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Building a Web Site to Document Your RV Build Project & Travels
Building a web site for your online RV build log and/or travels once flying is not nearly as hard as you might think. The biggest reason for doing all this, of course, is it gives you total control over how your information is presented. There are several online solutions already in place (blogger, web-based services, etc) that give you some input over how things are displayed, but if you want the entire creative reigns, then nothing beats doing it yourself. Do you want a great big old honkin' splash screen with an image of your latest favorite picture (like I did on deltaromeo.com)? Do you want a video clip embedded into a page (like this one with me using the Bogert Tow Bar)? Do you want to have the images you upload default to 900 pixels wide? Doing it yourself gives you these options and much more! I've found over the past ten years that I like to change the look and feel of my site every so often. It's not a big deal to do.
I've been pondering an article like this for some time and am finally getting around to doing it. I'll assume for this piece that you use a PC (not a Mac). The theory still applies to almost any operating system and applications exist for them all.
OK, stripping it down to its bare essence, you'll be working with nothing more than: 1) a glorified word processor, then 2) saving a copy of the files you create to another computer somewhere in the world that your 'domain' name points to (ex. www.StansRV7A.com). It's just pretty easy, actually.
Getting it set up the first time is the hard part. If you have your 15yr old cousin over for dinner he'll probably do it for you. Once all the stuff is in place and working right you'll find that making changes to your site is not difficult at all. Let's begin with what you'll need...
- Buy some web authoring software, or get that cousin to give you the software he's not using that came with his computer. I currently use Microsoft FrontPage to do the VAF site (all except the forums), mostly because it is SIMPLE, it's paid for and doesn't use a lot of computer horsepower. When I purchased it it was $99 at Fry's Electronics. In a previous life I used the super professional stuff, like Dreamweaver and MS Visual Studio. I don't miss them, actually. FrontPage has been replaced by 'MS Expression Web Designer, but I'm happy with my 2003 version of FrontPage for the time being. Did I mention it was simple? Two of the main reasons I like it are 1) its word processor-type feel and 2) the 'auto-thumbnail' feature. When you insert an image you can click on it with the mouse and press Ctrl-T. This creates a smaller 'thumbnail' image instantly that, when clicked on, brings up the larger image.
- There are many web authoring applications and most of them work like a word processor. Don't worry, you don't really need to learn any 'code'. If you've ever used MS Word you're 85% of the way there.
- Microsoft will let you use their 'Expression Web' software FREE for 60 days to see if you like it. Click here to download it.
Here is a screen shot of the
software I use to create the VAF site.
Looks like a word processor, doesn't it?
- Buy some web space somewhere to host your creation.
- Something like this will get you 5GB of disk space for $7.95/mo (and you can try it free for 30 days to see if you like it). There are literally tens of thousands of Internet Service Providers (ISP) to choose from. I host the VAF site over 500 miles from my home, so distance really shouldn't be an issue. Van's Aircraft does the same.
- Buy a domain name. NetworkSolutions.com and GoDaddy.com are two popular places to do this. Anywhere from $8-$40/yr. Once you buy the name have the people who you bought your web space from 'point' your name to the spot on their server that they assign to you.
- Buy an FTP client to upload the images and text you create at home to your online web space. I use cuteFTP from Globalscape. $40. Drag and drop...couldn't be easier, and unlike some of the 'professional' applications, doesn't require a super fast connection (translation: you can upload changes in a field at OSH using your cellular modem). You can use it free for 30 days.
My FTP client (I use cuteFTP). The 'window' on the left is my home computer's hard drive, the
'window' on the right is the web server (in another city) that I'm copying the changed files up to.
You simply drag the file from one window over to the other and watch the progress of the upload in the bottom 'window'.
Like I said, it's not rocket surgery <g>.
- Buy some graphics software (or not) to tweak your digital pictures. Something like Adobe Photoshop Elements ($99) will suit most needs if you want to get fancy with the pictures. When you start shooting hundreds of photos at a time (like on a trip), you can use Google's FREE Picasa program to find the keepers very quickly. It's what I use. If I need to work on a single image in the group more intensely (like removing dust dots that got on the sensor) I pull it into Photoshop.
If you find you do the same things over and over to your pictures to get them ready for the web, you can create an 'action' in Photoshop (other programs will call them something else, maybe a 'macro'). For example, I recorded an 'action' of me resizing the image to 400 pixels wide, auto-sharpening it, and auto-correcting the color and contrast. So, the next time you see an image on the VAF front page that is 400 pixels wide you'll know that it got that way with one click of the mouse. Here are two screen shots showing an example before and after. Note that you select the 'action' and then click the 'play' icon.
before using Photoshop 'action'
after using Photoshop 'action'
Recapping, once you own a domain name (ex. www.StansRV-7.com), web authoring software, a FTP client and some graphics software, it is essentially like opening up your word processor and typing on a letter. Then you simply drag and drop the changes up to your server space. Easy as pie and you have complete control over how it is displayed. If you download and use the free 60 day web authoring software up top and use the 30 free trial for web space and the 30 day free ftp client software, you're only out the cost of the domain name (and you never know when you'll need that domain name, so buying it isn't really a bad choice anyway).
- Utilize free sites like Picasa's Web Albums to host the dozens of images you took at the latest fly-in. It doesn't take up ANY of your web disk space and their architecture is robust enough to handle a few thousand people viewing them simultaneously. You can upload dozens of images with one click of the mouse.
Other upsides: If your Internet provider goes belly up you still have all the code on your computer at home. Find another Internet provider, have them redirect your domain name to this 'new' location and upload your files using your FTP client. In no time you can have the entire site 'live' in its new location.
Hope you found some of this useful.