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View Full Version : What Constitutes Proper Site Testing/Maintenance



howard
10-04-2005, 07:16 AM
I am helping a community organization with their website. They have asked me several questions. I told them I would get back to them with answers. Here are the questions:

1. How often should the site be checked, tested, maintained, reported on, etc.?

2. What things do you test when you test?

3. What kinds of reports should they be giving to their board?

4. Is this something they or their Website Committee should do?

5. If they hire someone to do it, what should they pay?

This is a community organization, run by volunteers. The site is an information resource, with email for the board members only. They have a budget of around $100 per year for their website (yes, that is correct, only $100/yr, which is to include hosting, domain registration and site maintenance).

They are concerned that the site should be monitored/tested, because one of the developers they originally contacted when they were considering having a professional do their website, said he would include monitoring/testing of the site for the fee he was charging. Of course, they could not afford what he was charging anyway, and have since come up with their own site, written by one of their members, but want to know how to give their members appropriate monitoring/testing reports.

Here is what they are thinking: Should they simply look at the site each day to see if it is up or down? Should they be looking to see if there is any unauthorized use of the emails? How do they determine if the site has been hacked? How do they determine if the email service has been used for spam?

Since I am used to running and maintaining my own sites, I know what things I look at, but I can't figure their "committee" will be able to do the kinds of things I do with my own sites.

I know commercial monitoring/testing services are available, but cost is prohibitive, given the above budget.

How would you advise them?

wildjokerdesign
10-04-2005, 04:23 PM
Sounds to me like they need to find a volunteer (did you say you belong to this organization ;) ). Besides makeing sure someone from the committee accesses the site to make sure it is running I don't know that there is much more they could do. Although I did make a bit of a joke of it I do think that they should find someone within thier organization that was enough interest in computers to spend some time learning the in's and out's of webmastering. If they are on WH they could spend time here asking questions or browseing the post.

howard
10-04-2005, 04:34 PM
They are not on WH, and they decided not to have a Webmaster per-se, but to have the "Committee" collectively do the webmastering. (I think I can hear you laughing) - and I think they are interested in testing/monitoring because the would-be developer said it was part of his services, sort of part of his sales approach. Some thoughts are:

- uptime
- broken links
- traffic
- referer stats
- error messages
- catch-all monitoring for bounced mail

That sort of thing. They also want to know how to detect if someone is hacking their site.

Other ideas?

wildjokerdesign
10-04-2005, 04:43 PM
Well there are some free services out there for things like uptime monitoring, referer stats, traffic and such. I have mentioned this before but I use SiteMeter on sites with clients. One because it is free and two because it is very user friendly. http://www.sitemeter.com/default.asp Much easier for someone who has not knowledge to use then any thing I have come accross so far. I even have one client who still can figure out how to upload thier own images yet has no problems with useing this service. :)

And yes I am laughing. Website by commitee! WEEEEEE

torrin
10-04-2005, 06:00 PM
With ideas like, being able to run the website for $100 a year, i'm assuming that nobody in the committee has run a website before. Is this a non-profit organization? Maybe they can get some hosting company to donate a website. Next they should get a volunteer to be the (wait for it now) webmaster and monitor all that stuff. Every month he (or she) can bring their findings to the committee. If they do these 2 things, I believe the $100/yr would be a little more managable.

For hacking attempts detection, they really need to keep a close eye on the $WEB_SERVER log. Of course, they have to know what to look for. This is where the volunteer webmaster comes in. They also should keep a close watch on what software they have installed vs. what new versions have been recently released. Once again a webmaster can do it easy. For email spam detection, they should keep a close eye on their $MAIL_SERVER log. Also take a look at the postmaster@ and abuse@ addresses. If someone was spammed and they are diligent they will probably e-mail one of those addresses.

