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Build me a website (part 1)

Posted on Feb 15 2009, 23:42 in category "Projects" [ Permalink | 0 comments ]
Tags:  web4all 

Friends and acquaintances often refer to me as a web person, so it is only natural that I am often approached with questions like "How much does it cost to build a website?" or "Would you build me a website?" The truth is: you do not have to spend hundreds of dollars to build an average personal website and you do not need me to do it.

Just like you do not really need expensive MS Office software to put down a list of parties invited to your birthday or a Saturday shopping list, you do not need to hire a website designer and/or programmer to build your website. You don't have to pay a penny for a domain, or hosting, or the majority of website features. And nowadays it doesn't require a "web person" to update your website and keep it in good working order.

All you really need is an idea:

  • of what you want your website for,
  • who your audience is,
  • what kind of information you want there, and finally
  • a set of easy online tools to get you started quickly and help you instantly share what you have to say or present.

While the first 3 items are out of the scope of my expertise, I can surely advise on the later item.

I highly recommend hosted blogging platforms like WordPress, Blogger, LiveJournal, VoX or Xanga as platforms of choice for the majority of private websites. The benefits are obvious:

  • you get your own third level domain (with most blogging platforms) without going through the pains of choosing and setting up your hosting,
  • updating your site is as easy as writing an article in a simple online text editor,
  • all your articles automatically have dates and can be arranged into categories for easy navigation,
  • you can communicate with your audience through built-in commenting tool,
  • you can choose to make certain pages on your blog to be visible to everybody, only to approved visitors or just to yourself.

And, perhaps, the most important part is that you find yourself in the blogosphere, instantly connected to the existing online community. You get to meet people who share (or sometimes oppose) your views, your interests and your lifestyle. Every time you leave a comment on some other person's blog within the same blogging site, you create another link to your blog. Your witty and smart comments attract visitors to your own space on the web.

Now, have I forgotten about the design part? Of course, not! Hosted blogs score well on this item, too. When you open a blog, your blogging platform allows you to choose your own design (called "theme", or "skin", or "schema") from a long list. And here's a real bonus: if you ever get bored with the look of your site, you do not have to demolish and rebuild it from scratch - all you have to do is switch to another skin.

If none of the predefined skins suits you, you can always find more free stuff by doing some quick googling or even address a theme designer and ask to create a custom theme for you at a little price. Depending on your technical level, you can do some tweaking yourself, too.

To illustrate my idea I have created a sample website using Xanga, one of the two blogging platforms on my list (another one is VoX), which I do not have any prior experience with. So please check out my new online project Bright Poodles. It took me just 1.5 hour to build this website from scratch and upload all the content.

After a bit of hesitation I created a duplicate project on VoX, too. To my delight it only took me 30 minutes to complete! Very impressive performance and good overall quality.

PS: I planned this article as a quick overview of all basic tools you would need to build a nice website quickly, easily and for free. Now I am afraid that at some point the amount of details in the article would be too much, so I decided to split it into two parts. The continuation would cover the online services and tools for hosting and sharing photographic and video content, and perhaps some other useful goodies. Should you have questions re. placing some specific content, don't hesitate to ask — I'm more than willing to help you get the answers!

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