Blogging: To Host or Not To Host…

Written By: CodeKristi

Research Is Formalised Curiosity. It Is Poking And Prying With A Purpose. ~ Zora Neale Hurston

I love understanding things. As a little girl, I would continue asking my dad questions until he would eventually run out of answers…! When I get curious about something, it will bother me until I find out at least a little bit more about it. So when I decided to start a blog, I naturally did extensive research before I made any definite decisions.

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My personal research process is an adapted version of the Scientific Process:

Scientific Method My Research Method
1) Ask a question Be curious about something
2) Do background research Research as widely as possible: Internet, books, ask people…
3) Construct a hypothesis Make a decision / summary / conclusion based on the researched data.
4) Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment
5) Analyse your data and draw a conclusion
6) Communicate your results Communicate the decision / summary / conclusion and do something with it.

I started by Google-ing something like “How to start a blog”. I ended up on the following blog post: Jessica Knapp’s Blogging Basics 101. She gives a very detailed step by step directive on how to start a blog. I used her blog post as a guide and did research branching out from her main points. I will address each of those branches separately.

The People Are The Platform. ~ JiveWorld, 2011

Firstly, Jessica talked about blogging platforms and how to choose one. According to Brian T. Edmondson on Online Business, a “blogging platform is the software or service that you use to publish your content onto the internet in the form of a blog. A blog platform is a specific form of a content management system.”

Jessica mentioned the most used blogging platforms, as well as a few differences between the biggest ones. I decided, based on her content, to use WordPress. The main reasons for this choice were:

  1. WordPress is currently the biggest blogging platform available, which means it should have excellent forums available and various plug-ins and assistance options, and
  2. WordPress has a hosted (WordPress.com) and self-hosted (WordPress.org) option available.

I regarded these as important aspects for my final choice because I wanted the ease of mind that I wouldn’t have to sort out problems on my own, and because I considered to self-host my blog while using a unique domain name.

The main reason why I decided to have my own domain name was because it meant I would legally own it. I felt that was important for various reasons:

  • It establishes my brand, and the brand can’t be “stolen” from me if someone else goes and registers a domain name using that brand.
  • I legally own the domain name, which means I can take it with me if I would ever decide to use a different blogging platform.
  • I initially considered to self-host my blog, and in that case, I needed to have a domain name. In future, if I decide to move from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, I won’t have to redirect my subscribers to a new URL, as the URL will stay the same.

Domain Names And Websites Are Internet Real Estate. ~Marc Ostrofsky

For those of you who were (are) still confused with all the geeky words and acronyms I am using, let me first clarify a bit of terminology:

Let’s look at the following example: www.codekristi.com/about/

This a URL (Uniform Resource Locator).

  • The URL includes “www” (World Wide Web) and “/about/” which refers to the specific page within the blog (like the unit number in a housing complex or the room in a house). Typing this URL into a search engine will take you to the address of a specific page.
  • A domain name forms part of the URL of a website. In this example “codekristi.com” is the domain name. “codekristi” specifies the unique page or group of pages this domain name refers to (like the street address), while the suffix “.com” stands for “commercial business” which refers to a general category of websites (like the suburb or area).
  • The URL is changed by a computer into a string of numbers and symbols called the IP address, which tells the internet-connected device you are using on which computer or network the web page is stored and can be found (like the numerical coordinates of a place).

To summarise it: For your internet-connected device to be able to access my blog, your device will need the numeric IP address. You, as a human, cannot memorise all the numeric sequences for all the websites you want to access, so to simplify that, we use URL’s. The “www” is mostly a convention from the early days of the internet, while anything behind the domain name part (usually after the first “/” symbol) refers to a specific tab or page within the website. The domain name specifies the website consisting of one or many pages, as well as the category in which the website is grouped.

The Domain Name Server (DNS) Is The Achilles Heel Of The Web. The Important Thing Is That It’s Managed Responsibly. ~ Tim Berners-Lee

The next step I had to figure out was how to register my own domain name. I found out it is quite easy. There’s a lot of websites which allows you to do it for really cheap. But like anything on the internet, there are many scammers… So I started this part of my journey by looking into important do’s and don’t’s of registering a domain name. I found the following three pages quite helpful:

Ultimately, I didn’t register my domain name on my own, as I did it through WordPress. So these tips mentioned in the articles weren’t really relevant to my final choice. But it is good to know if you consider registering your own domain name.

A very important thing to do before choosing a company for your domain registration is to research the specific company. You don’t want to become part of the statistics of internet scams… Try and find testimonials and look into their services and customer support, instead of just choosing the cheapest option. This might save you a lot in future costs!

