Hosting

Let’s start with a definition, for those who are not familiar: Hosting is the process used to make your website visible to the world. If you have a website, it has to be hosted to be seen. A hosting service is simply a group of computers that are connected to the Internet for the purpose of storing websites and making them available.

A public hosting service makes the websites it hosts available to anyone and everyone, but there are private hosting services too. An intranet, for example, is a private network that acts like the Internet but is restricted to employees or members of a specific organization. Many organizations maintain internal websites on their intranets for the benefit of their employees or members. These websites are hosted internally and are not available to the outside world.

As with most things in life, hosting can be purchased for a variety of prices, with a variety of features, benefits, and shortcomings. Originally I typed that sentence to say “corresponding variety of features, benefits, and shortcomings,” but the reality is that the features, benefits and shortcomings don’t necessarily correspond to the price. Those of us who have arranged hosting for many websites can relate tales of truly awful hosting services and happier tales of very competent hosting services, all charging very similar prices.

And, of course, there are complexities that confuse the issue. For example, there are hosting services that specialize in hosting WordPress websites. You could host a non-WordPress site there, but it would not work as well and probably would cost more. On the other hand, many general hosting services host WordPress websites without a problem (the site you are viewing now is hosted on a general hosting service).

Support

One of the “features, benefits and shortcomings” of a hosting service is the support. Support can be provided by email, chat, or phone. Sometimes all three are provided, sometimes only “premium” subscribers get phone support.

And then there is the question of which tier support you are getting. For a while when I first started using the hosting service this site is on, I used chat or phone support with occasionally frustrating results. The support people often had to bump my request upstairs, which added hours or even days to the time it took to get a resolution. Sometimes they simply didn’t understand my questions or requests.

When I complained to my sales rep about that he gave me a different phone number and told me to use that one instead. It turned out the phone number I used originally was Tier 2 support, while the new phone was Tier 1 support. Big difference! I found myself talking directly with the engineers. Now when I call about a problem, the answer is usually “Hang on,” followed shortly by “Try it now.”

The catch is that Tier 1 support folks expect you to talk and understand their techie language. If you do, you get a fast and cheerful resolution of your problem. If you don’t, they will send you back to the Tier 2 people. This is another reason to have your own web developer – we are fluent in Techie.

Gratuitous ad, excerpted from my Services page

There is one more factor in choosing how you host your site. If you contract directly with a hosting service, you will have to talk to tech support yourself when something goes wrong (note that I said “when,” not “if” – we are talking about computers here). As owner of a single site, you will almost certainly be routed to Tier 2 support. You may be able to argue your way into Tier 1 support, but the Tier 2 people are instructed to resist that unless they really can’t solve your problem after several tries.

CyberArtisans offers our own variety of Tier 1 hosting support: You email or call me and report your problem. That’s it. I take whatever actions and time is required to fix it. It might take 5 minutes or it might take 12 hours of dealing with tech support. In either case, I do it, with no cost to you and no additional work on your part (except maybe my calling you to ask you to check that the problem is resolved).

Does CyberArtisans Tier 1 Support cost a little more? Yep. Is it worth it? Depends on how you value your time and your frustration levels. Contact me for the details.

Facebook paranoia

Spend a few minutes talking to people of various ages about Facebook and you will soon see that the spectrum of opinions about this social media site is very wide. There are the teens who have grown up with computers, smart phones, and Facebook, and don’t hesitate to put up all sorts of information that makes older people cringe. At the other end of the spectrum, there are avoiders who simply say “I don’t do Facebook.”

And then there are the rest of us, who use Facebook for a variety of reasons – to communicate with children, to advertise our business – but do so with varying degrees of fear and trepidation. If you are in this category, this post is for you.

So let’s settle the short answers first: Yes, Facebook by default shares more information than most of us find comfortable. Yes, in some instances this information sharing could be dangerous. And yes, you can modify what Facebook shares about you and with whom it shares that information.

The question, of course, is how to make modifications that really work. So rule #1 is: Don’t accept advice that is passed around from friend to friend in posts unless they can back it up with some documentation that it works.

For example, there’s the post that advises everyone to declare that their posts are copyright protected. And then there are the posts that ask all your friends to change your status on their Facebook page. What do these actions do? Essentially nothing, except give people bad advice.

But there are things you can do that will have a real effect.The place to start is at Facecrooks.com. That is not a typo. Facecrooks is a site with an interesting melange of warnings, instructions, and news, all related to Facebook. Perhaps the most useful article is How to Lockdown Your Facebook Account For Maximum Privacy and Security, This article takes you through the procedures that will really protect your data.

Be forewarned, however: This is not a 2-step program. You have to follow a fairly long set of instructions to set up Facebook the way you want it. Usually, you just have to go through the whole procedure once, although there have been reports of Facebook resetting some people’s security settings back to the defaults. I suggest that you record all your settings so that, if you have to reset them, the resetting process will be quicker.

