Thursday, March 27, 2014

The myth of Unlimited Web Hosting


There are a number of hosting services that in the bold print offer unlimited disk space and unlimited bandwidth. The reality is that absolutely no one is giving those services as unlimited because a single person could bankrupt the company. By the way, “bandwidth” is the sum of the file sizes that are uploaded and downloaded.

These are simply a few of the more common caveats that you’ll see in the fine print:

1.  You cannot use the disk space for offsite backup. Therefore unless you are serving all of that content over the Internet to site visitors, you are violating their terms of service.

2.  All hosting services monitor the amount of CPU usage and “hits” to the database. For most services, if you’re using more than some multiple of what the average user uses, they will block your account. This is a common problem for those whose content requires constant access to a database from a database driven content management system. We have seen many people who build their websites using these sophisticated programs designed for delivering a lot of changing content and then don’t update the content. What they end up with is a site that’s very inefficient.

3. Another old trick used by hosting services is that if you’re using a lot of bandwith, they simply slow the speed that they deliver the content of your website to visitors. If they slow it enough, they make their problem go away at the expense of your visitors getting slow response times.

Let me give you to reality of all of this. It’s very very very few websites that utilize more than minimal resources of disk space, bandwidth or CPU usage. If you put those large video files at YouTube (or similar services), don’t load a large MP3 file to play in background on a webpage, optimize your photos and just put online only what your visitors want to, you won’t have any issues.

The biggest scam of the Unlimited Web Hosting claim is that people think they are getting something by signing up for hosting companies that offer it. Then hosting companies that honestly put realistic limits on resources are losing customers because of their honesty. Does anyone really believe that they can get unlimited usage of anything for a few dollars a month?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Memorable Email address for the rest of your life


Too many people either stick with an obsolete email service (which may have been supplied by their ISP) because they don’t want the hassle of making the change or change their email address over and over again as they move around the Internet. There’s a simple solution to avoid all of that plus get a more memorable email address in the process.

Over the past 14 years, I’ve changed email services roughly 6 times. I’ve done this without ever changing my email address or losing a single email along the way. I purchased a domain name from DomainNameSanity.com and with that domain name, I get free email forwarding. Each time that I get a new email service, I simply forward my emails to that new service to receive the email. Every email service I’ve ever used allows me to set the “from” email address to the one at my domain name. Therefore, those who receive my email see the proper “from” email address and they “reply to” the email address at my domain name. My most recent change of email accounts was to actually have the email service use my domain name so I no longer need to forward. However, whatever method I’ve used, my email address simply has never changed. As long as I need paying the modest annual fee for the domain name, there’s no reason that the email address will ever change.

The process for you is actually completely painless to handle this new email address if you follow this simple plan, First, obtain your domain name (hopefully at www.DomainNameSanity.com which has a sale running now). I’m using the domain name I selected for several members of my family so that I only need to incur the cost of one domain name for all of us. The domain name that I selected is associated with my family’s last name so it’s more memorable and we each use our first name for the portion of the email address before the “@”. The next steps go down one of two paths:

Path A – If you like your current email service:
Step #1 - Signup for free “email forwarding” such that the email address at your domain name forwards the email to your current email account
Step #2 – Obtain alias email from your current email service so that they will send your email “from” your new email address at your domain name with that same new email address being the “reply-to” address
Step #3 – Either setup a filter to auto-respond to people who send to the old email address that they should update your email address in their address book or use some other means to track which people you really need to get to update your email address in their system. With the passage of time, anyone important to you will learn the new address and you’ll find that only SPAM is going to your old email address.

Path B – If you don’t like your current email service:
Step #1 - Signup for a new email account at your domain
Step #2 – Have the old email service, forward all future email to the new email account you obtain.
Step #3 – Either setup a filter to auto-respond to people who send to the old email address that they should update your email address in their address book or use some other means to track which people you really need to get to update your email address in their system. With the passage of time, anyone important to you will learn the new address and you’ll find that only SPAM is going to your old email address.
Step #4 – This step is only if you want to move your old emails to the new email account. In most cases, you can access your old email account with an IMAP setting. That will allow you to drag your old emails to the new account when you access the new account via IMAP settings. This will be a time consuming process because you must download all of your old emails to your computer and then upload them to the new email server. Therefore, only do this for the emails that you actually need.

Once you have followed either of the paths above, you’ll have an email address that you can keep for the rest of your life.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Planning your own website begins with content planning


There is a lot of material written about website design and layout. However, the most important component of a successful website is the content. Content planning is perhaps the most important step. We  find that few of our clients spend the time to do that before they sit down in front of our template system to create the pages. Failure to think through website content is the primary reason that most of our clients never actually launch their “vision”.

