25 Feb

Building a Web Site

Yeah, I know…there’s lots of info out there about how to build a site. And though, in general, I’m not a particularly opinionated person, after looking at lots of web sites, I’ve found that I have some pretty strong opinions about what I like and dislike. So here goes.

  1. Figure out why you want a web site.

    This will influence many of your decisions, so you might as well think about what you want first.

    Possible reasons:

    • Everybody else has one.

      True enough; it’s becoming more and more common. So you’ll want to do the bare minimum to get something up there. You’ll still need to think about the kind of information that you want to provide.

    • You want people to be able to find out about you.

      Good…you’ll want a good-looking, easy-to-navigate site that will look good to the people you want to attract. So you’ll need to analyze your (potential) audience’s tastes and what kind of information they’re likely to want.

    • You’ve got information/opinions that you want to publish.

      I think this is probably the major reason for doing a site: you’ve got something to say and the web is a publishing forum par excellence. Probably for most of us, it’s a combination of wanting people to know about us and want to share information.

    • You’re selling something.

      You’ve got something to sell and the web is a great place to do it. Of course, in the calling business, we all have something to sell: ourselves. But some of us have other products as well: records, books, software. A simple site will get the word out and let potential customers contact you. A more complex site will let customers actually purchase things on line.

    Actually, most of us have mixed motives: we want people to know about us and we’ve got some info to publish (even if it’s only some links to sites that we like).

  2. Decide what services you want on your site.
  3. This is related to your site’s purpose, and it will impact your web hosting decisions (see below). Do you want a guestbook? discussion forums? shopping carts? Forms to collect information from your visiters? Do you want to be able to serve dynamic web pages (web pages that change in response to user input)? Do you want the user to be able to access streaming audio of you calling? Streaming video of dancing? (Now that the next big push in home computing is home-video, this isn’t that farfetched.)

  4. Decide if you want your own domain name.
  5. The domain name is the part of the address (URL) of your site. Getting your own domain name is like getting a personalized license plate: it gives you an easy-to-remember personal address. For example, Rich Reel got the domain name all8.com, Vic Ceder got ceder.net.

    Registering a domain name in general costs $70 for the first two years and $35/year thereafter. There are services that will do the actual registration process for free or for a small charge. I used YourNameFree.com, but there are lots of others out there. Of course, the most common square dancing related domains are already taken. See What’s in a name? and Who got the hyphens.

    If you don’t want your own domain or you can’t find one that you like that’s available, there are still some options for getting memorable names, and many of them will also provide webhosting services.

    For example, for a $25 setup fee, you can have a name at SquareDancing.com Your URL could be http://www.squaredancing.com/yourname. I couldn’t figure out how much disk space you’d get, and it’s not guaranteed for life, but as they say, “hey, it’s free!”

    There is a company (V3) that has some memorable domain names (like go.to, or come.to) and will provide “free” redirection to your real URL. I put “free” in quotes because the company puts up pop-up ads as the redirect occurs. For $15/year, you can have ad-free redirection.

    There are companies that have bought up thousands of domain names and will provide you with a subdomain name (for a fee, of course; they’re in business after all). For example, MailBank.com owns over 12,000 domain names. For $50 the first year and $30/year thereafter, you can have a subdomain including a full POP3 email account and 5MB of space. I know about MailBank because it owns jensen.net and jensen.org. My URL could be http://kris.jensen.net or http://www.jensen.net/kris. I’m sure there are other similar services that own other domain names.

  6. Decide where you want your website to be hosted.
  7. This is the actual physical location: the place where you’ll put your files.

    This decision is linked with your decision of what services you want your site to offer. If you’re going to have static, informational web pages, you’re not going to need much from your web host. If, on the other hand, you dream of dynamic pages served by a database engine, you’d better make sure your web host can provide the tools you need.

    For a relatively static site, here are some possibilities:

    • Your ISP
    • Your internet service provider may also provide some amount of space. For example, AOL provides 2MB (and more if you’re willing to have ads on your page). EarthLink gives 5MB. Check with your ISP to see what’s available.

    • Free with ads
    • There are several services that will give you disk space in return for you giving them ad space on your pages. The ads can be banner ads at the top or bottom of your page or popup ads that throw up another window in front of your page. You have no control over the content of the ads.

      Most of these services provide you with tools to help you build your site and with various add-ons like guestbooks and counters. Some will offer “money-making opportunities” (i.e., the opportunity to put even more ads on your site).

