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Dr Ian Plummer

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http://oxfordcroquet.com/clubman/saca/index.asp
Club Management
Computing and the South African Croquet Association

Contents

1 Basic Organisation Set-up
1.1 Constitution
1.2 Legalities & Paperwork
1.3 Organisation Logo
1.4 Paperwork
1.5 Templates
2 Database
2.1 Choic of Database
2.2 Database - Multiuser?
2.3 Main Database
3 Accounting
4 Computing
4.1 Anti-Virus
4.2 Backup
5 Web Sites and Email
5.1 Domain Name
 5.1.1 Which domain name?
5.2 Web Space
  5.2.1 Email accounts
  5.2.2 Bandwidth
  5.2.3 Include files
  5.2.4 Server Side Programming
  5.2.5 Server Side Programming Languages
  5.2.6 Choice of Programming Language
  5.2.7 Web Publishing Tools
  5.2.8 Storage Space
  5.2.9 Web Statistics
  5.2.10 Searching Within Your Web Site
5.3 Other Tools
  5.3.1 Image processing
  5.3.2 Web site uploading
5.4 Who Maintains the Web Site?
5.5 Web Site Structure
  5.5.1 Image Locations
  5.5.2 Naming Conventions
5.6 Coding Standards
  5.6.1 Code Validation
  5.6.2 Accessibility
5.7 Archiving
6 Publicising Your Web Site
6.1 Printed Material
6.2 Linked URLs
6.3 Listing on Main Search Engines
  6.3.1 Submit a Site
  6.3.2 Open Directory
  6.3.3 Links from Other Sites
  6.3.4 Keywords
7 Web Site Contents

The aim of computerisation is to reduce labour and costs, and improve the service to your members.

1 Basic Organisation Set-up

1.1 Constitution

Having being caught out by a system which relied on precedent and goodwill, once things turn nasty the only reference will be the formal documents of constitution. My advice is to make a bullet proof constitution, copyright everything in sight with your name - not the organisations unless you wish to make a gift, maintain a record of what is the SACA's property and what is not. If the whole thing goes sour you may want to recover your intellectual property. Do not make gifts of equipment but loan it, etc.

1.2 Legalities & Paperwork

You need to be aware of what formalities you need to satisfy. In the UK we have a Data Protection Act which requires all organisations which hold personal data to register. If the Club services children under 18 the organisation must publish a Child Protection Policy. Our Sports Committee requires us to have a Health and Safety assessment and a Code of Conduct.

If you are affiliated to the WCF you may need to have policy documents to satisfy them, e.g. Drug and Doping Policy. If you receive grants from your Sports Council you will likely also have hoops to jump through.

All of the above material can be published on your web site.

1.3 Organisation Logo

Do you have one and is it indicated as being copyright everywhere it appears? You want to control your logo to prevent it appearing where you don't want it and gain benefit from where it is used. Examples: you would licence a T-shirt producer or sponsor to use it; you would ban a croquet manufacturer from putting your logo on their croquet sets.

If the logo is multicoloured, finely shaded or complex it will be difficult and expensive to reproduce. In future you may want it embroidered or reproduced at large scale on a bill board. At some stage soon you will want a large high quality version which can be scanned and used on documents and web sites.

1.4 Paperwork

It is a good idea when creating and designing the paperwork in the organisation is to make it readily transferable to the web. Paperwork put on the web is instantly available and cheap for the organisation - no delay for the user, no postage to pay and they provide the printing paper! Badly created documents will not translate to a viable web page automatically and will require un-mangling by hand.

To achieve a successful transfer of documents to the web the following should be observed:

  • Always use STYLES for headings
  • Always uses TABLES for complex text layout
  • NEVER use two or more consecutive tab characters for text positioning
  • NEVER use space characters for text positioning

Also

  • AVOID non-standard fonts

Documents produced this way will retain their layout on the web when you use "Save As /filtered web page" in Word. These are pretty good rules for general word processing anyway.