I think the bottom line, is they need to get someone with some expertise in running a website and mail server. I guess you don't have to call them a webmaster, but I think it's important to have someone that you can go to for this.

howard
10-04-2005, 07:58 PM
Torrin,

Thank you for your informative reply. If this were a real nonprofit charitable organization, I think things would be different.

I once used the example of the local Model Railroad Club. This is not them, but you get the idea.

Some of their members may have their own family websites on the free space provided by their ISP. Vacation photos, maybe a blog. A couple may have ventured forth and tried Geocities or Bravenet, etc. but found it frustrating. A couple may have paid hosting for a small brochure-style site announcing their storefront businesses, but this is unlikely.


I think the bottom line, is......it's important to have someone that you can go to for this.
Yes, the buck needs to stop somewhere. Once they see the list I will prepare, perhaps they will re-think the situation.

Howard

rispku
10-05-2005, 10:11 AM
I think before you submit a laundry list of reasons why their request can't be satisfied, you might also try to formulate a list of solutions for how they might realize their goal within the parameters they've set forth.

However, in order to do this it is important to ascertain as to which end they wish to meet with their website.

If all they want is a simple "brochure" site, they might just as well be better off using their ISPs webhosting, and using the domain forwarding/masking service provided by many registrars. ISP host space is typically very basic, the server is managed by the ISP, users have limited log access (if any at all), and users generally can't install any server-side programs/scripts. This virtually eliminates the need to hire anyone to really oversee the day-to-day operations of their site, but can severely limit the growth of the site.

Better still would be to suggest they sign on with one of the many hosts which cater to the small/beginner websites market. They're usually cheap, and provide a rather comfortable and safe environment for newcomers to develop their sites without being burdened by too many additional packages and features. Again, since this is usually shared hosting, the server is being managed by the host, which leaves the customer to worry about developing their site, and not about updating or patching various programs.

If, on the other hand, they're looking to build a site that's a little more complex, or one that's community driven, then the costs to maintain the site are likely to increase exponentially. As sites of this nature usually rely on multiple packages, scripts, and user accounts the risk of exploitation is increased as is the cost of hosting (usually). To this end it would generally be necessary to have someone on hand to monitor the site, moderate any offending material, and patch any known vulnerabilities. This would probably require them to pay someone to handle said duties. However, this isn't to say its beyond their means to afford such help. It could be explained that they might recoup spent resources through advertising, PayPal donations, or allow for prominent mention of the help's business services on their site (e.g. "Web services provided by WildJokerDesign <websitehere>").

As for your list of thoughts, most of these can be easily managed by most anyone.

broken links

W3C has a "link checker" on their site that can scan an entire site for broken links.
http://validator.w3.org/checklink

traffic, referrer stats, error messages

Most hosts (even the cheap ones) provide log analyzers that aggregate log data and display it in an easy to read format. Some tutelage in how to interpret such data may be necessary, however.
As joker has already pointed out, there are services that can remotely log such data, too.

catch-all monitoring for bounced mail

Many hosts provide a catch-all address by default. Those that don't, usually have instructions on how to add one through their control interfaces.

I am of the opinion that -- with some sacrifices considered -- they could very well have a decent website for about $100 a year.

rispku
10-05-2005, 10:53 AM
"Site Maintenance" is largely an arbitrary expression. No two webmasters are likely to agree on what exactly constitutes proper maintenance.

I consider "site maintenance" to be any task that's necessary for the continued operational status of the website.



1. How often should the site be checked, tested, maintained, reported on, etc.?

This depends on the nature of the site. Is it a small site with static pages? Then a quick glance maybe once a day just to see if it's up would suffice. Is it full of dynamic and user submitted data? Then maybe a few times a day to make sure things are running smoothly and that anything submitted by users falls within the context of the site.



2. What things do you test when you test?

I usually just check to see if the site is up, and then proceed to check the logs for any errors.



