I have decided to start a series of posts giving away valuable information on how anyone can start a blog. I’m someone who thinks everyone should blog. I don’t think the world needs more blogs but I think, given the ease with which anyone can start a website, it’s an opportunity everyone should try at least once.

People always write me and ask how to get a blog started. I’ve been giving people the same bits of advice over the years and since I’m kind of not into retyping it again and again, I thought putting it here would be the best way to refer people back to this without having to give them step-by-step instructions.

A bit of background on me first. I started building websites the year my daughter was born, 1998. I had been actively involved in a cinema mailing list for a few years prior and thus, I was already deeply embedded in the online world, way before most of my friends were. I can remember working in a property management company and figuring out how to dial up and access my list without anyone knowing I could or would do such a thing. Now, of course, everyone does it.

Back then, there wasn’t really a World Wide Web as it is now. Some people had websites but they were strictly html raw code. If you couldn’t code you couldn’t build a site. The principles for building a website aren’t all that different now than they once were. BUT they are a lot easier now.

What happened to me was a one-two punch of wanting to dip into the wild, wild west of opportunity the web afforded – freedom of expression allows that one could pretty much put up anything on the web. The other driving force for me was a desire to work from home so that I could raise my kid by myself; I figured, I’m just going to have the one kid – I’d like to spend as much time with her as possible before she moves out.

I also became much less of a people person after a major shift in my life. I had dropped out of graduate school in film at Columbia University to, basically, “live with a guy.” Part of the reason for dropping out was “true love,” but another reason was that I just didn’t have the stuff for being a film director. I had the creative ideas but I never had the people skills — and being a director means dealing with people regularly – hiring them, working with them, asking them for favors. The truth is that now, seventeen years later I DO have the skills, sort of. I just don’t have much of a desire anymore.

Anyway, Columbia Grad School drop-out, pregnant and unmarried — not a lot of options. But I had a computer, I had a place to plug it in and I had an internet connection. I didn’t need much more than that.

My brother-in-law gave me the idea to learn html by copying the source code of a website. Back in the html days, this worked very well. Now, one has to know a bit more about CSS (we’ll cover that much later). And you can do that – you can view any source code for any web page and see the language that makes the site work.

I had two ideas back then. I wanted to start an online magazine for film criticism — I wanted to join the members of my cinema mailing list for this project. We decided to call it Cinescene. And it still exists today — though it is run by others. I stopped running it many, many years ago. The other idea I had was an Oscar watching website. Back then, no one was really doing that much online — not for this kind of thing. A few newspapers and magazines had their “OscarWatch” sections, but there wasn’t a site devoted to that practice. So I started one. The idea was to watch films headed for the Oscar race. And oscarwatch.com was born.

I later got sued for using the name Oscar but what I had was the necessary combination of a good idea, a lot of time on my hands and a fire in my belly. As far as blogging and websites go, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. Just because someone has an idea for a site doesn’t mean they are willing to do what I did – which is devote almost all of their time to a singular idea.

A good idea is only half of it. The rest of it is time commitment. Sacrifice. A lot of butt-sitting and typing.

It is not an easy way to make money. But it is a fun thing to do if you have the time and inclination. And so, if you do, I can help you get started by sharing what I know about blogging.

A Good Name

A good site needs a good name. They are hard to come by now because all of the good ones have been purchased already. My advice is to not spend money on a good name. Come up with a different one. The truth is that the content matters a lot more than the name. People will find you if you are writing stuff they are interested in. Your site could be called Purple Frog and be about interior design and if it’s good enough, you have a brand. Don’t bog down on the “perfect name.” Just find a free domain name and run with it.

I usually get my domains from godaddy.com but you can get them anywhere. I advice not getting your domain registration from the place you are getting web hosting because if you ever want to change hosts, you have to always go back to that company to renew your registration. That’s a pain. Keep your domain registered with a 3rd party – like Network Solutions or Godaddy or whatever.

After you have your domain name, you will have to get web hosting. You can start small and then expand if you ever decide you need more bandwidth or space. It will depend on how big your site gets.

I can’t really recommend a good host. I use liquidweb.com but there are plenty of others out there. Liquidweb is the best I’ve come across but for a start-up you shouldn’t pay more than $20 per month for hosting, maybe $30. The ones that are around $5 a month probably aren’t worth the time.

Once you get your hosting site, they will send you a list of instructions.

The first important thing you need are the DNS numbers. These tell your domain name which site they will be attached to. They usually look something like NS1.mywebhosting.com, NS2.mywebhosting.com

These DNS numbers must be re-directed to your hosting account. Once you purchase your domain name you have to point it to your hosting site. On Go Daddy you log in, and the click on “domain manager”. From there, you’ll see where to change your DNS numbers. And they will be a set of numbers given to you by your hosting company.

This dude has made a video on how to do this:

Next, you will need:

Your ftp address
Your online interface to manage your account

FTP, or file transfer protocol, is how you get your files from your home computer to your online server. If you have a good server control panel, you will have a “file manager” and that is basically an online FTP program. That means you can upload and download files to your server via your control panel.

I hardly ever use File Manager. I always use FTP. Since I have a Mac I use Fetch, which is still the best. It only costs around $25. I used to be someone who never paid for software but now I firmly believe in it; these folks work hard to make great products so why not keep them going by paying for their stuff? Sure, you can get it free if you want. But paying is the right way to go.

And anyway, now you don’t really need a lot of fancy software to start a site. You just need a computer and an internet connection. WordPress, and a lot of its themes, are free. There are a wide variety of open source software programs so that you don’t need to pay for a lot. But you may have to pay for an FTP program.

Anyway, FTP simply logs in to your server directly. Usually you have an address like ftp.sashastone.com.

You will always have a login and a password. Either this is separate from your account login, or it is the same. Your web hosting people will send you this info.

This a decent video explaining how to get your FTP info and use Fetch to upload files. Of course, you can use Dreamweaver for all of this. But for now, let’s stick with Fetch.

That’s enough for Part One. Next up, WordPress and image editing.