Author Topic: Best Of Interactive Clinic Week 11 - Building a Website about Building Your Layout.  (Read 8786 times)

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wm3798

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Okay, so we've covered a number of aspects about the construction of our layouts, and I've noticed that a lot of us are using our own websites as a way of keeping the world at large abreast of our various achievements.  There's still a lot of us, though, who throw photos into an on-line bucket, and then post our work via various blogs and forums.

I'd like to explore some of the options that are available to us for building and hosting our own layout websites, including free and paid services, what kind of content management you're using, where you host your photos and why you prefer that, and perhaps a discussion of how frequently you update your content.

I think this might be an opportunity to move some of the forum-based guys into the realm of having their own actual web page.

I believe this is a timely discussion, as many of us have complained about the lack of good content in the print media, or the amount of time an author typically has to wait before an article gets picked up.  The internet has really blown the lid off of how information gets shared, but it still has it's strengths and weaknesses.

In fairness to the non-website members here, if there is a particular layout website that has really impressed you, please post the link here, and explain what it is that makes it click (or point and click! ;D) for you.

Begin...

Lee
« Last Edit: October 11, 2015, 05:02:23 PM by tom mann »
Route of the Alpha Jets

Lee Weldon www.wmrywesternlines.net

davefoxx

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Lee,

Great topic.  I admit that I am one of the "forum-based guys," who doesn't know the slightest thing about building and hosting a website.  Heck, it wasn't even several months ago that I didn't know how to use the online hosting sites for photos, e.g., Photobucket.  Some very kind forumers walked me through that lesson.

So, if you all can keep that in mind in your posts to this topic.  That is, dumb it down for the ignorant souls such as myself.   ;D

Dave Foxx

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railbuilderdave

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Since I work on a web site at my job I have a lot of experience with this subject.  More than is needed for just getting a site for your railroad on-line.  First thing you need to determine is do you want to pay money or do it free.  There are ways you can have your site done for free as I have for now with the site in my sig.  It's hosted by http://www.t35.com/ and the URL (web address) is not a domain name I choose 100%.  The "t35.com" is part of the name.  If you want to have the web address be your railroad name only (http://www.[your name here] then you will likely need to pay for the site.  I don't know a place to hose names for free but someone may know.  Do a google search for "web site hosting" or "free web site hosting" and check out those links.  Remember you don't need to give info like cc for free sites so if they ask go to one of the other sites.

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shark_jj

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This is a timely topic since I have been trying to figure out how I can do my own website.  I am not hung up on the free hosting vs paid hosting since from what I can gather the paid hosting is about the cost of a MT freight car per year.  What hangs me up is the software.  What is it that people commonly use, Windows Frontpage has its detractors though I suspect it is Windows Menu based and easy to use, others talk about HTML which sounds like you need to know a programming language.  I would like to know from someone like Lee who has done it whether it is difficult or easy to get your website up and running.

DKS

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I'm paid to build websites and code web-based applications, plus I have a generous web host account for nearly a dozen commercial and non-commercial sites, so I have an unusually large sandbox and lots of toys.

My recommendation for non-web oriented folks and/or those on a budget is to explore blogging services, like Blogger. They offer opportunities to make pretty sophisticated-looking websites using simple blog tools (just because it's called a "blog" doesn't mean it has to be a blog). There are some examples on the web that are quite impressive. In concert with free image hosting sites, like Picasa, you can get a substantial, good-looking, ad-free website online for nothing. Plus, you don't really need to know HTML (which isn't a coding language, just a system of tags to format plain text, build tables, insert photos and such).

"Traditional" hosted websites do require the builder to choose some kind of editing/publishing tool. Some hosts provide their own suite of tools, but they are often limiting and buggy. FrontPage isn't as bad as some claim, DreamWeaver isn't as great as others claim, and in the end, I know several guys who went from zero knowledge to impressive website in a few months, graduating from authoring applications to doing their own code by hand (ultimately, many people gravitate to coding by hand because the tools wind up putting too much useless garbage code between the user and the web page). HTML is simple, really. The message editor in this forum, for example, exposes users to a simplified version of HTML.