The first step is to write a sentence or two that describes the overall goal of your website. You should keep coming back to this as you move through the process as that will help you stay focused on that goal. If you revise the goal as you create the site, go back and re-write that goal statement to retrain your focus.  As an example, the goal of all of the articles of our blog is “Helping the technically challenged with their online presence.”

The next step is to create an outline of the content your want to place at the website which will achieve that goal. Go back over that several times and keep organizing and focusing that content in the outline. Now start to think of each section of the outline as a separate website page with each page having a single focus. Over time, you may create more and more content to help you achieve that overall goal of the website. However, for the initial launch, think about only what’s essential to achieve the goal. Over time, you can add more pages to the web site.

Now that you have a web page content structure, use a word processor program such as Microsoft Word to actually write the copy. Don’t worry about the layout of the page; just write the copy. Once you have the copy, now start to think about images which will help you express the copy. Your first source for images should be photos that you took on your own camera. If you cannot find the right image, there are a number of online sources that sell you the rights to use images on your website for a couple of dollars each. I’m sure that some of you will be tempted to “borrow” images that you find on the Internet. I assure you that’s a really a bad idea. There are services such as Getty Images that have very sophisticated programs to catch anyone using their images. If you’re caught, you’ll receive a letter from their attorney explaining that you either pay them a lot for the past use of the image or face consequences. Click here to read our blog post about, how to properly format your photos for the Internet.

Now that you have the images and the copy together, you can start to look at various page layouts to display that. Almost all of your will use templates to drop in your photos and copy. That will be a lot easier than building pages from scratch.

We find that people who plan their content, write their copy in a word processing program and gather the photos before they start to actually place that information on a web page, can build a website very quickly. Those who don’t plan may never get the website launched. This should be a fun process with an outcome that will please you. We’re confident that when you plan, you’ll be happy with the end result.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cyberspace can break


There was a problem on February 28th when a few of our clients couldn’t reach our website. Naturally, they thought we were having a problem.  However, in fact, the problem was neither with our website servers or their Internet connection. We knew this because the vast majority of our clients could reach our website and those who couldn’t were able to successfully access other websites. So what went wrong?

When someone enters www.DomainNameSanity.com (or any other domain name) into their Internet browser, the first step is to know where on the planet the website server sits. That’s done by having your Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) process a “DNS name resolution”. That means that the ISP looks-up which “domain name server” is storing the location of the website server you are trying to reach and then, requests that location. That location of any device connected to the Internet is called an “IP Address”. The letters IP stand for Internet Protocol. Once your computer knows the IP Address, it sends a request to that website server to deliver the content of a specific page to them.

Web pages contain a lot of data and it’s not possible to send that data in a single message from the website server to you. What happens is that that website server gets the request and sends the data in small “packets” of information. Once all of those packets arrive at your computer, they are combined by your web browser to form the website page.

Since there’s no direct connection from your home to any website server and back, those packets of data are routed over Internet by passing the packets of data through a number of different connections owned by a number of different companies. In fact, the packets of data for any single webpage, probably take different paths to get to you. Once the last package of data arrives, it’s pulled back together and shown to you. It’s very common for different segments over which the packets travel to fail. When that happens, the packets of data will be automatically rerouted along a different path so they arrive safely. However, on occasion, there’s a major failure in the Internet and an alternative path isn’t available. In that case, you cannot reach the website despite you having a good Internet connection and the web server working properly. Failures of this nature typically last just a few minutes. However, we have seen them last up to 6 hours (and perhaps they have lasted longer without our noticing). These failures can happen during extreme weather conditions. When there is a failure of that type, while you cannot reach the website, others who use completely different paths to get to the website server have no problem at all.

You can actually see one of the paths between your computer and a website server. I’ll use the path to Facebook as an example. Facebook has an IP address of 173.252.110.27. On a Windows computer, you need a “command” prompt. That’s typically done by typing “command” into the Windows search box and selecting that program. On Apple Mac OS, it is available by opening “Network Utilities” then selecting “Traceroute” tab, as well as by typing the "traceroute" command in the terminal.

You then type:  tracert 173.252.110.27. Here’s the result on my Windows computer from my office to Facebook:



You’ll note above that the tracert command is going to limit itself to 30 “hops” or handoffs of data. This gives you some indication that many hops are normal.  This connection starts at 192.168.0.1 which is the IP address assigned by my ISP in the router in my office to my computer. The next step is through “rr.com” because that’s the system that my ISP, Time Warner, uses. It’s passed through other connections until it gets to a main Internet connection at “LAX1.gblx.net”. It’s then passed along until it gets to Facebook’s control where they direct it to a specific location within their system.

This entire process to lookup Facebook’s IP address and then route the information takes perhaps a second; even if you’re on the other side of the world from Facebook due to data traveling close to the speed of light across fiber optics.

So, when you cannot connect to an Internet site, it’s not necessarily that Internet site that’s having the problem or even your computer. There can just be a breakdown in “cyberspace”.