Bill P. Godfrey et al

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Adventures in websites - Epilogue

This is the last in a series looking at personal web sites. You may or may not wish to read the earlier installments.
Part One - Student days
Part Two - Bishop to Blogger
Part Three - Beyond Blogging
Part Four - Lettuce to the Editor

Way back in my student days, just as GeoCities (formerly GeoPages) was getting big, a friend of mine joked that he would build The Ultimate GeoCities Site as a work of satire. Loads of fluff but very little content, and what content there is hasn't been touched for a year.

It would never have worked, as the satire would be too close to reality. If we were to have the same conversation today, we would be talking about The Ultimate MySpace Page in the same vein and it would fail as satire for the same reason.

So, if you want (or already have) a personal website, why?

Perhaps you are a creative type, musician, writer, artist, photographer, film-maker, etc and you want to show-off your work. That's great, websites are good for that.

In my case, although this site ended up being for my writing and photography, I didn't really know what I wanted a website for. I had a strange inkling that it would be some sort of "business card". For that, it seems to me that a niche "social networking" site would be preferable. Find the one that all your friends or collegues are using and join that one. For me, that would be LinkedIn. Its a bit like MySpace for professionals. (And that should be their slogan.)

If you want more than just a business card page, I'd recommend setting up a personal website. Two things you'd need...
  1. A domain. (Like - say - "".)
  2. A web host service. (Where the work of running the site takes place.)
Personally, I recommend getting those two things from separate organisations. This is in case you ever want to change web host services. That way the old web host service can't decide to lock you into that service by keeping control of the domain.

In the first part of this series, I said;
"It frankly amazes me that MySpace and its ilk are so popular with students and teenagers when a fiver a month can get you a website and there is so much free PHP based software for blogs, forums, photo galleries, etc. Clearly I have different values."

Unfortunately, installing software onto web services is a skilled task. Some of these free software projects try to provide step-by-step instructions, but there is no standard way that web host services are set up. So it's rare for the instructions to be tailored properly for your particular web host. The user might be instructed to "cd" into the "htdocs" directory. Many wouldn't know that cd meant change directory and would be defeated immediately. The one's who do understand "cd" might not have a "htdocs" directory on their server and wind up being deafeated as well.

This is one area where I feel that web host services could expand. There is a real need for what I like to call medium service. People (but mostly small to medium businesses) can hire "web design" services who will do everything for them. We'll call this full service. That is, setting up the server, coming up with a nice basic design and training the customer in using the "easy-to-use" software to add personalized content to the site.

My idea of medium service would just be taking the web services' current offering and ramping it up a bit. Mainly, that would entail setting up some free blogging/gallery/forum/etc software and keeping it patched. This could be semi-automated by a skilled technician. The user wouldn't have to know about directory structures or MySQL databases, but they would have to design thier own templates and train themselves from a book or downloaded text file.

I know what you're thinking. "He's just made the case for My Space and others like them."

Not really. You see, a medium service account would allow you to:
  • Take your business elsewhere without changing your address just by reconfiguring your domain's records.
  • Place your own adverts on your site. If you wanted to
The added bonus would be complete control over how your site would look and your own domain name. Which, in all honesty, might look more "professional" than - say - a MySpace URL.
Is medium service worth paying for? I know how I feel about it, but you'll have to make up your own mind on the subject. Then, pursue which ever best suits your values.

Either way, the world of personal web sites will continue to be worth watching. Well, to me anyway.


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