Online newsletters

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Many congregations want to distribute their news using ways other than paper.

Email

One option is to offer to send the newsletter out as an email attachment. This is

  • Cheaper (You can have members opt-out of getting it in the mail, so it saves in postage and paper).
  • Faster (It is instantaneous, once you create it, it can be sent out to a website or e-mail list instantly).
  • Online (it can be easily searched and archived)

Web Site

Another option is to post the news, or parts of it, on a web page and/or include it in a syndicated web feed. Publishing on the web allows greater freedom as to the timing with which you add or update articles and sections. It opens up new possibilities for what you include in or with those articles or sections. Finally it frees you from the constraints of formatting for the inflexible limits of the paper page. In summary, it allows you to shift your focus to publishing "the news" and away from assembling "the newsletter".

Pages

Using web pages can allow greater freedom of layout and timing and the incorporation of web links, web media, subsidiary documents, and forms. In essence it allow the publisher to expand what you can do and when you can do it in the way that extends beyond the limits of the PDF format (which has its core purpose a format for developing a layout for paper documents).

Feeds

Using syndicated web feeds allows you to distribute your news has the value of allowing your readers to automatically receive notice of the new articles as they are available. Your readers are freed from having to visit your site to check for the updates. It also allows you to use most of the expanded content and format options you get from using a web page and can be linked to the web page to provide additional information and drive your readers to visit your site as they need to or as you want to encourage them to. A web feed can be structured to contain categories and differing amounts and types of content. A website design can be setup to to generate web-feeds for you on a largely automatic basis and contain a audio or video component to create a "podcast". Often the automation is done through use of a content management system.

Privacy

Many congregations consider part of the newsletter to be inappropriate for worldwide public access, and thus avoid this, or pull sections out the newsletter before posting it. (In fact the UUA endorses these privacy concerns.)

Hiding all your content however, lowers its promotional and outreach value.

Limiting the access to some or all of your news to those authorized and authenticated (as a member) can help mitigate those concerns. Having private sections of your website accessible only to those with authorization requires special design. Content management systems typically include this type of feature as a standard component.

Format options

PDF

  • People can view it and print it, needing only a free PDF reader like Adobe Acrobat or xpdf.
  • It looks the same on every machine.
  • It is easy to send as an email attachment
  • A free tool to create pdf files can be found at http://www.cutepdf.com/ Once installed, it appears to be a regular printer. A PDF of a document can then be created from any program that supports printing.
  • Another free tool which creates and manipulates pdf files is available at http://software995.com/. This product will open a browser window to an ad whenever it is used, but if your browser cannot access the internet, it still works fine.

HTML

HTML is generally much better than pdf for providing information via the web.

  • The aspect ratio (which is usually not 4:3) and size of the pages in a PDF document is a poor match for a computer screen. So reading PDF on-line is generally a worse experience than reading HTML. With good HTML, the user can choose a font size and a window width so the text is easy to read, and the paragraphs are laid out to match the user's preference. But with PDF the user has no choice of line length. At a nice font size the page often doesn't fit on the screen. Reading 2-column output requires either a small font or lots of up-and-down scrolling. Headers and footers and page breaks get in the way.
  • Using modern XHTML + CSS standards will allow you to keep the content and meaning independent of its layout.
  • PDF information is less accessibile than HTML, e.g. for those with vision impairments.
  • PDF is designed for printing, not browsing or sharing articles to be reused in other publications. When the user does a copy-and-paste of text, it all ends up in one blob with paragraphs, lists, etc. all mushed together into one unformatted paragraph. Words that contain ligatures (like when "fi" is represented by a single joined printing symbol) will often be garbled. Often the entire selection doesn't show up in the clipboard. Problems with hyphenation and multiple columns, etc. often crop up.
  • Images are embedded in PDF, so they aren't easy to pull out as a .jpg or .gif file for reuse.
  • Hyperlinks work badly. Relative hyperlinks are generally preferable but don't work on some platforms. Putting it all in one file to avoid this handicap makes it slower and harder to just read one part of the document.
  • PDF files are usually larger than a simple HTML version.
  • PDF documents are harder to reuse since they are not an editable source format and the formatting instructions are gone.
  • PDF is a proprietary format. Control over the evolution of the format is not managed by an open standards body, so those who standardize on PDF are vulnerable to future changes Adobe (or some future company that might buy Adobe) makes.
  • Programs that create PDF are less available or cost more money than programs to produce HTML.
  • PDF "Security" is sometimes viewed by producers as a useful feature, but it is mostly useful "for keeping honest people honest". Anything that someone can view on the screen can be captured for use elsewhere, so it won't protect you from plagarizers, etc. Features like printing or saving to a file can be made more difficult, but simply can't be prevented.

Microsoft Word

Closed, proprietary formats like Microsoft Word are a bad choice for disemination of information online. See http://bcn.boulder.co.us/~neal/attachments.html for information on the problems with Word, involving access, privacy, security, cost, freedom, and for tips on how to convert Word documents into more appropriate formats.

Microsoft Powerpoint

Yes, there are some "brochure" or "billboard" sites created in Microsoft Powerpoint. While not too frequent, this does happen. It is generally a bad choice for the same reasons as Microsoft Word. The generated pages are very "Powerpoint" specific and limit your ability to design the site layout. Also, the user experience is to browse the site by going slide to slide or using a table of contents based on the slide titles. Adding some of the advanced features of Powerpoint will not work in generated HTML pages.

See Also