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Building Your Own Website

From E-Democracy.org

Back To: SPED-Outreach
Rondo Workshop Schedule -- A schedule of Monday night workshops at Rondo Library presented by St. Paul E-Democracy.

This workshop will introduce you to the basics of creating a website, from HTML to content management systems and hosting. We'll show you what to consider when setting up websites large and small.

Introduction

The following is an introductory presentation:

Building a Website

Ways to build a dynamic website:

Social networking sites, such as MySpace or LinkedIn, are perhaps the easiest way to establish a presence online. These sites allow you to create a profile and make it visible to the world, giving you a very basic webpage with minimal effort. If your goal is to put your personal information online, then this is a good choice. These profile pages are hosted by their respective websites.

Blogging sites, such as Blogger or Wordpress, are almost as easy to use as social networking sites. They make it very easy to create “posts,” which are displayed chronologically. While Wordpress in particular can be used to create multi-page websites, blogging sites are best used for creating blogs. That is, if you want to post periodic updates, news stories or journal entries, this is the way to go. Note that blogging websites often offer free hosting as well as the option to use your own.

Point-and-click site builders are another easy way to create a small website. Google and Yahoo! both offer them for free, while web hosting companies often offer them bundled with paid hosting. This can be a great way to get a professional-looking website without worrying about the technical aspects. On the other hand, there are usually substantial limits to what you can do without paying. These include limits to the number of pages you can create, as well as limits to storage (disk space), bandwidth (monthly data transfer) and page-views. Still, if you’re creating a small site, this may be the best way to go. Note that these sites may or may not come with free hosting.

More robust content management systems, such as Drupal and Joomla! (both of which are open-source), allow you to create professional-grade, fully customizable, dynamic websites with all the bells and whistles. While these platforms are generally easy to use compared to building everything from scratch, the average user may find their learning curves relatively steep. On the other hand, Drupal in particular has strong local and online support networks that can help overcome some of the challenges associated with getting started. Note that these platforms do not come with hosting.

Web.Developer is a free way to play with some of these programs on a virtual server hosted on your computer.

Ways to build a static website:

Software applications exist that allow you to create static web pages on your computer. Of these, Dreamweaver is the most widely used, while Nvu is an open-source analog. Both programs allow you to design complex websites without knowing any code, although the code generated by these programs is often of poor quality. Note that these programs all require you to find your own hosting.

Writing your own code is also an option. HTML is the most basic language used online, although there are a wide variety of languages used. It is important to remember that manual coding is generally not worth the effort for an entire website, although it is also important to be able to tell good code from bad.

Hosting and Domain Names:

Hosting encompasses the means through which your website and associated files are stored and distributed online. Small websites can often get by with free hosting, while larger websites often require paid hosting. Two important things to consider with hosting are disk space (the total size of the stuff being hosted) and bandwidth (the total amount of data transferred to or from the hosting service in a month).

Domain names are (for our purposes) the yourname.com portion of a website. Using en.wikipedia.org as an example, wikipedia.org would commonly be considered the domain, while en would be considered a subdomain. Free hosting services typically place your website on a subdomain of a larger website owned by the hosting service (as in yourname.blogger.com), although you often have the option of getting your own domain (as in yourname.com). Paid hosting services typically require you to get your own domain.


Examples and Applications

Blogger

  • Very easy way to get a blog.
  • Not always a great way to get a website.

Site Builders

E-Democracy.org

  • Note that every subdomain is a different web app: forums, wiki, blog.
  • Note the embedded video widget on the St Paul Election 2007 page.

WordPress

  • WordPress is a CMS for blogging.
  • Harder than Blogger, but some people like to customize.
  • Adam's Page

Drupal

  • SPCB (A site I am putting together)
  • Only "easy" compared to doing everything from scratch.
  • RTFM
    • You don't know what you're doing.
    • There are instructions somewhere.
    • Find them.
    • Follow them.

(Note that many of the instructions are in readme files in the Drupal folder, and that, for whatever reason, these text documents are completely illegible on the screen. They print out fine though.)

Joomla!

Web.Developer

  • Lets you play with several of these programs in a virtual server on your own computer.
 

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