Quaker Cloud: A Deeper Dive
This message will provide deeper clarity into FGC’s decision to phase out the Quaker Cloud Program over the next 12 months.
Current Quaker Cloud clients will have until December 1, 2023, to complete the process of launching new websites on the platforms of their choosing. Friends General Conference believes this is enough time for meetings to come to an informed decision on their next steps, to manually backup content, and to launch a new site on a different platform. The organization also acknowledges that some meetings will decide to make their Quaker Finder page their primary site during this time.
FGC will offer support to meetings making the transition from Quaker Cloud to other options through the following resources:
- A new, free WordPress theme for your use, available in February 2023;
- Information sessions on starting a WordPress site and how to complete content migration, starting shortly after the launch of the new theme;
- Creating and moderating a network of Quaker webmasters, coming in Spring 2023;
- Creating and sharing resources for webmasters on the FGC website, available now. [https://www.fgcquaker.org/fgcresources/practical/website/]
FGC understands that Quaker Cloud would not have existed without the donors, designers, volunteers, and staff who assembled years ago to create a program which would provide the best possible service to our faith community. The design and launch of Quaker Cloud took countless hours of volunteer energy and intellect. Quaker Cloud was a wonderful and innovative way to simplify the outreach and communications ministries of monthly meetings. Although the moment is bittersweet, technology has outpaced our ability to serve our monthly meetings. We are grateful for the options available to our meetings now, and happy for the opportunity to continue forward with meetings by developing communities of webmasters who talk to one another about best practices.
Setting the Stage
About thirteen years ago, FGC volunteers and staff conceived a program called Quaker Cloud which provided a Drupal-based website template for Quaker Meetings, hosting services for the site, a tool to manage uploading of meeting minutes, and a meeting directory. Eleven years ago, this program launched. Shortly thereafter, FGC went through a period of changed budget priorities and staff transition, leaving a single staff member responsible for the implementation and support of Quaker Cloud.
Sunset of Drupal 7
The closure of Quaker Cloud as an FGC program is timed to coincide with Drupal 7’s planned “sunset” at which the hosting platform will no longer receive technical support from the Drupal Association. Drupal 10 will be launched in December 2022. FGC has already decided not to continue with Drupal for Quaker Cloud sites.
Many Quaker Cloud users are not happy with the Drupal interface or functionality. As a reminder, the original plan was to move all Quaker Cloud sites to WordPress—a decision that was made without full understanding of the complexity and expense of such a data migration.
Meetings wishing to continue using later versions of Drupal must, like any other option, manually migrate their website data to a new platform.
Meeting Usage of Quaker Cloud
Upon the inspection of Quaker Cloud sites by staff and contracted vendors, it is apparent that most of the sites are used simply to share static content (information about the meeting that does not change often), such as the meeting’s address and meeting times. Dynamic content (such as uploading meeting minutes or using community features) is frequently unused.
Several meetings have reported that Drupal is not a user-friendly platform for website updates. Staff receives frequent technical requests about login troubles.
There are several meetings who use Quaker Cloud to its fullest capabilities, and FGC appreciates those users. Website management, despite how enjoyable it may be, is often time-consuming and thankless. FGC is grateful to those website administrators who made the experience work for themselves and their meetings, despite the technical challenges they may have experienced.
Although a few users are using Quaker Cloud in robust ways, it is apparent that most users are not, which demonstrates that many of our clients do not require a fully customized website for their meetings.
Limited opportunities for growth of Quaker Cloud
Quakerism is a small faith community in the United States and Canada. Unprogrammed monthly meetings, like those which FGC serves, are an even smaller segment. There are 1,175 communities listed in FGC’s internal database, which may include meetings which have been laid down. 894 meetings have a free Quaker Finder page. 300 meetings paying for the service would be necessary for the program to be cost-neutral. Today, there are only 150 Quaker Cloud clients.
