I want to increase my online presence: Where do I start?

Whether you are starting an online business, selling products or services, or just want to have your own Web presence, you’ll probably want to start by creating your very own Web site. This Web site can serve as a “Home Base” for your entire Web presence or an online presence for your business, giving people a single place to visit to find out the latest about you, your family, your business, your products, etc. Technically, the term “Web site” refers to a specific domain name (www.MYSITE.com for example). For this post, however, I will use the term more loosely to describe any sort of personalized page on the Web…whether it’s a specific domain name, a page in a social networking site (like MySpace), or a personalized subsection of a Web site (Like geocities.com/MYPAGE).

If you don’t need your own domain name, there are quite a few options out there, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Most of these services allow you to create your “own” Web site free of charge, but only one I know of also allows you to register your own Domain Name (www.MYSITE.com) and create e-mail accounts containing that domain (info@MYSITE.com, for example). Microsoft Office Live Basics offers subscribers a custom Domain Name and multiple e-mail accounts, all free of charge. I will discuss Microsoft Office Live Basics in much more detail over the next few months.

Below are a few very basic examples of the types of services available to create a “home base” for your Web presence. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but an exploration of the types of services available.

  • MySpace (and other social networking sites) – Social networking sites are one way to create an online presence. While these types of sites may work well if your goal is to share your life with a select group of friends, it is probably not the best way to create a real Web presence. I find the endless advertisements to be distracting, the page layouts to be limiting, and the overall experience disturbing. These are just personal opinions, of course. If you don’t mind the MySpace (and related social networks) environment, then this is probably one of the quickest and easiest ways to get on the Web.

  • Yahoo! Geocities (and similar services) – This is a very nice way to create a simple Web site, and one of the earliest free Web services available to the public. The free level of service allows you to create pages for your site by uploading files, editing HTML directly, or using a variety of templates and page building tools online. In many ways, you can get a Web site up and running using these types of services as quickly and easily as MySpace (and related social networks). My personal feelings are that these types of sites offer a much more professional appearance than the social networking sites.

    You can view my geocities site (in draft format) at www.geocities.com/lockwooddp/. Please note that I do not have anything specific to include in this site, so I’ve just put some random content on the site to serve as an example.

    There are many other sites out there that offer the same type of user interface, such as MSN Groups, Google Page Creator, and many others.

    Disadvantages: The only real disadvantage to geocities (and most of the other personal Web page creation services, such as Google Page Creator) is that you do not get your own custom URL (such as www.MYSITE.com). Instead, you will be assigned a site with a name like geocities.com/YOURNAME or YOURNAME.googlepages.com.

    Many of these sites are supported by advertisements (Yahoo! Geocities, for example, will add advertisements to your page). Some may view this as a disadvantage, while others may not mind so much. If you are creating a page to share with your family and friends, the advertisements shouldn’t be much of a bother. If you’re trying to start a business, however, you may not like the random advertisements included, as people will assume that you are (to some extent) endorsing the products, services, or pages provided in the ads.

  • Sampa Site – This is a nice little Web site builder that I stumbled across not too long ago. Like most other free site builders, this site will include advertisements on your site, and does not give you the opportunity to create a custom domain name (www.MYSITE.com).

    The reason I’ve included it as a separate service is because it has two great features…First, it provides the ability to create a password-protected site or portions of a site that can only be viewed by authorized users, and secondly, the ability to create a blog embedded within the site.

    Although some other sites claim to offer some level of security to your site (like MySpace), in general the only way for someone to view the site is to create their own account on that site (Restricted MySpace pages can only be viewed by people who have their own MySpace account). In general, I find that to be overly restricted…I’d like to share my personal information with my Mom, for example, but I highly doubt she’s going to create a MySpace site just to keep in touch with me!

    Sampa Site, on the other hand, allows you to create accounts and assign passwords to people directly. You can also control exactly who can access any of the different portions of your Web site. So, you can keep one section of your site open to the public, and restrict access to other portions of your site to those people who you have registered for the site. When someone tries to visit your site, they will be asked to log in by entering their e-mail address and the password you assigned to them (they can choose to use cookies to automatically log them in when they return to the site in the future). Your authorized users can change their e-mail address or password at any time directly on your Web site.

