The digital world

Aka understanding hosting, URLs and domain names.

Want to know about hosting, URLs and domain names? I think for most people the answer would be “Nope! Not really!”

But in this day and age many of us will find these terms thrown at us, or we might stumble into them, or be actively trying to run away from them. But like many things, when we have a gist of what they might mean – and how we might need them and why – we find that most of our fears gradually fade. My hope is that this blog will do just that. And that through the analogies presented here, you will gain a simple but powerful understanding which could help you to navigate through the digital world should you ever need to. Failing that, I hope that at the very least it makes you feel smart! You see, the digital world is actually like the real world in many ways. Of course, there are some big – and some subtle – differences. But I guess I’d most profoundly sum up my disclaimer with these words: “Things do work like this – kinda…”

The digital world

The digital world is a place that co-exists with, and within, our real world. And a bit like Disney World – it’s both real and yet surreal. Unavoidably intangible. Crazily conceptual. But don’t let its abstract nature scare you! Just as in the real world we have a physical space to live and move in; in the digital world there is a sense of a digital space too. This space is a place in which we can manipulate and do things in – like build websites. And just as our physical land is divided up and stewarded by land-owners; in the digital realm, digital land is divided up and stewarded by its digital landlords: the hosting companies.

Hosting companies – our digital landlords

Whenever you ponder which hosting company to sign up with – you are actually considering which digital landlord you are going to pay rent to. And for your rent, you will have a portion of their digital land to work and build in. Deciding which digital landlord you are going to work with and be subject to, can feel overwhelming. There is a growing array of hosting companies out there – each with their own benefits and restrictions. And it is important to find one that fits your needs and requirements best.

Hosting companies you might come across include: iPage, Host Gator, 1&1, A2, Bluehost, Go Daddy, TSOHost, UK2, Namesco, One, Heart Internet, Inmotion, MT, 123 Reg, EUKHost etc. Overwhelming, eh? And although I’d recommend you investigate a wide range of them to find the one for you, one that I’ve been delighted to work with is Siteground. Do check them out. They are definitely worth putting on your check list. They are often rated as one of – if not the – best in the industry, and more than that, they are one of the few hosting companies that are officially recommended by Word Press. I have found them to be brilliant in ethos, functionality and value.

But whoever you decide to work with – to make it official, you will need to sign up with them. And although you might think that it’s after this sign-up stage when you will create a digital address so others can find you in this digital world… often hosting companies will begin by organizing your address first…

Getting found in this digital world

In the real world, to find and locate one another in physical space we have postal addresses. In the digital world, our digital addresses are called URLs (Uniform Resource Locators). They often look a bit like this http://domain-name.com They actually work more like PO BOX addresses – addresses that are associated with you but can be physically located anywhere. This means that in the digital world you can actually change your digital landlord without changing your address. Cunning isn’t it?

URL breakdown showing domain name with dot extension

URLs and domain names – your digital address

In essence, digital URL addresses are made from two main parts – the http part and a naming part.

The http part may sometimes be amended to read https where the inclusion of s at the end denotes a secure site. This is really important if you will be passing and handling sensitive information in your digital space. Setting this up goes beyond the scope of this blog… but do check out my other blogs for more on this later.

The other part of any URL is the naming part of your URL. This is called the domain name and it will typically be the name of your website followed by a dot and an extension. Domain names can be anything you like and in this digital age you can have all sorts of extension endings after the dot too. Endings like .org .photography .london .church can be funky if people can remember them. It’s important to note that the extension after the dot does matter:  here-i-am.com is a different address from here-i-am.org even though they look almost identical, they can be worlds apart in their content and purpose.

To get a digital address where people can find your stuff, you will need to register a domain name and pay for it (often on a yearly basis). Typically, this will be done through your hosting company as part of your sign up process. And handily, if you are changing your hosting company, your domain name can be transferred over unchanged.

When one address just isn’t enough

For most micro-businesses/ministries/initiatives one address is enough. But sometimes you might like to invest in multiple addresses. For instance, you might like to create multiple websites with different names and purpose. Depending on your hosting company, there are two ways you can do this. One way is to rent out one bit of digital land which you are allowed to build multiple sites on. Another way is to rent out several areas of digital land, but where you can only build one site on each plot. If you are investing in multiple addresses, have a think which scenario might work for you and consider the costs involved for each.

Let the build begin! The next step

Whatever approach you decide on, and whatever you are hoping to build – the digital land you rent will almost always begin empty. So the next thing to do, will be to set-up your building materials so that you can build! Here we enter the realm of CMSs, website builders and platforms. I know – the terms might seem cryptic and strange at first. But this is where the fun begins! If you’d like to know more about these things together with which ones you might need and why, watch this space! More will be coming! I promise!

But don’t forget – navigating through the digital realm needn’t be hard. All you need is just a little bit of knowledge… and then you are away!

Photography: TheDigitalArtist (Pixabay)

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