Your Actrix Personal Web Space

from the January 2003 Newsletter
by Rob Zorn

In case you weren't aware, each and every Actrix customer is entitled to some free web space at which to mount their own user homepages. This article will address the purpose of this facility and how to use it. Then we'll touch briefly on how to actually build a web page for yourself.

You can make use of your Actrix user homepage at no extra cost. Each customer is entitled to five Megabytes of space (which is ample for lots of pages of text and quite a few images). This facility is designed for personal use, and not really for business or commercial purposes, though if you have a little hobby business that you don't feel is big enough for its own domain and specific website, then I don't think we'll have too many problems letting you utilise your free user homepage space. One thing though, you can't use your free homepage with your own specific domain (e.g. www.mydomain.co.nz). We won't let you point your domain at that free space. All Actrix user homepages will have the following URL or address: http://users.actrix.co.nz/yourusername.

Your Actrix user homepage (hereafter referred to as your "personal web space") is ideal for personal sites. People have many reasons for their own personal sites. It's a great way to share news about your family with friends or relatives overseas. It's good for sharing your interests or opinions with the world. If you'd like to see what some Actrix users are doing with their free space, you can check the index at http://users.actrix.co.nz/. This is a short list of users who have requested to have their homepages listed in an index. There are many more, but, out of respect for your privacy, Actrix will not add you to the general index unless you request this.

Recently our web developers have put a lot of work into upgrading the customer interface for using personal web space. It's now a whole lot more user-friendly, and has increased functionality. It is easy see what files you have, view your directory structure, create new directories and upload and delete files.

User Homepages Upload ToolYour personal web space is automatically created for you when you open an account with Actrix, so you don't need to apply for it. As soon as you're ready you can head on over and start uploading files. The customer interface is available to you at http://www.actrix.co.nz/domestic/userhomepages.php (or by clicking Domestic/User Homepages at the Actrix web site). This will take you to a customer log in box. Enter your account user name (usually the first part of your e-mail address) and your account password to get in. Once inside you'll see your current directory structure (to the right). This will be empty if you don't currently have a user home page. On the left hand side you'll see the file upload feature.

To upload a file to your personal we space, click the Browse button on the right hand side to select the file from your hard drive. Oncer selected, click the Upload button. You can choose what directory to upload the file to by using the drop down menu that is part of the "Upload to" feature. To create a new directory which will automatically be added to the drop down menu, use the New Directory feature. By default, your new directory will be added to the root section of your personal web space. If you would like the new directory to be a subdirectory of one that already exists, use the "Create in" feature when you make your new directory. Simply choose the existing directory from the drop down menu. I highly recommend, if you're new to HTML, that you put all your files (images and HTML) into the one root directory. When you first create a web site, much of the initial difficulty stems from confusion over how to link files between directories. It's simple once you get the hang of it, but can be frustrating at first.

So How Do I Make a Start?

If you've worked with HTML before, this should be all you need to know. If you'd like to have a go at creating your own web site, but you're not sure where to start, don't despair (in fact get excited!) because it's not that hard to do, and you don't need any special tools or knowledge. Your first web site will probably be pretty much "no-frills" but once you have the basic understanding necessary to get some text and images up, you can start to look at ways of enhancing your design and layout.

In concept, HTML is very simple and all you really need is a text program (such as Notepad - whatever you don't try and use a word processor such as WORD unless you can save your file as text only with line breaks). HTML is just a text file that a browser reads and interprets. It works on a basic system of on and off tags. For example, if your HTML file says this: <strong>This is a bold heading</strong>, the browser that comes along to read the HTML file knows that everything after the <strong> tag should be rendered in bold text. It will stop rendering in bold when it comes across the </strong> tag. In other words, everything between <strong> and </strong> will be rendered bold. Most HTML works on this sort of system. All you need to do is find out what a few of the basic tags are. Then you can start to experiment with laying out a page of text. You can add images to your web page by adding a tag such as <img src="myimage.jpg">. This tag tells the browser that it is supposed to display an image at that point in the document. Your tag tells the browser that the image source (or name) is myimage.jpg. The browser will look for that image in the same directory as the file it is reading and display it for you where you have told it to.

That's probably enough about HTML for this article. My purpose in describing these two basics was just to show how easy it really is. I recommend now that you find a good simple HTML tutorial on the web. There are millions of them such as:

Norrie the Actrix Nerd's "How to HTML" (a bit dated now, but still a good start);
A Beginner's Guide to HTML (thorough, but less well-explained);
Dave Raggett's Introduction to HTML (quite good and broken down into Basic and Advanced sections).

There are many more. Any search on "Introduction to HTML," or "Guide to HTML" (and so forth) should get you plenty of results.

You shouldn't be too scared to have a go. Most people who make web pages (even many of those who do so for a living) are completely self-taught. I recall the first time I tried was with a tutorial set up for users of free space at Geocities. I was surprised by how easy it was, and had a page I was happy with up in about 20 minutes. I don't think I'd be quite so happy with that first page these days, but I value what I learned and the start I was able to make there. I had all sorts of little problems at first, the minute I tried to do anything fancy. More often than not it was because I had forgotten a / or a " in my code somewhere. A little bit of persistence and I'd find my silly mistake and it would never (almost) happen again. Learning extra stuff wasn't that hard either. You can view the source of most web pages (right-click and then left-click on View Source) you visit to see how the designer of the page you're impressed with did it. So, the sky's the limit when it comes to the possibilities.

If you want, you can buy or download programs that will do the HTML for you. These are called wysiwyg programs (what you see is what you get) because you just work with text and images, and the program builds the HTML for you behind the scenes. The most common bought programs are Macromedia's Dreamweaver and Microsoft's FrontPage, but they are expensive. You can download cheaper programs and free trial versions at a site such as Tucows NZ. One I have found particularly good is CoffeeCup HTML. It tends to let you be boss of your own code whereas other wysiwyg programs will re-write your code and add lots of extraneous bits and pieces that aren't necessary. In fact, these days, I write most code in Notepad and only use a wysiwyg because they create tables much faster than I can do by hand.

If you're using a text editor such as Notepad (free with Windows), my suggestion is that you save all the files you are working on in a directory on your C: drive (e.g. named HTML). Your main page should be saved as index.html (this is the page a browser will open first when it is sent to your site). To have a look at what you're creating before you upload it, open your browser and type c:\HTML\index.html into the address bar. Your browser will then open that file for you and you'll see how it will look on the web. Remember to re-save your file and refresh your browser to look at changes. Whatever you do, don't design something in Word and then use the "Save as HTML" feature. This invariably serves up a dog's breakfast of whacko code that will cause you no end of problems. There are much simpler ways.

If you get stuck with your HTML, the best thing you can do is persist and try different options to see what works. Unfortunately, you can't really expect a whole lot of help from our help desk when it comes to this. Most of the staff will know a little about HTML (and some will be great at it) but helping customers with HTML problems is not part of their job description. If you're lucky, and you strike them on a good day when they're not too busy, they may be able to give you a tip or two. Please don't be offended, though, if they refuse to go into great detail with you as your own skills with HTML aren't really relevant to the service we provide you. They will do their best to help you with the web upload feature, though. There's plenty of help out there on the web for free for other problems.

So, that's it for the Introduction to the User Home Page feature of the Actrix web site. I hope you will make the most of your free personal web space. Once you're happy with your site, let me know if you'd like to be added to the main index!