    Being able to embed a Blog on the same Web site is an extremely nice feature. By doing this, you are one step closer to creating your “Home Base” – a place where you can do everything you want to on the Web all from a single location. Sampa Site also allows you to integrate many other features into your site, such as your del.icio.us links, an external RSS feed (yours or someone elses) from any service, FlickR photos, and even any public media you store on the Twango media sharing service (Twango allows you to share photos and videos, as well as many other types of files).

    On top of all this, authorized users of your Sampa Site can request a daily or weekly e-mail update of any changes made to the site (if any). Although I’m not thrilled with the contents of the e-mail, the idea is quite nice. All you have to do is update your site, and everyone who is registered to receive e-mails will be notified that changes have been made.

    If you’re thinking about creating a family Web site, I strongly recommend Sampa Site. It can be a little tricky getting everything set up the way you want it, but with the secure access, embedded blog, incorporation of external resources (del.icio.us, flickr, twango, etc.), and e-mail updates, Sampa Site was built for you!

    I’ll go into more detail on the great opportunities available through Sampa Site in future posts, but I’m going to talk about Microsoft Office Live Basics (below) for the next several posts, so it may be a while before I get back to Sampa Site.

    You can view my Sampa Site at http://lockworld.sampasite.com/. Note, however, that the site is password protected, and is only available to my family members (with the exception of the home page, which is publicly available).

  • Microsoft Office Live Basics (Recommended): I personally prefer Microsoft Office Live Basics to the other sites for two reasons: 1) You can create and register your own domain name (www.MYSITE.com) for free, and 2) You can create e-mail accounts with your domain name (info@MYSITE.com, for example) for free.

    You can view my own Office Live Basics site at http://lockworldherald.com/. Please note that I do not have anything specific to include in this site, so I’ve just put some random content on the site to serve as an example. I’ll be expanding on that content along with the blog posts I publish over the next few months, so it will be interesting to watch this site evolve.

    If you are serious about creating a Web presence for a personal business or to have a personal domain name that’s easy for your friends and family to remember, this is the way to go.

    Microsoft Office Live Basics will not include advertisements on your Web site (Aside from one link to the main Microsoft Office Live Web site at the bottom of your page), which is a distinct advantage if you are creating a business or selling products or services.

    There are a few disadvantages to this site, however.

    For one thing, this service requires that you use Microsoft Internet Explorer as your Web browser to be able to edit your site. This creates a problem for Mac or Linux users, who often do not have Internet Explorer. I believe Internet Explorer is available for these platforms, but I can’t be sure whether these versions work with Office Live or not. Mozilla Firefox users operating on a Windows-based machine have the option to install a plugin in Firefox that runs Internet Explorer within the Firefox browser window, which should alleviate this problem.

    In addition, you are limited in how and where you can add new pages or documents to your site. Although the site is easy to create with no knowledge of HTML, advanced users may find it frustrating that many scripts (HTML functional codes) fail to work with Microsoft Office Live Basics. This can affect your ability to embed certain content (such as your blog) directly on your site. You also have a limited choice of navigation structure, design elements, and other basic site features. Although you can upload documents to your site, you can not edit them once they’ve been uploaded.

    Despite these disadvantages, however, the ability to register a domain name and generate multiple e-mail accounts with that address make Microsoft Office Live Basics a smart choice for making yourself known on the Web without paying a monthy service fee. It can be further enhanced by using the functionality of other free Web services to create a fully-functional Web site, which I will explore in great detail in the upcoming months.

  • There are a variety of other options out there, including several low-priced Web hosting options that offer excellent products at a low cost, but for now I’m limiting the discussion to free services to help you get started on the Web.

That’s all for today. In my next post, I’ll talk about creating your online identity, and give a brief overview of where I’ll be going with this blog over the next few months.

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