WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW: HOW DO THESE WORK & WHAT’S A CMS?
This is the second installment of this series, in which I’m sharing what it takes to start your own online magazine (or forum or wiki or website in general). The most important steps take place before you buy that domain and sign up for hosting. Once you’ve figured out why you want to do it and what you’re going to write about, this installment will literally get you up and running. Here’s why I’m doing this.
Step 2 is basically planting your flag. Now that you’ve narrowed your focus and can speak to your vision, it’s time to register your domain, get it hosted, and get a content management system (CMS) installed so you have your own spot on the internet and can get down to business.
DOMAIN vs HOSTING vs CMS
Before we actually put the pieces together, here’s a quick breakdown of the nuts and bolts. Only take a second.
This is your web address. Think domain.com. It’s what you put on your business cards, eh.
Think about the folders on your computer right now. You know how you navigate to your pictures or music or movies, right? Well, every page on every website on the internet is basically the same thing. Okay. It’s not exactly the same, but everything you look at on the web is a file on a server somewhere. This is what hosting is all about. Your website will be hosted on a server somewhere and you will be paying for hosting.
CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (CMS)
You want to put stuff on your new website, right? And you want it to look better than that old, white page with the plain text links in a row, right? Right. So you need to install some kind of content management system (CMS). The CMS makes it easier for you to create, organize, and display content (and therefore makes it easier for your visitors to find your content). We’ll get into some of these in a minute.
You ready to launch your own website? I hope so, because you’re about to do it! Point your browser to DreamHost.com
DISCLOSURE: There are numerous web hosts available on the web, offering a variety of packages and prices. I have been using DreamHost exclusively for multiple websites since 2004, and have been consistently impressed by the value of their plans and the level of customer service they provide, so I’m going to reference them here. It also allows me to offer you a pretty nice discount on your first year costs! Still, I want to be clear that you do NOT have to use DreamHost to start your own website. Okay? Okay. Let’s do this.
PICK YOUR DOMAIN
At the end of the first installment, we walked through the ideation process – divergent, emergent, convergent – to arrive at a couple ideas for a possible name for your new website. Did you test them out on family and friends? Got one you’re head-over-heels in love with and are ready to do this? Here we go!
Click the Domains tab at the top of the page. Check if your domain is available by entering it in the field, selecting your extension – .com, .net, .org, etc. – and clicking the Check Domain button to see if it’s available. If it is, as in the case of the goofy, made-up domain I tried when I grabbed these screen shots, you’ll get the thumbs-up! (Foobarbaz is something my good friend Dino once used to test a page when we were building the 2GNT.com wiki.)
If your first choice is taken, you’ll find out pretty quick – as in the example below – but don’t worry!
If the domain you wanted isn’t available, consider trying a different extension. How about a .net or .org or something like that? If not, you might find the domain is currently owned by what we call a squatter. Squatters (they might prefer to be called domainers) intentionally buy domains they think other people will want so they can hopefully sell them and make a profit. This is digital real estate and it can get pricey!
LOOKING AHEAD: A NOTE ABOUT COPYRIGHT, SLANDER, & LIBEL
Just as anything you post online is considered published, which means that, should you have something negative to say about someone else or a company or brand, you can get into trouble for libel or slander, you probably want to stay away from domain names which contain the intellectual property of others. For example, just because Gawker hasn’t registered Jalopnik.net doesn’t mean you should. I mean, you could, but chances are you’d soon hear from their lawyers in the form of a cease and desist order. Make sense? “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
Before you finalize your domain dream, a quick note about TLDs. TLD stands for Top Level Domain. These are the big ones like .com, .net, .org, but also .us, .ca, .tv, .biz, etc.. Some of them have special requirements, for example, you can’t register EpicRallyTeam.gov, or SuperMotor.ad, unless you’re a United States government entity or citizen of Andorra, respectively. Still, it can be fun to play with some of the TLDs. Here’s a list of TLDs from Wikipedia.
GET YOUR DOMAIN HOSTED
Now we’re going to buy that domain and sign up for hosting. How much does all this cost, you ask? Less than you might think! The domain should run you less than US$10 a year and, thanks to advances in storage and virtualization technologies, hosting will cost you less than US$10 a month. You hear me talk about how Gearbox hasn’t made a dime in over three years and wonder how I can afford to keep the magazine going? I’m not made of money. It’s $10 a month.
HERE COMES THE BIG GBXM DISCOUNT
But wait, as they say. There’s more! DreamHost allows me to create promo codes, to refer others to them. I’m happy to do it, but this is the first I’ve ever done so. What does GBXM|united get if you sign up through the promo code below? If I did it right, pretty much nothing. They’ll give Gearbox Magazine a 10% kickback which would be applied to our hosting charges. I created this code to give the absolute maximum discount I can through the Gearbox account. The stories of gearheads must be told and I want to do whatever I can to make that easy!
