So ... you want to have a website? Pay attention. I think I can help you.
For a while now, I've been thinking about trying to put my small amount of web hosting knowledge to use in an informative and educational way. Whenever someone says to me "umm, what exactly is web hosting" and I try to explain, I realize that making the leap from the idea that you can have a website (which to most people, is just a domain name) to the actual idea of having some disk space and cpu cycles on some box out in the world isn't an intuitive leap for people.
After putting some thought into it, I'm not too surprised. Web hosting isn't obvious or intuitive. Particularly shared web hosting, where you're actually splitting up resources with some number of other folks. Web hosting can be complex and confusing, with competing hosts simply trying to one up each other overselling their resources. In the end, for most folks, they look at one plan and say "Holy crap! 500 GB of disk space! 100 GB of bandwidth! Unlimited email addresses! That's awesome!"
And two years later they're still using 10 MB of disk space, 50 MB of bandwidth, and 2 email addresses.
The bottom line is that most people don't need the maximum amenities. That's what web hosts are expecting: the average customer is going to be attracted by out of this world options and use 1% of them. It makes the shared hosting world go round.
How does all of this tie back into helping you get a website? Well, to have a website you need some sort of web hosting. We'll divide them into three groups: free, shared, and dedicated. Your first major decision will be deciding which type of hosting you need. To determine that you need to answer one simple question ...
What do you want a website for?
Seems like a pretty obvious -- and easy -- question, right? Well, what do you want your site for? Do you just want a domain name so that you can have email address like [email protected]iamsoooooocool.com? Do you want a blog like all the cool kids? Do you want a full-fledged site that you might eventually turn into a small side business? Or do you want an eCommerce site that will be your main source of income?
There's all sorts of gradients and mixes here, but you can probably fit your idea into one of those groups.
I want a coolass email address!
If you're just looking for a cool email address, well, then you actually don't even need a website! What you probably need is just an email plan, where you can get a domain name and have it hosted somewhere that will host email for you. These plans run as cheaply as just a few bucks a year (plus whatever you pay for your coolass domain name).
I want a blog!
If all you want is a blog, then you're in luck! Like the email plan, you probably don't even web hosting. Instead, you probalby want to check out something like Blogger, or Windows Live Spaces, or Wordpress.com and get one of their fun, free blogging accounts. In many cases, you can even point a domain name at it.
See, two situations where people often think they need some sort of exhaustive web hosting, where what they really need is to just take advantage of some of the free (or nearly free) resources out there.
I want my own small little corner of the internet!
I want to get my business online!
Both of these options do require some web hosting. And we'll discuss them in Part Two.