Category Archives: WEB

The easy guide to building your own website, from a beginner.

As regular readers of this blog will have observed, I have let this blog lie fallow for quite some time. I still really like this blog but found I had less and less to contribute to it over time.

I was inspired to try another medium and decided to try my hand at creating my own satirical news website, thinking that it could be a fun way to keep writing and a good stress reliever because I often find myself furious over something in the news and unable to get anyone else to care about it. Forcing myself to find comedy in everything has to help the stress levels.

When I decided to make The Empty Shirt, I said I would go all the way and make my own website. I think wordpress.com is an amazing resource but I wanted to have more control over things myself. The internet seems to be bursting with tips and tricks to make great websites but here’s what you need to do, boiled down:

Domain name – The domain name is what appears in the address bar at the top of the screen, like google.com. If you have a wordpress.com blog you’ll be given a sub-domain name. Your website is a smaller branch of wordpress.com’s domain name. If you want your own one, pick a good one. The extension at the end (.com, .net, etc) can be different, country-specific or related to what your site is about. Businesses tend to be .com by default.  Tip: .biz is going out of fashion fast, is often the cheapest option and has generally been taken over by dodgy spam websites. If you want a reputable business, choose .com

Register your domain name – The name you choose may not exist on the internet yet so you need to register it to alert the internet that your site exists. It may be the case that the name you would like has already been registered by someone else, in which case you’ll need to settle for a variant (or you can try to buy it from them).  To register your domain, you need to go to a domain registrar site. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed at this stage because the domain registry business is crowded with providers that offer pretty much identical services for pretty much identical prices. It seems like everyone is trying to outbid each other with sales and promo codes. GoDaddy is the largest registrar on the web, but I would recommend you try elsewhere. (They took a very questionable stance with SOPA and their CEO is a terrible human being).  I went with internetbs.net  for a reason discussed in the next section.

WHOIS privacy – The WHOIS directory is kind of like a phonebook for the internet, detailing who owns websites. If you are a business, having your WHOIS information publically available can be a good way of instilling confidence in potential customers that your site is legit. However, if you are a private individual, you may not want your address and phone number available to so many people. You may also be more susceptible to spam this way.  You should not falsify your information. If you wish your information to be private you can choose to add on WHOIS privacy when you register a domain. The standard for domain registrars is to make this  a separate charge. However, sites like gandi.net and internetbs.net include WHOIS privacy in the registry price by default.

Your domain is registered! Yay. Now, wait for the domain to “propagate” – basically for the domain to make itself known to the internet. Mine took about 30mins, but it can take up to 24 hours. During this time, do not be alarmed if your domain still seems to be “available” if you type it into a registrar site. The main registry has been updated.

Hosting – For your website to become active, it needs space on a server where all the information about it can be stored and a continuous connection to the web can be maintained. Most people let a company host for them but it is possible to do it yourself. Many domain registrars also offer hosting and may have attractive packages, like a free domain name if you host with them. However, it’s good practice to separate the two. When looking for a good web host, it can be tempting to get sucked in with words like “unlimited bandwidth” and “only 1.60 a month!” but read the fine print. A lot of promotional offers only apply for the first month or two of your time with a company and the “unlimited” bit may not be what it seemed. Shared hosting is a good option for new website owners or small websites. Ideally, your web host will have servers in the same country as you and 24/7 customer service. When researching hosts, I contacted a few with easy queries to see what the response time was like. After all, if your site goes down, you’ll want to get it back up as soon as possible  – especially if it’s a source of income. One had a jaw-dropping wait time of 3 days before a response. Another, 2 minutes.  I chose the latter. I went with A Small Orange hosting. I ignored my own advice because their servers are in the US and I am not but I really liked the idea of their business – small and personal, in a business which generally is anything but.

“Point” your domain to your host’s servers – If you go into your domain’s account information, you should see two fields called “name servers” which are blank. Your hosting company will send you the details of what to write in there to connect your domain name to its host.

All in all, I got a domain name, WHOIS Privacy and hosting for 29e a year, which is pretty good going.

Tip: When you are researching registrars or hosts, keep in mind that a lot of companies offer affiliate schemes. This means that, if I were to write a blog post called “The Ten best Web hosts 2013”, I could list a certain one at the top and provide a link which, if a person clicks on it and then goes on to buy hosting with that company, I would get a financial reward or discount from that company. So, keep that in mind if you hear people being oddly militant or defamatory about certain companies as a lot of these schemes don’t require that you be a customer of the web host so they cannot honestly tell you about their experience.

What next?

The fun bit!