You can produce a single form, e.g. handicap change report form, and print it out from Word for mailing and loft a web-format copy up onto the web site. If you start with 'proper' word processed documents they will not have to be re-done once you get a web site.

Many people never learn to use a word processor; they pretend it is a typewriter. Their documents look like a dog's breakfast when translated to web format.

1.5 Templates

Much of the stuff which gets typed and sent out is repetitive - hence set up document templates. "Dear {} Thank your for . Your nearest club is at {}". Templates can be sent out to all organisation officers to give a consistent look and feel.

2 Database

The principal tool for running your organisation will be a database. Typical uses will be to hold membership data, accounts, tournaments, who won what, etc. I gather that there is already expertise in handling databases. If not, then I would suggest that flat spreadsheets are used as these subsequently can be imported into a database. If spreadsheets are used then great care is needed if they are sorted as nasty mistakes can happen!

2.1 Choice of Database

It is important that the database engine is popular, cheap and readily interfaces to web-based applications. Whilst Oracle and Ingress are magnificent for running huge applications they are inaccessible to most people and will not work easily on 'personal' web sites.

The recommended products in approximate order would be MsAccess, MySQL and FoxPro. MsAccess would be the one of choice.

In the early days you will likely query your PC's database by hand and subsequently construct a web page and upload that. There will be a stage when you may want your web site to generate web pages automatically based on the data in your database. Upload the new copy of the database to your web space and all web pages will instantly show the up-to-date details.

2.2 Database - Multiuser?

I have not found a good method of allowing two or more people to update a central database when that database is hosted on one user's machine. It requires that machine to be always on and appropriate paths, accounts and other gubbins set up. It is however almost as simple as designing a form in MsAccess to write a web form to allow many users to enter data into an MsAccess database held on a web server. Hence you could produce a password protected web form to allow federation secretaries to update handicaps etc. on the web hosted database. This would become the master database and be downloaded for local use and backup.

2.3 Main Database

Your main relational database will be tables of people, clubs, federations or regional organisations (if appropriate), events, event winners, referees, handicappers, etc.

In addition to the main personal details, including email and handicap, links need to be made indicating clubs belonged to, federation roles, committee positions, qualifications (referee, handicapper, etc), paid up membership, category of membership and PIN number.

PIN Number? I suggest that each member is assigned a pseudorandom number which can be communicated to them, e.g. on a membership card, which they can use to authenticate themselves when they are using web forms or emails. Although it may not be of immediate use, it will be needed if any electronic authentication is needed in future, e.g. on-line voting. If the PIN already exists it can be utilised immediately that it is required.

3 Accounting

The accounting (financial dealings) can either be done within the database or separately e.g. in a spreadsheet. There are arguments for both. One way or another you will need to transfer information from the database to the spreadsheet (e.g. membership income) or vice versa (e.g. who has paid their membership).

Obviously it is wise to open a separate bank account for the organisation as it isolates your personal dealings should any investigation be instigated. In the UK the bank accounts for clubs and charities have loads of conditions and lousy rates. It does give the 'proper name' on cheques and for the account members or sponsors pay money into.

4 Computing

It is unlikely that the SACA will purchase its own computers at this stage and consequently will rely on members' equipment. Compatibility is a factor. In the UK Apple computers are not popular and most people are using PC's running Windows and Microsoft Office products. Other software is discussed below.

4.1 Anti-Virus

It is essential that all machines have current antivirus software installed. The best sorts are the auto-updating ones, such as Norton Antivirus. Programs which require the user to remember to do a manual update are begging disaster.

Viruses could wipe out the entire computer records for the SACA or send out malicious emails in the organisation's name and hence make it unpopular.

