29.9.05

Website wisdom

I was trying to think of the absolute cheapest and easiest way for an illustrator to have a web presence (the subject of tonight's BiG meeting). A lot of people are frightened of html and programs like Dreamweaver are daunting and over-complicated. I've been interested in the web since the earliest days of Prestel-based Micronet 800 in 1983 (using an acoustic coupler to connect a Sinclair Speccy or BBC B to a telephone handset!) and the pioneering NUJnet in 1992, when I had to dial in to Manchester (from Brighton!) using my little US Robotics Sportster 44k 'stylophone' modem. When Pavilion opened in Brighton in 1994, and offered graphical browsers (NUJnet was entirely text-based - hard to believe now), I was one of their first customers! And when Mistral offered a cheaper service, I moved to them - then to Freeserve (cos it was free!), BT Home Highway ISDN, and now ntl broadband. Someone introduced me to the once free webspace of Geocities (never the same since the Yahoo take-over) and I've had websites there ever since. The first one just comprised centred text and images on a white background (I still have sites like that!), modelled on the clean lines of Salon (which looks so cluttered in its present form) and written in html using PageSpinner to help out. I feel sorry for people starting out now, expected to learn CSS and use scary programs such as Dreamweaver. It seemed so simple back then... 1 To get a toe in the water, open a Flickr account - it’s really for photo sharing, but what’s to stop you uploading illustrations? http://www.flickr.com You’re allowed a 20 Mbyte monthly upload and 3 photosets before you have to upgrade to a paying service ($25 a year). See how other illustrators use Flickr on http://www.flickr.com/groups/35468132865@N01/pool/ NB the terms and conditions say: ‘Flickr is intended for personal use and is not a generic image hosting service. Professional or corporate uses of Flickr are prohibited.’ If you post published material, get the permission of the client or copyright holder. How much? it’s FREE! 2 Start a blog (a web log, or online diary) http://www.blogger.com/ Blogger will host it for you or you can host a blog in your own web space (see below). A nice example of an illustrator’s blog: Jago http://jagoillustration.blogspot.com/ Flickr has a ‘Blog this’ button that automatically puts images into your blog, along with a caption. To get the most out of a blog, you may have to learn a bit of html, for example this piece of code places a link in your text: Here comes a link: <a href="http://www.website_address.com/"> the link text</a>. Homework: learn about Technorati, RSS feeds and stat counters! How much? it’s FREE! 3 Create a portfolio website There are various freeish portfolio websites on the internet, but are limited in scope and appearance and usually want you to upgrade. An example is Voodoochilli, but do a Google for more. http://voodoochilli.net/about.php The most respected pay site (apart from BiG’s own!) is the AOI website http://www.theaoi.com/ How much? a self-managed portfolio of up to 20 images/animations costs £47 a year for AOI members; £60 for non-members. Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) - the company you dial into or buy broadband from – will usually give you ample free web space to host your website – check out their website for details. You can also have your site hosted somewhere else, but it’ll cost you (unless you open a free Virgin account). How much? it’s FREE! You can design your own website by learning a program such as Dreamweaver, GoLive or (for Macs) the easy-peasy wysiwyg Freeway http://www.softpress.com/en/freeway How much? $89 for the starter product. Freeway 4 Preview is a FREE fully functional time-limited version that expires on 16 October 2005. But you can also create your own portfolio site using a program such as JAlbum – a bit fiddly but you don’t need to learn any html. http://jalbum.net/index.jsp How much? it’s FREE! A typical portfolio site will consist of thumbnails (little versions of your image) which when clicked will produce a page (or pop-up window) showing a bigger version. For a neat site, make sure all your thumbnails are the same size, ie 120 x120 pixels and the big pictures are all the same width, ie 550pixels. They only need to be 72dpi, ie screen resolution. Get them ready in Photoshop, with logical names, ie potato.jpg for the big one; potato_t.jpg for the thumbnail. To upload your website from your computer to your free webspace, you’ll need an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program such as Fetch http://fetchsoftworks.com/ How much? it used to be free, but now it’s $25! 4 Get your own domain A domain name such as www.yourname.co.uk will look professional and you’ll be able to change ISPs in future without having to change your stationery every time! A domain is like a PO Box – a message goes to your domain and then gets redirected to your ‘real’ address. This works for websites and email. 123-Reg will let you manage your domain online. Beware of your domain being held to ransom by firms with hidden charges. http://123-reg.co.uk/index.shtml How Much? £6.08 for 2 years for a .co.uk domain; £21.12 for 2 years for a more desirable .com domain 5 Pay someone else to do it If you can’t be doing with all the above, pay someone to do it, but make sure you’ll be able to update your website whenever YOU want to. Tips Learn some html! You’ll need it one day. Learn about CSS (cascading style sheets) – it’s the future! Use Google to find online tutorials. Keep your website simple and accessible. No music! Avoid using Flash, unless you are a Flash animator advertising your wares. It does annoy some people! Avoid an ‘Enter site’ page, let the punters get stuck in straight away. Don’t be shy! Go for it! How to be top of the Google listings Everyone wants that! Google’s algorithm judges the popularity of a website by, amongst other things, the number of other sites that link to yours. So, be generous and link to lots of other sites, then ask them kindly to reciprocate! Homework: learn about Meta tags. Disclaimer: There are other photo sharing etc websites available, but for the sake of simplicity I have given one example of each kind of service or program. Use Google to find others.
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