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Building a "simple" hobby website

25 things to figure out

11:59 pm on Dec 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Recently I set up a fairly serious "hobby" website of a few hundred pages, aimed at providing information only (no commerce or advertising, completely non-commercial).

I had spent a lot of time working on the content for visitors, and on its organization. But I was amazed at how many different programs and webservices I then had to figure out just to make the "plumbing" work. For each of these, I had to research the alternatives and make a choice:

1. Site creation software. The entire site was coded directly in html/css/javascript, and is entirely static (no database access at all, no server-side programming). But for any site that consists of hundreds of pages you need tools for inserting repeated elements, checking internal and external links, doing the bookkeeping to update the server with changed pages, and so forth. You can't manage many thousands of links simply by being careful.

2. Site hosting service. I had to identify a host with sufficient reliability, quality support, excellent web connections, and all of the server resources I would rely upon. (If I had been contracting for a server and doing my own admin, this would have been much harder--but even identifying a reliable host today is difficult.)

3. DNS infrastructure service. If my host suffers any kind of interruption, I can mirror the site elsewhere quickly but I don't want to wait for standard DNS to get visitors re-directed to the new location. So I needed to find the best ultra-reliable DNS infrastructure service, set up an account, and get the domain's DNS records set up. Now a new IP for the site can be effective in just a few minutes. (This is more vanity than necessity--but with hundreds of visitors a day from all over the world, I really don't want to disappear without a trace for a couple of days.)

4. Site backup service. For years of data, can't take a chance that it would be lost. So each night the entire site (as it is on the server plus pages in progress) is automatically backed up over the internet to two geographically-separated data centres not connected to the hosting service or to me. (This seems to me to be a necessity.)

5. Site-search service. Needed to find an affordable site indexing service, write the templates to make custom search, result, and sitemap pages, and mark my content to guide the indexer for highest-quality site-search. (Would have been more work to host the site-search myself.)

6. Giant file submission service. One goal is to have site visitors contribute further material, so needed to identify a service to permit anyone to upload files (up to 1GB) free and to send me mail so I could retrieve the contribution.

7. Site audio and video. The site serves some audio and video files, so needed to identify which formats to use, and then provide links so users could download the needed free players (latest versions for many browsers/systems).

8. Site PDF documents. Same for PDF, needed to choose which version of PDF to use and identify and provide links for users to download the free reader.

9. Site custom websearch. One service of the site is to offer custom searches of other sites (singly or in arbitrarily-chosen collections), so needed to decide which websearch engine was best to use via api, and understand their code and requirements.

10. Site statistics analysis service. The host provides logs for exhaustive analysis, but it's also convenient to have live reports, so need to identify the best "analytics" service, and put its javascript hooks into all the pages and into all the links to non-HTML files (thousands of measure points).

11. Updates email list service. The site offers users the opportunity to subscribe to update notifications. Need to identify the best webservice for this, understand their api for signups and unsubscribes, and understand how their system works to compose acknowledgements and emails, how to get reports on sends and opens, how to manage mailing lists. This whole area is very complicated, with legal requirements and impediments to email being delivered. (But hosting the email myself would be much more time-consuming and less successful.)

12. Updates RSS feed service. Similarly, the site offers users an RSS feed for update notifications. This has gotten complicated also, so I needed first a local program to actually compose the RSS feed, and then a webservice that could take a feed in one standard format and re-offer it to aggregators in any one of the half-dozen standard formats, and provide me statistics about usage.

13. Google sitemap service. Seems prudent to let Google have a crib on where to look, so that means a program to scan the site and make an up-to-date sitemap in G format, plus an account with the G webservice to register and monitor that all is OK.

14. Website CD production service. The website offers its content on a CD, so need to identify the best CD production and fulfillment service, set up a storefront and customize it, get CD content and images to the account.

15. Google Adwords service. Want people to find the new site, so need to understand enough of the Adwords system to open an account and get a campaign with some adverts and keywords going, plus infinite amounts of refinement.

16. Apache .htaccess file. Need to get the example.com 301'd to the www.example.com, plus need to 301 all the pages from a former site to the corresponding pages on the new site.

(17. Forums service. Fortunately, I didn't have to understand and install a forums package, since that's not a feature, though it would be on many sites.)

(18. Weblog service. Similarly, this site doesn't feature a weblog, so I was spared another large task. But most sites would need to have a weblog package either hosted or installed, with a great deal of customization to understand.)

All of this is in addition to the "expected" work of understanding the (19) HTML, the (20) CSS, and the (21) JavaScript needed to write the pages themselves, plus understanding (22) PhotoShop to prepare all the photos. Also, I haven't enumerated the "standard" parts of a traditional website, such as a (23) robots.txt, a (24) favicon.ico, and a (25) custom 404 error page.

This struck me as quite a lot of different things to figure out and understand in order to get a rather commonplace and unremarkable hobby website off the ground. Webmastering has gotten a lot more complicated over the last few years. Fortunately, all of these things are discussed informatively on WebmasterWorld (where I learned about most of them--by searching with Google, when that was possible).


12:15 am on Jan 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Inactive Member
Account Expired


Cool, thanks for this thread!

I have a similar issue, and would love some advice.

I am starting a purely informational, hobby site with a fellow hobbyist. We are planning to split the costs of running the site and the admin duties right down the middle. That being said, we would prefer it if the site was registered under a partnership etc. Is there any sort of way to do this with regards to websites without forming an LLC,or Corporation etc?. I think that would be overkill since this is only going to be a hobby site.


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