Building a WEB Ministry
-- the "Nuts n' Bolts"

By Total Love In Christ Ministries

This column will deal with creating
and maintaining an Online Ministry
.

Vol. One-2 --- "Shaping the Void"
* Click for Volume Index *     May 1, 2006

1:2 Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water. 1:3 God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light! 1:4 God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness. 1:5 There was evening, and there was morning, marking the first day. **** Genesis

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 1:2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 1:3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 1:5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it. **** John

Since you are here at Volume 2 of our column, I assume that the Word of God has spoken to your heart regarding you and building a WEB Ministry, and that you are ready to allow His Light to begin to bring substance out of the Void called the "World Wide Web" (Internet). A character in one of C.S. Lewis's books, "The Chronicles of Narnia", who was on a quest that included searching for a lost city, remarked, "We must begin by FINDING the city!" Another character replied, "Could we not begin by LOOKING for it?" We will begin at the Beginning, with the "WEB Trinity" -- Domain, Destination (hosting), and Design (building).

History:

It is always helpful to understand some of the history, background, and technical workings of a new topic. I will present a BRIEF outline here. For those interested in more depth, I refer you to this site: [ www.nethistory.info/index.html ]. There you will find "Everything you ever wanted to know about the Internet" (and much, MUCH more!).

The Internet, or WWW (World Wide Web), is basically a network (interconnection) of individual computers, much like the telephone system is an interconnection of individual phones. Just as each phone has its own unique phone number, so each computer on the net has its own unique identifier or URL ( www.yourcomputer.com ).

In reality, the identifier is actually a rather long number, but there is a system (called DNS) that translates the common URL into the number. These "Name Servers" (along with hardware and software called "routers") also function like the "Central Switching Office" in a telephone network, enabling one computer to connect with another requested computer.

There are a number of what are called "Domain Name Extensions" (.com, .org, .net, .info, .biz, etc.). Originally, all (or at least most) URL's ended in [ .com ]. Today [ .com ], though it can still be used for ANY purpose (actually pretty much any of the names can be), has come to denote a commercial site. [ .org ] is used with other noncommercial organizations, such as schools or government groups. [ .net ] is used for network related enterprises. [ .biz ] is used for eCommerce business sites. [ .info ] is a rather undefined category - we will be considering it later. There are also numerous other special purpose extensions.

You will see various terms that denote different "Net Protocols", such as [ HTTP ], which stands for "Hypertext Transfer Protocol". [ HTTP ] allows us to click on the name of a site and visit it. Simple, but very powerful. A similar [ HTTPS ] denotes a SECURE site, such as banking or other financial institution. [ SMTP ] is the system used to SEND eMail, while [ POP ] is used to RECEIVE eMail. Finally, there is [ FTP ], which is used to directly "upload" files to an Internet site.

We use a number of software programs to access the various parts of the Internet. Perhaps the most common is your "eMail Client" that you use to send and receive eMail. Then there is your "Browser", which is what you use to access the various WEB sites. Most probably use the familiar "MS Internet Explorer". There ARE, however, other browsers -- Netscape, Firefox, and Opera (I use Opera) to name a few. These, however, constitute a VERY small base of users compared to MSIE. I mention them because, when you design your site, you might want to see how it looks on OTHER than MSIE (there ARE subtle differences). There is another program that you will become familiar with, called a "FTP Client". It is what you will use to transfer files from your computer to your WEB Site.

There are a lot of different "tools" available to make using the Net easier and more profitable. We will discuss a number of them in coming issues as they relate to building, publicizing, and maintaining your site. Probably one of the most used and common tools is called a "Search Engine". There are literally millions upon millions of individual sites around the world on the Internet. It would be impossible to find anything without the search engines. What happens is that software programs called "spiders" continually search (crawl) the Internet and categorize the data into huge, searchable databases. There are MANY different search engines - the one that I use most is called "Google".

There are also Yahoo, MSN, AOL, Ask, AltaVista, etc.

Domain:

First thing, if you are going to set up a WEB Ministry (or ANY site), you will need to register your own Domain Name (URL). You must reregister the name EVERY YEAR. If you fail to do so, it will expire and return to the open market. However, you MAY pre-register for multiple years. As explained above, this is how people will find you on the Net. This is a very inexpensive and simple process. To begin, consider a short name that will be descriptive of what your site contains and represents. Next, find out whether or not that name is available. You may do this by going to [ www.whois.net ] and entering your desired name into the "Get your own Domain Name" line. This will tell you whether or not the name is already taken.

