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I am planning to start running a group seminar, with talks scheduled regularly, at my institute.

The seminars might be of interest for people in neighbouring areas, too, so I would like to have an "archive" website with all the abstracts and a calendar of the upcoming seminars, and of course I'd like to send out e-mail notifications (and optionally also a RSS feed/calendar widget for the more tech-savvy users).

Is there any software or service that can help me automate some of this setup? I thought of opening a blog-type site on some hosting site, probably either Wordpress or github/Jekyll.

Do you have experience working with similar tools? Do you think they would really save me some time? Or maybe is it better if I just add a page to my academic website, send the mails manually and forget about the other fancy addons?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Having once been the guy making a site for a lab only to have it abandoned because I made it too complicated, I would strongly recommend that, whatever you do, you make it simple to maintain; unless you're the lab PI, the site you build will likely outlast you.

Wordpress is very easy to use, with lots of built-in functionality, freely available themes, and tons of tutorials online describing how to use it. Other CMS packages have similar benefits. Unless it's strictly necessary, I would avoid "rolling your own" software; almost all lab websites are the same few pages, and you don't need something complex for that.

I agree with @seismail that you should check whether your department will make the page for you or at least agree to host it. It will definitely improve branding.

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A site hosted by your university, on your university website, will probably be a better choice than an externally hosted website. This is because you'll be able to immediately identify the seminar series with your university, and that will help to improve its branding. (It also looks a lot more professional!)

As for software, there are a lot of different options. I can't really offer a lot of guidance on this, as we have staff whose job it is to maintain our websites. Which one you pick will depend a lot upon the kinds of features you want, and how steep a learning curve you're willing to negotiate.

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Assuming your current academic website is hosted by your university, and you also want this one hosted with them, I'd first check with the group that hosts your academic website to see if they have any recommended solutions for something like this. The previous university I was at employed a few students to set up Drupal websites (which you could edit using a web interface), but setting that up yourself has a large learning curve and requires that you host it on a server with PHP and MySQL.

I'm currently redoing our lab group's site using Jekyll. A couple of benefits are that it generates plain HTML files and you can host it anywhere, and the content is written in Markdown files which the PI can easily edit. There's also blog support, and some pre-made templates for RSS, although I haven't tried either of them. I don't think it does calendars or emails though.

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You might consider using google groups combined with a google calendar. It can be set up to provide email alerts and a calendar, and you should be able to extract an RSS feed as well.

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+1, Google Apps are the easiest solution for this setup. You have a Calendar, Group Discussion, and also Drive where you can upload abstracts, papers, whatever you like. Drawback is, every participant needs a Google Account. –  Eekhoorn Feb 11 '13 at 19:09
    
Another option could perhaps be using Google Sites (sites.google.com) rather than Google Groups (and again use integration with the Google Calendar). –  just-learning Aug 1 at 20:07

I have always hosted reading groups and seminars using a page within a wiki. There are a bunch of firms that will provide you with a wiki for free or for a small price and many that specialize in doing it for Academia (e.g., PBWiki and WikiSpaces and I'm sure there are many others).

You might have to send out your own email announcements but that burden is pretty minor.

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