Getting yourself that web site

from the September 2005 Newsletter
by Rob Zorn

There are a number of reasons why you might want to consider getting yourself a domain and web site. Some people do it in the interests of cool-ness, and some in the interests of professionalism. It’s pretty cool when your e-mail address is yourfirstname@yoursurname.co.nz. Likewise, it’s professional and reassuring when you can e-mail your customers from sales@yourbusiness.co.nz and point them to your web site’s online product catalogue. It’s also a whole lot cheaper to maintain a web site than it is to reprint glossy brochures.

Perhaps you've been thinking about enhancing your online presence (either personally, or professionally) but you haven't quite been sure how to make a start. If so, you've come to the right place. In this article, we'll try and de-mystify the process into three main steps. It's all probably easier and cheaper than you might think.

mydomain.jpg (4599 bytes)The domain name

The key to it all and the first thing you need to worry about is the domain name. This is the part that comes after the @ in an e-mail address, and after the www. in a web address. The most obvious example I can think of, of course, is actrix.co.nz. Other examples are stuff.co.nz and connections.net.nz.

Your domain name can be absolutely anything you like as long as it is composed of letters and numbers, is 67 characters long or less and isn’t already taken. Names (either business or personal) are popular for domains, as are words that reflect the content of the intended web site. Some suggest that short names (e.g. imdb.com instead of internetmoviedatabase.com) are best because they’re easier to type, but it is also a good idea to have your subject or name recognisable, so when choosing a domain name, my suggestion is to find some middle ground between recognisability and brevity.

The most straightforward way of securing a domain name for yourself is via your ISP. The Actrix help desk (0800-228749) can tell you instantly whether a name is available, and they can book it for you on the spot. They can also advise you about whether to use .co.nz (company), .org.nz (non-profit), .net/nz (Internet, network or tech-related) and so forth.

You can also register overseas domains that simply end in .com or .net, but these are more expensive and you should have a compelling reason before you get one. Why hide that your site is in New Zealand?

Actrix will charge $44.95 per year for your domain name, with an initial set up fee of $35.00. We then pay the Domain Name Commission on your behalf, and also put the necessary configurations onto our servers so that your domain name works on the Internet. As part of the service we'll also get your domain working as an e-mail address and talk you through setting up your e-mail program to send and receive e-mail using it. Any e-mail program can do it. Once you have a domain name you can start using all sorts of e-mail addresses: sales@yourbiz.co.nz, info@yourbiz.co.nz, jemima@yourbiz.co.nz or thebigkahuna@yourbiz.co.nz. We can set things up so that all these e-mail addresses can be checked at the same time (in other words, all the e-mail goes to the one place) or we can have e-mail for each address going to different places. There's lots of flexibility. 

Designing the web site

mailto.jpg (4559 bytes)You could stop there and just use your domain name as an e-mail address, but if you’ve gone that far, then you’re only a hop, step and jump away from the ultimate testament to your tech-savvy-ness, a web site.

Whether you’re going to build it yourself (and it isn’t that hard) or employ someone else, your first personal or business site should probably be pretty modest; three or four pages limited to text and a few images. If the initial time or money you spend proves worthwhile, you can always expand your horizons. It is way too easy to spend hundreds of hours or thousands of dollars on something that turns out not quite to be what you thought you might possibly have originally wanted... maybe.

Basic everyday web sites are built using a language called HTML. HTML is so simple to understand that an eight-year old can master it, and many of them do. It is written in plain text so you don’t need any special software to write it, and there aren't too many weird symbols or anything. Its principles are easy to grasp and there are a large number of web sites online that offer tutorials in how to produce your first web site from scratch. A good basic online guide can be found at http://www.w3.org/MarkUp/Guide/, but there are literally thousands of similar sites, and a quick Google search on HTML tutorial, will help find the one that is just right for you.

Even for the completely uninitiated, basic font, and background colours, adding click-able links and placing images can probably all be learned in an evening. The hardest part about coming up with something that looks good is mastering the elements and principles of style and design, and a quick waltz around the Internet is proof of that. There are millions of sites designed by those who have quickly learned the basic ideas behind HTML, but who haven't found the time to develop an understanding of colours and placement.

If you’re working on a site of your own, have a look at what others have done. Find a site or two that you like the look of and try and do something similar yourself, whilst keeping things simple. As a rule of thumb, stick to a few well-matched colours, and keep the size of images small so they don’t take too long to download.

There is software specifically designed for designing web sites in HTML. They allow you to put the site together just the way you want it, and all the HTML is done for you behind the scenes. Dreamweaver and Microsoft FrontPage are the two used mainly by professional designers, but they are expensive to buy. Simpler free or free-trial programs are also available to be downloaded from the web. Coffeecup is a popular one that offers a free trial version at www.coffeecup.com. The good thing about a program such as this one is that you can download it, play around with it for a while, and if you decide that HTML is not for you, it hasn't cost you anything.

Those without the time for do-it-yourself HTML may want to use the services of a web designer. These can be located via the Yellow Pages (try looking under Internet web site development) or online at www.yellowpages.co.nz. You may want to ring around to find someone who offers budget packages for first-timers. You can expect to pay between $300 and $600 for a basic 3-4 page site from a budget designer, but bells and whistles would be few.

Hosting the web site

The last thing to worry about is actually getting the site onto the web. To achieve this, you need to have your site hosted on a computer (in this case one called a web-server) that is already on the web. Again, Actrix can help in this regard. For as little as $12.50 per month we'll make sure your web site stays up, and that it works when people type in your web address. Your domain name gets added to our name (or dns) servers which propagate your domain name all around the world, so people anywhere can get to it by typing in your web address.

Actrix will also provide you with your own password-protected access to your site. You normally do this using an FTP (file transfer protocol) program. The principles of FTP are also very simple, and the various programs out there (plenty are free) are child's play to use. The FTP program just makes a temporary connection between your computer and the web server. It will allow you to choose a file on your hard drive and upload it to your web site with little more than a click or two of your mouse. Again, our help desk will happily give you a few tips to get you started.

Free hosting

Most Actrix customers are entitled to some free web space for a non-business site. Five Megabytes of personal space comes as part of your connection. This may be a good place to experiment with your first web site outing. It doesn’t cost you anything beyond what you’re paying for connectivity, and it’s a good opportunity to experiment, and learn. Without spending a cent you’ll soon know whether designing your own web site is really what you want to do.

When you're ready to experiment and you think you have some web site files ready to upload, log into My Actrix on our main web page (www.actrix.co.nz). Inside My Actrix you'll find a link called User Homepage. This will allow you upload your own web site to your personal web space. To see how your site looks, just go to http://users.actrix.co.nz/yourusername/. There are a couple of provisos. You  can't use this personal space in conjunction with a domain name, and you can't use this space for business purposes. The web address you get is probably not the most professional look for a business anyway, but personal web space is a fine way to publish your resume or upload family news and photos for friends and family to access from overseas.

Okay, so that's a basic introduction to the three main elements of getting a domain and web site. Of course there's more to it, but at least you should now know where your thinking needs to go. If you have further questions, you can e-mail editor@actrix.co.nz and I'll see what I can do to help. Perhaps a few of these will turn up in next month's Forum section.