In these days of dwindling budgets and personnel, improving your Web presence can seem costly, but it may turn out to be a sound investment
in the long run. With a larger Web presence you may reach a larger
audience, or sell more online advertising. Adding dynamic content is
one way to give the impression that you have a larger presence that you
really do, and it can be done for next to nothing.
It's not rocket science to add dynamic aspects to websites. It just takes a little patience and know-how, and the ability to search on
Google to find help from those who have gone before you.
Regardless of the type of server you run (Linux, Windows, Solaris),the principles are all similar. The same can be said for
programming languages: the correct programming language is the one your
server supports, and the one your programmer is comfortable using.
Personally, I believe in open source software, so my examples may be
slightly biased towards those using Linux variants, but if you have the
money to spend, there are commercial solutions available that are ready
to fulfill your needs.
Probably the easiest way of using dynamic content is to create it ahead of time, and let the server post it at scheduled intervals.
Perhaps you want to change your homepage every Sunday morning, but
don't want to work during the weekend. No problem. On Friday, create
the new version of the homepage (for example, let's call it
sunday.html) and use a scheduler (cron in Linux and Unix
variants; AT in Windows) to copy the new file over your old
homepage file. Just be careful when you set this up; if you schedule it
to run every Sunday and you forget to create the sunday.html
file, you may end up with no homepage at all when you come in Monday
A site search capability and a date stamp are two easy ways to enhance
The most useful example of dynamic Web content may be the
‘What's on Now’ or ‘Now Playing’ feature (which
is strange, because there are few scripts available for download that
do this). People come to your site to look at your programming
schedule, but what if they're only interested in finding out what's
playing now or what's coming up next? Using the method above, you could
create a homepage for each hour of each day, all almost identical
except for what's playing now and next, but that's a lot of files to
have to worry about.
the time of day, and then use a series of if/then statements to display
the appropriate information. As a side note, try to avoid using
time of the user's computer, so a user in California viewing a website
in Virginia will see an incorrect time. Use a server-side language like
PHP or Visual Basic because it will return the server time. There's a
second hidden benefit to using a server-side language as well: you will
minimize the bandwidth (and consequently improve load time) because you
won't be sending lots of data that the browser won't be displaying.
Step up to the mic
Perhaps the most dynamic content is the kind you don't create
yourself. There are a lot of people out there, and most of them would
like a place to share their ideas with others, so why not let them be
shared on your site? Many good discussion board software packages are
free (open source), take up little server space or bandwidth and keep
people coming back to read and reply, especially if you use a
discussion topic that people feel strongly about. Start a political
board, a recipe exchange or even a feedback forum where users can post
their comments on concerts given by local bands.
If you're not comfortable giving people access to post on whatever
topics they desire, then limit their options by using a poll. You
choose the question and the answers. All the users get to do is vote.
Again, it's quick to set up, inexpensive and takes care of itself once
it is running.
Save the date
Try adding a calendar to your site. Include programming schedules
and cultural events covering your local listening area. Music stations
can create relationships with some of the concert venues in the area,
and allow them to enter information for their performances into your
system. Promote local appearances by station jocks and other station
activities in the community.
There is a lot of free content out there. The National Weather
Service provides forecast information for all 50 states, based on ZIP
codes, in either a human- or machine-readable fashion. Writing a simple
script to request this information, parse it and display it can't be
too difficult because there's an open source project doing it already
(PHP Weather on SoundForce). Look at the examples and it should all be
Additionally, there are news services that can provide your site
files on other servers. This is useful for getting others' content to
appear on your site, but be aware that you may have to put up with a
delay in page load time while the user waits not only for your server
to respond to them, but also for the other server to respond to your
server. NPR-affiliated stations can use some of the modules available
for shows such as All Things Considered, which provide
information about the day's guests and show topics, and display them on
your site automatically. Check with your syndicated program provider to
see if similar services are available.
Content management systems
Considered to be the holy grail of website management is the content
management system (CMS). There are hundreds of options here, from
freeware open source solutions such as Zope and Phoundry, to those that
cost thousands of dollars, such as Interwoven, Vignette and Microsoft's
Content Management Server. Most of these allow multiple people to have
certain access to perform certain tasks, such as upload a new page on
your site, schedule content to appear on the homepage or edit and
approve a piece of content before it is posted. They can be
sophisticated, storing everything in an Oracle database, or simple,
storing each page in its own HTML file. They can be flexible or rigid,
depending on the product and the people setting it up.
The key to having a good CMS is finding a person or company to set
it up correctly from the start. Most of them are not viable
out-of-the-box solutions, but rather toolkits to enable you to take
various aspects you like and weave them together to perform particular
functions. They need to be customized to your particular application to
be as flexible as possible in the future.
Words to the wise
Start simple: Display the date on your pages. Yes, it's cheesy; yes,
most people realize it's being done automatically, but it's quick and
easy and can be done with almost no technical know-how.
Add a search box to each of your pages. It doesn't have to be big,
but make sure your users can see it immediately. The quicker you can
get the user what they want, the more time they have to spend looking
around your site.
Whatever it is you want to do, odds are it has been done before.
Before you go off to create your own version of it, do a few searches
and take a look at how others have handled it. Keep what you like,
throw out what you don't like and go from there.
Investigate sharing your work with other stations. If you want to
add a particular feature to your site but can't afford to, maybe you
can partner with another station interested in doing something
Harrison is manager of Web technology for WETA-FM and WETA-TV,
Sources of ideas and ways to implement them can be found at these