The Wolfram Alpha demo takes five minutes to load before it starts but it well worth the wait. I was excited to see the concept and how Wolfram makes it work. Keep in mind it isn’t a search engine and your queries should be related to math or quantitative data.
I can’t help but think Social Sites are a solution in search of a problem. They tend to reproduce a sub set of the Internet in a locked off area of the Internet. This might be okay if you have a serious email problem and only want to talk to fellow members. There is an interesting overview in the July 23, 2007 issue of Fortune Magazine.
I hope I’ve illustrated a number of easy and not so easy ways to post content on the web. Most of these web technologies are either free or have a low cost. There are some areas I’ve overlooked such as Content Management Systems (complex), Photo and Video sharing (specialized), and Social Sites (sub-optimal for content, but I will review a them later). I wanted to focus on simple technologies for posting mostly text content.
A quick way to post your musings online is to use Google Apps. Google has a free online word processor (Docs) and free online Spreadsheets. Your documents can remain private or you can make them public.
One of Google’s many services is Google Page Creator. In order to sign up for your free account it helps to have a free Gmail account, but I think you can sign up even if you don’t. Google Pages Creator presents you with a paging showing all the web pages you have designed either as a list or thumbnail view (grid view).
Last weekend I created a mini-site on Google pages. It follows my personal history of buying stereo gear along with my comments about each piece. This mini site was sort of an addendum to an ongoing personal history project. I thought this would be perfect to test Google Pages. Sound Of Music
Once you have your account set up, Click the green + page icon to start a new page. Title your page. Although you can change your page title later, the URL for the page is based on your first title and can’t be changed, so take come care.
I knew I would have a couple pages and I wanted to call this project “Sound Of Music.” A blank page will come up with the default Look and Layout. It is easy and fun to look at the other Themes (Look). Click the ‘Change Look’ link in the upper right corner. There are 60 colored themes. They all look pretty good. Once you choose one you like just click it to update your page. (Later, you can change your mind without having to start over.) Click the ‘Change Layout’ link in the upper right corner. There you have four different layouts; hopefully one of those will fit your needs. I wanted a right sidebar where I could show photos of the stereo equipment.
At this point it is pretty straight forward. Simply click in the dotted boxes and type in your content. To format the content, use the tool bar. I wrote my web site in Word, and pasted the content in. Warning: if you paste content into the dotted boxes it will override all the formatting- this is bad. What I did was paste my content into a text editor (notepad) first, then copy it from notepad and paste it into my Google Page. This strips Word’s formatting out, allowing me to use Google’s toolbar; keeping the Style Theme consistent.
You can add links with the chain link icon. Select the text, click the icon and add the URL. This is how I linked the five pages together using the footer area as a navigation bar. Images are handled in a similar way. Google throws in some nice tools which let you crop, resize and adjust your image. They also throw in 100mb of storage. This makes adding photos and images much easier than other web sites.
When you’re done click the ‘Publish’ button. The web page is now ready to be viewed. Use the Site Manager Link to edit other pages, add pages, add and edit images and files. Google will even allow you to create a total of 5 web sites. Each with their own URLs. (Click the ‘Create a new site’ link in the upper right corner.)
Google Pages are perfect for someone new to creating web sites or anyone in a hurry. It is certainly much easier than learning HTML, Frontpage, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, FTP (File Transfer), or coding a site a by hand. (It is possible to access some of the HTML to fine tune your Google Pages, but it’s not necessary.)
There is a dramatic time savings because you will spent 90% of your time with the content and only 10% putting the site together. Although other sites have some of these features (pbWiki also has a word processor like tool bar) no other site seems to have the storage, easy of use, flexibility, and low cost (free) that Google Pages has.
This post is part seven of a series on posting content to the Internet.
I first heard about the Wiki when I found Wikipedia the online Encyclopedia. By December of 2005 I learned there was more to Wiki’s than Wikipedia. The technology behind a Wiki is pretty straight forward- it allows you to place content on a web site without learning HTML or using FTP to update your page…
Wiki pages look and act like normal web pages, except they have an “Edit” link that makes it easy to modify existing pages and add new pages into the web site, using basic editing rules. You do not need to know or use any HTML or CSS. Page editing can be left open to the public or restricted to small groups of authors. –PMwiki
All the magic takes place in your browser. Like blogging software there are two approaches: Free Wiki hosting and Wiki software for your server.