4.2 Backup

It is also essential to keep regular backups of all data to cover against hardware failure or virus attack. Nowadays writable CDs are cheaper than floppy disks and pretty reliable. I would advocate that the web site is also backed up, as if the worst came to the worst and your Internet Service Provider goes bankrupt or is wiped out, then you can buy new web space and restart your web site almost instantly.

5 Web Sites and Email

5.1 Domain Name

Irrespective of whether you want to set up a web site or handle emails yet you should buy the domain name you want as soon as possible. This prevents a pimply schoolboy buying it and sitting on it. Domain names can either be bought as an entity or more usefully bought at the same time as buying web space. A domain name only becomes useful when it is pointed at space on a web server. To move a domain name to point at a new web space would cost ~20 (administration cost), yet to buy web space with an attached domain name is ~35 a year. If you buy a domain name, your web pages are addressed as www."domain name" and emails could be addressed to anything@"domain name".

5.1.1 Which domain name?

All the 'top level' croquet domain names, e.g. croquet.com, croquet.org, have gone. In the UK and in other countries the domain croquet.org.* would indicate a charity, hence croquet.org.uk. An investigation at https://www.registry.net.za/ indicates that croquet.org.za is still up for grabs. An individual would not normally buy the domain through this web site - it is intended for service providers. A fee of R200 is quoted (likely for a year). Saca.org and saca.org.za are already taken.

5.2 Web Space

This is storage on a web server for your web pages. Most organisations and businesses will rent web space from an Internet Service Provider (ISP). As an example for oxfordcroquet.com I pay 25 for two years hosting plus 10/year for the *.com domain name plus vat. A simple web server will suffice for so long but as its usage increases you will likely want further web server facilities. It makes sense to set up your web space with an ISP who offers all the bells and whistles from day one. The sort of extended facilities would include:

5.2.1 Email accounts

For example secretary@croquet.org.za, laws@croquet.org.za. You would expect to get some sort of email account if you buy web space with a domain name. These accounts can either be stored in your web space or you may be offered a forwarding service (in my mind better) where an email arriving at one address will be forwarded to one or more external email addresses, but not stored. E.g. emailing "laws@croquet.org.za" could send the same message to 8 people. With a forwarding service you can offer "clubname@croquet.org.za" which redirects mail to that club's secretary - a service to registered federations and clubs. It can be difficult to have separate email passwords if the accounts are stored in the web space. You would not want some club secretary to be able to change your web pages. Look for an ISP which provides facilities (e.g. a control panel) which allows you to add and change email accounts. The UK CA has to wait for their ISP to do it for them and it is most inconvenient. The package I have for OxfordCroquet is a single POP mail account; anything@oxfordcroquet.com gets sent to a single account, not ideal for a national body.

5.2.2 Bandwidth

The bandwidth is taken in two senses - the rate of data delivery, is it fast or slow, and the total size of downloads in a unit period. ISPs charge a premium for sites which have a lot of traffic in a day - a croquet web site is not going to fall into that category. The rate at which it delivers a page is however important. If their web server is connected to the Internet by a wet piece of string users will become frustrated by your site and it will be tedious to maintain. A gauge of the speed is normally gained by seeing how fast the ISPs sales pages are and whether they quote their connection to the Internet. A minimum of a T1 connection, better a 10 or 100MBit link is desirable.

5.2.3 Include files

What is valuable is the ability to include an HTML file within another one. For example you may have a standard header and footer for each page. This is best implemented by including the files e.g. "header.htm" and "footer.htm", at the top and bottom of each page. Editing either file changes the header etc. throughout the site. Include files are supported by most web servers but need to be enabled - they have an impact on the load on the server. Include files are always available if you have access to normal server side programming.

5.2.4 Server Side Programming

A great deal can be done by producing static web pages, but so much more is possible if the server can run routines in response to users' input. At its simplest there is a web form. The user enters data to request literature, or find the nearest club in their area. At the least the contents of the form should be converted by the server in to an email and forwarded to the appropriate address. Many simple web servers have this "form => email" as an included service.