It is also considered smart to check your Facebook security settings once a week, just in case Facebook chooses to reset your security settings.

And while you are on the Facecrooks site, take a look at some of the other articles. If Facebook and its interactions with its users and our legal system interest you, you will find a lot to read.

Need help with Facebook?

If you want to use Facebook but are intimidated by (or just don’t want to deal with) the security issues, contact us. One of the services we offer is to maintain your Facebook settings for you. We will sit down with you and figure out what level of security you need. Then we will check your Facebook page weekly and make changes to your security settings whenever necessary. We do this for other social media sites too.

New website!

If you are reading this I don’t really have to tell you this is a new website, since you are reading it on the new website. But just in case you are super-focused on the text and missed the website around it, or you perhaps never saw the old website, I am hereby announcing that this my new website.

It took much longer than anticipated, but that was partly because my clients’ websites always came first. It was also because I built one new site about a year ago and didn’t like it, so it never went live. After I gave up on that one, I started searching for a new design. And while I was at it, I also searched for a new structure. Yes, I’d better explain that, hadn’t I?

The original website, as well as the first replacement candidate, was built using classic HTML (isn’t it amazing that something related to the World Wide Web – which is only about 24 years old – can be considered “classic?”). But classic HTML has a problem: To build or edit an HTML site, you either have to have an expensive authoring tool like Adobe Dreamweaver, or you have to be proficient in HTML and CSS. Most of my clients would like to be able to edit their sites without investing a lot of money into an authoring tool, or a lot of time learning HTML/CSS.

Thinking I could solve two problems at once, I decided to build my new website in a Content Management System (CMS), so that I could learn to build sites in a system that my clients could use to edit their sites. The challenge was to find a CMS that would be good enough to warrant investing a fair amount of my time into learning it.

I spent a lot of time exploring various CMSs. I bought at least two of them, and tried several more.To meet my criteria, the CMS had to:

  1. Be easy to use for a non-technical person.
  2. Be reasonably easy to modify by a technical person (me).
  3. Have a broad following, so I wouldn’t end up hitching my future to a dying program.
  4. Be inexpensive.

The only one of the CMSs I tried that met my criteria was WordPress. Joomla! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the name) came close but just doesn’t have the following that WordPress does, and I found I liked the WordPress interface better. Let’s check WordPress against the criteria above:

  1. The user interface in WordPress resembles the UI in Microsoft Word. ‘Nuff said.
  2. Word on the “street” was that WordPress was reasonably easy to work on, but at the time I was making this decision I didn’t know enough to judge this personally, so I took the word of experts.
  3. WordPress has a very broad following and it’s getting broader.
  4. WordPress is open source, so it’s free.

Once I decided on WordPress and really started to dig into the nitty-gritty, I found some big sand-traps. WordPress relies on themes (known as templates outside the WordPress world) to define the look and feel of a website. But these themes are built by developers with a wide range of skills. Some are expertly crafted, others are junk, and may crash your website without warning. The challenge: how to tell the good from the lousy.

Let me try to define the size of this problem: Templatemonster.com lists 1,820 WordPress themes, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Every WordPress developer with a pulse has produced a theme, which he/she offers (often free) to the world.

When faced with a challenge like this, the place to go is to the people who’ve been there and gotten burned. So I started asking questions in some of the WordPress groups on LinkedIn. I got a variety of answers, but the one that kept coming up repeatedly was the Genesis Framework. At this point in my WordPress education, I didn’t even know what a framework was, much less the Genesis Framework. It sounded like the name of a 1980s biblical blockbuster (starring Richard Burton, presumably).

Let’s see if I can explain succinctly what a framework is: A framework is a theme that is the base for a collection of related child themes (a child theme is a theme modification that piggy-backs onto a theme). By bringing together all the common code for a wide variety of child themes, Studio Press (the authors of Genesis) was able to refine the framework far beyond the state of refinement for most stand-alone themes. The result is a collection of excellent, robust themes, with good designs and excellent support.

This sounded ideal, but since the Genesis Framework isn’t free, I had to buy the framework and a child theme to actually try it out. I decided on the Streamline theme, partly because I liked it, but also because it was responsive (WordPress-speak for automatically adjusting to smaller screens on mobile devices). The ability to adapt to mobile screens has become extremely important and will be even more important in the near future.

I started to build the site, but then, in one of those lucky accidents, a project came in that looked ideal for the Streamline theme. Since client projects supersede my website, I built that one first. It’s here: http://www.irwinengineers.com/.

Using the experience I gained with the Irwin Engineers website, I then completed the site you are now looking at. I like it, but of course I built it. If you have some criticisms, or even better, some suggestions, I’d be glad to read them.