A word on website hosting
October 29, 2011
I’ve had a few people and groups ask me about setting up their own website. After having this conversation a few times, I thought perhaps I should distill the common elements here. So here goes.
When choosing website hosting, most of us have 3 basic options:
A static website (i.e. no content management tools) is a simple way to host unchanging information. This solution costs the least money. The trade-off is that the content takes some effort and savvy (e.g. knowledge of HTML, CSS and FTP) to set up and to change. Problems such as “dead links” (links that go nowhere) can be a real pain point for readers and for the site maintainer, especially if the structure of the site changes during its life. You won’t need to worry about the inner workings of this website, because there really won’t be any.
A more complex and powerful option is a hosted content management system (CMS), e.g. Tumblr, Blogger or Wordpress. The most important difference from the first option is that this solution allows you to change things easily. These solutions usually have a “freemium” model, in which the basic offering has no cost, but extra options (such as using your own template or your own domain name) attract a modest fee. Such solutions are aimed to meet the needs of those whose website is a tool to raise awareness of their offering, rather than being the offering itself. Hosted systems usually include basic support to help you along the way, meaning that while you need a little bit of tech savvy, you don’t need to be a guru to manage it. The basics are easily learnt by anyone who can use the web, and the inner workings are taken care of by the people you’re paying.
A self-hosted system (e.g. a virtual private server (VPS) or dedicated server) is best for those with complex needs, or those who want to host a web app that they have developed themselves. This solution will give you all the complexity and all the power. But be aware that when things break, there’s nobody to help you. These solutions also have a higher financial cost than the other solutions mentioned here, as well as needing more time to monitor, maintain and support. If you’re going with this, you definitely want to be a geek, or at the very least have a geek on hand who owes you several large favours.
I hope that this is useful to you. If questions arise, please comment.