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Q: What do I need to set up a website?

Getting a website set up can be quite easy but at a minimum, there are three things you’ll need:

1. The domain name

This is makes up the website address and requires registration and yearly renewals. It’s like the online equivalent of registering your company. For a web hyperlink, the domain is to the right of the ‘http://www’ and before the first backslash; for an email address, it’s after the ‘@’ symbol.

In all of the following cases, the domain name is example.com:

If you are a client, just send me the domain you’d like to register and we’ll take care of the details for you.

To register a domain name yourself, find a registrar and follow their registration procedure. There are lots of companies that offer registration services and a web search should bring up a list of popular providers. Make sure that the registration is under your name as some try to lock you in to their service by registering the domain under their own company name.

Some registrars offer extras, like privacy protection, at a price whereas the extras might be included free by other providers. Many also offer email and web hosting which is often automatically included during their registration process. We will provide you with hosting under a maintenance agreement so pay close attention to the purchase itemisation if you only need to register the domain.

Note that you might have to get creative with the name. If the one you want is already registered, you may have to think up different variations until you find something that’s available. Purchasing a domain from an existing owner tends to be quite expensive.

Once you’ve registered your domain, just send me the login details so that I can do the rest of the setup.

2. The website itself

This is the actual design and text visitors see when they visit your site. In the past, developers used to code each page manually. Every time you wanted to change the text on a page, you’d need to ask the developer to recode it.

These days, adding and updating websites are much simpler through the use of Content Management System (CMS) software. The CMS runs on the server and allows you to make day-to-day changes, like updating text and photos, without having to hire a web developer. Your website can be easily managed by a non-technical office administrator or secretary.

For simple sites, I usually suggest that we use the WordPress as this will make it easy for you to add and edit content. Drupal can be used for sites requiring more complex functionality.

Settling on a design is the trickiest part of setting up a website and normally takes a long time. For those who want to get the site up and running soon, it’s best to use a pre-made template. These can be downloaded online for free or quite cheap (about USD30-USD70).

Some people don’t like using a template because it’s not original or unique. While I think this is the best route when starting up a new venture that has limited budget, we’ll be very happy to work on a custom design from the very start. If you’re interested in this, please contact me for more information.

3. Hosting

Websites need to run on powerful computers, called servers, that are permanently connected to the internet. It’s quite expensive to run a business-grade server yourself so hosting companies offer a service where you ‘rent’ space on their computers. They take care of the management so all you need do is provide the website files. (This is similar in concept to renting space in a serviced office.)

We provide hosting free of charge for clients on a maintenance agreement with us.

Internet Explorer 7 security warnings from Microsoft

Microsoft have issued several security updates for Internet Explorer 7. As exploits go, this one appears to be quite serious as they note that “consistent exploit code can be crafted easily”. This means that another outbreak of (possibly virus-related) attacks looks imminent.

If you use IE7 and don’t have automatic updating enabled, you should check for updates and install it manually. Instructions for updating your Windows Vista or XP computer can be found on the Microsoft Update page.

More information:

How the web can help you thrive during a recession

David Armano, from the interactive services firm Critical Mass, suggests 10 Ways Digital Can Help You Thrive in a Recession. It’s a US-focused slideshow presentation but also applies to British small businesses.

I share it because several points correspond with our approach when building sites:

  • Small companies and start-ups don’t have the luxury of time and money. Trying to create the prefect site before launching squanders both with very little guarantee that you’ve covered all the bases. Instead, launch quickly, test it on your target audience and use the feedback to improve.
  • Building from scratch is expensive so use ready-made tools and software when possible. For example, we use the Drupal content management platform as the foundation for most of our sites. It gives us lots of built-in functionality so we can focus the areas that are unique to a particular project.
  • Head straight for the prototype. For some products, spending time—literally—on the drawing-board creating documentation and schematics is essential if you want to avoid costly mistakes. The web is different. The technology means that it’s more efficient to simply build a working demonstration of your ideas.

See below for David’s slideshow.

Building a sustainable on-line business: have a price

In this video, David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of 37signals, talks about how build a sustainable on-line business. 37signals builds Basecamp, a successful online project management tool which, incidentally, is what we use for our own projects.

Here’s a summary for you:

  • Don’t be afraid to charge for your product.
  • Solve a simple problem a little bit better than the other guys.
  • Aim your product to small businesses with a niche need.
  • Side-businesses are really not that bad.
  • Great businesses aren’t built over-night so don’t be in such a hurry.

The future of advertising is PR

If you’re looking into starting a marketing campaign, this blog post by Eric Karljaluoto, creative director at smashLAB, might offer some fresh perspective. It’s an insightful read, though not for someone who’s easily offended. Here are the main points I took away from the article:

  • “Don’t spam, engage people in a dialogue.”
  • “It’s no longer about the number of messages you send; instead, concentrate on the actual interaction or engagement that results.”

