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HomeBeginning Wicca, My Articles Website Thoughts


Website Thoughts

Erin

So, you want to create a website to tell the world about your new found spirituality and how happy you are about it? Fantastic.

Let me offer some pointers for you to think about before you start coding the HTML.

First off, think about what you want your website to be about. I mean this. It may seem obvious, but there are facets of your spirituality that are reflected in your website, and all of them are going to affect how your website looks.

Things to consider:

  1. Is it going to sell products you make and dedicate to the Gods? Some possibilities are candles, oils, incenses, food, tools and many other things.
  2. Is it going to talk about things you learned?
  3. Is it going to educate those who find your website?
  4. Is it going to deal with problems you have and how you over came them?
  5. Is it going to be filled with all the things you find cool and neato about your spirituality?

Each of those questions are going to mandate a different style of website, and in some cases it may require you to buy some software to help you make the site.

For instance, an education website can be maintained by a couple different ways. You can do the coding by hand in something like Dreamweaver or Front Page, but you can do the same thing in what is called a CMS or Content Management System.

A CMS is basically just a program that comes with a lot of functions and a lot of features along with templates for different pages. All you have to do is plug the appropriate information into the correct places, and BINGO! you have a website. If you aren’t really concerned with how it looks, you can do this in under an hour or so. But you have to know what you are doing with a website to get it set up that fast. I have a friend who can create a whole new look and feel for a website using a CMS program called Mambo in about 2 hours. She sets up the asthetics, and you fill in the content. She also charges about $300 to do that.

I would make some recommendations to the above list.  (Please note that this list follows the above list. Each number corresponds to the same number above.)

  1. Use a shopping cart software
  2. You may wish to consider putting it in a blog
  3. This one may be best if it is simply a series of pages that a visitor can click around in
  4. Another blog is a possibility, but you may wish to put this on your own server instead of something like blogger or livejournal
  5. This can be anything.

Any sales oriented site has to have a shopping cart. It’s the easiest thing to do and it offers the most choices for your customers and the most versatility for you. It reduces the PITA factor by about 500. Most of the work is already done, and similar to a CMS, a shopping cart will have blank areas for your content. They will also have a healthy community of users to help you with your problems. I have used ZenCart in the past and it’s free and very easy to set up.

Blogs: There are a number of websites out there who will allow you to make journal posts to them and then repost those posts to a page you can have display someplace else. The ones like Blogger and Blogspot are very versatile and customizable. I have known a lot of people to use those exclusively and make VERY good looking websites from them. But those sites have one major problem; versatility. They are limited in how some of the information is given to the web browser and sometimes they won’t let you do something that is very simple or necessary for you to do. So another option is to go with a Blogging Software set up, like TypeKey or WordPress.

Both of these are programs you buy, like the shopping cart software and the CMS software, which you upload to your webserver and then configure for your use. They also have theme capabilities. Once again, once you have the software in place and configured the way you want it to look, all you do is plug in your content.

I have seen simply AMAZING sites made on nothing but one blog. Some examples are WilWheaton [dot] net and Websnark. Both these sites are nothing but one blog running where the author can comment on whatever, and the readers can comment themselves.

But blogs function best when used as a Journal type thing. You think of a point you wish to make, you make an entry. It’s useful for keeping an electronic diary of information, kind of hard to do other things with it.

CMS work in that there is some incredible versatility in the components you add to the base part. But blogs are not generally part of it, and frankly everyone is using some type of CMS these days. The main reason for that is because it is EASY. You don’t really have to think much to plug content into a CMS simply because it is designed for Cut and Paste operations.

But with CMSs you get one HUGE drawback; gewgaws. Look the base term up. Go to Google and type define: gewgaw. I’ll wait.

Okay, what has that to do with online content? It is simply something that is useless but looks pretty. It adds nothing to what is there.

Look around the Journal. Notice anything missing? No forum. Want to know why? It’s a gewgaw. I don’t need one. At one point I had considered putting one up for those who wanted to talk to me, but then I realized that I had five other ways for that to happen. I had my email. I had my ICQ and other IM programs, I had three different Yahoo! groups that I ran, and I had a mailing list from the Journal itself for updates. Any of those venues would allow people to talk to me, to discuss things with me. But NONE of them were getting traffic and none of them were being utilized as they should be. So I closed them all, redesigned the functions I had for them to other things. When I closed the Journal Yahoo! Group, I had been using it for announcements of things on the Journal, such as new articles and updates. So I changed it so that the RSS feed for the blog which I DID use a lot took over in that capacity. It’s more versatile and does all that I want it to do AND it allows me to tell users who are signed up as well as those who just visit that I have a new article up.

But a forum would be useless. All it would do is take up space. If I need a teaching spot, I have some programs available and I have a LARGE forum available on other servers. Traditionally, however, forums fail when I get involved with them. I’m a pontificator, a preacher, a teacher, not one that does Socratic Method and I generally don’t talk unless I have something of substance to add to the conversation. So mostly I don’t talk. Which means that others would have to do all the chit-chat talks that keep a forum alive, or I would have to get 400+ members immediately. I’m popular, but not that popular.

So avoid useless programs and functionality on your site. CMSs, however, tend to make adding those features as easy as clicking a link and putting it in position. It becomes a matter of about 20 seconds work to add a fourm to a website that probably doesn’t need one.

This point I’m making is that just because something looks cool and pretty, that does not mean that your website will be helped by having it. Yes, there are a lot of things I would love to have on this site, mainly because my reaction is “Ohhh shiny!” but I resist because the Journal won’t be helped by them, and it just may drive my readers away.