You can pretty much use any extension that you wish. [ .org ] is probably usually used for church and religious sites. However, you might want to consider [ .info ]. First, you ARE providing information AND many registrars are offering deals like first year registration for $.99 (or even FREE) on this extension. Two points you need to strongly consider. First -- the name that you choose will be more-or-less permanent. Once your site is connected with a given URL, it is VERY inconvenient to change it because it will be linked to at various other sites, it will be in the search engine databases, and people will have connected you to that URL. Second -- there are MANY Domain Registrar sites. If you opt for an initial one year registration with one, next year you can reregister at another site if they have a better deal. There is no cost to change, and registrars MUST allow you to move your name.

It is a VERY good idea to comparison shop before purchasing ANY Net Service, especially if you are on a tight budget. There are WIDE price differences from one provider to another. The total cash outlay to setup and maintain both of my sites is VERY close to ZERO. We will discuss my "secrets" as we progress. I will often refer you to one or two "Recommended Services" for a specific function. These are merely services that I use and have found to be a good value. Feel free to use Google (or some other search engine) to do your own research. Registration is the first example. Network Solutions [ www.networksolutions.com ] was the original domain name registry service. They are STILL charging the same $35/year fee, even though now there are MANY services, some as low as under $5/year. In terms of overall value, I use [ www.godaddy.com ] to register both of my domains.

Destination:

Good, you have now filed your claim for an address in "Internet Land". The next thing that you need is some "Real estate" to build on. This is where hosting services come in. For a small monthly fee, they rent you disk space and other resources on their computer so that people on the Net can access your site. Some people (foolishly, I think) will set up their own computer as a network node. This means that they host their site on their own dedicated machine. They bear the full brunt of expense to do what another will do better for them for under $5/month !! This makes sense for large organizations, but certainly not for the small user.

At this point, I should mention that you can get FREE hosting from many sources. However, though this may have made sense years ago when hosting was very expensive, with the price of hosting plans today, it makes less than NO sense. I will explain my reasoning on the subject. The first and major drawback is the extreme amount of advertising that they place on your pages. It makes for a very cheap and unprofessional appearance. When I see an organization using a free WEB host with advertising, my first thought is, "Can't they afford $5/month ??" Tripod.com is a VERY good example !!

They are also VERY limited on provided resources. Allotted disk space is usually quite small by today's standards. Paid WEB services often start with at least 1gb of space. Bandwidth is a BIG problem. Bandwidth is how much data (gb) per month that you are allowed to transfer. While the monthly allotment may seem ample, they often (like Tripod) divide the total by hours per month and allot you so many mb PER HOUR. I ran into this problem with Tripod. I had plenty of TOTAL bandwidth, but I might have 50 visitors in one hour and none for the next 5 hours. However, I was overuse for that one hour, so my service was suspended for the next two hours. You can see what this system would do for visitor flow !!

Also, many free services will not let you host program files (.exe or .zip), audio files or video files. Some even limit the size of files in general that you may host. They don't provide eMail, or a multitude of extras that even most "under $5.00 per month" services are providing today.  The upside might be that they DO also provide you with a free domain name tied to their site [ example:  yourname.tripod.com ], so that you CAN get started at no cost

When you do look for a paid host, you will find two types of services -- Linux and Windows. We've listed the major differences between the two that you should consider in making your final decision. In the process, we have also tried to dispel any common misconceptions regarding these platforms. Important: One of the biggest misconceptions is that you have to run Linux on your own computer in order to host your site on a Linux platform. That is not true -- Which operating system you run on your computer is irrelevant in making your decision. This means that if you are running Windows98 or WindowsXP on your computer, you can still choose Linux. So what IS the difference between Linux and Windows?

Linux is an open source system and is therefore more cost-effective to operate and maintain than Windows, meaning that Linux hosting will cost you less than Windows hosting. Linux also has a reputation for stability and speed, which means that Linux web servers will crash less often than Windows web servers, and Linux runs most processes faster than Windows. Linux supports a wide range of software, applications, languages, and databases such as PHP, Perl, PostGre, MySQL, PostgreSQL and many others, making it very scalable. On the downside, Linux is not fully compatible with some Microsoft technologies.

The main "advantage" or distinction of Windows servers is that they can run Microsoft software such as Access and MS SQL databases. Windows servers also offer web developers the use of Microsoft's programming environments such as Active Server Pages (ASP), Visual Basic Scripts and MS Index Server. Users can develop web sites using the familiar interface of Microsoft tools such as Visual Interdev and Microsoft Access. With ASP, users can develop a database-driven web site using Microsoft Access and Microsoft SQL as the database.

Unless you specifically NEED the above mentioned MicroSoft services, my recommendation is to choose the Linux Service. It is usually cheaper, has an excellent control panel for maintaining and configuring your service, and provides more extra services and options. You can still use MS FrontPage to develop your site since most Linux hosts offer free MS FrontPage extensions.