I've been experimenting with a few blog-based sites in addition to several "traditional" websites that I publish. (In the latter category I do all of the coding by hand, which is kind of a force of habit since I started building websites back when HTML was first introduced and there were no editors. I do get satisfaction from doing it this way as well.)

This is my currnet stable of model railroading-oriented websites:

The White River and Northern is a "traditional" site about my N scale layouts and modeling.

The James River Branch is another "traditional" site about my Z scale modeling.

American Z Scale is a Z scale information resource. It is a database-driven web application (MS Access and "classic" ASP).

1:87, 1:160, 1:220 and 1:450 are all blog-based sites. They're kind of freeform, stream-of-consciousness blogs about my efforts in each of the four scales.

I also did Rick Spano's website, The Sceniced and Undecided Railway.

Several other railwire members are web developers as well, so there is no shortage of web expertise to be found here.
« Last Edit: June 22, 2008, 07:20:53 PM by David K. Smith »
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railbuilderdave

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This is a timely topic since I have been trying to figure out how I can do my own website.  I am not hung up on the free hosting vs paid hosting since from what I can gather the paid hosting is about the cost of a MT freight car per year.  What hangs me up is the software.  What is it that people commonly use, Windows Frontpage has its detractors though I suspect it is Windows Menu based and easy to use, others talk about HTML which sounds like you need to know a programming language.  I would like to know from someone like Lee who has done it whether it is difficult or easy to get your website up and running.

I'm sure there are many programs out there for free or cheap that can be used to create HTML pages.  To create an web page isn't to hard (to read code). You can "view source" from view menu and see how the current page you are viewing was built.  I use professional software like David Smith said.  If you have applications from Microsoft or Adobe I would learn those but you may find all you need from the site providers tools.  That could be all you need to create your site.
Dave
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shark_jj

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David Smith and Railbuilderdave, the information you have provided is very informative.  I have a number ber of questions which might sound simplistic but are representative of my complete lack of knowledge of this subject.  I have looked at a number of free webhosting sites and some have a limit on site size, for example 110 Meg,  David, how big is your site?  I have no means of understanding whether 110 Meg or any other size is a limitation or if it is nothing to worry about.  Railbuilderdave, I note that you have used a free webhosting service t35.com for your site.  What advantages/disadvantages have you found using a free service vs one of those that charges you $5 per month or some similar amount.  Lee if you read this, it appears that you have chosen not to use a free service.  Why this choice?  I'm still trying to gain a better understanding of what is the best direction to take.

Dave V

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I use InMotion hosting...  I pay $6/month for my own domain.  I don't recall the total space we have, but I'm nowhere close to using it all.

We have a family website:

http://www.thevollmerfamily.com/

...form which is linked my railroad website:

http://www.thevollmerfamily.com/Pennsy/index.html

I have a construction page detailing my layout's evolution step-by-step:

http://www.thevollmerfamily.com/Pennsy/Construction/index.html
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wm3798

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Okay, I started this mess, so I guess I'll fill in some of the blanks.

The first thing I did was consult with my personal internet guru, a certain Mr. Kapuscinski.  He and I were working on setting up a commercial site for a client of mine, so we piggybacked some time to create the bones of what became my layout site, www.wmrywesternlines.net.

My hosting service is 1&1 Internet, and it runs about $24 for 6 months.  This covers both my own commercial site, www.wildcardgraphics.biz, as well as the WM site, plus my Coppermine photo gallery.

Ed set my commercial site up with a custom content management system that he designed, which allows me to upload things like .pdf files, and other larger stuff.  I use this mostly for my commercial site, but it also hosts my layout time table, a scenery tutorial that's based in power point, and a few other odds and ends.

All of my other WM images are hosted at the Coppermine site http://www.wmrywesternlines.net/gallery/index.php, although I've started toying around with Picassa.  So far I prefer the Coppermine set up, as it is clearer (at least in my mind) how to organize the galleries to make sense for people who visit.  I don't like that it requires me to resize my images smaller before I can upload them.  Picassa is more accessible for larger format images.

