four blossoms with the word jebrawebbed below

Jebrawebbed is the blog written by Debi Lewis, founder and owner of sustainable web site development company Jebraweb.com. Based in Evanston, IL, Debi and her firm are focused on building web sites for organizations with a purpose beyond (but not exclusive of) profit. Debi blogs about open source content management, non-profit and small business web sites, the importance of local community building, and women-owned business. She is the mother of two young daughters, married to a non-geek, prefers her bike to her car, and is the proud owner of a few too many stringed instruments.

You can find Jebraweb on Facebook and Twitter. You can email Debi at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Silver Linings in Your Required Upgrade

office chairs in a stormIt feels like a dark time in the life of a small business owner when their web developer breaks the bad news about needing to upgrade their software. Yesterday, their web site seemed just right. Suddenly, it's a violent approaching storm requiring an infusion of money and time just to keep the walls from crashing in. It seems there is no silver lining.

Except, thankfully, there is! Upgrades that involve a lot of your developer's time usually are taken up with recreating basic components of your site using whatever framework has been augmented by the software company. Often, this means rebuilding a template or theme, sometimes from scratch. When your developer is starting from nothing, there may be great opportunities to rethink pieces of your online presence without adding much cost to the upgrade process.  If you were to make those same changes later, you might be re-doing work that happens in the upgrade process, essentially paying for some things twice. In this post, we'll cover some of the things you might want to rethink while you're doing a rebuild.

Lose the Shoulder Pads on Your Web Sites

shoulder pads on flight attendant uniformsIf you look around in any office that requires business attire, it is obvious that fashions change over time. Sometimes the changes are subtle -- cuffs/no cuffs, pleats/no pleats -- and sometimes, they are obvious. Neither men nor women would consider entering a business environment these days with big shoulder pads. Not even flight attendants wear those anymore.

The same is true for the fashion of web design. There are conventions of design that change over time, and so your working web site from 2003 is unlikely to look stylish according to today's standards. Keeping the visual identity of your site updated is almost as important as keeping the software updated, and your customers will notice the way it looks first. Here are some design elements that make your digital shoulders look a little too padded.

Help Us Help You: How to Report & Describe Tech Trouble

book with one page that says page not found"My web site is broken."

"I can't get to the contact form."

"Nothing happens when I click on that link."

"I went to my site and now everything is messed up."

These are all real email messages that I've received from clients or prospective clients with regard to their web sites. The next line was usually a variation on "let me know when it's fixed." Most times, the tone behind it was polite. Sometimes it was cranky, and once, when I worked on a help desk at a large organization, the reporting of inherent broken-ness was preceded with "Hey, a****es in the IT department -- you're probably not even reading this message because you don't bother to work Sundays, but..."

No matter the tone or the manners of the message, none of them were likely to result in five minutes of silence followed by an email from me declaring the problem fixed. The reason was not my attitude or my work hours (I did, in fact, work on Sundays), but rather this: none of them provided enough information.

Today, I'll be talking about some common problems reported to me about problems with web sites. Call them glitches, call them errors, call them whatever you like, but when you describe them to your consultant or in-house geek, the more background you can give, the less time she has to spend trying to recreate the error and the circumstances in which it occurred. Before you send that email, take note of the acronym STABLE: Sequence, Time, Attempts, Browser, Location, and Equipment.

The Customize or Compromise Web Site Question

three wind-up robotosHow special are you, really?

This is not a rhetorical question. Before you make a major purchase for your business or nonprofit organization, it's an important one to consider. Does your organization's identity require defining by what you're about to buy? The answer will help you decide whether your investment needs to be absolutely perfect for your company, or whether you can safely purchase something more standardized. This is obvious when it comes to something specific to your product or service; if you're opening a candy store, you might want a fantastic custom neon sign outside, but you wouldn't be likely to need high-quality branded ballpoint pens with your logo on them. However, if you were an attorney going into private practice, custom pens might be worth the investment, given the time your clients would spend using them. Sometimes, customization is important. Sometimes, a standardized item works fine.

This is not different in web design. Today we'll be discussing scenarios in which templates and boilerplate functionalities are just fine, and scenarios in which you'll want to pay up for customization. It's different for every web site owner, but there are some basic questions you can ask yourself to decide the best place to invest your technology budget.

Joomla vs. WordPress: Add-on Update Quickdraw

For the past two weeks, we've been tallying off the steps it takes for an average, not-super-technical business owner to perform basic tasks on a web site that uses WordPress versus one that uses Joomla. Both systems have their enthusiastic supporters, and both can power fantastic, useful web sites for small businesses and non-profits alike. What we're testing in our Quickdraws is whether one is significantly easier than another when it comes to the day-to-day functions of running a site in-house, after the developer has put the site together.

Today, we'll be reviewing the steps to update add-ons to the site. Neither WordPress nor Joomla come with absolutely everything you need for a customized site. From contact forms to image slideshows to social media sharing tools, developers all over the world are building extras -- think of them as "apps" for your site -- that you download, install, and use to extend the usefulness of your basic site. Just as WordPress and Joomla themselves have occasional software updates, so do these add-ons. In WordPress, they're called Plugins or Widgets, and in Joomla, they're called Extensions (futher categorized into Modules and Plugins). As developers of these add-ons release new updates, it falls to the day-to-day site manager to make sure they get installed. Here is the breakdown of steps in each content management system:

Infographic on updating software addons to Joomla and WordPress

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