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Buy Less, Choose Well & Do It? Yourself! ~ Vivienne Westwood

I have mentioned “self-hosted blog” a few times. Let me explain… A website, in very simple terms, is an electronic paper with lots of words and symbols on it, which is stored on a physical computer somewhere. When you type in the URL of that website on your computer, you are redirected to that specific electronic page, and you can view and access it.

So that means that if you create a website or a blog, you can physically store it on your own computer. Then, as long as your computer is connected to the internet, anyone will be able to access that website by typing in the correct URL. That is a simple explanation of self-hosting a website.

Most people prefer not to host their websites or blogs from their own computer(s). If your computer is switched off, or if it crashes, that will mean your website is offline, which is obviously bad for business. So there are many companies who provide a hosting service – you pay them to make sure the physical files containing your website are always connected to the internet.

To circle back to the hosted vs. self-hosted version of WordPress… The free and Premium versions of WordPress (wordpress.com), is hosted. That means that WordPress have their own servers which contain all the physical data pertaining to the blogs. They not only ensure that the blogs have constant internet connections but also take care of the internet security (to prevent hacking, etc.) and handle any hardware or software problems that may arise on their servers. Depending on which option you choose, you will have an ‘automatic’ and provided domain name (free version) or you will be able to register a domain name through WordPress (Premium version).

On the other hand, the self-hosted version of WordPress (wordpress.org) allows you to download the needed software. You can then install it on your computer, or on the hosted server you are renting from a hosting company, and use it to build a blog on the domain name you registered. You will need to ensure that all the necessary security requirements are in place, that all the software you are using for your blog (including WordPress) is updated regularly, and you will need to sort out any hardware-software or software-software disparities that may arise.

The benefit of using this version (wordpress.org) is that, assuming you have the needed knowledge, you have the freedom to do basically anything. You can install / uninstall any plug-ins; you can edit the underlying code of the WordPress software and add in your own code; you can allow ads on your blog to make money; etc.

Another factor to think about is the costs. Using WordPress.com (free version) is as the name says, without any costs. You can sign up, and that’s it. The Premium version, on the other hand, is quite expensive (at least for someone like me who has to change USD into ZAR…) Then the third option is to use the WordPress.org software. The software is free to download, but there are costs involved in registering a domain name and hiring a hosting company. Compared to each other, the WordPress.org option is overall much cheaper than the WordPress.com Premium version.

You Cannot Make Progress Without Making Decisions. ~ Jim Rohn

So then, if the WordPress.org version has so many benefits, why did I decide to use WordPress.com instead? In short, I didn’t feel confident that I had the required knowledge to execute everything efficiently. I did research about this as well (I’m very predictable, I know…) and some people said beginners like me would be able to handle it, while others were against it.

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I ultimately made my decision to start with WordPress.com Premium, because I have the option to move over to WordPress.org whenever I want to. Freedom of choice is a very enticing prospect for someone with my high level of reflection, because there’s always other alternatives should I like to change my mind!  So I decided to get to know the software in a “safe” environment and to give myself some time to learn the required coding skills before I (possibly) do it on my own.

Imagine. Create. Inspire.

So after signing up, upgrading to Premium and choosing a theme, I started to “create” my blog. You can choose your colour scheme; decide which pages or tabs you want; edit the content of each – it’s quite easy and foolproof. Guess I am partially in the “fool” category, as there were (only) two things I really struggled with. That was possibly mostly due to me not completely understanding the layout of the “administrator” page(s).

Firstly, I had trouble changing the images on each of the main pages. In the general customise tab there’s a place where you can change background images, and I was under the impression that it refers to the main images. I eventually found out you can change the main images in a different place – the menu tab.

The second problem I encountered was that I accidentally deleted one of my main pages (oops!). It was the comment page which contained a comment form: name, email, and comment blocks. I tried to recreate that page and really struggled. I did figure it out after a while (thanks to my dear friend Google). In the end, however, when I thought about it, I really couldn’t think of a good reason why I would want a page like that. I would rather have people comment directly on my blog posts than have a general comment section. So then, after all that hard work…I deleted it!

Still, playing around on the blog and clicking on every clickable place, really helped me to get a good idea of the layout of the WordPress software. Hopefully in future, I will know where to go and look for something if I encounter another problem.

It was important to me to start blogging about every step of the way from the very start, to help someone in a similar position than mine. Now that I finally got the blogging part sorted out, I can focus all my learning powers to find out more about web development!

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