At Small Dog Electronics, we’re frequently asked how to create simple, easily maintained websites. There are many excellent reasons to build a website, yet even computer experts struggle with making websites that are both functional, attractive, and easy to update. Fortunately, new website and blog-building tools have made website creation easier than ever. I’ll outline several free solutions in this article. I don’t cover ways to create e-commerce sites (websites that sell products and process credits cards), though it’s also becoming easier to create these.
The tools below are free (though paid “pro” versions may be available), don’t require HTML coding (though many offer the option to custom-code some features), and are hosted by the developer (which means you won’t need to pay a separate company to host your website, and won’t need to figure out how to properly upload pages and other files to a remote server).
Blogs are very popular with individuals and organizations; Small Dog Electronics has a blog at blog.smalldog.com. A blog is distinguished from a regular website because it’s frequently updated with commentary, descriptions of events, or multimedia in reverse chronological order. Blogs are usually created and hosted with special blogging software. Most blog software is hosted online, which means blog posts can be edited on any Internet-connected computer, anywhere in the world.
Blogger.com is Google’s free and easy-to-use blogging platform. It’s designed to share text, photos and video with the world. Compared to other blogging platforms such as Moveable Type and WordPress, Blogger offers the best balance of advanced features (such as comments, podcasts, and feeds) along with ease-of-use and low-maintenance. While Blogger lacks some of the pro features and customization options of the other platforms, many people will not miss these or even be ready to use them. Visit Blogger.com.
The WordPress blogging platform is an ideal next step beyond Blogger. While the WordPress software is free (and excellent), you’ll need to find a webhost to host your WordPress blog, which is not free. You’ll also be responsible for your blogs maintenance. Visit WordPress.org. Also, take a look at Movabletype.com, which is a paid service.
If you want an even easier blogging tool than Blogger, consider Tumblr. Tumblr is based around the idea of tumblelogs, which favor simple, short-form posts that include photos, links, quotes, dialogues and video over the longer editorial posts you find on a regular blog. Tumblelogs are typically used to share the author’s discoveries, creations or experiences with little or no commentary. Many busy people favor tumblelogs over regular blogs. Visit Tumblr.com.
If you want a free blog that has some social networking features such as Facebook or Myspace, take a look at LiveJournal. LiveJournal is a virtual community where Internet users can keep a blog, journal or diary that include photos and videos, with an emphasis on user interaction. A basic, fully-functional account is free, while paid accounts receive access to premium features.
Many people prefer to create a website of pages that aren’t updated as frequently as a blog. These websites tend to be more informational and brochure-like in nature. Weebly is a polished, easy-to-use, and fun tool for creating websites and simple blogs. It provides ready-made components for you to add to your site, such as titles, paragraphs, two columns of text, pictures, photos, videos, feeds and more. Weebly allows you to easily drag-and-drop content and components on your page. Your Weebly website can contain an unlimited number of pages. Weebly also allows you to instantly buy your own custom domain (www.“Yourdomainnamehere”.com). Weebly offers a robust free option as well a pro version for only $3.99 a month. Visit Weebly.com.
Google Sites is a more stripped-down tool that allows you to share information with “a few people, a whole organization, or the entire world.” It’s powerful enough for a company intranet, yet simple enough for a family website. It’s also easy to use. Example uses are planning group meetings and activities, sharing info on a secure company intranet, collaborating on a team project, and staying connected with family members. Visit Sites.google.com.
Finally, some people do use social networking sites such Facebook and Myspace to promote their hobbies and interests, especially as these sites add public photo-hosting and other traditionally blog-like features. However, I tend to think of websites and blogs as one’s home on the web, where you keep your stuff and invite people to visit, while social sites such Facebook are more like the bars or public places where you go out to mingle and network.
Want to recommend an easy-to-use, free solution for building and posting a website or blog? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll include these submissions in a future article.