage with your personal information, publications, etc. then let the professionals do the job.

There are several portals that can offer such a thing. Research Gate is the first one that comes to my mind, but I think LinkedIn provides a reasonably good page for academics and sure more people will be able to provide more examples.

And that's pretty much it.

We all would like to have robots that do everything for us, but the closest to that is option 2, with the robots that crawl the web and index the publications for their authors. Beware, though, that they may fail at finding some of the publications (specially when moving between institutions, and publishing with disjoint sets of authors).

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There are several existing solutions for (1b); for instance, webgen, jekyll, nanoc. Jekyll especially is gaining traction due to native support in github. –  Federico Poloni Jul 4 at 18:36
    
I really miss the option to use a CMS like wordpress. If one is a bit tech-savy, getting a wordpress site online will take only a day or so (including writing content). In addition, maintenance is very low. –  Paul Hiemstra Jul 5 at 10:33
    
@PaulHiemstra If we are not going to use the very limited (in capabilities) hosting provided by our university (only static pages, .htaccess is the most fancy thing) then this question does not really belong to academia. –  Trylks Jul 7 at 7:28

I'd discourage you from using any CMS backed by database --- keeping software stack up to date, coping with backup and migrations might be very cumbersome. Of course you can leave outdated CMS version or don't do backups... but this will bite someday, as someone break in. So really you need to keep the software up do date whether you change content or not.

I had some success with using a tools like pelican or sphinx (this documentation generator for python projects but works well for course materials, etc.). Both tools take input in reStructuredText and produce static HTML from it. You might code something similar from scrath using for example pandoc or docutils, that will take care for conversion between input format and HTML.

I like these tools because:

  1. Input format is user readable, text based and easy to learn
  2. I backup wepbage using tools I know (like git), or really just zip everything and store on some disk.
  3. I don't need anything from website administrator --- just a plain webserwer.

It specifically decreases maintenance because:

  1. Zero maintenance costs if you don't change the webpage, no need to update CMS and so on.
  2. Very low maintenance costs when you just add some content to the webpage --- just regenerate HTML and you're done.
  3. You can safely use outdated (but working) version of generator --- since there are no security bugs whatsoever.
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From my experience, I can recommend to stay away from both hand-made sites and general-purpose CMS.

OpenScholar seems to be a good fit. It is open source (based on Drupal), allegedly "easy to create and maintain" and certainly designed exactly for your/our use-case.

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From OpenScholar's website: "OpenScholar is open source software built on top of Drupal." That sounds like it's using a CMS-like system to me. . . . –  aeismail Jul 5 at 17:43
    
@aeismail: True, Drupal is a "full-blown" CMS. I don't know how light-weight and easy to use it is, say comparing to Wordpress or Joomla, and how much of the complexity is retained in OpenScholar. Sadly I can't find a demo. –  Raphael Jul 5 at 20:46
    
Why do you think using general purpose CMS is a bad idea? Can you relate more of what you've experienced that makes you think so? –  Lie Ryan Jul 5 at 22:30
    
@LieRyan: Every system has its own hassles, but across the board the prohibitive factor (imho) is major maintenance and oftentimes usability issues. Try using Joomla. It seems that if you try to do everything, nothing "just works". –  Raphael Jul 6 at 9:22

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