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Chapter One Creating and Sharing I think my favorite thing about the Internet is the way it lets anyone with a computer and a $20-a-month connection create and distribute their words, sounds, images, and movies to a potential audience of a billion people. This kind of broadcasting power would have cost millions in equipment fees and licenses twenty years ago. (Thank goodness the Web happened below the government's radar, or you'd probably need a license to blog now.) Today, the barriers to entry have been all but obliterated. You no longer need money to have your voice heard by a large audience; you just need to be interesting. In this section, you'll learn how to cheaply and easily set up your own Web site, blog, podcast, video podcast (a.k.a. vodcast), and wiki (don't worry, I'll explain all these terms in the book), along with tips for getting the most out of them. You'll also learn how to meet like-minded people through social networking services, and how to upload and download files that you want to share with other people. Web Sites How Do I Set Up My Own Web Site? Design and publish your own Web site for free and in minutes with Google Page Creator Web sites used to be hard to make. After registering a domain name (such as ruletheweb.net) and paying a service provider to host your Web site, you had to learn HTML (HyperText Markup Language, used to create Web pages) and then figure out how to upload your pages and images to your host. Today, you can design and publish simple Web sites quickly and easily. One way to do this is by getting a MySpace.com account, but the tools are limited and the results are pretty ugly. Also, your visitors need to register at MySpace in order to see your page. I greatly prefer Google Page Creator. The pages it produces are much more elegant looking, and are viewable by anyone. >Here's how to create a Web page with Google Page Creator Visit pages.google.com and log in (you'll need to sign up if you don't already have an account with Google). If this is your first visit to Google Page Creator, a page that looks like the one on page 3 will greet you. Start entering text wherever you see a "Click here to enter your pages . . ." placeholder. See page 4 for an example. To add a link to text, highlight the text and click the "Link" button. You can link to other Web pages (including other pages you've made using Google Page Creator), email addresses, or downloadable files. Add photos by clicking the "Image" button and then choosing them from your hard drive or from the Web. Use the formatting buttons on the left to change the font size and styles. You can change the overall style of your page by clicking "Change Look" and "Change Layout." The "Add Gadget" link lets you spice up your page with a calendar, local weather conditions, a clock, a stock chart, and other widgets. Once you're satisfied with the result, click "Publish." It is now available for the entire world to see at yourusername.googlepages.com/home (where yourusername is your Google user name.) It took me all of six minutes to create the image at the bottom of page 4. What's a Domain Name? Domain names are human-readable Internet addresses Every computer connected on the Internet has a unique address assigned to it, called an IP (Internet Protocol) address. For example, 126.96.36.199 is the IP address for the computer I'm on right now. This number lets the network know where my computer is. (You can look up the IP address of your computer by visiting cqcounter.com/whois.) IP addresses are akin to postal addresses: each one is unique, and that's why someone in Newport, Rhode Island, can scribble an address on a postcard and be assured it will arrive at its destination in Portland, Oregon. The computers that store and serve Web pages--called hosts, because they house the files that make up Web sites--also have IP addresses associated with them. If you want, you can visit Web sites by entering the IP addresses of the host machines. For instance, 188.8.131.52 is boingboing.net's IP address. Enter it in your browser and it will load right up. But who can remember IP addresses? That's where the domain name system comes in. Around the world there is a network of computers called Domain Name Servers. These computers contain databases with the IP addresses of every registered Web site in existence. Whenever you enter the name of a Web site into your computer, say boingboing.net, your computer sends a request to a Domain Name Server to translate the name into the IP number so your Web browser can load the Web site. When you register a domain name and sign up for a hosting service, the hosting service gives you an IP address, which you must provide to the domain name registrar so the domain name and IP address can be linked together. Getting your domain name registered is just the first step in setting up a Web site. You will also need a Web host to serve your Web pages to your eager audience. There are hundreds of hosts out there, and you can find reviews of many affordable ones at CNet (reviews.cnet.com/Basic_hosting/7026-6541_7-0.html). My first choice for hosting is Laughing Squid (laughingsquid.net). Based in San Francisco, Laughing Squid specializes in small customers, and its rates start at just $6 a month. Once you register a domain name and sign up with a host, your host will provide instructions on how to put your Web site on the host's server. How