5.2.5 Server Side Programming Languages

Web pages can be created on the fly by running programs on the server. A simple example would be an opening message "good morning" or "good day" in a web page. The main web page would include code along the lines of 'if hour > 12 write "good day" else write "good morning" end if'. Server side programming gives ready access to databases which can be used to store all sorts of data. I have a footer file which automatically adds a page counter to each page. The script sees if it is a new page and creates a new database record, or updates the count in an existing record. Code can respond to forms, do lookups: 'list clubs in X county', collect usage data, collect and display statistics, etc.

5.2.6 Choice of Programming Language

Whilst there are at least four viable server side languages: Visual Basic, PHP, javascript, C+, I would only rate the first two as popular and desirable. Older 'cgi' programming is now pretty dead. It will depend which skills you can call on, but I would advocate Visual Basic as being very flexible and not too brain warping. If you have more detailed questions I would be happy to respond.

5.2.7 Web Publishing Tools

Whilst you can write web pages in raw HTML, it is a lot easier to maintain a growing web site using web publishing tools. You should still know some HTML as these tools often need a final tweak to sort out the web pages. Programming tools can check all your links 'site wide' and report broken links or orphaned pages; a tedious job at the best of times. Some tools will allow you to grab a page and move it within your directory structure then update all links on your site to that page. Good publishing tools also allow you to design templates for parts of your site - modify the template and all pages derived from it are updated. To my mind the best program is currently DreamWeaver, but this is expensive and designed to handle the biggest web sites. Microsoft offer FrontPage, but I am not fully familiar with it. For some of FrontPage's facilities you need special add-ons installed on the server. If more than one person is going to be maintaining the site then you would want them all to be using the same tool. You would need to have a system, either manual or automatic, to prevent two people altering files the same file at the same time.

5.2.8 Storage Space

You can get quite a large web site into a modest web space since you will want small quick pages. If you start storing email within your web space your storage needs will be greater. I get 250MB of storage for OxfordCroquet but I am only using 19MB of it so far including all of the little databases I use. Most ISPs will sell you more space if you run out.

5.2.9 Web Statistics

Most ISPs will give you a web-based control panel, which allows you to change settings and possibly get page hits (number of visitors). Some ISPs charge extra for web statistics. You can write your own page counters if you have server side programming.

5.2.10 Searching Within Your Web Site

The ability to offer visitors to your site a search function is important, especially as your site grows. Some ISPs will offer a search engine to act within your site (rare) and give a sample of how to use it. If no searching is offered, then there are 3rd parties who offer a search function with a few adverts as the overhead. The OxfordCroquet site and subsequently the UK CA site use such a 3rd party, e.g. http://www.freefind.com.

Many providers of search functions also offer a site map (see on http://www.oxfordcroquet.com next to the search box):

This is a hierarchical listing of the page 'Titles'. If you use a web page Title which includes the section that a page is in you will get a nice layout in a site map; e.g. "Equipment - Hoop"s not "Hoops".

5.3 Other Tools

5.3.1 Image processing

Whether your image source is a digital camera or scanner, you will still need to process the resultant images to crop, resize and possibly touch them up. I use the general rule that images should be at absolute most 40KB. I do work at getting them as small as possible. Gif files are great for geometric diagrams - jpg files will be larger. With photographs jpgs are best and you can tune down the quality (increasing the compression) to get a reasonable result. I use the simple Windows Paint program for producing lawn diagrams, but use PaintShop Pro for advanced operations. This is available as free shareware if you get version 4.

5.3.2 Web site uploading

Web publishing programs have the ability to automatically synchronise your copy of the web site with that on the server. A simple file transfer program (FTP) is however all that is needed and WS_FTP is a good free one. Your ISP will publish details of how to upload to your web space.

