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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2006-11-16
Batteries Not Included: Build your own website
By Zach Honig, University of Missouri
(Editor's note: This is the first of a series of columns on technology for photographers.)
Taco HTML Editor
If you've been keeping up with the SportsShooter.com message board, you may have seen a thread or two on the subject. Or maybe you've checked out the occasional classified ad, posted by a member hoping to find someone to do the work for them.
If you're looking to create or update your own website, even if you don't have a clue where to begin, I have great news: You can do it yourself! For the purpose of keeping this short and sweet, I'm presenting a laundry list to get you started.
Register a domain name
If you pay for Internet access, chances are your provider already has web space set aside for your personal use, but the address may be too complex for even you to remember. How do you make your "http://www.internetserviceprovider.net/webspace/~username/homepage.html" address more accessible? I'll be getting to choosing a host in a bit, but for now, let's assume you've already got that covered. The first thing you'll want to do is search for a domain name that hasn't already been registered. Even if a domain name appears to be open, someone may already own it. Many people go around collecting domain names hoping to resell them in the future at a profit.
Let's say, for example, Zach Honig is a really well known photographer but hasn't yet evolved into the digital age. Johnny domain collector may see this as an opportunity to make a buck in the future, assuming one day I decide it's time to create a website. The best way to see if someone already owns your domain is to do a "whois" search. For this, I use Better-Whois (http://www.betterwhois.com).
Making it your own
If you own your own business, this step shouldn't require much thought. Let's say when it came time to print your business cards, you weren't feeling creative and decided to use your last name and the word "Photo" as the name of your photography business. Choosing your domain name can be just as thoughtless, assuming it's available. Let's say you're the only Honig with a photography business; then if http://www.honigphoto.com happens to be available, you're in luck. If you're not as lucky on the first try, don't give up; you can try different variations of the domain name. Search for honigphoto.net, honigphotoonline.com, honigfoto.com, or zachhonigphoto.com - you've got the idea. You're bound to find something still available.
Register your name, without breaking the bank
A domain is a domain; I've found that it really doesn't matter where you register it. In other words, paying more really doesn't get you more. You can choose to register your name at Register.com for $35 a year; and if you're new to the world of domain registration that may seem like the deal of the century. But head on over to GoDaddy (http://www.godaddy.com), my registrar of choice, and you'll pay roughly a quarter per year of what you would have with Register.com. Once you have your domain (and I'd recommend paying for 3 or 5 years at a time), make sure all the contact information you provided is accurate. Your registrar can cancel your domain if they learn that any of the information you've provided is false; with this in mind, many registrars offer "private registration" - but for a price. Private registration will hide your personal information from "who is" searches.
I have my domain, now what?
After you purchase your domain name, you have a few options. Many people choose to pay for a host offering more advanced features than what you'll get from your Internet service provider, though you do have the option of simply forwarding your domain to your existing host. Forwarding your domain name would allow you to redirect anyone going to www.yourdomain.com to your existing, much more complex address. If you're feeling ambitious, I would definitely recommend buying space with a dedicated host.
Choosing a host
Hasweb control panel
Choosing an inexpensive yet reliable host is not an easy task. I've tried several different hosts over the past few years, and I'd like to share a couple that have worked out well for me. When it comes to hosting, you really do get what you pay for, but you may not need much. Many hosts offer support for more advanced web features, such as PHP and MySQL databases. If you're just getting started, I'd suggest keeping it simple. Although you may want to explore these features in the future, you probably won't have any use for them right off the bat. If your host of choice offers them, that's great, but don't let it be a deciding factor.
Being a cheap college student, I'm more likely to go for the host with the lower price than one that's always available to answer my questions and has an amazing uptime record. That said, if you can afford it, I'd recommend checking out S2F Online, Inc. S2F is known among photographers as a company that's great about customer service. S2F hosts many sites I'm sure you're familiar with including SportsShooter.com. As a frequent visitor to this website, I don't ever recall coming to the site and finding it down, which really says a lot about the host, as avoiding downtime is absolutely critical.
If you're on an extremely tight budget, you have several great options. One host I've been using to host several sites is Hasweb.com. Hasweb, the low budget division of parent company HostDime, Inc., provides yearly hosting for as little as $48. For less than half the price of S2F you'll get more than twice the amount of storage space and considerably more bandwidth. If 100% uptime and great customer service aren't as critical to you as a low price, then you'll probably be fine with a host like Hasweb. Keep in mind that while I've never come to SportsShooter.com and found the site to be down, I have experienced downtime with Hasweb. My site has been down three times last year that I can remember, sometimes several hours at a time.
If you're looking for an even better deal, I'd suggest GoDaddy.com's "Economy Plan" starting at $3.99 per month. For less than 4 bucks a month you can get 5GB of storage space and 250GB of data transfer bandwidth. I'm currently using GoDaddy.com to host one of my sites and while I've found that you don't have as many features as with Hasweb, they're features I rarely if ever find a use for.
