Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Melded Website/Blog Environment

As promised, and with some delay, here is the second part of my discussion on which format is better for genealogy research: the website or the blog?

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I have actually been able to leverage both a website and several blogs to meet my needs. Keep in mind that I am not running a business that specializes in family history (performing research, writing personal histories, creating scrapbooks) or even a non-profit such as a regional genealogical society - so my needs are different. What I can do is give an example of what I have done in the past and what options are now available for getting the best of both worlds.

Domain Forwarding

I've been able to utilize domain forwarding quite easily: when users type http://www.catskillchristmas.com they end up at http://catskillchristmas.blogspot.com. This is my holiday website which doesn't see much activity until the last three months of the year.

I have opted to use a redirection service which offers the most seemless performance for the user. Users don't see an intermediate page such as "This site has moved. If you are not redirected in ____ seconds, click here" nor do the see lots of screen movement to get to the final URL.

Domain forwarding is available as part of my hosting service (see below) and my plan allows me to forward a certain number of domains.

There are services, such as Domain Redirect which offer forwarding for one year for $10. But if you don't already have a domain name, you might want to consider acquiring one with a service that includes free web forwarding.

Why do I redirect? For right now, I am uncertain as to whether I want www.catskillchristmas.com to be a full-fledged website, perhaps for a holiday ornament business. So, I pass users over to my blog which is a bit more informal, allows user comments, and also helps me decide in what direction I want to go with the website. If I do decide that I want the website only, I simply turn off the domain forwarding. If not, I leave it the way it is.

Registering a Domain

There are a variety of services that allow you to search for available domain names and purchase them for a set period of time. If you are considering a domain name, spend some time thinking of a name that will attract users and that is available. Also make sure you register with a service that offers you lots of free bells and whistles such as email accounts, domain forwarding, etc.

Did you know that Blogger also handles domain name registration? I didn't until today. I also found out that they partner with my current website host and domain name provider, GoDaddy.

And you can have Blogger host and administer your blog but use a domain name instead of _____.blogspot.com. There are some different functions involved but this is a fairly economical option since you only need to purchase the domain name, not an entire hosting plan with storage.

Website Hosting

Having your own website is not as scary as it seems. Back in the day, when we had 5 1/2" floppy drives and amber monitors, there wasn't even an Internet! Well, I am exaggerating, just a bit. But in the early days, my first website was not easy to create or administer. I had to code everything in HTML by hand and then load all these helper applications to handle transfer of files, etc. Nowadays, most good website hosting services provide excellent tools - some even will allow you to set up stores, auctions and other commerce sites on your website!

Take your time to search for a good website hosting service, especially one with 99% uptime so that your visitors are not frustrated with poor performance and page loading issues. I will use GoDaddy as my example since this is my current host.

GoDaddy offers hosting plans for as low as $3.65 a month. This does not include the price of registering the domain name, but it does give you 10GB storage, 100 Email accounts, and up to 300GB data transfer per month.

Take your time and shop around. And also determine if you really need a hosting plan. Blogger offers storage space via Picasa and you can add more storage as needed. I prefer storage with my own domain name. It allows me to store photos, research data and more as an offsite backup besides my 250gb external drive.

Also, I post my research quarterly in GEDCOM format using GED2WEB which is a free program. It takes your GEDCOM and creates various html-coded sites which display nicely on a website. I often use the links in my posts for individuals. Here is the main link to my research.

Data Storage Sites

While there are various data storage sites available, such as Xdrive or MediaMax, these sites usually don't allow direct linking. This means users will see an intermediate page, some with advertisements and then they will need to click a download link. To me, this is just a "hot mess" and goes against my "less clicks" philosophy. I'd much rather pay a nominal monthly fee for web hosting to store the data and provide a smooth ride to my users.

Can I Have It All?

Yes you can, and you can configure it in any manner that best suits you and your audience. One example that I like is the California Genealogical Society and Library website. They reference their new blog on the main page and the website offers the links to their publications, research, events etc. But they've also made sure that the blog has backlinks to these same areas on the website. It may seem like a bit of redundancy, but this arrangement allows them to reach different audiences: those that feel a website with its own domain seems more legitimate and credible and those that like the informality and comfortable feel of a blog. If, in the future, CGSL decides to use only the blog, they can place domain name forwarding on the website but still use that domain for data storage and linking to it from the blog. They also won't need to transfer all their data to another data storage site.

So, it is up to you to decide the approach to take. But keep in mind, in the same way that many of us arrived at blogging, it is a progression. A progression of technology, learning, experimentation and constant tweaking!

4 comments:

Jasia said...

I bought a domain name (creativegeneblog.com) and then found out my hosting company (AIT) charges $20 to point it to my blog. I thought, "nuts to that!" and just put an instant javascript redirect to my blog on my index.htm page for the domain. It seems to be working out fine and it saves me $20. I'm a bit irked with my hosting company but I've been dealing with them for over 10 years and I have all my (business) web sites hosted with them. I hate to start up with another hosting company so I'm making do. But nowhere in their sales pitch/comparison chart does it mention or discuss pointing a DN to a blog. So I had no way of knowing this before I bought the DN. I mention it here only so that others reading your post comments will be aware.

Janice said...

Tom,

I have both a domain (and several web sites there) and several blogs. In my case they serve two quite different purposes.

My web site is really focused on facts and data, while my blog satisfied my need to tell stories. The statistics generated from each of them (especially what information is the most popular, and what keywords were used to get there) is very helpful in determining future content.

Thanks for the very interesting article!

Janice

Apple said...

I learned quite a bit that I didn't know before. I'll have to do a bit more research for a couple of organizations that I belong to.

Kathryn Doyle said...

Thomas,

I was reading carefully to learn and got quite a surprise to find that we were the example! Glad to know that we stumbled onto a good solution.