As they search for new revenue sources for cash-strapped schools, education technology leaders might want to investigate a growing trend from the consumer web arena–membership web sites. A recent conference in Orlando, Fla., sponsored by the Subscription Website Publishers Association (SWEPA) suggested that the benefits of setting up a membership web site could apply to schools.

“People like to belong to a private and secure web site. It improves collaboration, and peers are more likely to share innovative ideas,” said Peter A. Schaible, SWEPA director. “Schools should consider a membership web site to improve stakeholder relations and communications and perhaps even investigate using a subscription web site membership model to raise funds for their school.”

Among consumers at large, the security of a password-protected venue adds a level of confidentiality and value to a web site that seems to attract site members. Even the old internet taboo of charging monthly access fees for valuable content is changing, according to conference organizers.

Asking school stakeholders to pay for content they might consider public information might not be the way to go, but providing for-fee access to certain school district software, for instance, or creating specialty sites centering on in-depth sports coverage or school-related hobbies like chess might find willing subscribers. Such sites might attract local sponsors, too.

The conference covered the popularity of niche membership web sites that charge monthly access fees. Operators of these new sites, speakers said, can easily set up the needed secure functionality with off-the-shelf software–some of which is free.

During the conference, more than 20 vendors pitched their software and explained how to set up and improve the presentation of content for commercial use. Speakers included membership web site software developers; audio, multimedia, and eMail management software firms; and marketing and public relation professionals. Speakers also discussed free open-source software for online stores and forums. (See the insert for vendor information.)

Given the recent developments in open-source applications and new, affordable, fee-based software for membership sites, it was apparent that you didn’t need to be an IT guru to develop a successful and valuable membership web site.

Fred Gleeck, owner of Fred Gleeck Productions, emceed the seminar and told how his limited technology experience hasn’t held him back from presenting and selling valuable content on the web.

With the recent advances in software, schools might want to research establishing secure, membership-based community web sites to improve stakeholder communications or even attract corporate sponsorships.

See these related links:

Subscription Website Publishers Association

Fred Gleeck Productions