Decide which Content Management System you want to use to load, edit and publish content on your site. There are many to choose from, depending on the function of your site. You have vBulletin for message boards, Joomla or Drupal for e-shopping websites and (my favourite) WordPress for sites that are text and picture heavy, like news sites.

Bear in mind that this WordPress is a different thing to WordPress.com. The software you may be familiar with if you have a wordpress blog is available for you to use for free with many more features and plugins in its open-source form at WordPress.org. Most big web hosts will let you install WordPress (or Joomla or many others) with one-click installs from their control panels. It’s very easy.

From there, you can start uploading content and thinking about the look of your site. WordPress themes, from the very basic to premium pay-for-use, are available to showcase your site.

For my news site, I chose a theme called Thrilling Heroics, available for 15usd or for free if you hook up with thillingheroics.com.

Final tips: BACK UP YOUR SITE. SWEET JESUS, BACK UP YOUR SITE. This can be accomplished with wordpress plugins or can be done from the control panel of your web host account.

Buy more domains if you are serious about a company or business – If my main website is google.com, I want people who type in google, fr and google.ie to get to my website and not a blank page or someone pretending to be me. If I buy lots of domains and redirect them to my main page, this will not be an issue.

Most importantly, have fun.

If you have any questions, comment below or email me at sarah@theemptyshirt.com. Check out The Empty Shirt to see my first website in action!

Advertisements

Smittens and Jesus toast

Sometimes the internet really comes through and shows you something life-changing. Smittens is/are such a thing. No longer do you and your significant other have to put up with separation anxiety while out for romantic walks, that barrier presented by your woolly gloves is no more. One relationship, one glove.

People be crazy

These are truly hilarious but I can see some people being seriously interested in buying them. I like to occupy my time imagining various scenarios where being attached to another person is not ideal and so far have come up with: runaway dog on a leash who will take both of you with him, unexpected pole, inhibited frolicking and zombie attack. Also, where will it end? What if you have a few kids you want to daisy-chain on to the love-train?

This next one is a potential money-earner. How many times have people been on the news or sold their stories after finding an image of jesus in a tree bark, soup or their cobwebs? What if you could guarantee a good Jesus image whenever you wanted? Well, you can thank me because I am presenting you with…Jesus toast.

You are welcome. If Jesus isn’t your schtick, they also have hash leaves, dog paws and Chaka Khan. (One of these may be a lie).

Go forth and buy!

How to give to charity without spending any money

  • Free Rice– This nifty little website lets you play vocabulary games and the more answers you get correct, the more rice gets donated to those who need it under the United Nations World Food Programme. As well as being free, this will make you smarter!
  • Tab for a Cause This is such a simple yet utterly brilliant idea. By using this add-on, every time you open a new tab on your browser there will be more money in a charity’s pocket. Instead of opening to a blank page as usual, the tab will display a page with the latest news about your chosen charity. You can ignore this or read it in-depth. Either way, you’ve helped contribute money by doing nothing out of the ordinary. There is no catch, no sign-up fee, etc. There are a range of charities you can choose from. At the moment, I’m supporting Water.org.

Even if you don’t have the money right now to support a charity by donating, there are still small, easy things you can do to help and these are just the tip of the iceberg.

8 Things to make your Internet better

The internet has revolutionised the way we do things in only a dozen years. Here are some little add-ons and tips to make your surfing experience faster and more fun.

  • Adblock Plus- It’s hard to put into words how brilliant this add-on is. Available for Firefox and Google Chrome, this means an end to annoying ads slowing down your internet, stalling your Youtube videos and pop-ups obscuring your view at inopportune times. By blocking so many flash ads, your webpages will load faster and your browser will be able to work quicker overall.
  • Stylish- This one isn’t essential but it does give you a bit more say in how you view frequently visited sites? Ever annoyed by the minimalist white background on Youtube? Why not install Stylish and make it black and pink instead? Or, maybe change your Facebook login to something more inspiring. This can be used for many sites, with a decent range of styles catered for on-site.

A new way of looking at Youtube with Stylish

  • Invisiblehand- Mentioned in my previous post on Online Shopping, Invisiblehand is an invaluable tool that automatically checks to see that the price you are about to pay for something online is the cheapest you could pay. Available for most browsers.

