Hosting Packages: Between Price and Performance

Web hosting. It’s like buying a car, only a lot less expensive. There are so many packages to choose from that after a while they all begin to look the same. How do you distinguish the good from the bad or just what you need from what you don’t need? And perhaps most important, what are your needs and how complicated is it to set up?

I purchased my first domain, manrilla.net, back in 2003. I purchased it through a company called Host For Web. I had little knowledge at this time about domains and hosting packages. For me, it was cheap and relatively easy to set up [this was made easier by going with HFW for both domain and hosting]. The initial cost was around $5 a month for a basic hosting package. Over the years, through advents in virtualization, hosting companies have been able to offer attractive packages with unlimited email, databases, and storage for very inexpensive prices [usually under $10]. What I found however, was that as my web site became more popular and more complicated on the backend, I began to see what I was paying for.

Around 2007/2008, I switched my web site from a static-driven site to a dynamically-driven one by installing WordPress to control the backend. As you know, this involves something a bit more complex than just serving up static pages. Now, all of the content [sans images, media] were being housed in a MySQL database which was accessed through PHP. Not that this is overly complex but if the hosting company’s infrastructure is not up-to-date or is not well maintained or top-notch, this can begin to affect service as it did in my case. Keep in mind, I was using their low- and mid-priced virtual services for around $10 a month. I liked that I had unlimited bandwidth and storage, but this did come with a trade off. Several times a month I would have issues with my site going down due to a back-end issue, such as a backup running. I also had problems with the site’s performance and how slow it would parse the data from the MySQL database causing the site to load and render slowly. My e-mail would often go down during these times as well. And most important was the speed with which media, such as audio or video files, could be delivered. I decided that I would like to look into some other options.

Having spent the last several years of my life in another reality [i.e, in technology and web design] I would often peruse other designer’s site and would occasionally see who they were using for the own hosting providers. Quite often I would see Media Temple as a popular choice. Initially, I was reluctant to switch: the process is a hassle [backups, etc.] and there was a change in pricing. Not much, but about double what I was paying. The service I was looking at was Media Temple’s (gs) Grid-Service. It’s another virtual package. I thought, “what’s going to be the difference? If one virtual package is slow, maybe they all are.” I decided to take a chance and see if there was any improvement. In short: yes. There’s been a distinct performance upgrade in terms of how fast the site loads, both front end and back, how much faster the WordPress Dashboard runs and how much faster large media files are accessed. All in all, I have been very pleased with the improvement and I consider the $20-a-month fee worthwhile. I don’t have unlimited storage with this package but it is still robust [100GB] and 1TB of network transfer. They also offer easy, 1-click installations for popular apps such as Drupal and WordPress. If you’re looking for a good hosting package, I recommend Media Temple.

Learning The Code

One of the most common questions I receive every semester from students is how can they “really” learn web design. Most are set aback by the daunting task of learning to hand code. Let it be said: “I hear your cry! I feel your pain.”

Simply put, there’s no short cut to learning [x]html or css. In truth, it is a flaky language and add to it the inconsistencies that the various browsers have when interpreting the code, it makes for an arduous journey to say the least. I do, however, have a couple of thoughts on some methods that may be helpful.

  • Spend time at it; preferably a lot! I am only half joking here. Like anything else one wishes to become proficient at, there’s no short cut to a time-intensive discipline, and web design is certainly that. Like the kung-fu student who carries buckets of water up a slippery slope at the beckoning of his master, s/he may wonder, “why in the hell am I doing this?” And yet, when the student has developed rock-hard muscles, toughness, endurance, and more importantly, has digested the moves or techniques such that they become second nature, all those long trips up the stairs become something to laugh and tell his or her children about some day.
  • Each of us moves at a different pace. Some of us will pick up components of this at different speeds than others. So be patient with yourself.
  • One of the best ways to learn how something works is to take it apart and put it back together again. While there are a number of fine books on the market they one, often lag behind what’s “cool” now, and two, never provide the endless number of design possibilities and configurations that the web can. So in many ways, it’s your biggest and cheapest bookstore or library. Crack upon a site, look at what they’re doing, take it apart, line by line, and reassemble it.

Oh, yeah, and do your homework.

That being said, let me make a comment or two on software, specifically applications such as Abobe’s Dreamweaver. While Dreamweaver is a wonderful and powerful tool, it does provide the beginning student with a number of handicaps. One such handicap is the auto-filling of code. Many if not most of my students have trouble grasping and remembering all the code that should go where and when. Dreamweaver, though the powerful tool it maybe be, is still only a tool. A wrench can never tell you what to tighten up or loosen. So it is with Dreamweaver. It can never tell you what is and is not semantic – such decisions need be made by you, the designer. It also handicaps you in that it auto flls your code which can make it much harder for you to get over the hump of having to memorize code.

