Get your own website, take 2


I just checked my blog history, and I wrote about how best to build a personal website back in December 2005. At that time, I suggested that there were sufficient free tools out there to build a site that would meet the needs of most users.

So… what’s changed since then and has my recommendation changed?

Let’s start with what’s changed since then:

  1. Web 2.0: There are a myriad of second generation web applications which have facilitated tremendous improvements in terms of information sharing. This has precipitated in an unbelievable number of mash-ups, community sites and other social-networking type tools.
  2. RSS: “Really Simple Syndication” has taken the web by storm. RSS is used to share data of all kinds between websites. No longer is data proprietary. Now, if you can’t subscribe to and obtain content for free, then it doesn’t exist on the internet. That’s the unwritten rule on the web today.
  3. Increased functionality for free: The free offerings that I mentioned in 2005 continue to be free. The only change is that they’re better. Increased storage space is a biggie. So are dynamic applications (most major email clients (like gmail or yahoo mail) are rich, dynamic applications that rival de facto desktop versions (like MS Outlook or Eudora). Other major attractions include plenty of professional looking themes, tagging, spell-check, previews, easier photo and video inclusion and robust stat tracking.

I could go on, but that’s not where I’m headed in this discussion. Let’s look at where I’ve been over the last two years and what I’m using now for my websites.

The Last Two Years
Shortly after my last “get your own website” posting, I took an about face and again found a paid hosting service. I used textdrive.com. The service was fantastic and their included services were great. The main reason I went with paid hosting was for the storage space and the ease of using a bunch of open source applications on my own dedicated webspace. After a long period of experimentation, I soon found that I was using two main functions on my websites: blog and photo functionality. I toyed with using forums and other community type features, but found that an appropriate critical mass would be difficult to gather and if I did find a time when I would be hosting a large number of users, my next fear was scalability. So, without a need for anything more than blogs or photos, and nervousness over scalability should I grow a large website, I decided to go back to the world of free hosting based on my needs.

My needs:

  1. Blogs: I run three sites: wirepaper.com, dowfamily.org and toddhdow.org. Each of them serves a different purpose, as you’ll see by visiting each of them.
  2. Photos: It is valuable to share photos with my blog visitors.
  3. Files: I have a need to share files like word or pdf documents with site visitors from time to time.
  4. mp3 files: I have a need to share mp3 files with some site visitors as well.

My current setup:
I am currently using two different blog platforms for different purposes:

  1. WordPress: I use WordPress for toddhdow.org and dowfamily.org. I really like the themes that I am using on these two sites and some of the features that are available for WordPress are quick and easy to deploy.
  2. Blogger: I use Blogger for wirepaper.com. Blogger allows for adsense and javascript, two features which the hosted version of WordPress currently lacks.

Another competitor to these two products is Community Server(CS), which I am familiar with through my professional work. I am not currently using CS for personal use. The main reason I am not using CS is because of the increased hosting requirements: It runs on Windows hosting, and requires SQL Server. Most SQL Server hosts are considerably more expensive from a hosting perspective. And, since I’m trying to avoid large expenses on my hosting, CS is not currently in scope for personal use.

So… this is where things are at for me. I am using WordPress and Blogger for my main website platforms. I use a few web tools to add additional content to my sites. I will address some of these tools in upcoming posts. So, for the short term, stay tuned as I give you some overviews, tutorials, tips, techniques and advice pertaining to building out a web presence on the web on the cheap.

One thing to note: “building a website on the cheap” no longer means that a site looks cheap. In fact, the tools available today virtually guarantee that a professional image can be built for far less than what you’d have paid two years ago.

Stay tuned for plenty of advice on how to build an effective site.

One final note (and an important disclaimer): I am terrible from a design perspective so don’t expect beautiful artwork from me. I will provide you with some good advice pertaining to building the nuts and bolts and integrating everything together. But to make it look good, you’ll have to bring your own creative flair to things.

Talk soon!

Todd Dow

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About

Author, Geek, CF fundraiser & Cancer Survivor. My wife & kids, faith, baseball, infosec & devops are a few of my favorite things.

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