InvisibleHand at work

  • Genieo- This is an intuitive homepage for your browser. Upon launching Firefox, Chrome or Explorer, Genieo will load and show you a selection of news stories it thinks will interest you based on your internet use. You can also link it to your facebook and Twitter feeds so it can scan the most interesting stories from there too. The best thing about this is that it stores cookies on your own computer so the programme creators or any third-parties will not have access to your browsing habits. The more you browse with genieo installed, the more accurate its guesses about what might interest you gets.
  • Dropbox- Dropbox is like a safe for your files that’s kept online. Downloading Dropbox will make a folder appear on your computer into which you can store important files that you want to back-up or share with others. Emailing others a link will give them access to folders of your choosing, which comes in handy when working on group projects such as group essays or musical collaboration. The great thing about Dropbox is that you can sync it to all your devices.Laptop, desktop, etc. It means that even if all of your electronic equipment and hard-drives were destroyed, there would still be a copy of your Dropbox files existing online. The guys at Dropbox are of a start-up mind and regularly hold puzzles and tests in order to hire engineers for the site. They set out tasks for its day-to-day users that, if completed, will increase your storage capacity.
  • StumbleUpon- It’s the rare person who hasn’t heard of StumbleUpon at this stage but it’s always good to be sure. When boredom strikes online, SU is your champion. Based on your stated interests and hobbies, you can browse websites at random until you come upon something you like.
  • Webmail Notifier- Yet another firefox add-on, this will alert you when you receive an email to any of your email accounts. It’s convenient in that you’re notified of any new mail immediately.
  • cCleaner- This is actually an offline programme, but one which could benefit your browsing speeds. It brings together your recycle bin, cookies, internet caches and dead space so that you can delete it all in one place. It’s good practise to wipe your browsing history every now and again as stored information about past activity can slow your browser down. One word of caution: cCleaner also gives you the option to effect change in the Registry. Novice computer users should leave this section alone to avoid deleting something important.

These few programmes and add-ons are the beginning of customising the internet to you. View it how you like, only see stories you are interested in. With a little effort, you can make the internet yours.

R&W’s Beginner’s Guide to Online Shopping

I recently discovered that not everyone is comfortable buying and selling online routinely. Some feel they don’t have the know-how to do so. I guess when you don’t  spend 8-10 hours of your day on the internet (to the point that you feel like you’re missing an appendage when your laptop isn’t in your lap), you come to expect that others are doing the same and take some things for granted. Let’s start with the basics.

Why should I bother with online shopping? I can just go outside. You know, like a normal person.

Well, anonymous voice, there more than a few advantages to online shopping.

  • You don’t have to change out of your morphsuit/Kenny Loggins t-shirt to go shopping outside and face people in a real shop. In fact, you don’t even have to shower. Ever again.
  • Better yet, you don’t  have to worry about opening hours. The internet is always open.
  • Shopping around. Comparison websites and even just browsing for a while are a hell of a lot more economical and faster than going in person from shop to shop on the high street.
  • You can find anything on the internet. Unusual/out of production chargers or car parts, a DVD that wasn’t released in your country, exotic porn that your local establishment doesn’t sell. And so on.

What are the best websites to use?

“Best” is subjective but the two behemoths of general online shopping are Amazon and Ebay. Rule of thumb is that if you want to buy something from one big company, you go to Amazon. If you want to buy something from someone like you, go to Ebay. (There are obvious exceptions to this rule. There are independent sellers on Amazon and businesses on Ebay but at its core, this is the deal).

Amazon have warehouses dotted all over the world which they dispatch their stock from, all under the trusted “Amazon” umbrella. Known for being the giant of online book- selling, Amazon sells nearly everything you can imagine and has its own range of e-readers (the Kindle range) and mp3s. Buying in Amazon is pretty basic. You search for your item as normal, select whatever it is you wish to buy and log in to your account to seal the deal. The point of having an account is so that you have credit card and address details on file, to limit the amount of incessant form-filling you have to do.

What are some good things about Amazon?

  • You can track your order’s progress from your account.
  • Reviews. Amazon has some of the most prolific product reviewers on the internet and it’s worth checking these reviews out even if you want to buy from another website.
  • “Save for later”. If you don’t have the money right at that moment to buy something or you want to sleep on it, you can add an item to your basket and then save it to buy later.
  • Wish List. This is a nice little idea from Amazon where basically you can save a number of items to a “wish list” and have it publicly available (or private, if you want) so that if you have a big event coming up (birthday, retirement) and keep having people ask you what you would like as a present, you can direct them to your wish list using a link. This is also handy for start-ups or charities that may be in need of equipment or office supplies who can ask the public to help them out by buying these items for them rather than giving monetary donations. (Ebay also has this feature but it is not as widely utilised as on Amazon).
  • Sales. Amazon likes a good sale and finds any excuse to have one. The most well-known are the annual “Black Friday” and “12 Days of Christmas” sales. The main focus of these events are “flash sales”, which means that a certain product will go on sale at a discounted price for a short amount of time (sometimes only a few hours) or until all stock has been sold. However, there are general discounts throughout the site at these times also.
  • Amazon is a big enough seller to be held accountable for its sales so if something goes wrong with your order or during the delivery process, it is likely you will get help from Customer Service.
  • Free delivery. Amazon.co.uk offers free delivery for orders over £25 and similar rules apply to other world sites.
  • Third-party sellers. Amazon gives you the option of buying the same product from other businesses or individuals if you are not happy with their price. These items are often used, but significantly cheaper.

