Guide to owning a website

Ok people this is like knowing about your bank account. It’s time to learn.

What is a website?

1. The URL. This is the webname which looks lke at These are renewed (re-purchased), annually, and cost $10-$15 per name per year.

The url is purchased from a company, called a “registration service”. I recommend Dreamhost because they offer free privacy service. Otherwise everybody can look up your home address.

If these are not paid for on time, the website will go unavailable to the public, email will stop working, and the webname will be available for purchase by someone else.

Urls can be redirected to land on one another, so you could have 6 urls all landing on various entry points to a single website.

2. Hosting. When we visit a website, the data is “served” to our screens from a very big computer “server” in a building somewhere. We pay the company that owns the server for this service. This is called “hosting”. Hosting is paid annually or monthly, depending on the contract you have with the hosting company. The cost is $5-$15/month, depending on the contract you choose.

Free hosting is sometimes available, but provides significant limitations/reduction in the software (see next section) that can be run and how it can be managed. It also may be significantly slower than paid hosting. Free hosting is ok for small projects, but not for organizations that require their websites to be reliable.

To pay for our hosting, make changes to the software (see next section), and create email accounts we need to log in to our account at the hosting company.

do-it-yourself-website-system3. Web software. Just like your computer has different pieces of software that do different things (create documents, handle email, make skype calls…) our website contains software that provides different services. The main ones we will use are: [3.1] Email addresses service, which allows us to create emails at our url, and handle those emails. [3.2] Website “Content Management” software that helps us to design, organize, create, and manage a website that visitors will look at on the world wide web.  [3.3] Wikis, project management software, and other software we may want to run from our server (basically our server is a private cloud).

Just as you install software on your computer, you install websoftware on our server at the hosting company.

4. Browsing software. On every personal computer, the owner has one of several webbrowsing softwares, such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer (Microsoft), Opera, Safari, etc. This software is chosen by the personal preference of the person who has set up their own computer and has no relationship to anything above or below.  🙂

5. WordPress. These days almost every website is what used to be a blog, and is now a “content management system”. WordPress is one of the most popular. It is also free and very user-friendly. We do not have to get into [1] or [2] in order to make additions or changes to the content or the aesthetics of our site!

5.1 Changing the content requires NO Coding! We need to log in to the wordpress site, look at the directory of files, and add a new document or edit an existing one. It works pretty much like word processing software. We can also create links to our friends’ websites or to other documents within our website by clicking the link button and typing in the address of the thing we want to link to. We can add images and video to the document with another button that invites us to upload the image. EASY. We can put things in bold or italics or make headings by clicking buttons, just like in word processing software on our computers. The “content” is the center section of the website when you are looking at it in your browser. The top, bottom, and sides stay consistent thanks to WordPress.

5.2 Changing the aesthetics of the page as a whole (top, bottom, sides, background color, etc.) requires varying levels of expertise. This is where “webdesign” comes in. Some things are very easy to change like adding an image to a document as mentioned above; other things can be very hard to do. The hardest things are the tiniest. An example of something that is hard would be changing the amount of space between the header image at the top of every page and the menu below it. This requires coding in css.

A lot of design work is in the middle between these two levels of difficulty and WordPress provides tools to do this. These are things that can be done without coding, but they require skills in using the WordPress software: These are things like: Changing the menu items that run just under the header image, changing the contents of the “sidebar” on the right side of the website which stays fixed wherever you go, adding another such sidebar on the left…

WordPress also provides a system for controlling who can do what. We have some users who can create new content, other users who can edit existing content, and admin users who can do design work. [5.2]

5.3 WordPress allows us a lot of possibilities because so many people are creating possibilities to use with it, including a massive list of sub-softwares which work within it. These are called “plugins”. Admin users can install plugins to help with design work and also to provide additional services which are conveniently installed and managed (without coding) from the very user-friendly wordpress administration area. Some of the more popular plugins enable you to automatically send new posts to your email list (MailPoet), include your twitter feed in your website (Simple Twitter Widget), and make fancy mosaics of images (Gallery Carousel without Jetpack).

Aesthetic possibilities are offered by thousands of themes which create different layouts and colors for us to choose. The theme I use in all my blogs is the one which has built into it the maximum possibilities for customization without coding. It’s called Suffusion.

6. A little about coding. Websites involve several different languages which are used for different things. If you want to add something fancy to the content of a page [5.1] you might do a little html. In fact WordPress offers a “code view” that you can switch back and forth to as you are writing a new page. Most content creators and editors will ignore this, but some may fix a few things in their page. If you want to get really finicky about the aesthetic design of the website you’ll use css. If you want to reprogram much deeper things about how the website works or create your own plugins, you’ll use php. Some plugins also generate javascript, but they seem to work and it’s so fancy I’ve never had to deal with it!