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What to look for in a Web hosting plan

If you don’t know where to start when it comes to choosing between Web hosting plans, or worse, the thought of committing to a plan raises so many questions it causes you to lose sleep, read on. Few things are more frustrating than being forced to make important decisions when you feel that your lack of knowledge now, could lead to problems later. Selecting a Web hosting plan can be just that kind of situation, so if you feel the urge to rush in and sign with the cheapest plan just to get the job done, our advice is to wait, and read the few words here. Experience has taught us that if you at least get clear about what you need, then you stand a better chance of a pain free relationship with your Web host. And this can ultimately mean a better experience for your site visitors and clients.

Are you the web designer or the site owner, or both?

If site design and administration is out of your hands it makes economic sense to use a host with efficient modern interfaces for accessing your site so that it is speedier for your designer to work on your site.  Choose a host that provides the popular cpanel interface, and try to find a service that is located not too geographically distant from you and your target audience. Judging how far is too far is not easy because Internet communications are invariably fast these days, but finding a host within your national boundaries does assure you that response times for page requests are likely to be good, and it provides the added security of knowing that your service is covered by local telecommunications laws and standards.

The quality of help provided by your host is very important

Your designer will on occasion need to contact the host for details related to the setup and running of your site, and if the help centre is based off-shore expect delays and communication challenges in these dealings. The down side of committing to a host that provides a local help centre is that you will invariably pay a little more. The balance between cost and the convenience of local support is something to discuss with your Web designer. An experienced designer can probably manage with minimal host support, but if your site depends on a high percentage of uptime and quick resolution for service problems, a cheaper solution is probably not in your best interests. 

Do you intend to provide ecommerce?

If yes, you will need a reliable host with excellent up times, and help that fixes problems fast. If you are handling visitor purchases and passing these details on to financial organisations you are generally advised to consider moving up from a ‘basic’ hosting plan. Cheaper plans usually mean more sites running on the same server. This way the host provides economy of scale, but the down side, and it can be a big one for ecommerce, is that the same band-width provided by your host server is shared across a large number of sites. This can lead to slow response times, and if the potential for frustrating your visitors isn’t bad enough, it also introduces the possibility of timeouts and therefore failures when transactions are being passed to payment services. Also, having your site sit on the same server as perhaps hundreds of others means greater exposure to security threats. Security holes in other sites on the same server introduce risk to your site, and there is also the possibility that other account holders on this service might deliberately introduce malicious code or attempt to access other sites residing there. Bottom line, this is unlikely, but a crowded neighbourhood exposes you to more unknown neighbours.  

Your designer will make hosting recommendations

Do some research on the host services they suggest. If uptime is vital, look for reports about outages for these hosts. Do users feel outages have been acceptable and handled well? If there are only a few negative reports then perhaps these can be discounted since people generally are less inclined to report good news, but if the Web seems full of bad reviews about your potential host then think twice before you decide to go with them.


The management of your domain name deserves special consideration

Your domain name is your street address on the Web. You would like to know that people can always find you there. The temptation for you and your designer might be to lump all of your sites and domain names together in one convenient place, with the one host. This seems efficient, especially if the temptation to do so was motivated by competitive pricing. Unfortunately there is a downside to this approach. If for some reason you become dissatisfied with your host and decide to move your site to another provider, you will need your domain name to come along too. This generally means finding another domain registrar that you are happy to have managing your domain, and getting them to contact your current host/registrar on your behalf to make the transfer. Any communication delays during this process can mean delays in getting your site back up and online with your new provider. Managing your domain names via a registrar service that is independent from your Web host avoids this potential delay when moving a site.

That’s not all

There are many other possible considerations. Will your site feature video content or high resolution photos? These types of files will require reasonable bandwidth in order for your visitors to get the most from them. Speak to your designer and take a longer term view of your hosting needs if your plan is to create a popular interactive site.

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CAPTCHA tests are the distorted words we must type on some Websites, why?

If you have wondered why the Web seems filled with those annoying tests where you are required to read distorted text, and then enter it in an input field before progressing, read on.  The quick answer to this question is we have to have them because Web site owners need to verify that the data entered on their site is actually entered by a human. So what else would be taking the time to type data into Website contact forms and comment boxes? The answer is not aliens, it is robot scripts.

