To make a fool of yourself is human, to be a global idiot you need a website.
- Tad Boniecki
What is a website? It is a collection of files linked together and residing on a computer that is permanently connected to other computers. Anyone in the world with an Internet connection can access the website at any time. When they do so, they copy a file from the website onto their own PC.
How is a website created? The files that constitute it are created using an editor, a program that creates and modifies files. The files are then sent to a computer that acts as a server, ie dispenses it to anyone who wants to access the site.
Can anyone create a website and what does it cost? Almost anyone with an Internet connection, ie having an Internet Service Provider (ISP), can create their own website on the space given for free by their ISP. Almost any editor can be used to create a website. A website costs nothing, but there are qualifications.
How do you start? Contact your ISP for information on how to access their webspace. Alternatively, you can use one of the many free or paid webspace providers.
What can go on a website? In theory anything that can be digitised: words, pictures, movies, music, smells? - not yet, order forms, surveys, viruses, and computer programs. In practice, some of these may be too large or may not be allowed by your webspace provider. A basic site will consist of just text and graphics.
Why bother? If you feel you have no need for your own website then I certainly can't convince you otherwise. However, if you want to show the world your thoughts, photos, paintings, sell your products or services, or publish your diary (called a blog), then this is the way to do it.
The advantages of using your own ISP are that the web space is already yours to use with no ads. It's free. The disadvantages of using your own ISP are that you may find that the space is too small for your needs, eg for a largish photo album. The name of your space (its address) may be long, difficult to remember, or tricky to type, eg mine is http://home.swiftdsl.com.au/~soler. The tilde character '~' is unfamiliar to most people. Another disadvantage of using your ISP is that if you change ISP you will have to re-establish your site and (if you don't have a domain name) re-submit it.
If you don't want to use your ISP for webspace then you have two choices: free or paid webspace. Many organisations offer free webspace on the Net. Usually they do so in order to host their ads on your site. There are some who do not put ads on your site, but there are usually some strings attached. Also, they give you little space and the service they provide will generally not be reliable. So if you are serious about having a good site and can't or don't want to use your ISP then think about paying for hosting. I pay about $112 AUS per year to Hostgator, and am happy with their service. If you go for the paid hosting option you will probably also need to purchase your own domain name, either from the same source or from another outfit (see below). If you use the same source for both this will probably save some hassles.
What to look for in a web host? Make sure that they give you more than enough disk space (your site will either die or grow). I suggest at least 100 mb unless you are sure you only want to have a small site. Another important factor is bandwidth, which is the quantity of material that visitors can download from your site per month. See whether you can get 50 gb or more. Also important is how responsive the host is to any requests for help you may send them. You can check their reputation on the Net. Another factor is reliability - do they guarantee to be up for 99.5% of the time? An additional major question is, do they allow you ftp access to your site? If your site contains hundreds of files then you don't want to upload them one at a time. Finally, find out whether they allow you to store files such as zip, mpg and exe on your site (even if you don't think you will use these) and what the maximum size of any file can be – make sure it’s at least 500k.
Whether you use your ISP, free, or paid webhosting, this does not help you with obtaining a good address. You want a name for your website that is relevant to its contents, relatively short, and that you are happy with. To do that you will probably have to purchase a web domain name, which is normally done for a year at a time. You might want "www.yourname.com". However, you can only purchase this name if it has not already been taken by someone else. If the name you want is already taken then think about variants, eg "www.yourname4.com" or "www.yourname.org". With a little ingenuity you will find a name that is suitable. I pay about $12 per year for my domain name, http://soler7.com, to Godaddy (who send occasional spam).
Building your site
Your site begins in a file called "index.html". All the other files in your site are reached via links from this file. You have two choices, you can write your site in html (hyper text mark-up language) or you can use a program such as Word, FrontPage, or some freeware web page editor. In any case you will end up with html files. Working in html is more difficult as you have to learn how to use a few basic commands, but it gives you a sense of control and knowledge of what is actually going on. If you want to find out how to use html then use the power of the Net - there are many good sites that show you how to start eg David Raggett's. The other point to remember is that you can look at the html of a site by clicking on File -> View and then selecting "Source" or "Page Source". This shows you the html of the page you are viewing. You can, with a clear conscience, borrow bits from this file. You should respect text copyright - it is the syntax you want to copy. This is how I learnt how to use tables, which you will probably need if you want to have rows of images on your screen. If you want to borrow my code for displaying images then have a look at the source of Dolomites1.html.
If you have a text file you want to convert to html then you can open it in Word and save it as an htm file using the "Save As" dialog, specifying htm as the file type. You can keep track of how many people visit your site by using counters, which you place on your pages. You can probably obtain web counters for free from your IP, your webspace provider or some free source on the Net.
To make a photo album you need to make a table of thumbnails. A thumbnail is a small image on which the visitor clicks in order to see the full-size image. Each thumbnail image should be about 240 x 180 pixels or smaller, and no larger than about 25 kb. The full-size image should be high quality, ie low compression, but no larger than about 900 kb.
If all this sounds too complicated then just go to a site that sets up a blog (web diary) or photo site for you for free. You might have to put up with their ads though.
