Alone or in a team, webmasters find experience rewarding

Eugenio Marcano and the website of the Worcester County, Massachusetts, Bahá’í communities. Photo courtesy of Eugenio Marcano

Lots of folks can relate to how Eugenio Marcano ended up as webmaster for the Bahá’ís of Worcester, Massachusetts:

“It’s kind of like whoever proposes something, that person gets stuck with it.”

Marcano quickly adds, “It’s been fun.”

Two other local Bahá’ís assisted Marcano at first, but they eventually moved away. He is trying to recruit some of the college students who have come into the community recently, but has to work around their heavy course load.

The Dominican Republic native uses computers in his work teaching geographical information systems at Mount Holyoke College.

And he acknowledges that “anything that will teach me something new I’m always eager to get on board.”

So when the Spiritual Assembly of Worcester consulted three years ago on outward-facing communications, Marcano raised the idea of a community website and was anointed the one to coordinate it.

He participated in a training workshop at Green Acre Bahá’í School led by the National Spiritual Assembly’s Office of Communications.

With follow-up pointers from David Hunt, a Web developer who collaborates with the national office, off he went.

The experience in Eugene, Oregon, has been somewhat different.

The Spiritual Assembly in Eugene recognized the need for an online presence in the early 2000s, says Marcia Veach, who serves as the site’s “de facto managing editor” and the community’s public information officer.

“As Eugene is a university town, the community was fortunate to have a membership that included a website developer, a graphic designer, a computer tech (a medical software specialist who stretched his base knowledge to be able to help deal with glitches in our website) and a journalist, all eager to be of service.”

The media team and a liaison from the Spiritual Assembly of Eugene developed the site from scratch and it went live in 2007, says Veach.

Then in 2011, wanting a more interactive site and seeing the wisdom of using the same platform — Drupal — as a growing number of Bahá’í sites, including Worcester’s, the Eugene team rebuilt the website.

“We had lost our original website developer, so we added another tech specialist to our media team for the update,” says Veach.

“Fortunately, we still had our graphic designer, Brooke Mossefin. That young woman just makes everything we present about the Faith shine! By the end of 2012, we were ready to make the exchange, and our shiny new website appeared online.”

Veach and Marcano both say Hunt and others are ready to help when technical problems pop up.

Content-wise, Marcano is OK with going it alone. He says community members are really good about updating him on study circles and other activities. And he enjoys following up on seeker inquiries, whether through the website or 800-22UNITE.

Where he is short of collaborators is for the website’s blog. People are excited to see it, he says, but haven’t contributed stories. Lots of Bahá’í newsletter editors can relate to that.

The stories he has been able to post, says Marcano, have constituted a most rewarding part of the webmaster experience for him.

After he wrote about the early days of the Faith in Worcester, a daughter-in-law of the local community’s founders contacted him through the website and related additional information.

A granddaughter of the first Bahá’í baby born in Worcester did the same, and he was able to visit her and get fresh stories.

“That makes all the effort worth it, to be able to contact these people,” says Marcano.

Veach, too, writes most of the articles posted to her community’s site.

But while Marcano decides on content and reports periodically to the Worcester Assembly on the site’s progress, the Eugene team works with an Assembly-appointed board composed of the public information officer and three other community members. The board approves each article before posting.

“The media review board can, of course, override my choices by not approving an article, but I usually check with them prior to doing any writing if I have a question about the suitability of an article,” says Veach.

“We are open to having others submit articles that could be edited and then vetted by the review board. If photos are to be posted, the Assembly requires that a photo release form be obtained from those pictured.”

The Assembly’s “direct contribution to the process,” she says, “has mainly been the financial support for the site and the establishment of the media review board. If we have questions, the Assembly is very responsive and provides answers or guidance in a timely manner.”

Worcester and Eugene both use Google Analytics to track website use.

“It appears we have had more than 100 unique visitors to the site each month I’ve checked it, with well over 50 percent being new visitors,” says Veach. “We also occasionally get phone calls or emails from people who have visited the site and want to learn more about the Faith.”

She acknowledges Eugene’s original site was not continually updated, “likely because it was not as interactive.”

“It was one reason we decided to update, because we knew a static site would not draw as many visitors,” says Veach. “When we made the change, we also made a commitment to keep the calendar up to date and add content on a regular basis.

“That is certainly a challenge at times. Seems like we either have too much or too little going on at different times of the year.”

Marcano, for one, can relate to that.

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