You’ve sold me on Amazon. Are there any bad things about it?

  • While Amazon is often the cheapest online retailer, when it is not the price difference can be significant. To counter-act this, try the “Invisible Hand” add-on for the Firefox browser, which automatically tells you if this is the cheapest price for a particular product on the web. Definitely in the top-three best add-ons available from Firefox.
  • Amazon has a slightly murky past with its penchant for “discounts”. It’s not unheard of for the website to inflate the price of a product right before a sale, so that the discount they apply looks that bit more impressive. There is an add-on (as always) called PriceDrop, which tells you the price history of a product. (How much it was a year ago, etc.) Looking at the timeline for this, you can often see a big jump in the price before a significant sale.

The world is your oyster when buying online...

Sounds great. So, Ebay works the same as Amazon. Right?

Nope. Sorry.Ebay works slightly differently. Anyone can be an Ebay seller, provided they have a Paypal account. Paypal is simply an online bank account that is partnered with Ebay and is considered to be a safer (that person you’re buying from doesn’t see your credit card details) and more accountable way of paying online when compared with using a credit card. This way if you’re unlucky enough to be scammed on Ebay (more below) you will more than likely get your money back through Paypal.

Ebay has two styles of selling: auction and “buy it now”. The “buy it now” option is the closest to Amazon that you can get. You agree to buy the item, pay with paypal and it is dispatched as soon as possible.

Auctions are different and are the lifeblood of Ebay. The seller puts up their item and suggests a starting price, or bid, for that item. This is more often than not 99c. Someone who wishes to buy the item can then bid 99c and will have the high bid. However, if there is another person who wishes to buy the item, they can outbid them. Ebay tells you when bidding to bid the highest you would be willing to pay and it then increases your bid on your behalf in small increments until it reaches your stated limit. Ebay will contact you in this case to enquire whether you want to increase your maximum bid.

It’s as easy as that?

Sort of. Tactical bidding and sneak attacks are part of the Ebay landscape, especially for hotly contested items. Examples of tactical bidding vary. Some people are aggressive and continuously up the bidding so that they are always the high bidder. Some prefer to wait until the final hours of the auction, to give the impression to other buyers that they are not interested in the item.  They hope this will keep the cost low. The logic is that if there are days left in the auction and there are half a dozen eager bidders jacking up the price, it will draw more attention from other Ebayers looking to buy. Whereas if everyone plays it cool until closer to the end there is a better chance of the sale going under the radar a bit.

Sneak attacks, a personal favourite of mine, are unashamedly cold-blooded and ruthless. The bidder waits until the very last minute of the auction (literally) and outbids the high bidder before they have a chance to  retaliate with a better offer. Not for the faint-hearted. It’s at times like those (when you’ve just jilted a rabid bidder) that you count yourself lucky that Ebay makes bidders anonymous to avoid any conflict.

You mentioned scams earlier. What are they and how can I avoid them?

Ebay is a great resource and I use it regularly. But I exercise caution when doing so. Anyone can make an account and claim to be selling 10 ipad 2s for €50 a piece, it doesn’t make it true.

Here are some basic tips to avoid being scammed on Ebay.

  • If the price looks too good be true, it probably is. Applying to “buy it now” sales, if a price is ludicrously low on something be very wary of buying it.
  • Avoid stock photos. A stock photo is a promotional shot of an item that is widely available to view or copy on the web. The seller may be legit but photos that have obviously been taken in a home are a good sign that the seller actually possesses the item.
  • Read the description thoroughly. Every now and again you will come across a great deal on a camera or laptop, only to read that it is faulty or broken and being sold for parts. Don’t buy anything without reading  everything very carefully.
  • Have a glance at the number of sales a seller has made and what their feedback score is like. The more sales and positive feedback (measured in a percentage) the seller has, the more trust you can place in them.
  • Counterfeits. This is somewhat of a problem on the site and as you don’t see the product before you buy it, it can be a risk. Seen with gadgets, designer clothes, shoes and collectibles. Basic rule of thumb is if you feel something is off about the seller (they claim to be British but their description is full of typos and English is obviously not their first language) or about the item, stay well away.

Again, totally your business what you do with this newfound talent for purchasing...ahem,stuff online

Summary!

There is a whole  raft of weird and wonderful stuff to be found out there if you look for it, you never know what you might find. With a bit of research, you can save yourself a lot of money and time by buying online. Go find out for yourself.