There are many services today for around $5.00/ month (or less) that offer more disk space and bandwidth than you will probably EVER use (look for a minimum 500mb space and 2gb/month of bandwidth), along with a very comprehensive collection of extras. Many will even register your domain name for free. Check this item carefully. Some sites will ONLY give you the first year registration for free, others are free for as long as you host the site. Some sites will also give or allow you MORE than one Domain Name. This means that you can host two or more SEPARATE URL's at the same site (a real money saver). A number of hosting survey sites can he found [ HERE ].

As I research hosting sites, I find that three of the recurring complaints are Technical Support (lack thereof), site uptime, and speed of access. Regarding the third, the problem is too much competition, forcing the prices too low. The host puts too many sites on one server, producing a very sluggish response (like a freeway traffic jam during rush hour).

A brief word in general about uptime and support. Many cheap sites do not have telephone support -- eMail ONLY. This is not acceptable -- Especially for a beginner. When you are evaluating a possible host, contact them to checkout their technical help and support facilities. Can you reach them, how long must you wait for someone, do they know what they are talking about, do they seem to be able to help you in an understandable, intelligent fashion ??

Second to this is site uptime. This is the percentage of downtime vs. uptime. Most good hosting sites boast an uptime of better than 99%, often very close to 100%. After all, what good is a cheap (or free) host if the site is down for most or for long periods of time, or if access is so slow that you have to wait forever for a page to load ?? Both of these are problems that I have been having with my consulting site, and have me considering moving it in the near future.

Also, CAREFULLY look into their satisfaction (money back) policy, as well as their terms as regards terminating the service. I read about people getting burned in these areas !!

Another word about eMail. When you register your domain and get a host, you also get one or more eMail accounts with the format [ yournamechoice@yourdomain.com (info, etc.) ]. You no longer need to concern yourself with an external eMail provider.

For my ministry site (the one hosting this column), I am using a free service for Christian Ministries, [ www.witnesstoday.org ]. They have no advertising on the hosted pages, no maximums or restrictions of ANY type, and offer a considerable array of services, including POP eMail and FREE Domain Name registration. They do, however, have four major drawbacks:
1. - There is NO user control panel. If something needs to be setup or changed, you need to eMail the administrator. This may be very good for the beginner, but gets VERY annoying as you gain more experience.
2. - There is NO phone contact or support. Everything is eMail and online Help Desk.
3. - It is a "one-man operation" The entire hosting service is the work of one person. He has no backup and limited funds. There is no support at night or weekends. If he goes away for a few days or on vacation, there is nobody "minding the shop". By God's grace, there have been no major mishaps since I have been hosting with them. Odds say, however, that one day there will be -- SYSTEMS FAIL!!
4. - Closely related to item 3, the owner regards this hosting service as a "ministry" rather than as a business service. I have had a small amount of eMail correspondence with him, and he seems to be a very dedicated Christian, very submitted to the Lord, and intent on running this "ministry" in such a way as to please and glorify Him. However, this concept COULD lead to some problems if YOU regard a hosting service as a business whose purpose is to provide YOU with a reliable Internet host (which, incidently, is what I believe).

This is a PS added on 05/31/06 -- Well as "prophesied" a month ago, the inevitable has happened !! The entire hosting server went down on 05/26, and I just got a phone call TODAY indicating that Paul Hester, the host owner, is out of town, and will be for another 8 or so days. The server will stay down till then. If you can live with this, give them a try -- I couldn't !! I changed hosts yesterday.

I now host both of my sites on one account at [ WEBHostingBuzz.com ]. Their lowest priced plan starts at $6/month for massive space and bandwidth, with a whole basketfull of included options and features. Limited Time Offer -- Use code "GONECRAZY" for 75% off !! Reliability seems to be acceptable, though NOT exceptional. One drawback for a novice would be eMail ONLY technical support !!

Design:

Now that you have a name and a place to build, we are ready to actually "Build the House", to design the site. We will begin on this in our next issue. See you then !!

Till then, here are a couple of resources that you can take a look at: First, two WEB pages with many good links to many helpful sites [ www.totlogcon.com/bussop1.htm ] and [ www.totlogcon.com/hotlnk1.htm ]. Second, I have a Seminar CD that I put together for the setting up of an eBook eCommerce business. However, the general information, tools, tips, and software would be of immense value in ANY Internet venture.

Just a brief word about my background. I am and have been a Computer Consultant for over 30 years -- 15 of them with IBM mainframes and 15 of them with PC hardware, software, and WEB design. I am also an ordained minister and hold a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies. I am the director of Total Love in Christ Ministries, located at:   [ www.tlchrist.info ].   My consulting site is at:   [ www.totlogcon.com ].

Yours in Christ till
our next meeting;

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