5.4 Who Maintains the Web Site?

Unless you have an especially captive 'web master' it is likely better that you manage the web site yourselves. If you employ the services of an outsider then you may get a flash web site but it will be impossible for you to maintain should the outsider ever leave. They may be using exotic web tools which you do not have and include obscure code which you are unable to modify. If they go you will likely have to scrap your web site and start again. A web site committee is a possibility but it slows things down greatly. Despite the UK CA having such a committee no one has upgraded the text on its web site's front page since it was scrabbled together as a 'make-do' by Samir before breakfast one day.

5.5 Web Site Structure

For the easy location of files in your web site I suggest that the directory structure closely matches the logical structure of the site. Whilst everything can be placed in a single directory on the web server, this only leads to confusion. This mirroring of the logical and directory structures is the one I use on the Oxford web site:

Directory structure Directory structure

Each page on my web site has a separate subdirectory. Whilst this produces long URLs (web addresses) it is plain where a page is stored and what is connected with it.

5.5.1 Image Locations

Some web designers choose to put all the images used in the site in a single /images subdirectory. Whilst this certainly saves space it is easy to leave orphaned images (e.g. not called from any page). Alternatively you tweak an image to just fit in a page at a lower resolution and 'break' another page which uses that image. I now keep copies of the images used in a page in the subdirectory containing that page. This has a small downside as the user's browser will download every image only once. If you use the same image in a single location it will be remembered by the browser and not downloaded multiple times. The storage overhead on the web site is insignificant - I am only using a fraction of the available web space (see 5.2.8).

5.5.2 Naming Conventions

It is a good idea to start off with a naming convention for files. If you use a naming system then you will avoid the problem of trying to find the file HOOPS.HTM, Hoops.htm, hoops.htm, hoops.html, hoops.HTML, etc. I suggest that all file names:

  • should be lowercase (easier to type than capitals)
  • must not contain spaces or dots (other than to mark the extension '.htm') - these cause problems on web servers.
  • should have the short version of the extension, i.e. '.htm' rather than '.html'

5.6 Coding Standards

Web servers and browsers are very forgiving if you write bad web pages ("loose html"). For example they will not fail to produce a page if you incorrectly overlap tags -

<strong><em> hello</strong></em>

rather than the correct

<strong><em> hello</em></strong>.

Similarly they will act correctly with legacy (depreciated) tags such as <b> (bold) and <i> (italic) - these should not now be used (they are replaced by <strong> and <em>). This is a move to distance HTML from a solely printed medium. If you have speaking software how does it render a sentence in italics?

5.6.1 Code Validation

There are web sites and programs which will check your web pages for 'proper coding'. The one I use is http://validator.w3.org/. This takes the URL of you page and sends back an instant report. You can then modify your page until it is accepted.

5.6.2 Accessibility

There are now customised web browsers for people with disabilities. For example there are programs which will read out web pages, or navigate a web page using voice commands. There are standards for writing pages to assist people with disabilities, for example every image should have a text description.

As with code validation there are on-line sites for checking your pages. I use the HTML Validator which is an add-on for Ffirefox

5.7 Archiving

Web sites constantly evolve and in the future it may be nice to be able to see what the state of the web site and SA croquet was in 2003 +x. Similarly it is useful to find out what the 'old' regulations were rather than the current ones. To this end a design of taking a snap shot of the site annually or moving pages into an archive section rather than just constantly updating them is needed. "Who was the SACA secretary in 2004?"

6 Publicising Your Web Site

Having gone to the effort of producing your web site you need people to know about it.

6.1 Printed Material

All printed material from the SACA should include the web site URL, e.g. letter heads, business cards, printed booklets, posters, newsletters, etc.

6.2 Linked URLs

Once your web site is flying you should contact the other main croquet web sites and ask that they add your web site to their 'links and contacts' section. This has a positive impact on how soon and high you appear in the main search engines' listings (e.g. Google or Yahoo).

