Some people do it as a way to earn money, service people or meet altruistic purposes. Some people work on it in teams and some on their own. Some people do it as a hobby and have fun or have other needs met. Some people only consume its content. And there is plenty of it. It? Websites and other digital platforms. Twenty years ago, who would have thought they would have such a profound impact? That anyone can do it, not only view it? Power to you.
So how am I going to do it?
If you have decided you want to create a website, an important question comes to mind: how am I going to do it? The journey starts to search for the right way and the answer often emerges when going back and forth between questions such as: what do I want the website to look like? what is the website about? what will be on it? now and in the foreseeable future? what and who is it for? how to best serve it all up, re navigation etc.? how much time, money, effort and other resources do I want to spend on the development and ongoing maintenance of the website and its content? make or buy? public or private? where to host? secure a specific domain? if part of a portfolio of websites, positioning? branding issues, incl. professional or personal? language? traffic and search engine considerations? and so on.
There are actually quite a lot of questions to think about and issues to decide upon. Projects range from simple to complex. Yes, everyone can do it but the questions above are just a selection and answers could be tricky because of interdependencies. Based on the scope of the project, support from digital agencies, in-house departments and professionals may help get your ultimate website from idea to launch and beyond. Yes, I have experience in this “group”, and you can bring me on for help.
Project: The simple website
In this article I am talking about developing a simple website yourself and some opportunities available to you, based on my experience with this website. In the project range mentioned above, the topic is at the relatively simple end of the spectrum and doable by non-technical people (i.e. non-developers). Disclaimer: it is by no means a complete story, answering all questions, and every project is different. So any lessons or ideas here may not apply to another project. That said, sit back, relax, immerse yourself and note things that work for you.
Browsing the Internet, you may already have an idea what kind of websites you like and what kind of website you want to create. There are so many sites around, it is worthwhile to find some good examples for inspiration. When you have an idea of what you want and to get you going, have a look at free services such as Tumblr, WordPress, and Blogger in Google’s suite. These services have answered many questions for you so you can hit the ground running. The beauty of these services is that you can play around, free might I add unless you want things out of the basic box, and keep things to yourself (private) for as long as you want.
What is the difference between the services? Some say WordPress users tend to write more and longer-form, while Tumblr is more visual and its users tend to be more about quicker snippets, photos and videos. Try using them and find out which one you enjoy most using and looking at, in the context of your needs. If you want in-depth reviews on the differences between the free services then there are many articles to help you.
Functional fun experimentation
Things to look out for are themes. They are design templates and control your site’s appearance and what you can do with it. Usually you can customise colours and include or move certain elements, such as widgets, on pages. If you are into codes changes, these services allow you to adapt themes, some for a fee, to customise even further. Note that the theme filled with your content makes the website truly unique. So imagine your content and create some. You can make a more static website with pages (Contact, About, etc.) or introduce blog elements where you regularly post things (text, video, images, etc.) and decide on their prominence. Also think about your site title and tagline if you have one. Remember to set your privacy preference as well. Very quickly your site will be shaping up.
Your website service provides a URL for your website on their domain, something like http://mysite.wordpress.com. You can customise this URL if you want. Do you have your own domain name or URL that you want your visitors to view? You can use your own domain while still having your site with the website service. WordPress charges a yearly fee to map your WordPress domain to your own domain. Tumblr says it is “recommended for advanced users”. To keep things simple, you may want to do this part once you have decided on the service you want to use.
The great thing about this playground is that there is plenty of room for experimentation. There is no failure if your intention is learning. Just switch theme if you don’t like it. Move things around when there is some more content and see what that does for your site. Content management is simple with these tools used by millions. If you don’t touch the code, things generally don’t break in case you wonder. And there is help everywhere: forums, tutorials, videos, articles. My experience with WordPress is quick and friendly responses from Support. So if you want it, the creative community is supporting you on your journey.
Easy, doing it
While you are experimenting and working on your site, you are actually doing it. Question answered. From there you may decide it is ready to share, get traffic and connect it with social platforms or that you prefer to do it a different way. For example, outsource elements or the complete project knowing better what you want. Important to attend to the value of learning on the way and finding out what doesn’t work for you, what does, what you don’t know, what you do.
On WordPress, to .org or .com
Something to realise is the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com. WordPress is Open Source blogging software. WordPress.com is a hosting platform that uses the same WordPress software that anyone can download from WordPress.org. With WordPress.com, Automattic takes care of the hosting and managing of the software. With the freestanding WordPress software via WordPress.org, you need to install it on your own server or a third-party hosting provider. You can install themes and plugins, run ads, and edit the database. Read this article for the differences, benefits and cons in detail.
If going with WordPress, which of the two you decide upon depends on your requirements, technical ability, available budget and so on. A consideration that swayed me to WordPress.com for this website at the moment was that a lot is taken care of. I do not have to think about any technical things such as servers, back-ups, upgrading software, hosting, finding the right plug-ins. Quite a lot of things are actually in the “basic box”, nicely integrated, which you don’t have to think or worry about. And services are often upgraded with improved features. In turn, there are restrictions such as not being able to run your own ads and further customisation that plugins and code access allow.
Interesting to note is Automattic’s business model with paid upgrades, services, premium features, and occasionally showing ads on your website (Tumblr doesn’t do this). For example, pay a small yearly fee for using your own domain, customizing the design of the theme e.g. fonts, or using premium themes.
Feel like tapping into your creativity and make a website? If you already have, what are your experiences? Any thoughts on things raised in this article? Do you have any favourite websites that are your “perfect” example?