Automating Website Development

Written By: Timothy Fish Published: 8/12/2005

When you first begin to develop a new website it is easy to get caught up in the fun of the creativity required. While the creative juices are flowing it is hard to imagine that you will reach a point where the website becomes a chore rather than being fun. It is real easy to make changes to a simple HTML document so you just assume that it will be just as easy to maintain the site as it is to develop it in the first place, but once the new wears off you find that you no longer update it on a daily basis. You may go for days or even weeks without even looking at it. When you do look at it you really donít have the time to check every page to make sure that the contents are not out of date.

I have looked at many church websites and the one thing that most of them have in common is that the information is not very fresh. It is not surprising to find announcements for events that occurred months or even years earlier. If a person looking at the website only sees dates that are several months earlier, he is left with the impression that all of the information is out of date. Even something like the schedule of services, which may not change for decades, may seem out of date.

For the South Park Baptist Church website I have attempted to limit the impression that the information is out of date by automating much of the website. The upcoming events are displayed on every page of the website, but once the event has passed it no longer is visible. The events still have to be added manually, so some events may not make it onto the website, but no one is left with the impression that we forgot to remove events that have already happened. Some of the articles have information that expires and I am considering putting an expiration date on articles so that I do not have to manually remove the article. Even so, the current process of removing an article requires only that I either delete the article or list it as archived. An archived article includes a notice that the article may be out of date. Another thing I have done with articles is to have lists of links to articles in various places throughout the site. Including new information on the Fort Worth Baptist Church site and this one involves only writing meat of the HTML code, filling in a form with the title, date, type of article, keywords and description then submitting the form. I do not have to mess with copying files from one machine to another and the article has the look and feel of the rest of the site.

The key to automating a website is through a database. The details will be different for each user and each application. I am using an Access database, but there are several other options available. You can even use text files as a kind of database if you do not wish to use a relational database.

A database is useless without some code to control it. Standard HTML is not a programming language, but there are several server side scripting languages that work wonders for a website developer. Examples include ASP, JSP, PHP, Cold Fusion, etc. If you donít care to use a server side language you can write code that generates periodically updates the HTML, but runs on you local machine. For calendar like functions this would have to be done at least daily. Server side languages allow us to make changes to our web pages every time the page is displayed.

Editor's Note:Since the date this article was first published, the author has written a book that describes the process of Automating Website Development. If you would like more details on how you can automate your website, please read the book.