Putting up your first Web Site

By Mark Kaprielian


I.              Where can the web site exist?

Every web site resides on a “Server” someplace.  A server is simply a PC set up to let people visit the web sites that are kept on it.  A server can be located in several places

A.       On your Home PC

For those who are very Computer / Internet Savvy, one option is to set up a server in their house on their own PC.  Cable companies don’t let their customers do this as it competes directly with them and it seriously affects their other cable users.  Besides understanding the technological issues involved, you would most likely have to rent a separate high-speed phone connection from a phone company.

B.        Personal Web Space

If you are currently paying for Internet Dial up or Cable Modem, you probably have as part of your package your own “personal Web space”.  This space is generally already paid for by you but is not being used.  Generally, the amount of space allotted is considered small by most standards but is enough to put a lot of text based (essentially, anything but pictures and music) information with a few pictures.  If you plan on having say 20 or more pictures you may find yourself quickly out of space.

1.         Pro’s

a)    It is just waiting for you to put your web pages there.  Generally, no additional cost.

b)    If they provide you with some kind of web site building tool, you only need to learn how to use what is supposed to be an easy interface.

2.         Cons:

a)    Limited in space

b)    You may find that their web site building tool is a real pain to use.  Also, it may seem to operate inconsistently.

c)    If they don’t provide you with a web site building tool, you will need to know how to create your own web site.

d)    You almost certainly won’t be able to use your own URL.  A URL is your own reserved site address like www.Amazon.com.  You address will look more like http://www.rcn.com/~users/NE/Jones/home.

C.       Renting space (finding a host provider)

To rent space, all you have to do is select from the thousands of places on the internet that say they will host your site for only x dollars a month.  It doesn’t matter where in the country/world they are located.  Businesses that rent to you are called Service Provider, Host Providers, ISPs, WSPs and a few other names.

1.         Pros:

a)    You may use your own URL, that is your own custom web address, like www.Amazon.com.

b)    You will be entitled to a certain level of support for many problems you may have in creating your site.

c)    Most packages come with a number of features that you may soon find you may want to use.

2.         Con’s:

a)    Monthly payments.  Most will let you pay six months or a year upfront.  Most will also pro-rate you back your money should you decide to stop hosting with them.

D.       Providers who provide Free Space.

There are several free web-hosting companies. For example, Yahoo’s Geocities and MyFreeDomain.  These types of sites tend to be show pages much slower than other sites.  Also, they may prove to be less reliable.  It’s going to be hard to complain about anything.  A phrase you may have heard before goes, you get what you pay for.

II.           What kind and level of knowledge and skill do you need to put up your own site?

Below are several levels of knowledge and skills with a description of how far it can get you.  Lets define “web master” as the person who will be making changes to the web site.

A.       Can type a lot into an email but don’t know how to use MS Word or any other word processing program.

1.         Will be able to email content (articles, commentary, opinions) to the web master.

2.         Can use MS Word or a similar word processing program.

a)    If you can put graphics or pictures into your document but do not know how to use the “tables” feature of the program

(1)      You will be able to provide content but not much assistance in having the page “ready to go” for the web master.  The web master will have to recreate the appearance of your original document.  This will be time consuming for the web master.

b)    If you can use the tables feature of the program and make proper use of it, the page you send to the web master can go directly to the web as is, without any other work being done to prepare it.

c)    You will be able to use a web site management tool that your provider makes available.

3.         If you are comfortable using MS Word and can use File Explorer to move and rename files.

a)    You can use a program such as MS Front Page and create very sophisticated web sites with no need or knowledge of coding.

(1)      Pros:
(a)        Anyone with this level of skill will be able to become web master.  This allows other people to maintain the site after you move on or to allow you to take over when someone else moves on.
(b)       You can set up different areas on the site to allow other people to maintain just their own areas without giving them the “key’s to the city” so to speak. 
(c)        Multiple people can simultaneously manage the web site with no worry about bumping into each other.   Having more than one person allows the work to be shared or divided among them and provides a measure of safety in having more than one person be able to get into the web site to make changes when needed.
(2)      Cons:
(a)        Typical cost of MS Front Page is a little under $150.
(b)       You must find a Service Provider that “Supports Front Page sites”.  There are a large number of such providers.  Prices for monthly fees can vary a good deal and usually the best rates are a little higher than what you will see for providers who do not support Front Page.
(c)        “Hard core” web programmer types will often say that Front Page limits you too much and does bad things to the HTML code.   You should dismiss this any irrelevant to you.  Front Page is used to do very sophisticated sites and allows for incorporating any of the other web technologies that you may desire with it.

4.         You are a person who can learn HTML coding or already know it.

a)    You can choose from any number of approaches and tools to help you create and maintain a web site.  Almost all of these will require much more time than someone who uses MS Front Page.

III.        Practical scenarios, cost estimates and risk.

A.       You are a small organization that wants to put up useful information for your members.   You don’t really care if people who don’t know about you can find you.

Find a member who is willing to be web master, has free web space as part of their current service and their service provides a Web site tool for building and managing a site.

1.         Pros:

a)    Does not require skills beyond MS Word or equivalent

b)    No additional cost

2.         Cons:

a)    Will have a difficult URL (web address) for members to remember.  In reality, they won’t remember it.  They will need to bookmark it in their browsers and have it otherwise available for them to refer to.

b)    You become completely dependent on that member to maintain the site.

c)    You become completely dependent on your member not wanting to switch to a different provider or the provider disappearing.

d)    When the member wants to stop being the web master, you must find another member with the same type of arrangement to take over.   You may have GREAT difficulty or may find it impossible to “transfer” the web site.  The skill of the people involved is one half of the difficulty.  The other half is that because the provider’s tool was used, there may be no way to get the site “out of it” so to speak.

