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I wanted to take the time to talk about something that is blatantly overlooked in the DIY community... DIY websites and forums.  There is a ton of information flying around the internet these days, but people often never stop to mention how you too can publish your thoughts and works.  A major source of the power of the current DIY movement is the fact that hobbyists are able to have a voice and input.

Joomla - Content Management Systems (CMS)

CMS are software systems that provide the flexibility to easily publish your text and media.  They have improved a lot over the years, and the current offerings are very feature-rich.  Most of them provide "What You See Is What You Get" (WYSIWYG) editors, categories and organizational containers, configurable areas of the display page, 3rd party plugins for adding functionality, and rich template-based site design.  I've tried a number of CMS, some several times over the years, including Xoop, Drupal, phpNuke, Joomla, and Expression Engine (not free).  By far, I was most satisfied with Joomla.  (This site runs Joomla.)

Joomla is a high-quality, open-source CMS.  It is incredibly popular, and you would probably be surprised to find out just how many sites use it, many of which are camouflaged by it's fantastic and powerful template system.  It has the support of thousands of third party extension (plugin) developers, most of who's products are free, or low-cost.

Installation is a snap, and consists of setting up a database (DB) for it to use, uploading the files to your web host, accessing the site URL with a browser to use a simple 5-minute installer, and pointing the install to your DB.  After that, Joomla's tutorial will quickly guide you down the path of setting up your complete site, including menus and content categories.

The fantastic extension support can be a blessing and a curse.  There are probably extensions out there for anything you'd want, from charging subscriptions to content areas to building 3D animated photo galleries.  It can be hard to know which ones are good picks, and you can spend hours trying them all out.  Here are some of my favorites, based on many hours of trial and error, combined with personal opinion of course.

  • Backup:
    • Akeeba Backup: Can create full file system backups combined with DB backups.
  • Image Display / Galleries:
    • RokBox: A multimedia display product that can display single images and videos of many types, and can even create slideshows and animations.  The developers, Rocket Theme, make a fantastic array of Joomla plugins, as well as Joomla and phpBB themes.
    • Very Simple Image Gallery:  Creates nice image galleries with thumbnails.
    • Simple Image Gallery / Pro:  Feature rich image gallery creator, that offers a $13 Pro version with advanced features such as captions.
    • YooGallery:  YooGallery is a very simple but elegant image gallery creator.  It requires the purchase of a subscription, starting at about $50, that gives access to YooGallery and many more great extensions.
  • Shopping Cart:
    • VirtueMart:  An extremely powerful and comprehensive shopping cart system.  NOTE: This has a conflict that does not allow it to work if RokBridge phpBB forums bridge is installed.  This is pretty much the 500lb gorilla of Joomla carts, and has hundreds of extensions to increase its capabilities.
    • RokQuickCart: A very simple one-page cart, that lets you set up to sell a few items in minutes, and accept PayPal and Google payments.
  • Calendars:
    • GCalendar: Simple integration and display of a Google Calendar.
  • Templates:  Joomla has powerful design templating, letting you download a visual style package and start your site looking great in one shot.
    • Rocket Theme:  Rocket Theme is a master design firm, creating some of the most visually interesting and professional-looking templates around.  While they offer a couple simple templates for free, the majority of them require subscription to their club starting at $50.
    • YooTheme: Another professional template club, starting at $50, that delivers great looking templates.

Forums

Once you've got your Joomla site up, and you're creating content, you'll want to provide your followers with a forum to converse.  Like CMS, forum software is more powerful and easier to get running than ever.  There are several forum suites available, including vBulletin (not free), Kunena (Joomla integrated forums), and phpBB.  By far, my favorite is phpBB.  It sports a powerful set of features, easy setup and moderation, and comprehensive updates.

Be sure to check out Rocket Theme's fantastic line of reasonably priced style themes for phpBB, all made to match their line of style templates for Joomla.

If you use both Joomla and phpBB, Rocket Theme makes a wonderful plugin called RokBridge.  RokBridge lets users log into either the phpBB or Joomla site, and the login follows them to the other site, while syncing user data.

Hosting

Now that you know a little about a couple great software packages to get your ideas on the web, you might wonder where do you PUT them on the web?  There are many great hosting companies out there, most of which offer space to house your website for pennies a day.  I've used numerous hosts over the years, including Host Gator and 1&1.  I find 1&1 to be a great service, at a very good price, and recommend them highly.

You may wonder why I saved hosting for last.  It's simply because it helps to know what you want to host, before you go buying packages to store it.  I know it seems backwards, but if you've made it this far in the process, you probably have a decent idea of what you want to install on your site, and how big it will be, which will let you choose appropriate hosting.

Domain Names

The final thing you will need is a domain name.  If you're not very web savy, you may not understand how domain names work.  Domain names are part of the Domain Name Server (DNS) system, which converts alphanumeric text names into IP addresses.  Think of it like a phone book, determining the relationship between each name and phone number.  Now that you have hosting, which provides a server with an IP address (the computer's "phone number"), you can register a name to point at that number.

NOTE: Be certain that your hosting package does not provide a free/discounted domain registration.  Most do, including most of 1&1's packages.  If your hosting doesn't provide a domain name registration, they typically cost $6-20 per year to buy.  If you need a domain name registrar to use, I recommend GoDaddy, which is one of the oldest registrars around.

Now for some bad news, your clever domain name you just thought up is already taken.  Because domain names are so cheap, enterprising people have registered almost every possible combination of real words.  They do this because they then want to try to get you to pay them thousands of dollars to release the name so that you can have it to buy.  It's an understandable scheme, but it's unpleasant for us "little guys" where it doesn't make sense to pay so much.  But you have a few options.

First, these domain squatters usually only register .COM domain names.  That means that you might have a chance to register MyDomain.NET or MyDomain.INFO, if MyDomain.COM is taken.  All these other alternatives work just the same as .COM, so don't worry.  The extensions are called Top Level Domains (TLDs), and there are many of them, including .COM, .NET, .BIZ, .US, .ME, .INFO, and .TV.

If alternate TLDs of your chosen domain name are not available, it's time to get creative.  You might be able to add words like "The", "Site", or "Online" to your domain name, if they make sense, such as MyDomainSite.com or MyDomainOnline.com.  You may also be able to use clever, humorous, or phonetic spellings, such as MyShoppe.com instead of MyShop.com, or MyXtremeSite.com instead of MyExtremeSite.com.  I caution you to keep in mind how easily it is to tell (speak) your domain name to people.  You don't want to be constantly trying to tell your family about the crazy phonetic spelling of the words you chose... keep it simple.

Once you've registered a name you like, it's usually a simple matter to point the DNS record at your web hosting server.  The domain registrar will have guides and support that can help you get it done.  It takes up to 24 hours for the settings to take effect.

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