6.3 Listing on Main Search Engines

To get your web site included on the main search engines (Google, Yahoo, Altavista, etc.), and hence allow people find their way to your wonderful work, there are a number of ways to proceed.

6.3.1 Submit a Site

Many search engines have a 'submit a site' button, e.g. http://uk.search.yahoo.com/?fr=altavista. You would fill in the web form and sit back. It can take months for your URL to be listed. If you are filling in web forms take care with your entry. Many other sites derive a description of your site from your first sentence - make it deliver!

The Oxford Croquet Site - [ Translate this page ]
Description: Covers all aspects of croquet including equipment, lawn care and construction, laws, refereeing, tourname...
Category: Sports > Croquet

Also consider what is the URL you give as your 'top level' (main index page). If you start off writing a site with index.htm as the top page and then move to a server side programming language your top level page may change to index.asp or index.php. You can get around this by making index.htm redirect (via a meta html command) to another page, but you have to remember this when you upgrade your site and not remove the old index.htm.

6.3.2 Open Directory

Some major search engines derive their listings from the Open Directory Project. Its aim is to become a central database of information on the web. You add your site and information and it is checked by a human and then added to the directory.

6.3.3 Links from Other Sites

How do I get my site to rise in Google's listing? The ranking of your site on some search engines will depend on how many other sites link to yours, hence if every croquet club links on its web pages to your site then your site will rise. Other search engines monitor which links are clicked from the listings they produce and hence produce a popularity ranking. You can't control where a user clicks but you can spread your URL around other sites.

6.3.4 Keywords

On your individual web pages you can list keywords to assist search engines to identify the content of the page. For example on the page hoops.asp, the following is included in the header:

<meta name="Keywords" content="ball,croquet,equipment testing,croquet equipment,croquet equipment specification,hoop,hoop specification,tolerances,hoop gape,hoop setting, hoop repair,crown">

These keyword fields have however been so abused by the pornographers that the search engine companies seem to have down graded their significance. We have all tried to search for a common word, e.g. 'lettuce', and come up with very unexpected web pages.

The keyword field format is tightly specified and incorrect keyword lists are likely to be ignored entirely. From memory they must not exceed 1000 characters; any word may only be repeated up to six times! Fortunately there are meta-tag composers and checkers available on the web.

7 Web Site Contents

Whilst there are many ways to arrange the content of your web site, I suggest the following headings as a starter. You may wish to arrange you site your own way but I guess you will need at least a page on each of the topics:

  • The SACA
    • Welcome and introduction - including contact details
    • SACA mission statement +organisation
    • Committee structure and members + contacts
      • Executive, laws, handicapping, international, equipment, etc.
    • Downloadable forms (membership, handicap change, entry forms, etc.)
    • Information sheets
      • Constitution
      • SACA Tournament Regulations
      • SACA Handicapping Policy
      • Obtaining Grants, Prototype club constitutions, etc.
      • Becoming a handicapper, coach, referee
      • Merit awards
    • SACA policy on privacy and copyright as applied to the web site
  • News
  • How to Play Croquet
    • Simple introduction to the game
    • SACA Coaching information
    • Bastardized games - hoopball, 14-point games, pirates, roque.
    • Links to other coaching material
  • Clubs & Federations
    • Clubs' listing including on-line map, contact details, link to web page etc
    • Details on club membership to SACA + federation membership
    • Federation/regional structure, constitution, committees + membership
    • Rules for federation matches, etc.
  • Events Calendar
    • Listing of SACA approved tournaments, federation matches, events, etc
  • Newsletters
    • On-line versions of newsletters or magazines
  • Records
    • Archive of SA winners
  • Publicity
    • Standard Press statements, photographs, contact details for Publicity Officer
  • Contacts and Links
    • SACA member clubs web sites
    • Other croquet web pages

Have fun!

Ian Plummer, 20.viii.03

All rights reserved © 2004-2017


Updated 16.vii.17
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