A number of meetings use Quaker Finder as their primary presence on the web, and others use social media pages for engagement. Other meetings use fully customized websites at a greater expense than the cost of Quaker Cloud.
It is unlikely that 150 additional meetings would decide to migrate their current website presence to a Quaker Cloud site.
Transition to WordPress
Staff and volunteers thought that an integral part of FGC’s website redesign would be the transformation of Quaker Cloud sites from Drupal to WordPress. However, the final version of the scope of work between FGC and the developer handling FGC’s website upgrades did not include content migration. The content migration would not have been as simple as copying website files from one host to another—it actually would have required mapping of thousands of pages of content from one platform to another.
FGC sought several ways forward. Some ways forward were expensive, potentially costing over $100,000. Some pathways forward were risky, such as finding an overseas vendor to manage the migration. Other pathways forward would have been both expensive and time consuming, notably hiring a term-limited staff member to manually migrate sites for the clients.
Staff Time Implications
At Central Committee Annual Meeting, the Communications Manager communicated that a significant amount of time is already allotted for support of Quaker Cloud, a program which otherwise should be considered self-sufficient. The Communications Manager is not the only staff member impacted, as the Finance and Facilities Manager and Data Manager both have roles to play in troubleshooting technical or financial problems which may arise with Quaker Cloud clients.
FGC is entering a public phase of a capital fundraising campaign. One of the priorities of this campaign is connecting and communicating. Staff and central committee volunteers agreed that it was not the purpose of campaign funds to fix this problem, but instead to invest in creative and efficient ways to create stronger connections between meetings, such as through consultations, the creation of a traveling minister directory, and the writing of more original content. All agreed that using campaign funds to supplement Quaker Cloud would not be in line with the intent of the donors thus far.
FGC staff are prepared to repurpose Quaker Cloud-alotted staff time for other, campaign-driven priorities already set by Central Committee.
Very few Central Committee volunteers are dedicated to the support of communications programming. The Communications Policy  Infrastructure Committee has one member. Members of the community who are interested in websites generally and Quaker Cloud particularly are already stretched thin by their own commitments to their monthly and yearly meetings.
Five website managers responded when all were asked for feedback on ways forward. Two mentioned phasing out Quaker Cloud entirely. Others confessed that they had no ideas but wished us luck.
Advances in website technology since the advent of Quaker Cloud
Website creation from scratch was considered fairly complicated and time-intensive at the time that Quaker Cloud was created. The program offered a simpler alternative for meetings who desired the Quaker Cloud layout and features. Since that time, however, website development has become more user-friendly. Not only has WordPress, the leading platformed, improved in its accessibility for casual users, but there are other platforms, both free and paid, that make sense for our meetings. Some desire more flexibility, and some desire less technical know-how. Both options are more are available through various hosting solutions.
WordPress, in particular, creates access to many ready-to-use plugins for website features like photo galleries, guestbooks, document organization, and message boards. There is little need for custom coding at an enormous expense.
Quaker Finder as an alternative to a meeting website
There have been 26,000 visits to the Quaker Finder page since the launch of the new FGC website earlier this year. It is far and away the most visited page on the site, and we suspect it is the primary way that seekers and potential attenders are finding Quaker meetings in the United States and Canada.
FGC maintains nearly 900 Quaker Finder entries. During FGC’s website relaunch, Quaker Finder received additional functionality for meetings. Those improvements included additional informational fields and updated coding for Google maps.
Any meeting member can submit a Quaker Finder update. FGC staff reviews and approves those updates.
It would make sense for a meeting that is underutilizing a website (Quaker Cloud or not), to refocus their energy on making sure their Quaker Finder page is up to date. Meetings that require updates on a more regular basis (monthly, weekly, etc.) should investigate website or social media options.
FGC hopes that this message has provided adequate background into the conversations that led to the decision to phase out Quaker Cloud. We encourage Friends to follow FGC’s website and social media channels for updates on the next phases of this process, including the launch of the WordPress theme and the formal creation of the network of Quaker website admins.