For the WM site, my editing is done on Snippet Master Lite, again set up by Ed.  He set it up so my web pages have a two column format, which this old newspaper editor likes.  The downside is I can only edit one column at a time, so I have to go back and forth to make sure that images are lining up with captions if one is on the left and the other is on the right.  Snippet Master is stupid simple to use, but it has its ticks, such as it only works with Internet Explorer, and applying anchor tags to images is less straightforward than it should be.

Some of the design elements that I think work include the following...
White background with black type.  To me it's just easier to read than white or yellow type reversed out of a black background.
Interesting Page Layouts - The two column format allows me to cheat a larger picture into a page with type wrapping around it.  It's an old print media trick that makes the page more interesting to look at.  Too many web sites are "long column of type, photo.  Long column of type. Photo.  Yawn."  This page is a good example of what I'm talking about:  http://www.wmrywesternlines.net/ops_papermill.php
No Dead Ends - All of the pages offer a link back to home and back to the section at the bottom of the page.  I hate when I get to the bottom of a long page only to find I have to scroll all the way back up to find a way out.
Logical Flow of Information - I break my presentation down into reasonable bite-size morsels, giving each it's own page (within reason).  This creates the need for "chapter" pages, that offer the visitor a menu of options.  These are reached from the main menu, which is incorporated into the header graphic at the top of each page.  Here's a sample:  http://www.wmrywesternlines.net/projects.php
Common, Interesting Graphics - I use a particular font for all of my page headers, and I build them up as graphic images, rather than using the type formatting available in Snippet Master.  These graphics match the font in the main banner at the top of each page, so there is a coherent look to the site.  There's still a few I have to fix, but generally they look like this...

I start by typing my header into MSWord, then apply the "Word Art" feature that offers a simple outline graphic.  I change the font to Rockwell, set the point size to the appropriate level, then modify the fill color to gold.  This can then be copied out of Word, and pasted into MS Paint, to be saved as a jpeg image file.  This is then uploaded to the Coppermine Gallery, where it is accessed by the website to appear on the page.  I'm sure this is fairly primitive, but it works for me, and also allows me to put a nice magazine cover style image on my home page.

I simply copy and paste the Word Art into the photo using the Paint program.
Frequent Updates and "What's New" - I don't like for the site to get stale, so I rotate the home page image periodically, usually quarterly to reflect the changing seasons, and I try to keep up with the progress I'm making both on the layout and in my modeling.  I have a lot of catching up to do, but when I do an update, I add the most recent changes to the "What's New" menu on the home page.
YouTube - If you have a video of your layout, put it on YouTube, and link it to your website.  This couldn't be easier.  I have several that I've put together, which I rotate on the home page, and some I've embedded into certain pages where it's appropriate.
Links to Other Sites - http://www.wmrywesternlines.net/links.php To me, this is where the internet really shines.  It gives me the opportunity to send my visitors to other sites that offer more information about certain aspects of my layout and my prototype, or to sites that have been useful to me in my modeling.  Sort of a living Bibliography.  Also, I provide a brief description of the site they are about to link to, and why I thought they might like to go there.  It's a little more "human" than a raw list of links.  I've tried to make each link open in a new page, too, so they don't lose my site while they are surfing over to another.

I've been complimented frequently about my site... A lot of that is due to Ed's basic set up.  I hope this information is helpful.

Lee
Route of the Alpha Jets

Lee Weldon www.wmrywesternlines.net

John

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This is about as far as I have gotten in the last year or so ..

http://www.nscaler.net/

DKS

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I pay for hosting space for a lot of reasons. First, like lunch, there's no such thing as totally free hosting—you pay for it either through ads, or incredibly limited bandwidth (the amount of data transferred from the host to visitors over a unit of time), or flaky service. Or, as in the case of several sites done by friends, the host just suddenly dries up and blows away, often without warning.

This is one reason I am becoming an advocate of the mainstream blogging services for free hosting, because they are much more reliable—Google is certainly not about to dry up and blow away—and they're ad-free. It's just that you're limited by what you can do with the blogging tools; traditional hosting gives you carte blanche on page layout, navigation and other features. Which is a double-edged sword—it means you will need to plan everything from scratch, or perhaps use a canned theme from a publishing tool.

