The Ocean Beach Mainstreet Association’s Website Investment

by on December 16, 2010 · 11 comments

in Culture, Media, Ocean Beach

If you haven’t visited the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association website lately, I urge you to visit it and bookmark it or place it in your favorites. Like our own website, it’s been growing substantially over the years and every time I visit, more information is added. It’s become a good and reliable reference for Ocean Beach

Five years ago, when my husband and I bought a house in Ocean Beach and were eagerly anticipating our move from Los Angeles, I combed the internet to get information on our new home community. I was surprised to find that the sites about OB were anemic at best. The Ocean Beach MainStreet Association’s site had the most information but it was static and barely offered a small glimpse of OB.

In fact, I was so surprised by how scant any information on OB was on the web that I naively thought I might be able to create a vital OB community site myself. Ah ignorance! At the time I had no idea just how much is required to build a vital website for such an active and diverse community as ours. Now I have a greater understanding that one person working full time just couldn’t keep up on the information generated by this town, let alone make improvements and adjustments to a site at the same time. Also, consider how much things have changed in the 5 years since I first looked at the site. Twitter didn’t even exist, Facebook was only 2 years old and Wikipedia was only 4. That’s a lot for anyone to adjust to, let alone a business association relying mostly on volunteers.

Thankfully, OB didn’t have to rely on me because someone who also saw the need for a better OB online presence was about to come to the rescue. One day, two years ago, Ocean Beach resident and local business owner of Intrepid Network, Josh Utley, wanted to know what the surf was like down by the pier and checked out the web camera posted on the OMBA site. While checking out the surf he found the  site, like so many sites run by smaller companies and organizations, badly in need of an overhaul.

Screen Shot of OBMA Website

Center of the OBMA's Website

Hoping he might be able to contribute his knowledge of website creation as owner of Intrepid Network, a, internet development company specializing in helping organizations finesse the multiple areas of usability, interactivity entertainment, information delivery and internet marketing, he joined the OBMA as a local businessman. That same week he attended a promotional meeting at the OBMA.

It was a stroke of luck for the OBMA because at the same time their volunteer webmaster Chuck Schiele needed to step down from the position as his graphic business was flourishing.

Josh took the reins, his goal was to create a place that could be easily updated and would be convenient and easy to use for both OBMA staff and volunteers as well as visitors to the site. He was perfect for the job, not only because of his love for OB as an OB native but because of his background and knowledge of two key internet technologies; dynamic websites and open-source software. In the last few years, internet capabilities that once were out of reach have become accessible. While the information on implementing complex websites is now available and affordable to all, it stills takes someone who has spent the time mastering this new world of website development. For the OBMA, Josh taking over the development of the site was a coup.

Josh and the OBMA promotion committee liked the design and style that Chuck had created but Josh saw new areas the site could grow to serve the community and visitors better. His first task was a large and invisible one; transfer the site to the open-source content management system, Drupal, This would provide the OBMA a more flexible and accessible platform able to handle anything they might want to throw at it. Adaptability, as we’re all aware, is a valuable commodity on the web. In fact, according to one leading expert on the future of the internet, Michael Nelson, the internet revolution is only 15% complete!

Based on Drupal’s popularity and the amount of people contributing knowledge to making it better, it is likely to be around for the significant future. Drupal’s website says that it powers “millions of websites and applications. It’s built, used, and supported by an active and diverse community of people around the world.” According to them the Whitehouse and The World Wildlife Fund use Drupal.

Use Drupal to build everything from personal blogs to enterprise applications. Thousands of add-on modules and designs let you build any site you can imagine.

Drupal is free, flexible, robust and constantly being improved by hundreds of thousands of passionate people from all over the world.

Although transferring the site took a much greater amount of time on the front end, the choice to do it and the time Josh spent was an excellent investment in the future of OBMA’s online presence. Not only did Josh build the website in a way that allows the site to grow but his expert set-up makes it possible for someone at the OBMA office to input and update information quickly and easily with just a little training. Not only that but new technologies can be added to the site when wanted. Best of all, because the whole system is open-source, it is extremely inexpensive, often free, while being incredibly robust.

For the first 3 months Josh worked almost exclusively on the site (for no pay) and even after that, he was putting in so many hours in on the OBMA website that his business (and, no doubt, pocketbook) was suffering. And of course, the web platform wasn’t the only work that needed to be done on the site.

Enter another person central to the OBMA website’s depth, Becca Lyn who joined the OBMA staff as a part time project manager. Becca Lyn is a native OBecian and graduated with a degree in International Business but with the talents of an artist. Although she is employed by the OBMA for 30 hours a week, she manages to get a lot accomplished. One of her many jobs with the OBMA is to collect and post material on the site. She is also a photographer and writer herself so she can help fill out the content when necessary as well. Together they began the on-going project of putting the website together. But it was the OBMA promotional committee that needed to guide Josh and Becca Lyn’s decisions and they worked hard to make the countless decisions that would help the site transition nicely, serve their members, streamline the OBMA’s workload, and be possible to maintain. I asked Josh if it was difficult to work with a volunteer promotional committee like the OBMA and he said they were awesome.