3. What kinds of reports should they be giving to their board?

Again, it really depends on the nature of the site and what they intend to do through it.
For starters, it'd probably be a good idea to give them the site statistics/visitor demographics, and most likely the response they have received from their online visitors.



4. Is this something they or their Website Committee should do?

If it is something they can do, then yes, I don't see why not.
Then again, it may also be beneficiary if they could find someone willing to consult with them should any problems arise that are beyond their technical abilities.



5. If they hire someone to do it, what should they pay?

Whatever they can afford. I'm sure most freelance web developers would be willing to negotiate their price, especially if it means they'll maintain a long-term "consulting relationship".



Here is what they are thinking: Should they simply look at the site each day to see if it is up or down? Should they be looking to see if there is any unauthorized use of the emails? How do they determine if the site has been hacked? How do they determine if the email service has been used for spam?

Many of the answers really depend on the very nature of the site and where it's hosted (I know you're getting tired of reading that).
The most generic answer would be to study the logs.

howard
10-05-2005, 03:18 PM
I think before you submit a laundry list of reasons why their request can't be satisfied, you might also try to formulate a list of solutions for how they might realize their goal within the parameters they've set forth.

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Please be sure that I do not intend to give them a list of reasons "why not" but rather a list of solutions, as you suggested. This was always my original intention.

As to the nature of the site - it's not going to be complex, and they already have a real hosting company which provides awstats and log files. The suggestions above are quite worthy.

Thanks again.

alou
10-11-2005, 10:22 PM
I used to (many years ago when just starting out) design free websites for comunity groups & non-profit orgs to gain design experience. I do not reccomend this.
99% of all the groups I worked with were great after I explained what it takes to do what they were requesting. They just don't have the knowledge. They see all these pretty sites that have full-time webmasters and want that on their site. As you stated they probally went to profesional designers and were told they would get these "Extras" in their package and now they think they need them. I am fairly certain once you explain it out to them they will understand that the $100.00 is pretty low but with someone taking on the learning it will lower their costs.

www.internetseer.com will monitor a sites availability 24/7 for free in the hopes that if your site is down enough you will switch over your hosting to them. They email the free report to you any time the site becomes unavailable and another email when it is back up.

Anne :)

howard
10-12-2005, 05:39 AM
Anne,

Thank you for taking the time to read my post and for your reply. About doing things for free to gain experience - for me, web design is not my regular job, just a sideline, so I feel ok about giving away non-expert advice. It is possible for people with only a little knowledge to be led astray by their own ignorance.

I think you hit the nail right on the head:
they probally went to profesional designers and were told they would get these "Extras" in their package and now they think they need themI think this is exactly what has happened.

Another community group (not the one I am currently working with) wanted something more professional than the site I had come up with (they basically wanted graphic design, stock images, javascript and dhtml features). They got a bid from a pro outfit who promised them they would turn up in the "first ten pages of search engine results" on Google. When they asked how the pro was going to accomplish this, he said: "Well, if I told you, then why would you pay me?" They paid him.

Yes, I have heard about internetseer, was told that they offer the free service if you agree to receive emails from them and take part in marketing surveys several times per year. Do you have experience with them, and is that statement true? Getmesupport.com (see below) sounds like one from a hosting company that wants to sell you their services. I have a post on another forum, and have done a little research on my own.

Other "free" services that have been recommended:
http://alertra.com/spotcheck.php - $7.50/mo+up, free demo page
http://www.getmesupport.com/ - uptime, demo page, free service signup

Paid services:
http://www.sitemonitor.com/ - uptime and load stress, $10/mo+up
http://www.soft.com/ - evalid and testworks, $25 per test
http://silurian.com/ - sitevigil, CD, $80/mo+up
http://www.netmechanic.com/ - monitoring $19/mo+up, toolbox, $60/yr+up
http://www.sunbelt-software.com - servervision, $1.093.75

Some of the above may be inaccurate, because on some, I had to do some digging to find the actual cost of the service.

Howard