The hosting service I pay for costs about $15 a month. Since I host several sites with one account (my account allows for unlimited domain names), it ultimately doesn't cost me much, since I "sublet" some of my space. These accounts take up a tiny fraction of the 15 gigabyte space allotment, so I have loads of room in which to "play" with my personal sites.

There are many decent web hosting companies out there that offer rock-bottom hosting packages for as little as $7.99 a month. However, you need to be aware of the type of hosting offered from a technical standpoint; I needed Windows hosting (relatively rare) so that I could make use of Access databases and other Microsoft programming tools. (I'm not a Microsoft groupie by any means, it's just what I am required to use at work, so it's what I'm most familiar with).

Examples of space requirements: My White River and Northern website presently consumes about 30 megabytes, roughly 1 megabyte of which is taken up by the web pages themselves; the rest is all consumed by images. Text takes almost no space compared to images, so if you plan on having a lot of pics, that's where you'll need the room. That's why some sites (ones that have very small host space allotments) rotate out their image galleries.

With very few exceptions, all of my web pages are "static"—that is, they're not generated by a web information management utility, like Lee's. It's a matter of personal choice, as well as what you're comfortable using. Since most websites are pretty much static pages assembled together like a book, information management utilities can be a little overkill—they're more suited to commercial websites. But that's also a matter of opinion; you'll find some who advocate information management software for practically everything. One thing it does do is "automate" certain aspects of page layout: you create a template with a header and footer, and it fills the content in on the fly for every page. But we can spend a great deal of time exploring the many facets of these and other technical options—something for another day.

As to guidelines for building websites, I drafted a "10 biggest mistakes in web design" list some time ago. When you surf the internet either for a living or for fun, you tend to find that there are way, way more bad websites out there than good. So the list grew out of the frustration of trying to slog through all of the internet garbage. I posted the list here, in case anyone wants a gander (it is pretty long and detailed):

http://whiteriverandnorthern.net/editorial_06.htm

It reflects personal opinion, of course, but many of the rules are acknowledged by most developers and web usability gurus as basic common-sense guidelines that have been around since the beginning of the internet. As the internet evolves, some of the rules may change subtly, but not much. Also, the rules will apply variously according to the purpose of a website—for instance, if the site is about video games, then it will likely have animations.
"Life's a piece of sh!t when you look at it."
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diezmon

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I write code, html and otherwise, for a living.. so my own code projects lag behind.

here's my simple family site:  http://home.comcast.net/~dellwoodtim/

and my current model railroading site  ;)

http://media.diezfamily.us/images/Hobby/myLayout/tni_index.html

So much to update, so little time.  I always meant to update my site to reflect what I'm doing, but it's just too much work.

shark_jj

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Excellent information guys, I understand the process and my options a lot more clearly now.

Ed Kapuscinski

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So of course this thread gets started while I'm too busy (doing paying web work) to really say much.

There are a couple ways to go about building a web presence for your work. I think that's the way to think about it, since you don't necessarily have to build a "site".

I'm going to split my thoughts out into a couple different posts.

Ed Kapuscinski

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The first thing I would do would be go get a google account. This gives you access to gmail, blogger, google analytics, picasa, google docs, iGoogle, and a bunch of other really good services.

Picasa is free web photo hosting. You can upload pics, geotag them and add captions and additional info about pics. I do this for all my photo hosting, mostly because it's just easier than running my own gallery, even though I do that too. Picasa has some decent image editing tools on the PC and will automatically resize images for you as well. Take a look at my gallery, it's a mix of railroad and personal stuff. Speaking of which, you can also set galleries that are only visible to people you give the direct link.
Here's the public gallery: http://picasaweb.google.com/ed.kapuscinski
And here's a gallery you can't get to without a direct link: http://picasaweb.google.com/ed.kapuscinski/RDGGP35s?authkey=M7QQR5GAJq8

Google also runs Blogger. Blogger is a tool designed to run blogs, but what is a blog other than a simple website? Nothing!

David has expounded on blogs, but I'd like to reiterate that it's probably the best way to get started.

In the same realm is YouTube.

It's amazing, but you really can do almost all of the core things that any web content management system does using free tools from google. I think they also even offer a free static page building tool. The only thing you can't control are urls and look and feel. But the images and text are REALLY the important thing.