Time for a web site?

from the August 2006 Actrix Newsletter
by Rob Zorn

Last month we looked at how cheap and easy it is to get your own domain name and use it for your e-mail address. You could stop there, but if you’ve gone that far, 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.

"The really good news is that we've just increased our hosting allocations, so you get more for your money."

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 colour schemes, limited font variation 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.

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.

The really good news is that we've just increased our hosting allocations, so you get more for your money. Our basic Cyberhost 5 plan used to allow you five megabytes of space (adequate for most starter sites) but the plan has been renamed the CyberHost 10, and guess how many megabytes of storage you now get? That's right; ten!

Actrix will also provide you with your own password-protected access for uploading 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.

To get your web hosting ball rolling, just visit the web hosting section of our web site: http://www.actrix.co.nz/webservices/hosting.php or click the Web Services menu on our home page. There you'll find more information, and a short form to fill out and submit in order to be personally contacted by one of our representatives.

Most Actrix customers are entitled to some free web space for a non-business site.

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. You don't have to apply for it. It's already set up for you behind the scenes. 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 it 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.

So why not be adventurous and give it a go?