JUNE 2009 UPDATE:
I’ve been dishing, complaining about my Google/GoDaddy-registered domain, http://www.wilhed.org, for a while now. The hardships of having allowed Google Apps insert itself into what should have begun – with my purchase of that domain – as a direct user to host relationship, but, by consequence having employed Google Apps to “manage” my site on behalf of GoDaddy – turned it into a complete mess. I was led to believe it would simplify site hosting for one new at the task of domain management.
What really happened, and which has no doubt happened to many others with similarly sincere motivations, is rather than buy the domain, I “rented” it from Google, constructed its content within Google’s inflexible site management application “Google Site Manager”, and failed in my attempts to coordinate my site between the two different companies. (I say “were” because wilhed.org’s 12-month registration expired this June.)
Google as the middleman: not a novel concept. Below is an excerpt from an email exchange I had in March with Maryland-based digital photographer and Photoshop guru Timothy Lynch:
Well I said I’d follow up when I figure something out on this stuff but I realized what has been holding me up for so long: Having Google Apps in tandem with GoDaddy unduly complicates to where I can only login to my GoDaddy account and manage the settings from Google – from Google’s own Dashboard/UI. The usernames/passwords they supply for login to GoDaddy don’t work. And this is where the domain is actually registered; where I need to go for all the Admin. stuff.
I want to blame Google for being the interloper here (and it is not unheard of for the company to be labeled that and worse) but I frankly don’t know enough about hosting and the server-side of things to know if perhaps I’m just blind to some little detail…so I sent an email to both of these companies asking for a new password. Hopefully they’ll respond so I can get to work on this stuff that – had I been less stubborn (and a little richer) I would’ve solved long ago by using paid hosting with the WordPress download/PHP, MySQL get-up, as WordPress.org recommends.
What I was originally trying to do was simply change the nameservers and forward my domain URL from wilhed.org to wilhed.wordpress.com with “masking” so that “wilhed.org” shows up in the browser address bar and not “wilhed.wordpress.com”.
In other words, I’d be using WordPress for creating content but using wilhed.org as the address people type in to get to the site. This is important because you could apply it to your web site/pages for business purposes. You could conceivably get rid of your “deviantart” address by masking it but still use Deviant Art’s page setup and all of that. See what I mean? It could be very useful.
Anyhow, I hope we can work on this stuff at some point; it’s good stuff to learn and has immediate possibilities for growing a business, establishing a web presence for your work, and all of that.
Many have noted Google’s insinuating themselves into practically every area of the Web. Everyone knows that Google is an immensely creative, smart, ceaselessly innovative organization. They have helped democratize the Web, or at the very least have established a check against other would be monopolizers (i.e., Microsoft). But there are emerging new ways to put power back in the hands of the user, where it belongs. For a primer, check out Richard Stallman, originator of the GNU license and unofficial spokesman against abuses of Web freedom in the name of “intellectual property”.
Anyone who has Googled “web host”; or who has looked for a painless route to creating a web site can see that it’s a big business. Ads abound for hosts offering such and such gigabytes of storage, bandwidth, and multiple email accounts for hosting your web site or blog. Truly all they are selling is space – space on a server. And here corporate power and the interests of the individual intersect – and where lies opportunities for staking a claim for Web freedom. With the shift to Web 2.0, which means greater user participation and interconnectivity beyond simple static HTML published web pages, people are gaining more control over their online experience with the advent of wiki, the blogosphere, and open-source software. It’s only natural that the user should want control over site hosting and storage as well. Web hosts don’t have to own the server – they can also “provide data center space and connectivity for servers they do not own [but are] located in the data center”, as wikipedia’s entry on “web hosts” explains, referring to this as colocation.This sort of “middleman” niche is where Google and other companies make bank.
Point is, with the shift to Web 2.0 and what is now being called Web 3.0, users are conceptualizing the user’s position in the Internet world differently. And it’s all about more control and more freedom. (The Web x.0 concepts are explained nicely in a recent Digital Inspiration article by tech-blogger Amit Argawal.)
To return to “Getting a Host to Mesh with Google Apps (or Not)”, one not-so-major goal I had for wilhed.org was to use it as the URL for https://wilhed.wordpress.com – my WordPress-hosted blog. WordPress provides simple instructions on how to change your nameservers to “park” my blog at wilhed.org, but I couldn’t do it. Likely Ijust wasn’t savvy enough to get it done.