Robot scripts, called ‘bots’ by Web professionals, are scripts, or programs, that are designed to trawl the Web looking for opportunities to enter data that their owners have an interest in seeing splattered as widely as possible. The content is spam that typically consists of unwanted ads. So if you are a Website owner with input fields on your site that aren’t protected by captcha tests, then your site will eventually become a host for ads that are not only unwanted, but contain content that is completely unrelated to your Website.

I knew about these bots and so already understood the need for captcha tests, but it wasn’t until I created flemingwebmedia.com that I discovered how prevalent and efficient these nasty scripts actually are. I received comments on my blog in the form of a link you can click, that advertised medicines you buy via the Web. Clicking these links might have taken you to an actual site, or maybe to a malicious site loaded with viruses.  So for the integrity of the Website, and for the safety of visitors, captcha tests are a necessary minimum protective measure.

Captcha’s generate an image that contains distorted text. People can read the text contained in these images, but bots cannot scan the Webpage to find the text because of the fact it is contained in an image. Even sophisticated software that uses optical recognition hardware to read text will struggle to read the distorted text image.

Some sites use software called reCaptcha.


This captcha test displays two words, the second word is one that was not successfully identified by special scanners employed to digitise books. Using the concept of crowd sourcing for free labour, reCaptcha tests use humans to verify the word that scanners had trouble reading. Based on various responses, a high level of agreement on what the word is results in a positive identification.

So captcha tests are always employed as a security measure on Websites, and sometimes serve the additional purpose of utilising free labour for book digitisation projects.

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Does anyone need an avatar?

We’ve all seen the avatars people place as digital representations of themselves online right? I’m guessing you have because you’re taking the time to read my blog post so you’re just the kind of person that notices these things.

I think I described a reason for them just then, they serve the purpose of presenting a visual representation of ourselves online. Often the images people use are abstract and not clear depictions of how the person appears in real life. The reasons are not just to do with vanity. I think if you take another popular artistic form -  tattoos - you’ll see that avatars are similarly used to portray person meanings.


These images are often a subtle code for meanings that the person does not necessarily want to speak out loud. They are meanings that the person is comfortable with, but that they don’t necessarily feel the need to explain to everyone they meet. In the early days the Web was considered to be an anonymous space where free expression ruled and accountability did not exist, but the Web has evolved and anonymity is no longer guaranteed. We’ve seen that people occasionally get prosecuted for downloading copyrighted content, so obviously there are powers out there that have the ability to monitor what we do online.


Stylized visibility

Avatars then are a stylized concession to the fact that we are no longer invisible, so we might as well start projecting an image that we approve of and are comfortable with. The comfort factor is one aspect that speaks to how clearly the image represents the person in reality. An accurate photo shows that the person wants to project a real open presence, while a stylised photo or more symbolic image suggests either a need to reserve some privacy or an interest in presenting other meanings, much like a totem.

Avatars add to a presence by presenting to a visitor either a human face that they can more easily relate to, or a mystery element that suggests depths that add intrigue to the more obvious content presented on the pages. Attached is an avatar I use a lot. I’m standing on a salt flat and because it is such an unreal landscape, stark and disconnected from normal points of reference, I’ve made the image light and abstract because I think it suits the mirage like atmosphere of the place.


In short, avatars add a bit of fun. What avatar image do you think is right for you?

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Why blog?

Blogging is an opportunity to talk about something you care about, and because blogging is something you do online, it is an opportunity to reach a wide audience. Typically your blog will provide either an opportunity to reach others who share your particular interest, or it will be a vehicle for reaching potential clients for your business.

Aren’t there easier ways?

Twitter and Facebook accommodate short frequent posts, so why write the longer pieces that are more typical of a blog, and why bother to post at all on your own site?  This comes back to the passion you feel for your chosen topic, and whether you want to add depth to your site, something that a more simple, billboard style site can’t offer.

By describing a site as resembling a billboard, I mean that many sites, like billboards, contain static content that either changes rarely, or not at all. This is not to pass judgement on the value of a well-designed and attractive but unchanging site, however, without new content, the motivation for visitors to take another look is reduced. This is similar to why shops constantly juggle sales signs and send new flyers, they need to generate interest.

Deeper content can create deeper interest

Writing a blog can generate interest in your site, and this is especially true if you write on a special interest topic that might generate a following. You can maximise your following by broadcasting your latest posts across social media. This way people that wouldn’t ordinarily find your site might have a link to your blog sent to them. Your blog then is one more way to broaden the appeal of your site and to demonstrate your expertise in your business, or other interests. 

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