Vol. LXXIX No. 3 — March 2001
SHOULD YOUR LODGE HAVE A WEB SITE?
Phillip G. Elam
Bro Elam is a Past Master of Algabil-Freedom Lodge #636, Mehlville, Mo., and Past Grand Orator of the Grand Lodge of Missouri. He has developed over 150 Masonic Web Sites and manages over 1,500 corporate web sites for Southwestern Bell.
Cyberspace is a reality as is the New Millennium. While traditional methods of communication will continue to be used, there is an entirely new, more cost-effective, and considerably faster way to disseminate important information to our Masonic Brethren — the Internet. Many Masonic Lodges and other Masonic bodies around the world already realize this, and are beginning to take full advantage of today's hyper-speed technology (you can send a message half-way around the world in 1/7th of a second). How? They have developed web sites for their Lodges, Chapters, Councils, Bethels, Grand Bodies, and just about everything else you can think of. Freemasons are, of course, builders and, as such, we have launched into the cyberworld and are building Masonic web sites with an unprecedented fervor.
Should your Lodge have its own web site? That, of course, is a question that only you own membership can answer. However, in making such a decission, consider the following important reaons for building a Lodge web site (and there are many others that are not listed here):
- It provides excellent world-wide exposure for your Lodge (or other Masonic body).
- It is a highly cost-effective way to make information available to your members and anyone else that might be interested. This can be especially important for Lodges that cannot afford to send out monthly Trestleboards or bulletins.
- It allows you to maintain ongoing contact with members no longer living in your geographic area or with your Lodge's shut-ins.
- A Lodge project that is new, different, exciting and informative — and something that will make a positive difference for the future.
- A source of pride for your Lodge or other Masonic organization. (Note: Be sure to include your web site address on your Trestleboard and other correspondence in order to promote your new Lodge web site.)
WHO IS YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE
one of the first issed to be resolved before building a web site is to try to determine exactly who will be using or visiting your web site. At a minimum, you should consider the following:
- Your own Lodge members.
- Members of other Lodges in your area and jurisdiction.
- Prospective candidates seeking information.
- The community at large (including casual visitors).
Based on who you think your Lodge's web site visitors will be, what can you communicate via the web site that will be of interest and value to them? If they were physically visiting your Lodge, what would you do? In one very real sense, they are visiting your Lodge — at least, virtually. Put the same level of thought and effort into constructing various sections of your web site as you would if you were planning a real meeting.
WHAT WEB SITE VISITORS LIKE
In a highly unscientific canvas of Brethren that frequently visit Masonic web sites all around the world, the following points were mentioned most often as "likes."
- A Trestleboard of list of important activities for your lodge and any other Masonic bodies meeting in your Masonic Temple (including meeting dates and times).
- A list of all special events being held at your Masonic Temple.
- Directions and a map showing how to get to your lodge.
- A "Guestbook" so that web site visitors can sign as well as read previous entries from all over the world.
- A way to contact someone at the Lodge (i.e., e-mail as well as "snail mail" addresses).
- Interesting and unique information about your Lodge, e.g., oldest Lodge, largest Lodge, smallest Lodge, largest Masonic Library, home Lodge of some important or historical member, home of the jurisdiction's only annual "raccoon dinner," etc... Every Lodge has "boasting rights" for something. If you Lodge truly does not have any, then get busy and make some history Brethren!
- Information about the Masonic Fraternity, Masonic articles, who and what we are, what we stand for, what we believe in, why we are an asset to any community, and so forth.
- Links to other important or fascinating Masonic web sites.
WHAT WEB SITE VISITORS DISLIKE
If you want your members and other visitors to continue to access your Lodge's web site, try to avoid the following. Whey they encounter one of more of these conditions, they will most probably stop using your web site simply because it is too slow and cumbersome to work with.
- Large, slow-loading graphics and/or music files that take forever to load before visitors can view the entire web site.
- Frames (a technical approach). Many browsers (the program you use to access a web site) still do not handle "frames" effectively so that certain groups of users may not even be able to view your web site.
- Out of date or obsolete information. If you establish a web site, one of the biggest complaints is that the information presented is not current.
- Information that is not Masonic in nature or that is a "cyber-monument" to the person building or maintaining the web site (i.e., web master). We all belong to lots of organizations and generally have lots of pontifical-sounding titles. So what? Stick to the business at hand and tell you web site visitors about your Lodge.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST MY LODGE?
If you or one of your Lodge members has access to the Internet, there there is no cost to build and host a Masonic web site. There are literally scores of free services that wil gladly host your web site, provide you with unique e-mail address, free guestbooks for your visitors to sign, counters to track the number of visitors and so on. In fact, you should not have to pay for anything at all. Many of these services are excellent and easy to work with for the novice, while others would try the patience of a highly-skilled expert. Ask the members in your Lodge or Grand Lodge. The number of Brethren that are "computer savvy," and who will point you in the right direction might just surprise you.
HOW TO GET STARTED
You should check with your Grand Lodge first. Almost all Grand Lodge jurisdictions now have a presence on the Internet. A few GLs have set forth rules and regulations as to what can and cannot be on a Lodge's Masonic web site. Other jurisdictions do not have such guidelines. Regardless, you Grand Lodge can certainly provide useful information on getting started. Also, you can contact the web master of another Lodge web site and seek his advise. The beauty of Freemasonry is that when you have a problem or need help, other Freemasons will "come running" to help — even on the Internet.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
If we, as a Fraternity, hope to attract the worthy young men that will fill our ranks in the future, we have to learn to communicate at their level and using their media. Virtually every young man graduating from High School, in this day and age, is more or less "computer literate." They are familiar with and know how to use the Internet for both entertainment as well as seeking information. If we want to make ourselves easier to find, then we need to have as many of our Masonic organizations on the Internet as possible. If we "are out there," then they will find us.
To restate the original at the beginning of this Short Talk Bulletin: Should your Lodge have a web site? ABSOLUTELY!