A Wiki uses a simple mark up language. Some Wiki’s have a toolbar so even the markup language isn’t needed, and you edit your entries much the way you’d edit a page in Word. Wiki’s are blurring the line between products like Google Docs and themselves. Because the markup language is so simple, I find it easy to generate formatted wiki pages from my databases.
I looked at various free Wiki hosting sites. The best of the bunch was PBwiki.com. I’ve been using them for almost 20 months. I really like the simple interface. The free hosting lets you pick from three template designs. It hosts my collection of notes, lists, and information I may need when I’m not at my computer.
PBwiki’s motto is “It’s as easy to make as a peanut butter sandwich.” It is little harder than that but not by much. They have been slowly adding features and guides to make setting up your first wiki as easy as that sandwich.
Another interesting concept is TiddlyWiki. This a portable single file Wiki. I haven’t found a use for it, but the concept is so interesting I keep thinking there has to be something I need it for. I could see putting a mini site on TiddlyWiki on a flash drive being able to have your own personal intranet in your pocket.
The final Wiki I looked at was PMwiki, which is a PHP package. I found it easy to install this package on my web server. It is a full featured Wiki with lots of themes and the ability to customize the package to your heart’s content. I have this running on my personal site hosting MaasMusicWiki a wiki dealing with my love of Pop and Rock Music.
Once you get a Wiki set up it can be used just like a web site- but one that doesn’t require HTML coding or FTP to post the pages.
This post is part six of a series on posting content to the Internet.
I have discovered many of the best sites on the Internet through Leo Laporte. This started with TechTV on satellite television. Leo hosted a show called Screen Savers. Back in the spring of 2001, they ran a segment on Blogs. This appealed to me. I already wrote a journal, and I was excited about the Internet. I might not be comfortable posting all my journal but there were parts I wanted to share. The concept seemed like a winner.
At the time there weren’t many Blogs hosting sites. I checked out all the free Blog hosting sites Leo mentioned. I decided to test two of them after narrowing the list.
The first was Manila a content management system that was part of the Frontier/Userland family. After setting up a free account and played with it for a while I found I didn’t need the power and didn’t enjoy the complexity. A couple years later Userland dropped all the free hosting accounts.
The other hosted Blog was Pitas.com. This had many of the features of Manila without all the complexity. I was able to start posting right away. It was easy to edit the posts and it was easy to edit the theme (provided you knew HTML.) I decided to post interesting items I ran across on the Internet. In late 2004 I decided to posting my journal online. As an experiment it was successful and I continued through 2005.
In addition to free blog hosting, Leo mentioned there were free blog software packages that could be added to your web host. I looked at a couple free packages. Installing these packages seemed to involve a lot of work. I rarely was able to get them to work. I was new at CGI and PERL scripts. By October of 2001 I had install one: NewsPro – not so much a blog but a content management system. I ran this on my web site until the end of 2002. I was posting a some journal entries and some interesting Internet links. The NewsPro hasn’t been updated since July 15, 2001.
Starting in 2003 I decided it was just as easy to manually post material to my web sites. I had Dreamweaver and I wasn’t posting as much material. During these years the number of free blog hosting sites exploded, as did the number of script packages. It was confusing and I felt, “Been there, done that!”
In 2006 Blogs were making a big come back. They were more powerful and easier to use. Three big names were left standing in the field: WordPress on WordPress.com, Blogger on Blogspot.com, and Movable Type on Typepad.com. In 2006 I gained a customer who wanted to start a blog. We looked at various packages, but WordPress suited his needs the best. Letting WordPress.com host the blog kept the complexity down and support problems to a minimum. In August of 2006 I set up a Blogspot blog using my Google account: Decoherence. I wanted to test bed for a potential blog. Google has slowly adding features to their Blogger software. By now it has caught up with WordPress. I would say that WordPress is slightly better for business blogs and Blogger is slightly better for personal blogs, but it depend on how you’re using them. I would suggest trying both. I wouldn’t rule out Movable Type either- they have a number of interesting blogging sites including: Vox, LiveJournal, TypePad, and the Movable Type software. [I intend to test Vox for a personal blog next year.]
Last month I installed the WordPress software on my customers web site and transferred his posts from wordpress.com to the goldencompass.com web site. I was impressed by how well it went. By hosting the software ourselves it allows more flexibility with the design and plug-ins.