After choosing a host and paying for service, you'll receive an email with the host's DNS (domain name system) servers, along with a username and temporary password to access your site's control panel or FTP server. After receiving the DNS information, you'll want to login to the account you set up with your domain registrar and configure your domain to point to your host's DNS servers. After providing your DNS information to your registrar, expect to wait a couple days before you're able to access your site directly from your domain. In the meantime you should be able to access your site by an IP Address provided by your host. Here's a run through of the basic plans offered by all three hosts.
Host Package Monthly Transfer Disk Space Email Accounts Price
S2F, Inc. Package A 20 Gb 750 Mb 10 $10/mo.
Hasweb.com Average 50 Gb 3000 Mb Unlimited $48/yr.
GoDaddy.com Economy 250 Gb 5000 Mb 500 $3.99/mo.
Designing your site
Now that you've got the boring stuff out of the way, it's time to get creative. There are several great programs available to design your website, but for the purposes of this article, I'll be mostly focusing on just one. Depending on how much time you want to spend, one of the following options will be best for you.
Get it done today
If you want to build a professional looking website but don't have a ton of free time, I'd recommend using Apple's iWeb, a program that's included when you buy a new Mac. If you don't have a Mac, I'd suggest investing in one, but if you don't have the budget, or if you're a sworn Windows user, please skip to the next sub-section (and consider taking a trip to your local Apple Store).
If you know how to use a mouse, you should be able to use iWeb. After launching the program, Apple presents you with several themes to choose from, each with their own templates for an "About Me" page, photos, blogs, or even a podcast. For my website I went with the simple, highly customizable, blank webpage, which Apple has conveniently labeled "Blank".
After clicking on "Blank", you're presented with; you guessed it, a blank webpage. From here you can place a background image, text in multiple web-ready fonts, images, and even videos and audio clips. You can begin by dragging an image onto the canvas from virtually anywhere - a folder, email, or even another webpage. You're free to place your text and media anywhere on the page you please. No need to worry about coordinates, layering with z-indexes (I'll be getting to this in a future article), or even resizing images for the web, which iWeb will do for you in the export process.
After playing with iWeb for a few minutes, you should be ready to create your own website. You can create your entire site in iWeb, or just the main page as I have done with my own site (http://www.honigphoto.com). Once you finish creating your site, export it to the desktop using "Publish to a Folder" from the file menu. Keep in mind that because of its simplicity, iWeb has brought website creation to the mainstream, meaning you may see another site painfully similar to your own. If you want a website that's completely customizable, you'll want to read on.
Dreamweaver allows more flexibility
Like iWeb, Macromedia Dreamweaver is what many refer to as a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor. Although Dreamweaver offers much more flexibility and control over the design of your site, the learning curve is much greater than with iWeb. I have little experience with Dreamweaver because before iWeb came along, I would code my sites in HTML. There are several decent Dreamweaver tutorials available online. See http://www.adobe.com/support/dreamweaver/tutorial_index.html for more information.
HTML offers complete control
Learning HTML can be extremely rewarding. One of the greatest benefits of knowing HTML is having the ability to code your own website without spending a penny. There's no need to worry about minimum hardware requirements and no software to buy. Some hosts also allow you to create and edit HTML pages through a web interface, eliminating the need to rely on an FTP client to upload and make minor adjustments to your pages.
Although all you need to create HTML pages is a basic text editor, some freeware programs make it easier to keep your code organized. I use Taco HTML editor for Mac OS X (http://tacosw.com/main.php). If you're a PC user, you may want to check out Amaya (http://www.w3.org/Amaya/User/BinDist.html), also available for Mac OS.
Although I won't be getting into the nitty-gritty of HTML coding in this article, I highly recommend checking into the HTML tutorials offered by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). I first learned HTML by reading through the various tutorials offered by the W3C - I suggest beginning here: (http://www.w3schools.com/html/html_intro.asp).
Getting it all online
Now that you have your site created, it's time to share it with the world. Most likely you'll need to use an FTP client to upload your pages and images to your web server. I use Cyberduck's FTP client, available for free at (http://cyberduck.ch/).
After opening the program, you'll want to click "New Connection" in the top left corner. In the server field you'll want to type your domain name or the upload server provided by your ISP if you're taking advantage of the free space they provide. The only other fields to worry about are username and password, both of which are case sensitive. After clicking connect you should be presented with several folders. The "www" folder is the public web space accessible by anyone with a web browser. Double clicking will open that folder.
Find the folder you exported from iWeb using "Publish to a Folder" (it should be located on the desktop if you followed the instructions correctly). Copy the entire folder to your "www" folder by dragging from the desktop directly into your FTP client. Assuming your domain and host have been setup correctly, after the folder finishes transferring you should be able to access your main page by typing your domain into any web browser.
That's it! From here you can leave your site as is or continue adding pages till your heart's content. You've created your own website. Congratulations!
(Zach Honig is a self-proclaimed techno geek and is attending the University of Missouri. You can check out his work at: http://www.sportsshooter.com/zach and at his personal website: http://www.honigphoto.com)
Honig's member page
Honig's personal website
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