So what do I recommend then? Well, there are a number of fine products out there but one that has caught my eye as of recently is Flow, by Extendmac. More than just a simple FTP client, Flow can edit content/files directly on the server as well as allow for previewing. The text is color coded to help for identifying but it does not auto-fill. In my opinion, it’s a great tool and I also dig the interface. It’s only available for the Mac. If you’re on a PC, I recommend Filezilla, configured to use Notepad as the viewer/editor.

Hopefully, with these few tips, you the beginner can begin to overcome some of those initial humps.

Where Have All The Black Web Designers Gone?

I have been working in technology of one kind or another now since 1998. And as a Black technology guy, I have noticed the staggering absence of black folks, as well as other so-called minorities save for Asians/South Asians, in technology and nowhere has that felt more prevalent than in the web design industry. To help underscore my point, in the two years I have been teaching web design at Moore College, I have finally had my first student of color this term: an African-American female student. Wow.

When one takes a little time to peruse the ‘Net and look around at all the usual trendy sites on ground-breaking design (Zeldman, AListApart, Eric Meyer, Dan Benjamin just to name a few), I see no black faces. No faces of color. And let me state, before continuing, I do not believe that any of these individuals or web sites I may link to here in this article are out to purposely make this a reality or in anyway have had a direct hand in creating this absence. Rather, I wish to illustrate that when we look around for bright faces of web design, they’re white, not black.

Most of what I study is looking at constructs and how they’re nested in social contexts. Asking how did this come to be? Why? How? Where is it going? When I ply these same questions to Blackamericans and web design, I am left feeling puzzled and bewildered at the absence of one prominent black web designer. It could very well be that the talented black web designers are all too busy making beautiful web sites and not taking public credit for their work or maybe it’s something else.

When we look around at other sectors of society as to why there is a woeful absence of black folks in participation, that conditions are usually fairly clear. And let me say here that the follow is a hypothesis, a best guest, a starting point of looking at this issue. I welcome concrete feedback.

I do not believe that black folks are absent from web design due to a conscious effort to disengage from it. Most likely it may have to do with socio-economic issues. For blacks who are hailing from deprived urban centers, web design may simply not be on their radar. Not having the money to invest in computers, Internet access (preferably high-speed), and an education that would point them in the direction of design (web or otherwise), all lead me to think that this may be part of the problem. So, when philanthropic organizations are looking to invest money in these depressed areas, are they thinking to encourage blacks to take part of the digital revolution and get involved in the web or is this too off the radar.

With that being sad, I did come across a posting on a web site regarding a web summit/conference, where on the advertising poster, it featured a caricature of a black man along with the words, “Pimp’d“.

Pimpd - SXSW

I found this a “curiosity” as it featured a stereotypical portrayal of an African-American, playing as a pimp, with a fedora hat and a drink in his hand. My immediate thought was not that it was inherently racist (well, that’s not true — actually, my immediate thought was that it was hella racist), but that how many black web designers would be attending this event? My best guess would be not many, and yet they have chosen a sort of “black mascot” to represent the coolness factor of the event. My second thought was that it was inherently racist.

So I put these thoughts out here, as a call to other black web designers. I would be curious to hear your experiences in this industry, on or off the record.

 

Addendum

The web site, A List Apart, has revealed some findings in their 2008 survey. I welcome you to look at the list but for the sake of this post, you can see that just a mere 1.2% off web designers they surveyed were black. Amazing that essentially one out of every hundred people who might attend their event might be Blackamerican yet they feel the best way to promote the coolness of their even is through showcasing a stereotypical portrayal of a black man.

Charming. To the last…

Also, see Jason Kinney’s post, Minorities in Web Design.

Manifesto

Technology is everywhere. It impacts all sectors of our lives; public and private. There isn’t one sector modern life that does not come into interaction with technology. For the past ten years, I have worked in many fields of technology – from information technology to instructional technology. From supporting the implementation of technology in the user field to helping institutions and their employees make the most of technology in their respective endeavors. In the end, it should be a means to an end and not a means unto itself.

The Internet has proven to be a truly life-changing innovation, in that it has permanently altered the way that most human beings are able to access and process information. From my first experiences with the Web I have wanted to be a part of it. Taking elements of my design background, I find the Internet to a unique and constantly changing media to try to design for. From the first days of the Web with blink tags and repeating GIF backgrounds to more recent advances like XHTML, CSS, dynamically-driven Web sites and more, the technology that drives the Internet continues to grow and change. Keeping pace with this can be a daunting task, even for those who work in the field on a daily basis. My role has always been to help others understand technology and how it can be better used to serve their purposes.

Here you will find course notes on classes that I teach in technology as well as feedback, personal experiences as well as a bit of philosophy on technology in how it’s being used and the impact it has on us. I hope you enjoy your browsing and come back often.

Marc Manley
October 29th, 2008 – Philadelphia