That’s something you have to continually consider, the website visitor. The goal here is to make it as accessible to them as possible. Not everyone uses Internet Explorer, so creating a site that has a lot of coding that only Internet Explorer can use is counterproductive. Not all of them have T1 broadband connections to the internet where they can download the 2 MB movie on your site in under 10 seconds, and not all of them are healthy enough to keep from having a seizure when the flashy blinkie things on your website start playing. Heck, some of them may not even have vision, so they will have to have their text reader read your site to them. That means they won’t be able to turn off the MIDI you put on your site in the background since they have to have the sound on to hear the content of your site.

Also remember that thin code is preferable to code bloat. If you create a page in Microsoft Word, it puts all these extraneous formatting tags in there that only Internet Explorer can read. If you go and take them all out, you wind up with a page that is generally 1/10th the size you started out with. So a 240 KB page goes to 24 KB, and it loads up in 1/10th the time, from 20 seconds to 2 seconds or so. This gives you three advantages.

First off, it takes less space on your webserver, which means you can have more content there. When it’s loaded by a websurfer, it takes less bandwidth of yours, and it is more likely that the other people who requested the page will stay to read it, rather than get bored waiting for it to load up and surf to some other site.

These are the kinds of questions that professional web designers ask themselves all the time.

  • Lean code?
  • Cross browser/platform compatibility? (Can someone on Windows 98 see it the same way a UNIX box can?)
  • Handicapped accessible?
  • Is there useless functions incorporated?
  • Can I get rid of the silly stuff that doesn’t add anything?
  • Is this component I need already part of what I have there, or do I need to get another program?

Seems like a lot of things to consider when all you want to do is tell the world that you found Wicca and you are really happy, right? I’m glad I got that across to you.

I want to offer this advice: If you just want to talk about how wonderful you feel because of Wicca and you, do so on a site like LiveJournal, GreatestJournal or one of several other blogs that are already out there. Your page is not really needed. It’s not that you and your thoughts aren’t needed, it’s simply that there are five or six thousand pages out there that give basics of Wicca to those who don’t know about it, and many of them are probably better than you will be able to put together. Consider sending people you care about to those pages instead of repeating the same information that is already out there. Heck, consider sending them to a book.

If, however, you have something to say, perhaps the teen view of what Wicca is, then by all means, put up a website and say it. Just remember what I have said previously. They are as basic as saying “please” and “thank you”. It’s Internet Courtesy and it’s very important to the success of your site. Don’t simply duplicate what is already out there.

When I surf the Internet, I’m looking for what YOU have to say. If I wanted to know what Silver Ravenwolf had to say, I’d buy her books. If I wanted to hear what Fritz Jung was saying about Wicca, I’d ask him directly, and I’d go to his site. So you may reference their statements, but say what you want to say. Don’t cop out and have others saying it for you. That’s lazy.

Ten years ago, you didn’t need to know anything to put up a website, and these days you need to know even less. Tons of sites went up over night (almost) and most of them sucked. It seems that the intervening years not much more has been learned by new users, for the same mistakes are being made.

When I first put up the Journal, I had a cool site navigation. It was on the left, just where it is now, but it had buttons. Each button was a plain one, until you put your mouse over it, then it showed a pentagram on the far left, showing that you were looking at the “Articles” sub section. When you actually clicked on it, you got a sound that was a page turning. I was so proud of that.

Time passed, I took it off. I had a lot of people complaining about the sound screwing up their music, and the navigation not showing up properly and the JavaScript being disabled on their site so it wouldn’t let them get to other pages of my site. I had other pages they could use, just without the cool effect, and finally I decided to just get rid of it all together. It was taking up space and sucking up my bandwidth.

It was for a similar reason that I finally moved to paid webhosting. I had my site on Crosswinds, Homestead, Geocities, and a couple other “free” sites. I found out that those sites were only free if I permitted thousands of advertisements to be placed on my site, or if I allowed the “free” site host to keep my property. When I read the agreements, I was stating by hosting there that the people who owned that server could reprint my work as much as they wanted without asking or even telling me. That’s why it was free.

When I saw an advertisement on my site (in the form of a pop-up which I despise) advertising a lock picking set to instantly jimmy any car open, I got a paid host. I don’t advocate illegal actions and I won’t allow the people I host with to say that I do by putting that ad on my site.

Those free sites are good for personal pages. They are decent for telling grandma that you got an A in Honors Physics. They are okay for hosting the picture you want to put into an email to dear mom on her grandchildren. But for information sites, unless you are destitute, put them on a paid host. I am chronically short of money, most times I have to scrape to feed my family, but I can afford the less than $20 a month to pay for this website. With that I get probably 80 times the space of a free host, 50 different email addresses I can use, a domain name that is MINE, listings on various search engines, the capability to do a heck of a lot of neat things with my site (like keeping people from linking my images without my permission), the ability to save my files in a secure place so I can transfer them between my PC at work and the one at home. Then there is the free software I get along with it. Better than $8000 worth of software that is provided to me by my webhost simply because I host with them.

Please note, that I’m not USING it all, but I have it available should I need it, like for my blog. AND if something goes wrong, the paying customers get the attention first, not the free hosters. Last time I had a problem, it was fixed in a few minutes, not two or three days.

All these combine to make the Journal and many other sites like it the examples many people cite, and why most people tend to dismiss those sites that are on Homestead and so on. The basic point here is to help you design a good site to tell people what you learned and what you are not believing.

After all, you want people to read what you have to say, not click out of your website because it took so long to load up, right?

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