Do I Buy a Good Domain Name as Soon as It Becomes Available? Use a "drop catcher" to snap up a domain name as soon as its registration expires You don't actually own a domain name, you just rent the right to use it. Domain names must be re-registered regularly or the domain will stop working. That means that any Web sites or email accounts using that domain will stop working, too. You typically have seventy-five days after the expiration date to renew your domain. If you fail to renew it within the grace period, someone else can register the name and put up whatever kind of Web site he or she wants. You'll lose all access to it. Every day, about 20,000 domains are lost due to non-payment. I lost a domain that way. In 1995, I registered the name boingboing.com. But I failed to renew my registration, and as soon as it expired, a design firm called Boing! Boing! snagged it. I suppose I could have tried to get it back by taking the firm to court, but I wasn't interested enough to pay a lawyer to find out. Instead, I grabbed boingboing.net, which I now dutifully re-register every year. Today, most registrars will allow you to set your domain to auto-renew with the credit card on file. Has someone "stolen" your domain name? Or is there a domain name registered to someone else that you want for yourself? If you're willing to pay more, you can hire an online "drop catcher" to pounce on a domain name as soon as it expires. These guys exploit the three-hour "drop" period (between 11 am and 2 pm Pacific time) on the seventy-fifth day after a domain expires. At some point during the three-hour drop period, the domain will be removed from the master database at ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees the domain name system) and made available for registration to the first person that grabs it. If it's a name that a lot of people want, then it's almost a sure bet that the domain will go to a person who has hired a drop catcher such as pool.com or snapnames.com. Both services charge $60 to backorder a domain name, but if you're after a domain that had a lot of traffic going to its Web site, or one that has a memorable name, chances are good that you aren't the only one trying to snatch it up. So even if the drop catcher service you used to grab the domain is successful, if that service has been retained by anyone else in addition to you, you'll have to bid against the other person to get the domain. The bidding process for each company is different, but they're engineered in such a way to extract as much money from you as possible. Be prepared to pay at least a few hundred dollars to get the domain. How Many People Visit My Web Site? Use a free counter to find out how many people visit your site and where they came from Trust me: once you build your Web site, you'll become incredibly curious about how many people are visiting it, and how they found out about it in the first place. All you have to do is install a counter on your blog. Counters are programs that keep a log of the number of visitors that come to your site, when they visited, what site they linked from, how long they stayed, which links they clicked on, what browser and operating system they used to read your blog, and even what country they're from. Most good counters store daily, weekly, and monthly statistics so you can see how quickly your popularity is growing. There are dozens of companies out there offering free counters. I like StatCounter (statcounter.com) because it doesn't have ads and it looks unobtrusive on a Web page. StatCounter also gives you the option of hiding your stats from your readers, but I've always enjoyed making Boing Boing's stats public to share and compare with other bloggers. Another option: If you're already using Feedburner (feedburner.com) to manage your blog's RSS feeds, you might be interested in Feedburner's Web page stats tracking capability. How Do I Increase My Web Site's Popularity? K.I.S.S. it, Digg it, and Optimize it You've probably heard the acronym K.I.S.S., for "Keep It Simple, Stupid." Here, it stands for "Keep It Scintillating, Stupid." You can promote all you want, but if your content stinks, nobody will visit more than once. You need consistently killer content and you need to update it regularly. The sites that get tons of traffic tend to be ones that post new material throughout the day. Even if you only have a relatively small following, if you post juicy stuff all day long, your regulars will hit your pages repeatedly. The traffic of these repeat customers can add up to big numbers over the course of a month. "Digg it" refers to digg.com, the social bookmarking and site-recommendation service. It's a place where people can discover the most popular sites and, in turn, recommend worthwhile sites to others. If something on your site gets "dugg" by enough users, it will rise in the popularity rankings, driving significant traffic to you. The first thing you want to do is submit stories from your site to Digg that you think people will, well, dig. You can also add a Digg submit button to all of your stories so that anybody who so desires can recommend a link with one click. And don't stop at Digg. There are dozens of similar social bookmarking sites. You can add "Submit" icons to your content that link to the submit forms of all the major bookmarking sites. If you use the blogging software WordPress (wordpress.com), there's a plug-in called Sociable (push.cx/sociable) that