      Here are some possibilities:

      • Angelfire: Start at 5MB, and you can get up to 30MB if you actually need it.
      • Geocities:15MB and various templates and site building tools. This site is organized into neighborhoods, and is probably the most popular.
      • Tripod: 11MB and various tools, including Trellix Web, a site-building and management tool for PCs (not Macs).
      • Xoom: Unlimited space and no popup ads, but you have to be willing to accept junk email. Xoom puts an advertising and navigation bar across the top of your web pages. It’s ugly, but I like it better than popup ads.
      • Also check Free Web Page Provider Review, List of free web space providers, and TheFreeSite.com: Free Web Pages, Web space for more free possibilities.

    • Free with (almost) no ads (but other limitations):
    • Other services provide free space, but have some limits on the style of your site. Here are a couple:

      • Homestead: 16MB. They put a small, pretty unobtrusive banner at the bottom of your pages. Your start page has to be created with one of their tools (powerful for PCs, extremely limited for Macs), but your other pages can be ftp’ed to your site.
      • EditThisPage: EditThisPage is designed for sites with changing content (like weblogs), but people are using them for all kinds of things. No ads, but also no ftping (you can upload pictures one at a time, but no other types of files). You have a lot of control over your page template, but each page uses the same template. This gives you a nice, uniform look, but not a lot of flexibility.

    • Pay
    • If you want database services, shopping cart services, or even access to CGI programming, you’re probably going to have to pay for your web hosting. I’ve seen prices as low as $7.95/month for fairly limited space and services, on up to big bucks for commercial sites. There are hundreds of web hosting services; your best bet is to ask people who are already using a one for their opinions.

  8. Design and build your site
  9. Before you do, you might want to spend some time surfing. Visit various sites and decide what you like and don’t like. Visit some design sites and see what the experts consider to be good and bad design.

    Here are my biases:

    • I don’t like web pages that play music without giving me any control. I think music is perfectly appropriate for a square dance site. However, I don’t want it to start playing unless I tell it to…or at the very least, I want access to a control to turn it off. What if I’m already listening to music while I surf? What if I’m at work?
    • I don’t like animated gifs and scrolling text. There are some rare circumstances where an animated gif is part of the content:Square Dance Movements. Usually, though, the movement doesn’t convey any info and just distracts the viewer from the real content (unless the content is the movement, like with the dancing hamsters).
    • I don’t like graphics that add bandwidth but no real information. I like web pages that load quickly. I do like pictures of people, though; I think they’re informative.
    • I don’t like content-oriented text that’s centered. It’s hard to read.
    • I don’t like “mystery meat” menus, where you can’t tell what the menu is for (or even that it is a menu) until you roll your cursor over the graphics.
    • I don’t like ornate background images. White is fine. Solid colors are okay as long as the text is readable. Subtle backgrounds are okay, I guess, if you really think they improve your site.

    Sites dealing with what not to do:

    Since I’m picking these, they generally reflect my biases.

    Design guidelines

    Site Building Tools

    I don’t know too much about these, especially the ones for Wintel computers. I’ve found that I like control, so I end up writing HTML. If you use one of the free web space providers, they will usually have tools that allow you to generate a reasonable looking site without writing any HTML. If you decide to “roll your own,” there are lots of sites that explain HTML. After you get the basic concepts down, a good way to learn is to find sites you like and look at their code (as far as I know, all browsers have some kind of “view source” command).

  10. Put your site on the web
  11. How you do this is dependent on your web hosting choice. You may even have built your site on the web host so you won’t need to upload anything. If you do want to upload graphics, sound files, or other files, you’ll probably use an ftp program. Check with your host on how to do that.

  12. Publicize your site
  13. You’ll probably want to submit your site to various search engines. There are sites that will help you for free:Addme and SelfPromotion. Also, put your site in your listings in the various caller listings.

  14. Maintain your site
  15. Don’t neglect this. At the very least, periodically check your links to make sure they still work. Make sure the information you’ve provided (your schedule, for example) is up-to-date. And, if you want to encourage regular visitors, you’ll need to provide new content on a regular basis.


Be sure to check out Hints for Setting Up Your Own Square Dancing Web Page from Bill Heyman.

Here’s a site listing free stuff available for your website: Free Internet

The caller web site that I like the best: Andy Shore’s. It’s got a clean, simple design, has info about Andy’s background and his schedule, provides some tools (a PDF blank square form and a PDF document with about 350 singing call figures) and some selective links.

The caller site that I go back to most frequently: Vic Ceder’s. He’s got databases and tools that I find useful.

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