So you want to have a website? Part Two 

In part one, I told you what to do if you just want an email address or a blog. In part two, I'll tell you want to do if you fall into the category of folks who just want their own little nook on the web.

I want my own small little corner of the internet!

Awesome! I'm going to assume you've got a domain name (how else can you have your own cool little place without owning What you need now is web hosting.

Actually, what you need now is an idea of what you're going to do with your site. Maybe you'll have a blog and some images of your friend and family? (Using friend rather than friends was unintentional, but funny, so I decided to not correct it.) Maybe you want to throw up those mp3s of your band that you've kept squirreled away on your hard drive.

Or maybe you want to go full bore Flash with games and forums and a whole site devoted to the awesomeness that is you.

In any case, you need to make a couple of estimates: how much disk space you'll need and how much bandwidth you need. For a lot of folks, this is the toughest part of getting a website as it's the largest way web hosting companies differentiate themselves from each other.

But ... I'm going to let you in on a little secret.

It doesn't matter.

These days, almost any plan that runs you $7-8/month is going to come with gigabytes of diskspace and tens of gigabytes of bandwidth. Guess what? Unless you're really really popular, you won't even use a tenth of that. Most people won't even use 1/100th of that.

The lesson here? Pick a hosting company based on things that will have a bigger effect on your life. Do you prefer to use email and forums for support? Pick a host who focuses on that. Want someone on call 24/7? Pick a host who offers support in that fashion. Want to be able to install and update software with the click of a button? Look for a host who offers one click software installation and upgrades.

Basically, just identify what matters to you and realize that if you're really going to use all of that disk space and bandwidth, you probably shouldn't be using shared hosting.

There's one other tricky question -- Windows or Unix? I think this ones pretty easy though. Unless you plan on using ASP or ASP.NET (two web scripting languages), you should go with Unix. Many of you are now thinking to yourselves, "but I use Windows at home? Why wouldn't I pick Windows?" The answer, quite simply, is that you don't have to run the server so you just want to pick something that works well. And web hosts have been doing Unix hosting forever. It just works. Plus the cool SysAdmins all know it inside and out and can make it do crazy things.
So, we've figured out that you will:

  1. Pick shared web hosting
  2. Ignore disk space and bandwidth and go with the host that fits you best
  3. Pick Unix (unless you need ASP or ASP.NET)

Basically, now you just need to shell out the dough and start building your site.

The next lesson?

Do NOT use Microsoft Frontpage.

It's not that it's a bad product. It does it's job really well. It's also a pain to support, has a startling tendency to decide to change your page without asking, and a tendency to become corrupt and break your site entirely. Plus, Microsoft is done with it. So it's a dying product anyway.

Save yourself the time and money and grab one of the many nice free editors. Nvu is a good one.

Now just build your site. Try not to reinvent the wheel. If you picked a host who has one click installers, try something like Gallery2 for image galleries, or Wordpress for a blog. You don't need to do it yourself -- the one click installers can make it very easy to build a site without much work. However, make sure you stay up to date. If your web host offers upgrades or patches for your installed apps, take advantage of them when they become available.

If you don't, you could login one day and see that your site says:

"Haha you suck you've been h4xx043d"

In other words, some ingenious little kid has hacked your site because you're using a 4 year old version of some guestbook software your Uncle Dale (who smells like fish) gave you. You curse to yourself, "I'll always upgrade from now on, now I just need to get my site back."

Which, because you follow my last lesson, is a piece of cake.

Always back up your site on your hard drive.

I cannot tell you how many sob stories we hear about customers who are running their "business" off of their account, but don't have their own backup. When their site gets hacked, they expect that their web host will have a copy of the file they uploaded 5 months ago. Here's a little secret: most web host do have backups, but they are rotated out quickly (daily, weekly, or semiweekly). What that means is that if you get hacked while you're on vacation, you may come back and find out that the only backup your host has is of the hacked file itself.

Thanks Uncle Dale, you fishy bastard.

Backup your files. Keep a copy on your hard drive. If you use a database-driven application, ask your host (or, better yet, look in their knowledgebase or forums) if there is a way for you to get backups of your database.
So, you want to build your own little site?

  1. Pick shared web hosting
  2. Ignore disk space and bandwidth and go with the host that fits you best
  3. Pick Unix (unless you need ASP or ASP.NET)
  4. Don't use Frontpage
  5. Backup, backup, backup

That's it. Everything else you really don't need to care about. And, by the time you need to care about it, you'll be a superstar web expert and won't be reading silly stuff like this.

In Part Three, we'll disuss what to when you plan to make your living online.