Here is a high level survey of software platforms to build web sites, ranging from high price professional tools to their free open source counterparts. This is not meant to be a comprehensive report — its a rundown of my recent experiences.
A web site can be built entirely from scratch by writing directly in web languages such as html or php, but its easier to use a software platform as a starting point. The aim of the software is to allow you to focus mostly on content and layout. Templates or themes are available for all the major software platforms which take care of the layout, leaving spaces to fill with content.
So the task really becomes choosing the website type and template that suits your content best. I don’t mean to minimize that effort — many companies hire a webmaster or contract with a web marketing company for the job. I’m doing it myself because its an area I enjoy, I want to be able to experiment with several different ideas, and the web-building software does make it easy to get a site up these days.
At the entry level, most web hosting packages come with a quick and constrained web site builder. I used www.GoDaddy.com which calls their site builder Web Site Tonight (Click and build your very own Web site online! ) and it didn’t take me much more than an evening to do the first rev of www.ownmountain.com. Basically, the site builder is a wizard that steps through picking a basic template, adding a page, typing content in a WYSIWYG editor, and putting it out there. I added a day to my efforts by searching for just the right royalty-free photo to customize the header.
Now I’m growing out of the basic site builder. I want more flexibility for my company site and I want this blog. So I did a brief search of software and here’s the highlights.
For general purpose web sites, Dreamweaver came highly recommended. It looks very flexible and can be used to create very nice web sites. I didn’t get too far into its capabilities for two reasons: The largest graphic on the Dreamweaver site is a code snippet but I want more plug ‘n’ play plus I couldn’t get past the $399 price tag. To be fair, Dreamweaver offers a 30-day free trial but I figured that once I’d spent the time I’d want to pay rather than port to something else.
Drupal is an open source web content management program. Again, I didn’t look deeply into functionality but their “customer” testamonials looked very snazzy and on par with Dreamweaver sites. Open source means available at no charge but if you need support beyond what’s posted on the forums, you’ll need to hire it out.
I found a parallel universe of blogging support software. Moveable Type is highly recommended but pricey at $395 for the business version. The personal not-for-profit version of Moveable Type is free. I chose not to use it here because I wanted to experiment with advertising. More on that later.
The open source counterpart for blogging is WordPress. I chose to use it for this site as a no-cost experiment to see what it takes to be my own webmaster. Turns out to be fairly straightforward. HostGator, with Unlimited Domain Hosting Only $9.95 a Month, has a 1-click install of WordPress, and the directions for installing the Quickpress theme worked fine. I highly recommend this setup and my disclosure is that I get paid if you follow the HostGator link while there’s nothing in it for my by recommending WordPress — I just like it.
Installation put a bunch o’ stuff in the designated directory on my web host account. Somewhere in there is a page for admin access to WordPress to create the blog. Very straightforward with intuitive menus, I could start typing, hit the Publish button, the new post shows up on my blog. Easy!
Except that I wanted to customize it and that’s where the fun began. Now I went exploring with confidence because I’ve had simple websites on a corporate intranet, html code brings me fond memories of troff, and – gasp — I’m getting a little grey in my ponytail. So after the first post, I opened up the file I believed held the finished version of my blog’s website — index.html. It said only…. “silence is golden” (in a comment of course). Hmmm.
WordPress has lots of documentation but nothing floated up that told me exactly what I needed at that point. So if you’ve read this far with me, I’ll give you the keys to the kingdom. The way to change the main picture, or add widgets (like advertisements) to the sidebar, is to go to Design->Theme Editor, choose sidebar, and plunk the link for your image or widget right down in the code. Its decently commented and not too hard to figure out once you know where to look.
That’s probably more than enough information to help you decide if you want to design a website yourself and what sort of software to use to help.