The first year of hosting – which must be paid up front – is like US$120. I can give a discount up to US$97 and that’s what I’ve done. If you sign up with DreamHost and use the promo code BIGGBXMDISCOUNT, you should only be charged something like US$23 for the whole year (plus maybe something like US$10 for the domain registration).
INSTALL YOUR CMS
You’ve picked your domain. You’ve signed up for hosting. Congratulations. You’ve got your own website. Let’s do stuff with it!
This series started because the stories of gearheads need to be told, but that doesn’t mean you have to start a magazine like Gearbox. Maybe you want to start your own forum. Maybe you want to build a wiki. There are plenty of ways to connect people and ideas and build communities these days. Here’s a couple ideas to get you started. Neat thing about doing this through DreamHost? These are pretty much one-click installs from the DreamHost control panel. Select your CMS, enter a couple pieces of basic information, and they’ll email you when it’s ready to use. How about that!
Gearbox Magazine is powered by WordPress. This means it’s – technically – a blog, but WordPress has grown so powerful these days, you can do pretty much anything with it. A WP site can be all pictures and video, it can have a store, it can even be a forum if you want. It’s all done through themes and plugins (which I’ll cover in the future).
What might your WordPress site look like? Google terms like “best WordPress themes” or “awesome free WordPress themes” to see some examples. NOTE: There are a lot of free themes out there, but some might cost US$20-up, so keep that in mind when shopping for themes. Here at GBXM|united, we’ve used free themes like Morning After, premium themes such as DeNovo from ThemeShift, and spent a couple months running I Love It from CosmoThemes (ThemeForest). Changing themes is pretty easy, and installing them in WP is as easy uploading a .zip file (right from your WP dashboard).
You’ve heard of Wikipedia, right? They’ve generously made the software available to the world, so you can one-click install your own wiki if you want. Catalog how-to information, or spec sheets, or whatever you want for easy, future reference.
Chances are, you’re no stranger to forums. You’ve got plenty of options to choose from, too. These days, it seems like vBulletin is the way to go when it comes to forums, but it’s also US$250 right up front if you want to use it. Then you gotta pay for updates after the first year. Is it worth the money? Perhaps, but this series is meant to get you up and running quickly, easily, and on the cheap.
DreamHost offers phpBB as a one-click install, which means it’s free and easy to setup, but I found the customization and update processes a little more time-consuming than I would have liked. When we used it on the now defunct Gearheads-United forum, it got hacked, half the plugins I’d installed didn’t work right, and I finally got so fed up with things I scrapped the whole project.
Which is why I suggest – if you’re looking for free forum software – you check out Simple Machines Forum (SMF). Installing this one will require you to manually upload the files to your domain (with a free FTP client like FileZilla), and you’ll have to find some database information on your host’s control panel to manually enter as part of the installation process, but the final results are well worth it. Here’s a peek at the Gearbox Magazine Team Forum, which is being built on SMF for subscribers at press time.
Whichever of the above you choose to do, keep in mind you’ll have to do some initial setup once things are installed. On a magazine/blog site, you’ll have to fill in the name, maybe come up with a tagline, and play with themes. For a forum, you’ll probably want to start creating sections and sub-forums, maybe figure out your user groups (newbie, regular, moderator, etc.). And for a wiki, you might want to start creating the first couple pages which will help future users drill down through content to discover new things. Fortunately, there’s plenty of support available for customizing these things on the web these days, making setup and configuration relatively easy.
Something else you might find useful to know right now, while you’re in startup mode, is that – now that you’re a webmaster – you’re not limited to any one of these per website. In fact, you can have all three on a single site if you like. It’s as easy as adding a new sub-domain to your account (at no additional charge, by the way). This new sub-domain might be forum.domain.com, for example. You could also just add a folder to your directory via FTP, then install there, as in domain.com/forum/. Make sense?
You’ve officially launched your own website. How’s it feel? You now have a little corner of the web that you can call your own. Regardless which type of site you’ve setup – magazine/blog, forum, wiki, or all three together – you probably want to play around with settings and start customizing things. That’s what we’re going to do in the next installment. We’re going to get back to focusing on WordPress in that one, but if there’s enough demand (read: any demand at all, you guys are always pretty quiet), I’ll put something together with some basics on how I set up forums and/or maybe even a wiki.
Thanks for sticking with it. The stories of gearheads must be told. Will you help us tell them?