People with the OBMA are upbeat, positive and helpful. The group is better run than some companies and the promo committee more productive than some CEO’s.  I grew up in OB and I’ve worked in Los Angles and even in Nebraska but I like working with people here the best. I find people in OB to be open-minded and respectful, they have a big world view and room for different perspectives and opinions.

It’s been almost two years since the project began and the promotion committee meets regularly to discuss what still needs to be done and the latest ideas, additions and changes. Since Josh based the present design on an existing structure, there are still some inherited aspects of the site that need to be worked out. And, with any site, things will change as the OBMA hear back from visitors and watch how visitors navigate through the pages.

Josh has had to cut back a little and the OMBA helped out by finding a way to begin paying Josh a monthly retainer. Still, Josh says about ¾ of the time he spends on the site is on his own free time. But he is not complaining, he sees this work as an important contribution to the community.

I couldn’t agree more, a strong internet presence is fundamental to community strength and the health of businesses. For many small businesses and organizations, it is too costly or time-consuming to keep up with all the internet has to offer, especially when the benefits are slow to be realized or become profitable. However, the organizations and businesses that embrace and invest in their internet infrastructure now will be able to reach more people more efficiently at a much lower cost. I applaud the OBMA’s foresight to invest their valuable time, energy and resources into the OBMA website.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar dave rice December 16, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Nice piece, Brenda! A few years ago I’d finally achieved one of my lifelong goals of securing an apartment in OB, then gave it up because an even better opportunity (the girl I’d had my eye on since high school) dragged me back to my East County hometown…shortly thereafter I was looking to drag her back out to the coast with me. The OBMA site, like with you, and coincidentally, the earliest digital incarnation of the OB Rag were the tools I used to ‘sell’ OB as the place to raise our daughter.

And Josh – your work rocks, especially compared to mine, see pitiful example at banner ad, right. Thanks for everything you do for our town, especially the kids (and especially mine)!

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avatar Brenda McFarlane December 16, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Thanks Dave!

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avatar Molly December 17, 2010 at 9:04 am

Hey nice! Good of you guys to promote another group’s website, even though they don’t really compete – (do they? ), it’s very holiday of you to spread the cheer.

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avatar bodysurferbob December 17, 2010 at 9:33 am

molly, at least the obma pays their web people, i don’t think the ob rag does.

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avatar Brenda McFarlane December 17, 2010 at 10:49 am

That’s funny bodysurferbob, the OB Rag IS the website. They’d be paying themselves. People who read the website would need to donate to the OB Rag or advertise in the OB Rag for the OB Rag to pay the person(s) who work tirelessly on the site, themselves. If I’m wrong, perhaps someone from the OB Rag can fill in more infoprmation . In comparison, it is my understanding that the OBMA gets their expenses paid by governmental grants, merchants membership fees, fundraisers and events like the weekly market AND advertisers on the site. Even then, the OBMA relies heavily on donated time. In fact, I suspect that the OBMA competes fairly heavily with the OB Rag for advertisers. A quick search on the OBMA tells me the OBMA does not mention the OB Rag on their site as an OB resource even though the OB Rag has reached the million page view mark this week. So, bodysurferbob, I really appreciate Molly’s astute comment. I do think the OB Rag is special when it will publish my article promoting the OBMA website. I get the feeling your little jab hints at some underlying (and unrelated) resentment or issue you have with the OB Rag.

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avatar dave rice December 17, 2010 at 10:48 pm

They tried to pay me once – but I think being part of getting something like a grassroots local news alternative off the ground is worth more than money. And this volunteer gig has led to other paying jobs as a freelancer for me, as I’m sure it has for others.

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avatar Sarah December 17, 2010 at 10:06 am

Wow… you mean people pay for websites? With money?

damn…

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avatar Sena December 17, 2010 at 11:46 am

I am a native OBcean and have known Josh personally since elementary school. I love the fact that I can get any information, updates, and know what is happening in my hometown anytime I want. To make it even sweeter, a long time friend is contributing and helping to make it happen. Thanks for the article and bringing more light to this. I think it can only help.

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avatar doug porter December 17, 2010 at 12:14 pm

when you speak truth to power, sometimes it gets uncomfortable. we’ve stirred the pot around here in ways that make for an ambivalent relationship. we’ve also taken a lot of space with articles that promoted the good work of OBMA and the OB business community. and that’s just how it is.

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avatar Cheri Delgado December 18, 2010 at 7:38 am

How exciting to have come so far with such a great product to show for it! The love of the community is obvious and its success can easily be contributed to good old fashioned pride and respect. How refreshing to see someone say thank you to the people who worked selflessly to make this happen. Kudos OB!

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avatar Gary Gilmore December 18, 2010 at 8:40 am

Brenda, real good article. I’m glad you gave credit where credit is due. Josh is a jewel in OB’s crown. His passion for his work really shows in the new website. Not only is he terrifically talented but, he has an obvious passion for our little town. It shows in his work.

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