Additional reading:

Protecting your password

A client’s Yahoo email account was hijacked recently. She found out after an email was sent out in her name, to her entire contact list, asking to borrow several thousand pounds. This was such an obvious scam that no-one fell for it. Fortunately, other than some embarrassment and inconvenience, there were no serious consequences. It could have been much worse.

How did this happen? She’ll probably never find out but easiest route would have been by getting hold of her password. Criminals use different techniques but common methods are:

  • ‘phishing’;
  • ‘shoulder-surfing’;
  • through an infiltrated computer;
  • by capturing the transmitted information.

‘Phishing’

This method because is so common that I’d be surprised if you’ve never encountered it. Phishing is when someone tries to trick you into visiting a fake website and entering your login credentials. Treat any email asking for your account details with suspicion. If in doubt, contact the company using their published telephone number or email address to double-check.

‘Shoulder-surfing’

Shoulder-surfing is a technique where someone simply looks over your shoulder watching what you type. You’re most susceptible to this when you’re working in a public place, like an internet cafe, airport or train. To avoid this, just be aware of your surroundings.

Through an infiltrated computer

Computers can be infiltrated by software that secretly records everything you type on the keyboard. The most risky are those in internet cafes or hotel business rooms. What happens is that a malicious person will install recording software and wait for people to use the computer. A while later, the person retrieves the captured information, which would include web addresses, usernames, passwords and emails. It can be very difficult to know when this is happening so don’t trust public PCs.

Your own computer can also be infiltrated by a computer virus caught through email attachments or infected websites. Windows users should keep their anti-virus software up to date. Apple users have less to worry about but it’s still a good idea to be cautious and occasionally run virus checks.

Capturing transmitted information

This technique is probably one of the most difficult to avoid. Someone with enough technical knowledge can literally watch the passwords and emails flowing through your internet connection. Although it’s possible for this to happen with your wired office network, you’re most at risk when using WiFi.

If you have wireless internet at home, read the manual to make sure you configure it with the highest security setting possible. Things get more tricky when you’re travelling and using the wireless internet services at cafes and hotels.

To protect against this, you’ll need to use VPN software. VPN stands for Virtual Private Networking and is a way of scrambling your transmitted information, hiding it from prying eyes. Unfortunately this software can tricky to set up. They’re often used by corporations with their own IT department. As a small-business owner, this will probably be outside of your comfort zone unless you have someone technical on-board. Nevertheless, if you’re willing to give it a try, ask a computer retailer about VPN broadband routers.

Just remember to exercise caution

As you can see, the techniques range from old-fashioned confidence tricks to high-tech computerised traps. I’ve glossed over the details but key is to use the same common sense online as you would in the real world: don’t take everything at face value; be cautious when in unfamiliar surroundings; get advice on how to use your tools.

This is a complex topic so if there’s demand, I’ll write a more in-depth articles in the future.

How to get more ink out of your printer

Have you ever been presented with a premature ‘change cartridge’ warning by your printer? This scenario should be quite familiar: your printer is happily churning out pages with no sign of fading when suddenly the low ink indicator lights-up. The thing then becomes useless until you pop in a brand-new (and probably expensive) cartridge. You might suspect that there’s still more ink and you’re probably right. It’s been widely-reported that printer manufacturers’ cut-off system is a little too eager.

Thanks to an article from Slate, an online magazine, I came across fixyourownprinter.com. The site has a forum offering tips on how to squeeze every last drop of ink out of your cartridge. Although Slate’s article focuses on laser printers, fixyourownprinter.com also covers many brands of ink-jets.

Here’s a summary of the tips from the article:

Be warned though. These procedures will almost certainly invalidate your warranty and might even break your printer. Still, they may be worth a try since—with some printers—it can cheaper to buy a newer model than replace the ink.

Those interested in the inner-workings of inkjet printers might want to see this video:


The Dirty Little Secret of Inkjet PrintersThe most popular videos are here

Incorrect design credits

Ooops!

It appears that I may have incorrectly credited some designs that appeared in our gallery. A designer we used in 2007 submitted some concepts for his portfolio section on our site. Just today, a visitor dropped us a note claiming that some of the concepts do not belong to the designer. Here’s the note:

“On 18 Jul 2008, at 11:21, [address removed] wrote:
i noticed that some web design concepts – of some companies are not originally from your team, like those of lush, Honda Philippines. I happen to know the contact people and they told me that the projects were under Ecommsite, and Ecommsite told me that the Designer of Honda Philippines was Cris Pau. Have truth in advertising”

Unfortunately, I have lost contact with the designer in question so can no longer verify this information. Nevertheless, I also happen to know both the visitor and Ecommsite. Rather than complicate things, I’ve simply removed the designer’s entire portfolio from our site.

If I did indeed make a mistake in the credits, I apologise to Ecommsite and Cris Pau. You can find out more about Ecommsite on their website. If Cris Pau would kindly send me his portfolio site, I will gladly post the link.

Note: Ecommsite is no longer in operation. The link above now directs to Athena E-Services who was, if I remember correctly, their parent company.