Anyhow, a related issue concerns the wide-scale use of these mega-size blog-hosts, called “shared-hosting”. The comparative ease of utilizing shared hosting – WordPress.com and Blogspot (i.e., Google Blogger), are perhaps the two most widely-used – simplifies greatly establishing yourself an online presence. But there are suspicions that, for example Google’s search engine favors Blogspot-hosted blogs over others. Not to mention the risks of favoritism within the shared-space. For instance, WordPress’s homepage lists “Hot VIP Posts”. VIP posts? I couldn’t find an explanation as to who qualifies as a “VIP”, how they came to be so labeled, and by whom. Shared-hosting presents manifold problems, which are way under-addressed. If WordPress deems some bloggers “VIP”s, what about blog content. Can bloggers be guaranteed complete freedom of speech, freedom of expression? I’ve seen some chatter to the effect that political-oriented blogs somehow fall out of sight within WordPress’s own search engine, and if this is the case, what of the major search engines?
Above all, who wants to be beholden to a for-profit, shared web-host who reserves the right to retract or erase your web site or your blog on a whim? It’s about control – of which you are giving up a lot when you go this route. It’s better with dedicated web hosts with your own server space, but even then, your content and your web presence – which is becoming increasingly important for personal and economic life.
A good solution is to serve your own site.
A bit of history: after a lot of digging, I came upon the Apache Software Foundation and learned that the prefix for all of today’s web sites originated with the Apache open-source server, which early became the first viable alternative to a proprietary server technology developed by Netscape.We are lucky then, that the keys to the Internet are held by everyone. Apache HTTP server is developed and maintained open-source – that is, by an open group of developers and programmers, after its founding by Robert McCool as “HTTP daemon”. According to the Foundation web site, the majority of existing web sites are on the Apache server.
To return to my point: after a few short years of collective effort by software developers/volunteers from around the world, Apache web server is now packaged with a GUI that enables the user without specialized knowledge to implement it on a PC! This is what many people who are paying for dedicated servers or languishing on an unknown corporation’s shared servers may not know. The server-implementations are called XAMPP (for windows) and MAMP (for Mac/Unix+Apache +MySQL+PHP)and can be downloaded en masse, in one package for Windows/DOS executation or Mac/Unix disk mounting. MAMP is released by the German company Webedition but is free under the GNU License, and promises, “You can install Apache, PHP and MySQL without starting a script or having to change any configuration files!” As yet I haven’t been able to fully install MAMP on my MacBook, but I’m lazy and, like tons of other people, find it easier to use Blogspot and WordPress for blogging. But the capability is there and it will doubtless only become easier and more accessible because the demand is there.
Open Source is only getting bigger, too, as people are less willing to dole out bucks for software apps you can get for free on Sourceforge.net or CNET. You wouldn’t know it but Sourceforge is a positively HUGE repository of free software. It appears directed at the programmer/expert crowd, but if you know what you are looking for you can find it. The XAMPP server-package is based at Apachefriends.org (associated with the Apache Server Project), but, like the majority of open-source applications, counts most of its downloads from Sourceforge, where it’s available to download for every major OS in any variety of “zipped” formats.
If this seems intimidating – and navigating Sourceforge can definitely be – easier ways to run your own server and take control of the Internet are popping up. I just came across something called Opera Unite, which promises to turn your computer into a web server (I haven’t yet tried it but I did download the application), mainly for purposes of sharing content on the Internet directly from your hard drive without having to upload it anywhere. Then there are implementations like Jumpbox, which are conceptually a bit weird and hard to grasp, but which are various types of OS-independent applications that “run on their own” and advertise as a solution to the implementation problems, i.e., bugs, associated with open source software.
Finally, web-hosting companies will counter that if you’re expecting any kind of heavy site-traffic, you’ll need the bandwidth, disk space, and dedication of their services so avoid server overload and crashes. This may be true, but I’d respond that at the present rate of innovation and and change, we shouldn’t need to wait long for the hardware to catch up. And this is a good thing for keeping the democracy alive on the Web and for undercutting would-be monopolizers and middle-men trying to cash in on, or worse drown out and overwhelm, the little guy.
– d.g.w. 6/19/09