So your site works perfectly on your PC, it loads quickly (it better! - it will be much slower on the Net). Now you need to upload it to the Net, ie park it in your webspace. This is best done using an ftp program (Internet file transfer protocol). I recommend FileZilla. It is easy to use and free, but if you choose it make sure that Settings->Transfers->File Types is set to binary. All you need is the log-in user id and password for your site. Then you set up your folder structure and upload your files a folder at a time. Finally, check that all your links work on the Net - it is not enough that they work when your site is on your PC. I have more than 6,000 linked files on my website and to check it for broken links I need to use a program. I use Xenu, which is free and works well.
Dos and Don'ts
Be kind to your friends and to anonymous web surfers. Make your site easy to navigate by underlining all links, and making them prominent. Don't underline text that is not a link. Don't force people to click through 10 pages in order to reach an item of interest. Don't let your site be like those that annoy you when you yourself surf the Net. Be mindful of the limited attention span of your visitor. You may find the content of your page fascinating but to them it may be of only passing interest. Don't put up a page full of links to all the websites that you like. Be selective. One of the most annoying features of the www is how often one is just taken from one link to another without any content in between. Another important consideration is speed and size. The bigger a web page the longer it takes to load. People easily lose patience, especially on a slow connection. Graphics (jpg files) are the main reason for page bloat, so try to keep graphics as small as possible. You can do so by making them small in terms of their pixel dimensions and by compressing them more using a graphical program.
Your website can be reached in one of three ways. Firstly, the person may know its address. Only people whom you inform about the existence of your website will know its address. Secondly, they may find your site using a web search. Theoretically, the various search engines will automatically detect your website sooner or later. A better option is to submit your site to the major search engines, especially Google and Yahoo. Even if a search engine such as Google does find your site when people type in say, "goose droppings", this may not help much. To be visited you should be in the top ten hits, or at most in the top 20. How to ensure this happens is a whole chapter in itself and is something I am still learning about. (See 1 and 2.) The third way in which you may be found is by way of links from other websites. It pays to exchange links with other people on the Net. You might want to investigate what are called "web rings", similar sites that link together.
Once you have created and uploaded your website and emailed its address to Aunty Grumble and her pet chihuahua you will probably lose enthusiasm somewhat. A good website requires regular maintenance to keep it up-to-date. This can be tedious and time-consuming. You should update any information that changes, check that all the links still work, add new material to encourage people to return to your site, and in general think of improving your work. Each time you make a change to your site test that it is OK on the Net, don't just upload it assuming it works.
It is important to keep a full copy of your site on your own PC. That makes testing and updating easier, as well as ensuring you can restore your site at any time, should something go wrong at the Server. Make sure you also back-up your site to CD or DVD. This applies equally to anything you have on your PC that you would be sorry to lose in the event of a disk crash (eg your email address book - look for *.wab). Do it whenever you make a change of any consequence.
If some of your links are important to your website then I suggest backing up the pages that they point to onto your own PC. This is because the pages you are linking to can disappear at any time for a number of reasons that are outside your control. It has happened to me. However, be aware that by putting up other peoples' pages on your website you are probably infringing copyright.
Bad spelling and careless typing are almost a tradition on the Net. If you want your site to create a good impression then don't follow this trend. Always carefully check every page in your browser before you upload it to your site. Use a spell checker. A carefully thought-out, clear and simple layout will be appreciated by your visitors. Do not rely on people to tell you about problems on your site - if a surfer encounters some difficulty they will simply go elsewhere.
Remember that whatever you put up on your site is freely accessible to everyone to use as they wish, so if you fear being plagiarised or copied then take extra care. Don't reveal personal information that you don't want to be freely available. If you include your email address then it is probably wise to protect it from automated spammers. You can do this by inserting an extra character into it and telling people to take it out when they email you eg "email@example.com" when your email is actually "firstname.lastname@example.org".
To avoid confusion it is good to give all dates in the format 17 June 2006, as a date such as 1/6/6 may be taken to be the 6th of January by Americans, who will probably be the majority of your visitors.
One of the traps you may fall into, as I did, is that although pages on the Net are case-sensitive, this does not apply to pages on your PC. Thus if you have a link to a photo called "picture2.JPG" this may work fine on your PC but not when you upload the page to your site, where you will need "picture2.jpg" (unless the name actually is "picture2.JPG"). Of course, accurate spelling is mandatory for all links.
When you are testing changes to a page make sure that you clear the cache in your browser, or else you may not be looking at the latest version. In Explorer do Tools -> Internet Options then click on "Delete Files" and check the box that says "Delete all offline content". In Firefox do Tools -> Options -> Privacy -> Cache and click on "Clear cache now". Even then, there may be caching in the server, in which case hit the refresh icon a few times.
Use forward, not backward, slashes in directory names in html links. The way that directory names are interpreted is tricky, so watch out.
Beware of accidentally using a thumb link that uses the full-size image as the source. It will look OK but load slowly.
My version of MS Word gets links wrong sometimes, especially "..\index.html" instead of "../index.html" for the "Home" link.
If you create a site using html then remember that spaces are ignored, except the first one in a string. All carriage returns are ignored as well (use 'p' or 'br' inside angle brackets). To insert an extra space use " ".
Written 27 March 2006
Updated 15 April 2011