I have been running either a BBS or a website for almost 30 years now. I have never asked anyone else to fork over any money. I guess I really do not understand the nature of being a good entrepreneur. But in that time I have learned a few things about keeping costs to a minimum. I had to.
First of all I tried to find an inexpensive place to host the site. Usually there are ISPs that have been reasonable in what they charge. In the early days of the Internet virtually all of the social sites were BBSs or Bulletin Board Systems. They largely communicated via the email systems of the time and you read each thread either as a single reply or you could ask for the entire thread to be sent at once during the day (to keep down the traffic). Each member of the site had an account and they could upload images and media if it was kept to a minimal size.
As time moved on the BBS system scene faded (there are still a few around) as well as the Usenet environment and in its place sprang up the website. By this time the Internet was capable for supporting the graphic displays that were being brought to market and the first browsers were out. They were slow and kludgy but they offered the possibility of a very graphically oriented communications platform.
Dot matrix printers had given was to laser printers. I owned one of the first LaserWriter printers from Apple and used PageMaker to create newsletters and such for my members to download. Eventually the GIF gave way to JPEG imaging and color sprang up all over the web.
What was a bit disconcerting was the fact that my original 5 MB hard drive was barely able to handle the images collected for use on the website along with the applications being housed. It looked as if the hardware manufacturers were conspiring to get everyone to upgrade simply to accommodate the superfluity of data being crammed into a single graphic image.
My first digital camera was a Canon produced unit for Apple. They took monochrome images but it was a fantastic start. At the time I never envisioned anything rivaling the cheapest digital point and shoot cameras of today. If I wanted good images back then my Leica or my view camera were pressed into service and the negative was scanned (if I made slides) otherwise the prints were scanned. It was a wild time for anyone who had a desire to make images for distribution on the web.
I can still remember the very first time I used a digital camera to document a club ride. It was a milestone for me. I could suddenly envision not schlepping along the Leica and instead using this handy little gadget to make images and “develop” them at home for immediate use! My favorite program for creating web pages was DreamWeaver.
But eventually I found WordPress and after a few fits and starts decided to give it a try. What I did not like about WordPress was the fact that it was not completely configurable. After you have made your living creating website turning that chore over to a canned platform seemed like capitulation.
But instead it has turned out that WordPress is a liberating force not constraining. It frees you up to do what is undoubtedly the most difficult chore in maintaining a web site and that is maintenance. The PHP and mySQL components that form the basis for the interactivity of the site are simply dazzling.
But it is in the area of add-ons that WordPress excels. Themes make it possible to alter the look and feel of the site literally overnight. And Plug-Ins have capacity to turn an ordinary site into something that can serve as a BBS or an OnLine Store all without much knowledge of programming. Having been a software programmer for nearly as long as I have been a webmaster I can tell you it was a struggle to let someone else do the driving.
But some ten years into the process I can say that I am more than happy to have turned over the reins. I can get all sorts of things done that would have taken me weeks if not a month or so to do. And I still have time to go out and ride my bike which is all I ever really wanted to do in the first instance.
NING and Other Platforms
I know virtually nothing about NING or Drupal. I have never been dissatisfied with WordPress so I have never strayed. But what I can get for FREE with WordPress evidently is hard to come by if you are using NING.
Among the things that NING users have to pay extra for are mobile apps for their smartphones. You can pay for one to use with WordPress but frankly the new responsive-style themes are all the rage and make smartphone-specific apps obsolete (from my perspective).
They only require that the visiting device notify the website of its screen size. From that point forward the theme undertakes to shrink the size of the display accordingly. If you want to see what that means visit this site using your iPad, iPad-mini, iPhone, Android Phone or your MacBook Pro or whatever Windows platform you have and see that the site mutates with each device.
And it is not brand or OS-specific. Earlier I had purchased a mobile device app for iPhones that worked quite well, but would not service Android devices. So when the responsive-style themes became available I leaped on the band wagon and have never had a moments hesitation since.
As I said I know very little about NING which the is platform on which the ChainLink is based. But knowing what I know about such things I would imagine that theirs is a platform a good deal like WordPress. But maybe the programmer community that supports this platform is smaller and as a result it is costly for them to find good plug-ins. I simply do not know. I paid about $70 for my current them and could easily create a BBS system for this website with a product that looks and works alot like my earlier BBS platform. The nice thing about it is that it is FREE.
I would love for the folks that run ChainLink to stop and take a look at WordPress if for no other reason than that $15,000 seems pretty steep to get the sorts of things they are promising. Of course if you value what they are doing you can link to their money collection site (using the banner across the top of this page) and pony up, they have a long way to go.
But I could think of a lot better things to do with that much money than to streamline a site that has some well-healed donors in ATA and others for whole that amount of money is a drop in the bucket. In fact it would seem that one of the cycling advocacy groups should have been running this site or a competing one all along.
ChainLink claims to have $8,000 members. So that means that with each person chipping in $2 they can get the entire fundraising thing done in a weekend and have a grand leftover for a beer party. Cheers!
Some Additional Thoughts
If the cost of running/maintaining your platform is expensive then perhaps you might want to think outside the box. Google is in the business of helping organizations succeed without costs. They have an entire arsenal of weapons available:
- Gmail – Their mail platform. Not only is it free but it also provides pretty good spam filtering. It certainly beats most of the other platforms available to PC users.
- YouTube – Everyone knows about this powerhouse of video storage and retrieval. Again it is amazingly still free.
- Maps – WordPress users like this application because it provides (when using the proper plug-in) a means of giving a location and then seeing a map insert to support it. But if you use Google Calendar you can get the same thing.
- Calendar – Few group calendar applications are as powerful as this one. It even supports “calendar overlays”. This allows a single calendar to “peek” at others to see if they have events to include. These are shown in differing colors.
- Groups – This is the premier online mailing list and discussion group.
- Sites – Google’s answer to the creation of websites and secure group wikis.
- Docs – If you are in the habit of collecting and sharing documents you could certainly do worse than using this application.
- Blogger – If you are aiming at a social network then this is the one of the better way to supply your members with a free blog of their own. I would think that WordPress.com would be an even better choice.
- Reader – This tool allows your membership to read various RSS feeds quickly and with minimal fuss.
- Talk or Voice – Either of these neat tools allows you and another member of your service to connect in real-time with one another by either IM or voice.
Paying lower fees to have your site hosted should be an easy thing to do should you decide to go the NING or WordPress route. You can find rates as low as $7/month. But slightly higher gets you greater bandwidth if your site is busy.