will add icons and links at the ends of your blog posts for the bookmarking sites you specify. Another WordPress plug-in called ShareThis allows visitors to share the links on your blog via email and social bookmarking. You can also get icons and linking code at the respective bookmarking sites (besides Digg, try del.icio.us and reddit.com). Elamb.org has a nice tutorial on adding social bookmarking icons to various types of blogging software at elamb.org/howto/servicelinks.htm. "Optimize it" refers to "Search Engine Optimization" (SEO), something that's become serious business now that most users rely on search engines to find just about everything on the Web. As the name implies, SEO involves using various techniques to ensure that your content not only gets noticed by search engines like Google, but appears at the top of the results. For instance, if you blog about Japanese baseball teams, you would use SEO to make sure that anyone searching for the phrase "Japanese baseball" on Google would be directed to your site first. The first thing you need to do is to make sure that your site has been submitted to all of the major search engines. Wikipedia.org has a comprehensive list of search engines (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_search_engines) and Web directories (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_web_directories). Visit each engine and follow their directions to submit your site--each one's rules are different. Next, make sure that the titles of all of your Web pages are fully descriptive (which will make them rank higher in results). Don't write "Introduction" when you can write "Introduction to Sock Monkey Collecting" instead. Also, Web pages have what are called "meta tags," which are keywords and site descriptions that are factored into search results (although less so than they used to be). Look at the "head" section of your page's HTML code and fill out the meta tags with words that best describe your content. Also, if you use images on your site, use the "alt=" tag to label them. Search engine software can't interpret images, only the descriptions you give of them. In the end, the best way to optimize is to heavily promote through social bookmarking service like Digg, submitting links of your content to high-traffic sites, and, best of all, through visiting and commenting on other people's Web sites. If they're like most bloggers, they'll more than likely return the favor, and even link back to you. The more you get linked to by sites with high Web credibility, the higher your star will rise in the search engine universe. Search engine optimization techniques could (and do) fill volumes. To take your optimization to the next level, check out the free tools and resources at seologic.com/guide. How Do I Create a Discussion Board for My Site? Set up a message board where visitors can post comments There's an old saying about the Internet: "The quickest way to get a right answer online is by posting the wrong one." It's true. On countless occasions, I've posted something I considered a fact only to receive a blizzard of emails from people with the correct information. While I'm always embarrassed about disseminating bogus news, I'm glad that the truth prevails online. One of the easiest ways to get feedback on your blog is by activating your comment system. All modern blog services have built-in comments. To activate them in Blogger, log onto your account at blogger.com, click "Settings," and then "Comments." Look at page 11 to see how I set up my comments on Blogger. I selected "Show Comments" because I want everyone to be able to read what others are saying. I allow anyone to comment, although you can limit the ability to comment to people who have registered at Blogger or only to members of your blog. I show backlinks, which are automatically generated links to any blog that references my blog entry. That way, readers can see what other bloggers think about what I'm writing. I set the comment entry box to appear in a pop-up window, and I require "word verification," which means that anyone who wants to leave a comment must type in the randomly generated characters displayed in a graphic like the one on page 12. Word verification (also known as a "captcha") is an effective way to combat comment spam, because spam software can't read the swirly characters. (It's sometimes difficult for humans to read, too!) I also enabled comment moderation. This means that, when someone leaves a comment, it doesn't get posted right away. Instead, Blogger sends me an email with the text of the comment for my approval. That way, abusive emails get deleted without ever appearing on my site. >Message boards for non-blog Web sites If you have a non-blog Web site, try QuickTopic (quicktopic.com) to add message boards to your Web site where visitors can comment and discuss. After you've registered at the site, you can create a board for any topic by giving it a title and clicking "Start Topic." QuickTopic will generate an address like this: quicktopic.com/37/H/Y3UZECgfUSb (see page 12), which you can paste into your Web site to give your visitors a place to discuss. For a more traditional message board, the free (ad-supported) ProBoards (proboards.com) is very easy to set up and use. After filling out a short form, you'll get a Web address you can add to your site that links to a full-featured message board. Copyright © 2007 by Mark Frauenfelder. All rights reserved.