Chess Journalists of America

The following article was published in The Chess Journalist, Vol. XXXII, No. 2, Consecutive No. 108, June 2003. One-time only publication rights have been obtained from the contributor. All other rights are hereby assigned to the author. Articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CJA, its offices or members. Copyright 2003 by the Chess Journalists of America.

Virtual Journalism, part 2:
Domain Names and Servers

by John Hillery

(See Part 1: Creating and Maintaining a Web Page)

So, you have created your web page and are ready to exhibit it. It is certainly possible to do this without knowing anything about the subject (a number of programs will do everything for you automatically), but it is better to understand what you are doing.

The map is not the territory

A concept with which many people have difficulty is the difference between a domain name and a web server.

A domain name is one of those things beginning with "www" and ending in ".com" (or ".org," ".net" etc.). This address is not physically tied to your page; the owner of a domain name can set it to point anywhere on the Web.

A web server is a computer connected to the Internet which contains the files which make up your web page. It is possible to set up your own (Windows 98 included software for this), but unless you're running a business it's pretty pointless. Almost all Web pages rent space on existing servers.

What this means in practical terms: If you own a domain name, you can move your page to a different server, change the pointer, and no one will notice. (Though the reason you are moving may be that there was something wrong with your original server ). If you have en existing page, you can purchase a domain name you like and set it to point to your page. The next question is whether you want or need a domain name of your own.

By any other name

Though I used the term "purchase" above, domain names are rented, normally by the year. The system is administered by a corporation called ICANN, which franchises the job to several hundred "Registrars." These latter companies compete, advertise, and charge whatever the traffic will bear. My advice: if you are asked to pay more than ~$13/year for an "ordinary" domain name, go somewhere else.

Note also that this market is almost entirely unregulated, and some entrepreneurs buy up potentially valuable domain names for resale. Some of the "country code" extensions (".us" for the United States, for example) have turned out to be big sellers. The extension ".tv" was assigned to the Pacific island of Tuvalu. Renting domain names to Hollywood is currently the largest single item of their GNP. The second largest is subsistence fishing.

There are some things that can get you in legal trouble, such as trying to register the name of a living individual who has lots of money for lawyers. Unless you want to pick a fight with Madonna or George Lucas, this should not be a problem.

So, do you really need your own domain name? If you're running a business, almost certainly. Even for a "hobby" page, a short, easily remembered domain name will probably get you more viewers. Keep it short, though -- if your audience has trouble spelling it, they will probably click on something else. At $10-$15 a year it's a pretty good deal, especially for you expect to keep your page active for a long time.

Home away from home

Now it's time to find a server. You basically have two options, paid and free. The choice is not as simple as it sounds.

There are still quite a few free Web hosting services available (though not as many as a few years ago, thanks to mergers) -- Yahoo Geocities, Tripod Lycos, Netfirms and others. The first thing to realize is that they are "free" because they use your page to display advertising. This can vary from a fairly innocuous banner at the top, to some pretty annoying pop-up ads. Look at some of their pages and decide whether it bothers you -- or will bother your audience.

A second point to consider is that many of them provide a front-end interface for uploading and editing. This has some advantages -- the interfaces are usually not hard to master, and you will not have to obtain and learn to use an FTP program. The downside is that you have to use their front end, whether you like it or not -- and they tend to be slow and a clunky.

Retail service providers do not have any advertising. They are priced all over the map, but unless your space requirements are really outrageous you shouldn't pay more than $2-$5 a month. Upgrades from the free servers are generally not a good buy (in my opinion); you are paying a premium for use of their thought-free interface. You will need FTP software for uploading your files; two good ones that I know of are CuteFTP from Globalscape (easily mastered interface), and WS FTP Pro (a little more complex, supports more functions, some pretty esoteric). Instruction on using them would go beyond the scope of this article, and would mostly boil down to "read the documentation and follow it."

Pay close attention to what you are getting in two respects -- disk space and bandwidth. Disk space is simply the size of all your files. Most servers offer somewhere between 5 and 20 megabytes, which is a lot of space -- unless you are loading a lot of large graphic files like photos.

Bandwidth is the total amount of data sent from your site. Service providers put a limit on this (usually a pretty generous one) to avoid a single large site from tying up the lines. If your page is 100K, and 100 people look at it during a month, your bandwidth usage for that month is 10 MB. (It's not quite as simple as that, since not everyone will look at every page of your document every time they visit it, but that gives you a general idea.) Most servers give you at least 1 GB a month. This is a lot of bandwidth -- again, unless you are posting your entire family photo album. Sit down and do the math. What happens if you exceed your bandwidth depends on the server, but either your page will not be accessible for periods ranging from an hour to the rest of the month, or the company will charge you for the extra bandwidth.

Some useful links:


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