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I started this rather substantial website years back as a few pages under the thumb of CompuServe. Having grown it since then, I can offer a few choices for glassblowers looking to build their own. With modern programs, it is possible to function with almost no knowledge of the language used to build pages, HTML, although learning some of the jargon is needed to find commands.
I am going to recommend starting small and building gradually. Once you are comfortable with making changes and uploading images and pages, you may find that you can run your business conveniently without investing major time and money in a more commercial side. For example, if someone calls about a piece, you can upload a photo or a drawing, without worrying about whether the caller can receive e-mail or fax that matches what you want to send - they browse the web for it.
At the most basic level, only two tasks need to be carried out to have a web site: building the pages and getting them where others can access them. It is literally possible to build pages with a simple text editor and to examine them with a browser and to upload them with communication commands, but it is far easier to use programs that allow drag and drop, formatting with standard word processing moves and easy building of tables, which are often used for arranging images and text into good relationships. In particular, tables can be outrageous to manage at the HTML level and a breeze with What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG - say it wisi-wig).
HTML is one of the languages web pages are written in. It stands for HyperText Markup Language
I think only two low cost programs are needed for maintaining a web site - Front Page Express and CuteFTP. The first builds the pages with a fair amount of baby sitting and the latter gets them up onto the web. I got the first free with my machine and downloaded the latter paying a small fee. At the moment I am using Front Page, an upgrade to Express because there are limits to Express that I ran into, particularly limits to page size when I was building some pages automatically using QBASIC. FrontPage has the ability to upload, called Publishing a Web, but by the time I had it, I was used to CuteFTP which gave me more control, and I did not want to set up my existing files in the Web structure that FP required. FP also allows direct examination of the HTML code when needed. There is a program called CuteHTML that I own and have used, but while it highlights various code features, it requires that the file be saved and looked at by a separate browser, which I find irritating. FP is especially good a making tables in a What you See is What you Drag format (Word probably does also) that I find very convenient.
I have used a program called CuteMap to make maps and images into links, as on classes.htm It is basically a program that allows drawing boundaries on an image made elsewhere and pointing them to local or remote links. I use mostly local.
While pages can be built in Microsoft Word, the html files produced tend to be overly large, as font commands, etc., get repeated for every paragraph and section. I have used it for various reasons, especially such as cutting and pasting spreadsheet data into a page, but afterward, I usually edit the file to cut out many of the duplications. I have learned there are options that reduce the extra stuff - one is File/Save As/HTML Filtered the other chooses a browser Tools/Options/General/Web Options/Browser that then uses fewer commands it says.
AOL and Compuserve have offered web pages, but with restrictions that bugged me. Compuserve provided a special program that allowed building pages and uploading them almost invisibly. The trade off being that the pages couldn't be very large with only space for a 3-4 images. The pages for my visit to Tucson gas97-p2.htm, etc. were built under this system and still show the limitations. AOL, at the time I tried it, demanded that you work online using their interface, if you downloaded a page, you couldn't upload it again. Since I had a dial up connection (still do) the slow speed and tying up the phone line were unacceptable to me. About the same time, AOL did their idiotic change over to unlimited access which locked a lot of people out most of the time (AOL didn't understand or provide for all those people who simply connected in and walked away from their computers - no charge, why disconnect?)
When I signed up for service away from those two, I asked people who were dealing with the net who gave good value for cost in the area and took one of those, paying a year in advance to save more money. A number of services are now available which offer tonnes of storage, but be sure you can use them for a web site, some will be restricted to storing e-mail, music, videos, etc. without giving limited access to others. Sometimes, if you ask about web stuff, the supplier will switch into commercial mode and quote much higher rates, assuming you are going to lay a burden on the place.
Be aware that a supplier of internet services is going to be looking at two problems you can create. Both have to do with the equipment the supplier has tied up meeting your needs, summarized as bandwidth. Every person to connects to your site requires, at least for a while, a process running on the server, to assemble the information they want - text, pictures, sound, more if accessing a data base or doing calculations. If the supplier is set up for a hundred users and your site attracts two hundred then everyone using the supplier will slow down or stop. This is the basis of a "denial of service" vandalism attack where a vandal programs many computers, perhaps using a worm or Trojan horse, to all send requests, as if they were users, to a single computer system, bringing it to its knees with overload. Of course, the systems worth attacking this way plan on hundreds or thousands of users and denial requires tens of thousands of requests coming in about the same time.
The other bandwidth factor is the size or quantity of the information you are sending out. A site that was working fine when you had pages with 10 pictures on them will perhaps have problems when you decide to put animation (moving images made of many still pictures), video (moving images taken successively for the purpose), or very large images with lots of detail. Bandwidth is how much data a supplier can put on the internet at a given moment and it depends on the kinds of connections and their number.
Understand that if you want to do some of the snazzy things you see on big commercial sites, you will probably have to pay money to people who have done it before. If you want to have a list of things that you sell and have a shopping cart and check out, then you have to have access to the computer that is running your web site and have permission to store stuff and run software that accesses the data. The owners will want to be paid for this.
You can buy your own computer and have it connected to the internet all the time (which is what happens with cable and DSL (?) anyway) but to do reliable sales, you need to get into backup power supplies, etc.
The easiest way I can think of to do a moderate operation is set up a store on eBay. This will expose your products to millions of people and take care of the images, check out, and (with PayPal) payment. You get to take care of questions, shipping and making product.
Contact Mike Firth