B.        You are a small organization that wants to put up useful information for your members.   It would be nice for people who don’t know about your organization to be able to find you.  You want to make sure that the web site continues on from web master to web master.

Find a member who is willing to be web master, who is comfortable with MS Word or equivalent and File Explorer and has or can obtain MS Front Page.

1.         Pros:

a)    By using Front Page you should be able to find a replacement web master when the time comes without great difficulty.

b)    You may obtain your own URL (web address), which will make it easier for your own members to remember and for others to find your site.

c)    Depending on the desire of the web master to learn what is available as ready to go features in Front Page, your site can become rather fancy in appearance and features.

d)    You can have multiple web masters to allow sharing or dividing tasks.

e)    You can have a separate web master for just one area of the site who cannot access the entire site.  For example, if you have someone producing an on-line newsletter page each week, they can be given their own area on the site so that they can go and make any and all changes without any assistance from the main web master.

2.         Cons:

a)    You must find a Front Page service provider to host your site.  This means that you cannot choose from among those who are not Front Page providers.  As of this date, I have found a Front Page provider for $7.95 a month.  They appear as though they will be reliable.  This is the lowest price I’ve seen for a Front Page supported site.

b)    For every person who you will allow to edit the web site, you must have him or her purchase (or you purchase for them) a copy of MS Front Page.

c)    You will need to purchase your own URL (web address).  This in itself is not a difficult task but if you have never done it, it will seem very unclear.   Many service providers will do this for you when you first contract with them to host your site.  The hardest part is agreeing upon a web address and hoping that it is available.  A URL will cost between $8 a year and $35 depending on if your provider offers it as part of their package.  If they do, the price will be on the lower end.  If not and you purchase from the “premier” place, VeriSign, it will cost you $35.  Generally there is a cost saving for purchasing multiple years.  I recommend you purchase at least two years so as to not be dealing with renewal issues as often and to take advantage of price breaks.

IV.         Other things to consider

A.       Backup your site yourself.  If your providers computer crashes or your provider goes out of business, suddenly, you web site disappears.  You should make sure that someone in your organization is performing a “back-up” of your entire site.  Most providers say, and probably do have, redundant drives and do backups.  You won’t know for sure how good they are about really doing the back ups until the day you need your entire site restored.  If they go out of business while you were sleeping, it doesn’t matter how good their backups are, your site is gone.  For this reason, you should regularly download your entire site to someone’s computer.  Ideally, they should put this onto a CD room.  If you rent space from a provider, you will be able to do this with no difficulty using readily available free software called FTP transfer software.   FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol.   Its purpose in life is to copy many files from or to a web site.

B.        A few things to look for when choosing between providers that would be a plus are:

1.         How many POPs are you given?  A POP means it is an email account.  Each POP represents a separate email address you can have associated with your site.   Common addresses that you would want to set up are, Webmaster@youURL and Info@yourURL.  These can be set up so that multiple people receive the email.

2.         List capability.   A list is a collection of email addresses that are represented by one single email address.   For example, you may set up a list such as All_Members_List@yourURL.  This would be a list that had the emails of all your members.    It can be set up so that nobody can see the addresses.  It can be set up so that only the web master can send to it or instead, any member on the list can send to it.  Another useful list you can set up is Board_List@yourURL.  This would have all the addresses of your Board members.   Yes, you can simply send out to all the individual email addresses by putting them on the cc or to line of your email.    By using a list, you don’t have to worry about forgetting to include someone.   People’s addresses change and people can get added and removed all without you being concerned with tracking the information.   

V.            General Recommendations and Observations

Having established web sites for three small (450, 1,200 and 120 members) non-profit organizations and serving as the web master for each of these, I would make the following recommendations.

A.       If an effort is made to post information to your web site, the web site becomes a central repository of information for your organization.   It becomes your “Organizational Memory”.  The active members of your organization change over time and with them, goes your hard earned knowledge and experience.  Placing reports and summary of events and activities on the site preserves this for those who come after your.

B.        Making your site “stand alone” by renting space somewhere while more expensive than being “free” in somebody’s account or on a “free site” will help ensure that the site doesn’t get stuck somewhere or outright disappear never to be seen again.  Using someone’s account at first seems attractive but it is probably going to die there one day for any number of reasons.  Using a free account somewhere means that it can go out of business any moment and hence your site disappears in a blink.

C.       By insisting on your web masters using MS Font Page, you help ensure that you can find a replacement web master or assistant web masters when needed.  Someone may offer to build you a site possibly even for free, not using Front Page.  While this is a wonderful gesture on their part and may provide them with a personal or resume building experience, who is going to maintain your site for the next year?  Having a site built and ready to go does not alleviate the web master from having the necessary skill level as indicated earlier.

D.       The key to a useful site is to have useful information.   If nobody provides information for posting on your site, your members will find little reason to visit it after they have read what is there.   If it is intended to be an archive only then you can expect that only occasionally will people go to the site.   There is nothing wrong with this as it serves its purpose.   If however you have even just one or two pages that get updated on a regular basis, the site can become very useful to your members.   Just having a page with the current calendar of upcoming events can be useful.   Keeping the past calendars around can also be useful as members may wish to look up who or what happened on some past date.   A list of commonly looked for information, the officers contact information or the monthly newsletter will prove to be invaluable to your members.