How to Be the Master of Your Domain
If you want to have your own domain on the Internet (such as www.yourname.com), you need two things: the domain name, and a web host. The domain name is easy: just go to a registration service and buy one, the price usually ranging from $9 to $35 per year. Of course, you have to find one which hasn’t been taken yet, and most of the good ones already have (I still can’t believe I snagged blogd.com and xpat.org). You can choose the root domain name (in my case, “blogd”) and the three- or four-letter suffix (.com, .net, and .org being the most common).
Register.com is a classic registrar service, but they charge top dollar. If I use them, it’s just for the search feature to see if a particular name is still available; but since they charge the highest price possible, I never get a domain from them. I use RegisterFly.com, which sells domains for $10 per year, and many use GoDaddy.com, which charges $9. Bulk registrations of say, over 1000 domains, will usually get you rock-bottom prices–but mostly businesses and cybersquatters do that (like the scumballs who got my surname-plus-.com–some Korean outfit which wants me to cough up $3,500 for it!).
The domain registrar does more than just sell you the name; they then give you a control panel, and you use that to (a) point the domain at the web host, and (b) do other stuff, like pay them every year or two for renewals.
The web host is the real meat-and-bones; they provide the computer which hosts your actual web site. They run servers which are connected to the Internet 24/7, do maintenance, install and keep running the software required to make your place on their hard drives a functioning web site, and take care of problems when they arise.
When you choose and pay for a web host, they essentially give you a folder on one of the hard disks on their computers. The folder you get has everything set up–a matrix of directories with programs and documents all set up which house your web page area, email, logs and statistics and more. They also give you something called DNS (Domain Name Server) information, which you then take to your domain host (like RegisterFly) and input; within 48 hours after that, your domain name will be associated with the folder on your web host which contains your web site, and you’re on line.
Good web hosts are tricky to get, though. It is such a finicky business, both technically and in terms of trust–not to mention features. Maintaining web sites requires a good and reliable bunch of people in a business which often has very little profit margin, which means skimping is not uncommon. If you cannot get 99.9% uptime (meaning your site is down 0.1% of the time), that could be trouble. 99.9% sounds like a lot, but that means your site will not function for 10 minutes each week on average. Uptime of only 99% means you’re off for one hour and forty minutes each week, and that can be frustrating. And if anything goes wrong, how long will it take tech support to get back to you? 24 hours used to be standard (I’ve had situations where email or the whole site is down for days, and it can be highly aggravating), but today, 8 hours or less of considered more reliable.
And then there’s the trustworthiness. The web hosting business can be very fly-by-night. It can be hard to find a host who will not rob you or shut down and disappear overnight. Look here to read about my dealings with one spectacularly awful host.
One example is happening as I type this: just as I was trying to figure out the address for the above page, I noticed my site was not loading. Then I checked the email, and it had stopped for that domain. Which is not unusual, it happens–but talk about bad timing, just as I was going to tell you about their smooth service! But even with the best host, occasional outages are the status quo.
One way to find out more about a potential host is to see what other people say about them. A good watering hole to get that kind of info is WebHostingTalk.com, where you’ll find a lot of people with experience with hosting outfits, plus a lot of people who represent those outfits. Before you start asking any questions–general or specific–do a search of the forums first. people there are willing to help you out, but do not have too much patience for people who ask questions that can be answered with a search first.
You have to watch out there, however. First, a lot of “people” who post their opinions are nothing more than accounts created by the sales reps for less scrupulous web hosts, talking about how great their service is while pretending to be an impartial customer. One way to check is to look at how many posts they’ve made at the forums (listed under their name at left). If they’re relatively new, they may be sales people. Better than seeing how many good things have been said about a potential web host, instead see how many bad things are being said. That tends to be more honest. Also you have to be aware that not all of the bad reviews are due to the web host–sometimes go-betweens (like PayPal) and even the customer have screwed things up. Look for comments by the veteran posters to see how they react.
Finally, you have to look for good terms–but it is getting late, I have classes tomorrow, and that’s a whole other ball of wax. there are a lot of things you have to look for. I’ll get to that in the next post.