Another place to find a blog would be on the social networking sites. There are many, but Facebook.com and Myspace.com are the two most common. I haven’t used them myself- Myspace.com in particular has a horrible design. I would rather use a program or a service that does one thing well rather than a service that does a bunch of things half way. To that end I find myself using Thumblr.com, which is a mini-blog. I find it perfect for posting odds and ends that I run across on the Internet: Teh Ferret.
This post is part five of a series on posting content to the Internet.
In 2000, I started getting assignments to help other people with their web sites. My sister was president of The League of Women Voters of North Dakota; she asked if I could help them put up a web site. I was happy to help but I knew neither AOl, nor a free hosting site were not going to cut it.
At the local Mac User group I asked a guy who was doing a bunch of web sites. I wanted a good host and one that was inexpensive. He recommended astrohosting.com. Shortly after they changed their name to Omnis Network. Later that year I added my company web site.
After a year I started to notice more and more hosting companies; many with much better deals. I set up a couple web sites on Dellz.com including my personal web site. Dellz was purchased by ATL Networks. This fit my needs and I slowly moved all my web sites to ATL. The service was pretty good and seemed to be getting better right up until recently. Drops in service, email in particularly, have caused me too look elsewhere. I have done some research on the subject and I have a page on this blog that I try to keep updated with my notes: Web Hosting Companies.
When looking at Web Hosting Companies, it appears they are all in a race to see who can offer the most space, domains per account, bandwidth, web applications, email accounts, and the lowest cost. These are quantify services, but what is not easy to compare is levels of service. You need to be careful when comparing hosting companies.
- Don’t fall for claims of space, unless you are hosting thousands of pages, hundreds of sound files or dozens of videos, you may not need it much more than 50mb.
- Offering multiple domains or unlimited domains under one account sure is nice. It’s makes the billing and upkeep simpler and also can be less expensive. But it can be more expensive if you only have one domain. It also makes it harder to leave if you have dozens of domains.
- Bandwidth is usually very generous, but you should be prepared if your site becomes an instantly high traffic site- i.e. if it makes the front page of Digg.com. Ask your host what happens if your traffic runs over your bandwidth allotment.
- See if they have one button installation of the application(s) you want: like a WordPress blog, shopping cart, a Wiki, etc.
- Most web hosts offer a large number (100 or 1000) of email accounts. I bet most hosting companies wish they never had to offer email. I’m sure spam causes most of their headaches.
- The most important factor is service. You are not going to be happy if your web site is always down or you can’t get your email. Price is important but these companies are looking at each other’s prices all the time. The price range for similar hosting isn’t as wide as it use to be. So, take some time to call each company. Ask a billing question. Ask a technical question. Email the support department. Note how quickly and complete the answers are. Check to see if they have a users forum. Check the FAQs. Are they complete and easy to understand?
In a nutshell I think most web host companies are pretty good. They all have problems both with the hosting servers and the email servers, so what the potential customer needs to look at is how well they take care of those problems and how well they communicate with you.
This post deals with shared hosting where your site shares the server with other sites. Most if not all hosting companies also offer dedicated hosting, where the server is yours alone. This is part four of a series.
Early in 2000, I started running into the limitations of hosting my web site(s) on my ISP. I had more content than they were willing to host, the URL was difficult, and I wanted to run some CGI scripts.
Paid hosting looked to be expensive- at least when compared to the free hosting I was getting from AOL. I was working on a Mac at the time so I was reading Dealmac.com almost everyday. About once a week someone would ask about hosting. I made a list of the suggestions.
I ended up using FreeProhosting on the Prohosting.com servers. I set up a couple accounts. They still offer:
- 100 Megabytes of Disk Storage (Good enough for a nice size web site.)
- 1.2 Gigabytes of Monthly Bandwidth (Unless you think you’re going to be very popular, this should be more than enough bandwidth.)
- ProBuilder Site Builder (which will help you build your web site)
- FTP account (Makes it easy to upload and manage your web site using standard FTP clients)
The downside are banner ads on your web pages. This is true for most free web hosting. I haven’t checked but I wouldn’t be surprised to find almost every paid hosting company offers some flavor of free hosting. You can also get free hosting through Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google (which is in a class by itself.)
I still keep a small collection of magazine interviews from Musician Player and Listener from the 1980s on my Prohosting site. It’s a lot of pages and content. It is a stand alone project; so the banner ads don’t detract (much) from the site and it’s nice to know these Rock interviews have a home.
part three of a multipart series on posting content to the internet.