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Building a Firm Foundation: A Home In Cyber Space
By Patricia Ouellette

"And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity."
(Colossians 4:3-4 NIV)

What a wonderful door it is that has been opened to us to proclaim Christ to the world. The Internet is the largest, most widely used and fastest growing medium in the world today. It is there for every man, woman and child to share, learn and grow. It is an awesome way to spread Godís message of hope and love.

More and more businesses, organizations, churches, ministries and individuals are turning to the Internet to expand their audience. There is a vast wealth of information out there in cyber space for the taking. You can get onto that same highway of information by simply creating your own web site.

You can take the time to study and learn to write HTML, but that is not a necessity these days with the software that is available on the market.

There is a range of ways that we can create a web site and get it up into cyber space for the whole world to see. These are the three major ways to attain the dream of having our own little space on the net.

EMPLOYING A WEB DESIGNER

When we start looking into employing the services of a web designer there are a few things to take into consideration. Cost is the first thing to consider. Work out what your budget is before you start looking for a designer. This will help you to keep your focus and help to weed out those that are out of your price range.

The majority of web hosting service suppliers will also provide web design as part of their services. It would not be uncommon to see prices in the range of $50 - $3000 US for a simple web page containing five pages, which may or may not include hosting services. However, in saying that, donít let that price range put you off, as there is a growing wealth of Christian Hosting and Designing services available at very affordable prices Ė some good ones are free. Do not let the price determine how good they are, but always check out the portfolio of sites they have already designed for others. You could be amazed.

Try not to rush into your decision of which web designer to use either. You will need to establish whether you will be able to work with each other. It is also highly advisable to check that there are no hidden costs involved. Most designers will charge extra for custom made scripts and graphics, so be sure to enquire as to any extra costs for these services.

It is also a good idea to see if they can throw in a miniature version of your header for an advertising banner, which you can use to exchange with other sites to help promote your site. These can be done in a few seconds, so it shouldnít be difficult to get the designer to include it in the package for free. It would also be worth asking if they do search engine listings as well, as this is a great way to expand your exposure.

Most designers will have their own style, so make sure you check out some of their sample sites. If they donít have any available on their web site, contact them and ask for referral links to sites they have designed. One thing I always made a point of doing myself was to contact the owner of the referred site and ask them questions about the services of the designer. Questions like:
  1. Did you find the designer pliable and patient, friendly and professional?
  2. Were you faced with any hidden costs or terms at the end of the job?
  3. How long did it take to get the site on the net?
  4. Did you encounter any problems and if so, how were they resolved?
  5. Did the designer answer all your questions in a way you could understand and in a timely manner?
These questions will help you to determine the professionalism of the designer and the quality of their services.

CREATE YOUR OWN WEB PAGE

There is great satisfaction in going to your own web page knowing, "I did that!" We all have some idea of what we want or a vision of what we desire it to look like. In designing our own website we can basically do whatever we wish. Our creation is only limited by our imagination and desire to learn and experiment.

Programs specifically designed to create web pages are very handy: MS Front Page, Macro Media Dream Weaver and 1st Page, just to name a few. All these programs have help files and tutorials to assist you along the way. There are also many sites on the Internet that have tutorials and relevant information to assist Webmasters of all levels of experience. One site I have found very useful, which is generally up to date with the latest trends, is Web Monkey.

Finding the right hosting service for your needs can be a tiresome task. When I first ventured into looking for a hosting service, I was astonished. After hours of searching for one that has all the features you want at the price you can afford, you upload your site to find that they have plastered it with advertising - some of which is not very family or child appropriate.

It is advisable to look for a hosting service that does not place banners, pop-ups or scripts on your pages; as you will have no say in what they advertise from your site. Invariably, it is the free hosting services that do this. The advertising is what allows them to supply the service. In saying that, there are a lot of free Christian hosting services out there, which do not place advertising on your site.

Do your research well. Make security issues your first point of decision-making, then all the other features you feel you may need.

Do not fret too much on site size or bandwidth, unless you intend having a huge site that has masses of photos, MP3ís or videos. To gain some understanding of this, visit two of my husbandís sites and see the enormous size of them. You would be amazed at how little space and bandwidth they actually use. http://www.jlym.com uses only 18 megabytes for the entire site plus six Sub Domains; bandwidth limit of 1 gigabyte. The main site has in excess of 3000 unique visitors a month. http://www.evangel-list.com uses only 50 megabytes for the entire site plus 33 Sub Domains; again with a bandwidth limit of 1 gigabyte. The main site has in excess of 3500 unique visitors a month. Neither of these sites has ever exceeded any limits.

A site for personal or ministerial use would require at least 25 megabytes of storage space with 500 megabytes bandwidth. You will have plenty of room to grow without going over your limits any time soon.

Creating your own web site would be one of the most secure ways of having a web presence, as you can control the security of your site Ė although, hackers will always find a way if they want to tamper with your site. There is no such thing as a 100% secure site. Take the US Government for instance. The Pentagonís sites and computer systems apparently get hacked into on average 700 times in any 24-hour period. So if the US Government canít secure their sites or systems 100%, what chance has the individual, even with God and faith?

CREATE YOUR OWN WEB PAGE USING ONLINE DEVELOPERS

I am sorry to say that, for the most part, this would be one of the less secure ways to have a web presence. Approximately 75% of web sites using online developers get hacked into. Over the last month I have assisted five people whose sites were taken over by illegal and/or immoral content. In each case, these people had used an online developing service.

Online developers are good for a first time site builder. They do make life easier as you do not need to have special design software or a way to upload your website. Most online developers use ready-to-use templates, which limits the need to find graphics and backgrounds. The styles are generally limited to what they have available or to what the script allows. They also have a lot of added extras, such as guest books, trackers and counters, advanced html such as PHP or ASP, form creators, forums or web logs, etc.

Online Developers are actually scripts or online programs. They do have security, but evidently not always enough. I pray that one day some wonderfully gifted programmer will be able to come up with an online developer which is just as, if not more, secure as having your own site and ftp ports.

Be sure to ask the service provider lots of questions about security and advertising. Almost all online developers will place advertising (popups, banners and scripts) on your pages.

IN CONCLUSION

Research is a major priority in establishing your own web presence. I canít stress enough the need for research, research and more research. Knowledge and wisdom are our best weapons.

Never be afraid to ask questions. If you see a site you like and are not sure how to go about creating it yourself; email or contact that siteís Webmaster and ask. It is always healthy to seek the answers you require to achieve your goals.

There is so much to take into consideration when developing a web presence Ė too much for me to be able to cover here. I pray that the little I have shared will help to get you started and heading in the right direction toward building a firm foundation for your first home in cyber space.

© World Wide 2004 Patricia Ouellette
Trish Ouellette is a wife and step-mother of seven glorious children and three grand children. Trish and her husband Jim, run a small computer business from home, as well as two large Internet ministries, which keep her busy designing websites, fixing, upgrading and building computers and teaching computer and Internet technology. With every minute of her spare time she explores her talents in writing and art, which is available to view on her personal website Christ Driven Brush & Pen http://christdriven.evangel-list.com.


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