Writing is one of those occupations that have a kind of romantic allure. Writers spin worlds of wonder from whole cloth and expose corruption, give voice to the voiceless and write the lyrics of social change in poetry. Or, at least, that’s what the myth would have us believe.
In truth, writing as an occupation shares more similarities than differences with other occupations. Most writers do not travel off to exotic locales, make mortal enemies of powerful politicians or single-handedly combat social injustice with their words. Most writers sit in an office, day after day, typing on a computer and trying to make deadlines (self-imposed or for clients).
For indie writers, who are entrepreneurs for all intents and purposes, we must also confront the same issues as other entrepreneurs. One of the biggest of those challenges is dealing with technology and the first hurdle to confront is the website. When you first look into putting together a website, you’ll start bumping into a lot of phrases you recognize, but may not understand. People talk about things like domain names, hosting services, HTML5 and the virtues of blogging software themes over custom-built websites. And why the heck isn’t my regular website good enough for mobile?
So, for the uninitiated, here’s a little primer on terminology.
There is a very complicated and technical explanation about what a domain name is and, if you really want to know all about it, About.com has a fairly thorough explanation here. For our purposes, the easiest way to think about domain names is to consider them as being like part of an address. The domain name for this site, for example, is samuelbranch.info. When you add the rest of the address, http://www., along with anything after the .info, you’re putting together a complete address (called a URL). In layman’s terms, http://www. is like the attn line or person in the address. For this site, .info is like the state and samuelbranch is like the city. Anything after the .info, such as /blog, is like a street. (A shout out to my tech guru brother, Troy, for helping devise an address analogy) The complete address makes it possible for anyone to reach you or, in this case, to find your website. The thing to keep in mind is that without a complete address no will ever find you. Of course, even with a complete address, they won’t find anything interesting until after you get hosting.
A hosting service essentially rents you digital real estate to build your site on and makes your site accessible to the World Wide Web. What is actually happening is that the hosting service has servers, which are just computers that have been designed to serve a very specific function, where the files for your website sit until someone punches in your website address. As most people are not web programmers, hosting services have taken to providing software that simplifies processes like site building, blog installations, and so on. This software generally uses icons similar to those found on the standard desktop computer for navigation, though the features and learning curve can vary from hosting service to service.
HTLM stands for hypertext markup language. So, when you see the term HTML5 being thrown around, it’s just the latest version of the hypertext markup language. Beneath all the text and graphics and video files and audio clips and Flash content, this is the language web programmers use to build websites. Do you need to know this language? Nope.
Why Don’t I Need to Know HTML?
Good question. Odds are good that one of three things is going to happen when you get to the building phase of putting your website together. Option one is that you’ll use a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) website builder that your hosting service offers or a desktop WYSIWYG, such as Adobe’s Dreamweaver or the free, open-source Kompozer. Option two is that you’ll hire (or beg) someone who does know what the hell they’re doing to build your site for you. Option three is that you’ll install the WordPress blog software (one click installation through most web hosts), install a theme and start adding content. Personally, if I had it all to do over again, I think I’d take option three because even a premium theme is a probably going to be a lot cheaper than a custom built website and a LOT less stressful than building a site yourself.
PHP and SQL
A couple other terms you’re likely to run across, or should be aware of at any rate, are PHP an SQL. In the context of websites, PHP (hypertext preprocessor) is what they call a server-side scripting language. In simple terms, PHP lets websites do more things or “extend functionality.” For example, PHP can let you to set up a form that allows visitors to send an email directly from the site. PHP can also access information from databases (which we’ll come back to shortly). The reality, however, is that you probably won’t ever deal directly or knowingly with PHP.
SQL, sigh, is all about databases. Specifically, it’s a programming language used for storing, finding, retrieving and manipulating information that turns up in relational databases. That’s probably about all you’ll ever need to know about the technical side of SQL. The part that is relevant is that lots of things you might want to use, such as WordPress, Jupal, and osCommerce require an SQL friendly database such as MySQL or MSSQL and lots of the cool things that PHP scripts can do also rely on things like MySQL databases.
For the moment, it’s enough that you know the names and have a slight notion about what they do, as both play a role in selecting a hosting service.
When you’re first starting out, mobile sites probably shouldn’t be your main concern. That said, a mobile site is simply a website optimized to work on the smaller screens of smart phones and tablet computers. There are several ways to create mobile sites, but there doesn’t seem to be an industry standard at this point. If you’re inclined to go mobile from the outset, Deltina Hay has a good article over on Soicalmedia.biz that covers some basic options for creating mobile sites (and provides lots of links to resources) here. Hay also covers some mobile website best practices, like simplifying both page structure and content, and building for vertical, rather than horizontal, page navigation that you can read about here.
So now that we’ve (with hope) dealt with any lingering jargon issues, next time I’ll get into the issues surrounding selecting domain names and hosting services.
Any thoughts or questions? Leave a comment. 🙂