This section describes other interactive features you can add to your website:
- discussion forums,
- polls and voting,
- weblogs and news feeds,
- payment functions,
- feedback forms,
- subscription forms and newsletters,
- password protected areas.
Discussion forum software allows communities of people with similar interests to have conversations with each other on a website, i.e. one person can publish a question on the site and another person can write a reply.
This is different from email and from chatrooms because the text of the conversations is always available on the website and people can join in whenever they want. For example, one person can ask a question, but the person with the answer can visit the site a few days later and answer that question.
Discussion forums are a place where people can learn from each other and good answers can be read by people who need the same information. They are also good because they can make people feel they are part of a community of others who share their interests.
Discussion forums need to be monitored and managed, i.e. an administrator will be needed to encourage discussion and keep the discussion free from unwanted content.
Polls and voting
A popular feature of many websites is polls, which allow visitors to the site to vote on different topics, e.g. on their favourite television programme or whether a website is good or not. Polls and voting software can also be used to get feedback from your users about the services you provide and to carry out informal surveys.
Weblogs and news feeds
The last few years have seen the growth of personal publishing and new ways of distributing and aggregating content on the web. Weblogs (also called blogs and web logs) are basically online diaries created by individuals and organisations to provide daily news, articles, photos and links to other websites. Entries are dated with the most recent entry at the top. The growth of weblogs and online news services has been helped by the development of software that has made web publishing easier than it was in the past.
An important aspect of weblogging is that other websites (and software) can subscribe to the online diaries, with the effect that the entries can appear on their own website or on sites that aggregate ‘feeds’, as they are called. If lots of organisations working in the same area publish weblogs, this means that content from all of those organisations can be collected into the one web page. This can make it easier to keep up with the events happening in a particular topic area.
Publishing a weblog provides a way to get content out to a wider audience, as many people can subscribe to the feed.
It is possible to take payment for services and goods directly from a website for:
- payment of services or goods,
- donations and gifts.
There are a number of ways that visitors to your site can provide payment:
- simple forms that can be printed out and sent with a cheque,
- use of Paypal – or similar specialist payment services,
- credit card payment – by linking up with an organisation who can carry out the transaction.
Software will be required to take and process the payments. You can then decide what method you want on your website, for example:
- shopping cart systems,
- Paypal payment buttons,
- simple forms linked to payment systems.
Feedback and subscription forms
Feedback forms are the online equivalent of paper forms, e.g. survey forms or application forms. The advantage of the online form over the paper form is that the content of the form is sent instantly to the website owner. The content can then be processed automatically in some way, e.g. the content of the form can be put into a database or an order can be sent out to the person who filled the form in.
Adding a feedback form to your website means visitors to your site can get in touch with you without having to start up their email program, write a letter, or contact you by phone. Feedback forms also have advantages for the website owner. Collecting information using a form means you don’t have to put out your email address on your site, where it can be picked up by people wanting to send unwanted email (spam). A subscription form can be used to subscribe to a newsletter or receive regular updates from the organisation.
Data Protection Act
If you are collecting people’s names, email addresses etc. through a form it is important to adhere to the Data Protection Act 1998 and handle the information in the right way. You should also inform people how you are going to use their information and how they can get information changed or removed from your system.
How forms work
When a form is filled in, the content of that form is sent to the computer that hosts the website. A computer program then processes the content of the form, e.g. it may send an email to the website owner, or put the content in a database or send a message to the person who filled in the form – or a combination of all of these things.
The form can be created using HTML but the computer program used to process the form content needs to be written using a scripting language such as Perl or PHP or Python. Although you can learn the skills to create and process forms yourself the organisation or individual you use to develop your website will be able to provide you with the forms you require.
Password protected areas
Having a password protected area on your website can be useful. For example, it could be used for distributing documents that you don’t want to make public, such as minutes of meetings. You could also use it as a way to provide additional services and content to members of your organisation.
Web Conferencing Guide
Polls and voting software
Wikipedia entry for blog and weblog