By Adam Hunt
Even 33 years after the invention of the Internet, only one third of COPA Flights have their own websites.
This is a pity because having your own website offers many advantages to a Flight. A COPA Flight that has their own website can attract new members through the Internet, pass information on meetings and events more quickly, provide local aviation information to visitors and also get the word out on short-notice changes to events, such as a canceled fly-in.
You can also showcase your members and their accomplishments. Websites are a great way to make your club accessible to the world.
When I talk to members of COPA Flights which don't have their own websites the most common reason I hear is they think they can't afford a website – “too expensive to register a domain and pay for hosting space.” They are usually surprised to hear you can post a website for free. There are many free web-hosting services that provide the service in exchange for advertising and the attempt to up-sell you on web hosting. A few years ago the ads were often innumerable “pop-ups” that drove everyone crazy. Today, since most browsers suppress pop-ups, advertising has become less obtrusive.
With today's Internet search engines, having your own distinctive domain name isn't as big an advantage as it once was. People will be able to find your club no matter what the domain. Two free web services I have used are U.S.-based Yahoo Geocities (www.geocities.com) and Parksville B.C. based Bravenet (www.bravenet.com). Both use advertising, but it isn't too bad for the free service that you get.
Bravenet puts a banner ad on the top of each page and small links to their own services on the bottom, while GeoCities has a “side-pull” ad panel that can be closed as soon as the page is downloaded. What you get in return is a free website.
Geocities provides 15 MB of space and includes the ability to post files such as PDF. Bravenet provides 50 MB of space, but limits files on their free service to exclude PDF and other similar files. There are dozens of other free web hosting services available. All have pluses and minuses, but for the cost they all get the job done.
Most free website providers have templates that you can just “fill-in the blanks” on and create a functional website right on line. This works well as long as you can find a template that you don't mind using. Of course, to do a distinctive job you need to design your own website. The second objection I hear from some COPA Flights in that they can't afford to buy web-design software. It is true that some web page design software is expensive. A copy of Microsoft FrontPage will run several hundred dollars and Macromedia's Dreamweaver will run nearly $1000. But you don't need to spend that kind of money to design a website.
You may discover that you already have web design software and didn't even know it. Simple web pages can be created on programs that you already have such as Microsoft's Word or Excel. Free, open source word processors such as OpenOffice.org Writer will also create simple web pages. You just save the document as “.html” and you have a web page.
There is also some pretty good free, open-source, web-design applications available too. That's right – free web-designing software. Two good ones are Mozilla SeaMonkey (www.mozilla.org/projects/seamonkey/) and Nvu (pronounced “N-View,”www.nvu.com). SeaMonkey is actually a combination website designer and browser all-in-one, whereas Nvu is strictly web design software. Both will produce professional looking websites – all for free. Best of all there are versions of these applications that will run on Windows, Mac and the increasingly popular (and free, open-source) Linux operating systems, such as Ubuntu (www.ubuntu.com).
There are more free web design applications on the way, too. The team that created Nvu is working on a replacement application that will be distributed by Mozilla in the near future. The final objection I hear from website-less COPA Flights is, even with free web hosting and free web design software, they don't have anyone who can figure out the software and design a website.
Actually the software is easy to learn. SeaMonkey comes with excellent documentation that explains pretty much every question you could ask. The included “Creating Web Pages with SeaMonkey Composer” is a complete tutorial on the application.
Nvu is almost as good for documentation. Being “open source” programs that were written by volunteers, both applications have strong on-line support communities where you can look for answers and ask questions if you really get stuck, too. If you are interested in learning how to design websites you can learn it pretty quickly and painlessly. Best of all, once you get the hang of it, designing websites is a lot of fun.
With all these free tools available all you need is one COPA Flight member with the motivation to learn how to do it and your Flight can have its own website.
Once it is up and running let us know at COPA and we will put links to it from the COPA website and that will help bring visitors to your website.
If you would like to see what a free website can look like, check COPA Flight 8 Ottawa's website at http://web.ncf.ca/fn352/flight8/.