Getting started: Do you need a “presence” on the Web?

Not everyone needs to have a “presence” on the Web, of course. Most people will be quite content to surf the Web to find what they are interested in, and then sign off and go do something more productive. But those of us who just can’t seem to pull ourselves away from the computer often want to do more than just surf the Web…we want to be part of it.

The popularity of social networking sites and photo/video sharing sites over the past few years testifies that there is an ever-increasing number of people who just can’t wait to put their lives on the Web. This is a wonderful way to stay informed and connected, and to keep your friends and family “up to speed” on what’s happening in your life. But how many people take the time to consider just how much of their personal lives they want on to be publicly available on the Web? Having a good plan for your overall Web presence will help you protect the information you want to keep private, and expand the reach of that information you want to share with others.

If you’re serious about creating an overall Web presence for yourself or your family, the first order of business will probably be to ask yourself what you want to do on the Web. Are you interested in making a name for yourself, sharing files or photos with friends and family, starting a small business, selling a product/service (for personal or business reasons), or creating a public Web site for the world to view (for personal or business reasons)?

  • Making a name for yourself: If your primary goal is to introduce yourself and your ideas to others, you should probably start with blogging. A blog is an online “diary” of sorts…you can create entries on your blog that share your thoughts or ideas with the world, and people can subscribe to your blog to keep up to date with what you have to say. There are thousands of bloggers out there, so if you are serious about making a name for yourself, you will have to market your blog a little bit to get the word out. One way to do this is to leave comments on Web sites that relate to the topics discussed in your blog, and provide readers of those comments with an address for your blog. If this is your primary goal, the best place to start is right here at blogger.com. Unless you plan to offer additional information or services from a central Web site, you probably don’t need to do much more than create a blogger account to get on the Web.

    Please note that, if you plan to create a family blog, you might want to evaluate some other options to help protect your private information. You might want to try out Sampa Site, which allows you to create your own personal Web site and/or blog, yet allows you to protect your content by assigning usernames and passwords for people who wish to access your site. I’ll discuss Sampa Site in a little more detail in my next post, and will return to it again later this year to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of this service. Although it might seem that your blog is so obscure due to the sheer number of bloggers on the Web, just remember that the savvy internet user can find just about anything on line. Before you begin your blog, be sure you understand the implications of what you are doing, and have weighed the options available to you.

  • Sharing files or photos with friends and family: There are countless services out there that allow you to share your files with friends and family members. Photo-sharing sites such as Flickr.com provide you with a place to upload photos for everyone to view and comment on. YouTube.com allows you to upload video clips to share with others. Other sites, such as Twango.com are more flexible and allow you to share any types of files either publicly or privately (within limits). There are a variety of other sites out there that will serve these purposes. Use these sites with caution, however. You never know who is viewing your photos or videos, or what they are doing with them. Learn from Allison Stokke, a student who found some photographs of herself competing in a pole-vault competition posted on the Web (innocently enough). Sadly, her photos were reproduced around the Web, inviting lewd comments, unwelcome fame, and fake MySpace sites and fan sites.
  • Starting a small business: To start a small business, you’ll want to focus on creating your own Web site with a registered Domain Name (I’ll discuss some options for this in my next blog post). A Domain Name is the address people will type in to their Web browser to view a Web site (for example, Blogger.com). If you want to start your own business, you’ll probably want to have your own Domain Name (www.MYBUSINESS.com), and most likely you’ll want some e-mail addresses associated with that domain name (info@MYBUSINESS.com, for example). In most cases, registering a domain name is going to cost you approximately $15.00 per year, plus a hosting fee (unless you have your own Web server, you’ll have to use someone else’s server to allow people to access your site). I know of only one option to register your own domain and host a site absolutely free, and that’s with Microsoft Office Live Basics, which I’ll discuss in more detail in my upcoming blog posts.
  • Buying a product: There are so many ways to buy products on the Web that if you haven’t discovered at least a few of them by now, this blog is probably far too advanced for you.
  • Selling a product: The best way to do this is to set up your own personal Web site (discussed above and in my next blog posts), and then sign up for a free PayPal account. With PayPal Website Payment Standards (a free service), you can add a shopping cart tool to your Web site that will allow users to shop on your site and purchase items through PayPal’s secure Web site. Note that this service is only available to PayPal customers who have a business account, so is only available to legitimate businesses. Have no fear, however, because PayPal also offers personal accounts that will enable you to sell products on your Web site. I’ll go into much greater detail on this in the next few months. PayPal will charge 30 cents plus about 3% of the transaction price. There are no monthly fees or additional fees for you…PayPal just takes a cut of the final purchase price. You can sell anything you want via PayPal.
  • Creating a complete Web site to share with the world: I will discuss some of the options for this in my next Web post, but for the next few months I will primarily discuss Microsoft Office Live Basics, a service which allows you to create your very own Web site (including your own registered Domain Name) absolutely free. In future posts, I’ll talk about how to use a variety of other free services to increase the productivity of this Web site to allow you to collect user information (such as e-mail addresses for sending out newsletters and updates), creating an online catalog, buying/selling products via PayPal, and many other tools that will enable you to build a strong presence on the Web and start your own home business.

That’s all for now. I’ll expand on these ideas in future posts, and I’ll show you a variety of other tools to help you build a safe, strong, and lasting Web presence for you, your family, or your business.

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