By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 11/13/2018
Posted: 5/8/2007
Updated: 4/7/2010
Topics/Keywords: #Blogging #WebsiteDesign Page Views: 3054
I explain how you can have a web presence of your own, even if you are not technically savvy.
Homemade Website

In reformatting my old blog entries, I discovered this one which, being about Internet technology, has of course become somewhat outdated. However, other than recommending MySpace instead of Facebook, it is still pretty accurate. Even the prices still hold! So just pretend you are reading "Facebook" wherever you see "MySpace" and you'll be good to go.

So, you're thinking of having your own web site? Good for you! Everyone deserves a voice and, thanks to the Internet, you are no longer limited to the "15 minutes of fame" promised by Andy Warhol.

In addition to offering a brand-new form of personal expression, web sites are the Yellow Pages of the 21st Century. And this is a double-edged sword; on the one hand, you have much more opportunity to inform your customers and potential customers with up-to-the-minute news, product announcements, and more. On the other hand, you have much more opportunity to mis-inform, or even alienate your web site visitors, than you ever had with a 'phone book ad!

However, today's post is going to focus on individuals and personal web sites.

You still want to be careful. How can you alienate visitors? To varying degrees, it can be as simple a matter of mis-choosing colors or employing a poor layout. See, when you create a public expression for yourself, you are, in effect, creating a Me Magazine. And your "magazine" is on a rack with a billion others, most of which are attractively designed. So, if yours isn't, you create a poor impression.

The simplest way for an individual to establish a web presence is via a tool such as MySpace. MySpace is a web site that allows people like you to create a "page" with photos and personal information. It allows you some choice of designs—already professionally created—and even prompts you for information that users of MySpace have found useful or interesting. Your MySpace page can declare your interests, and displays any other MySpace user who has decided to be your "friend". As is suggested by "world wide web" various MySpace pages link to each other depending on topics and "friends".

Here's a sample page (I don't know the guy; I selected it at random). My only critique is that he typed his responses to the MySpace questions ALL IN CAPITALS. All caps is hard to read and is considered to be "shouting". He also has a few grammatical errors. All these things can be easily corrected. So, unless you want people to think you're an uneducated buffoon, get a friend to proofread your entries before posting them. (Even good spellers, like myself, occasionally make mistakes. A friendly eye should always be welcome.)

If your primary interest is in blogging, you might prefer a host like Blogger or LiveJournal. These also allow you to create a "profile" but the emphasis is on your daily entries—your blog (short for web log).

The best part about these hosts is that they are free. You can pay for an account; but the primary benefit to paying is that no advertising appears on your page.

The primary disadvantage to a host like MySpace or Blogger is that it doesn't directly support your own domain. To find you, a person who doesn't know your address in advance must hunt for you. In web-speak, a "domain" is the address people use to find you. My domain, for example, is the straightforward paulcilwa.com. I've had people look up my site after meeting me, without my having given them the address. Surely you've noticed by now that all the big companies have "obvious" web addresses. There's no need to use Google to locate

And so on.

Now, you can get a domain name even if you plan to use MySpace (or another, similar host). Thanks to a feature called domain forwarding, you can buy JoeBlow.com and direct it to http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=2366834 or whatever your MySpace address is. If you later decide to create a full-blown web presence under that domain, it's easy to redirect your domain to your dedicated site. (For that matter you could direct it to CocaCola.com or ParisHilton.com, although I can't imagine why you'd want to.)

Domain names are obtained through a registrar. I use GoDaddy.com. It costs less than $9 year; you can pay for one or more years at a time, and your domain can be renewed for as long as you wish. (Don't let it expire, though, or someone else will probably grab it in hopes of selling it back to you for a small fortune.)

The original purpose of the .com domain extension was to indicate a "commercial", that is, a business, site. I used it because I do business under my own name. There are other extensions available, though. I also own Cilwa.net (for the network of Cilwas that make up my family) and OnaFoundation.org which is a non-profit organization. There are also .edu, .name, .info and .us extensions, among others. (And some cost less to register than others.)

Suppose you want to do more than blog: You want to support a page for all your grandchildren, or an obituary for your beloved dog, or a list of all your 78-rpm records, or whatever you wish to share with friends and strangers. Blog entries are, by nature, ephemeral. Older entries get "pushed down" to make way for newer ones. Even though the older entries are still there, they are inherently less accessible. A potential reader has to look for them, while the newer entries are right there on the main blog page. There might well be topics that you feel are of more enduring interest; and that's what a traditional web site is for.

Besides your domain, you will need a web host. It is possible to get free web hosting (at the cost of advertising automatically placed at the top of each page). But, frankly at the $4.95 a month GoDaddy charges (less if you pay for a year at a time) I don't see what the deal is. And GoDaddy (honestly, I don't own stock in it—though I should) has such helpful live support that it seems well worth the cost to me.

Now, once you have your domain and host, you will need some way to actually create your pages. GoDaddy has a product called WebSite Tonight that, at an additional $5 a month, will allow you to create a simple site with pre-defined templates that more or less guarantee you won't embarrass yourself, design-wise. Other hosts have similar products. These products have in common a web interface: You log into a site to create and manage your pages and the navigation between them. (For an example of navigation, note the buttons at the top of this page, both the top-level set and the Previous/Up/Next buttons that show up as needed.) The more complex your site, the more essential it is that you have thorough and well-thought-out navigation—and the more likely it is that a simple solution like WebSite Tonight will be inadequate to the task.

Your next step up is a web site designer. I use Microsoft FrontPage and love it; but (as previously noted) FrontPage is a discontinued product, and its replacement ain't cheap (and I've never used it so I can't recommend it). That doesn't mean you can't use it if you have (or can get) a copy. But FrontPage requires "FrontPage Extensions" on your host, and who knows for how many more years hosts will make that available? (My guess is at least two, maybe more.)

The most popular web site designer among professionals is arguably Dreamweaver; but, again, at $400 it's a little pricey for someone who merely wants to display baby pictures or his or her collection of original poetry.

Some other packages that I haven't tried so neither recommend nor disparage are:

You can find many more on the Web (Google website design software).

Another option is the various tools in Microsoft Office. Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher all have a limited ability to create web pages; and what is a web site but a collection of pages plus navigation? Unfortunately, the navigation issues are where the Office products fall short. Publisher has the best-developed of the bunch, but it's still kind of clunky, in my opinion.

Web design software should be about as easy to use to create a web page, as Microsoft Word is to create a business letter. If you haven't been able to figure out Word, you may be wiser to stick to MySpace.

Okay. To recap:

  • Free web presence (with ads and a tricky address) on MySpace, Blogger, LiveJournal, etc.
  • More professional web presence, suitable for resumes, family pictures, etc. with
  • Your own domain (about $9 a year)
  • A host (from free with ads to about $5 a month)
  • Web design software
  • Some time to learn the software and design and create the site

(I suppose I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I design websites for people. I'll do a one-page site for $200 and a three-page site for $500 (additional pages $50 each). This includes an original design, to your specifications, including your own logo and content.)

A nice website is a commitment, no doubt about it. But when you're done, you should have something to be proud of, something to show off. And, unlike most other hobbies, your web site instantly has a potential audience of billions!

How many collectors of miniature plastic airplanes can boast that?