Saturday, June 18, 2005

In the Beginning there was a dream ...

And like so many of us it involved making some extra money on this new-fangled internet thingy.

You would think it would be an absolute cinch to make some money when there are millions of people online and are all searching for something, they all must have some money ('cause they have to pay to get online, get a computer, get a modem etc.) and they might even have some way of paying you.

You know the maths, if I set up a website and only 0.01% visit per week, thats 10 million x 0.1%= 10,000 visitors per week and if only 10% buy my whatever then thats 1,000 sales @ $??? profit per week and I can quit my job ... Woo Hoo, lets get going.

So, I find out how to build webpages and put up a web site. For the newbies, a web site is just a collection of web pages with links between them so you can get to them all. I started with a simple wysiwyg html editor (what-you-see-is-what-you-get). Quickly discovered that it was a what-you-see-isn't-always-what-you-get html editor and it was also a you-can't-do-what-you-really-want-to-do editor and I was going to have to learn some HTML.

What? HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is the code used by web page editors (human and programs) to tell your web browser how to display your latest creation.

If you aren't familiar with the look of HTML, do a right-click on this page, in the pop-up menu there will be something similar to "Show Source". This usually opens the page in a new window and shows you what the page would look like without the browser doing it's thing.

Now, you don't need an expensive program to build your web pages for you and you no longer need to know much if anything about HTML. There are many good free programs that can handle that for you. My favorites are 1stPage 2000, HTMLGate Free, Arachnophilia. I would suggest beginning with Mozilla, it is free and fast, open Composer and begin playing with pages, type in text, choose headers, plug in images, build tables etc.

I would also advise that you don't use word processing programs to create web pages as they generally build "fat" pages that take longer to load. Not important with broadband? Yep it still is important to keep the load times down for web pages - try to keep your web pages below 18kb including all images.

I'll get back to building web pages later.

Of course, with my first web page I could see it on my computer but how does everyone else get to see it? How do I get the page from my computer to the internet? My ISP told me I had to FTP it to the server - Huh? What's a server? What's FTP? OK, a server is just another computer but one that is permanently connected to the internet. It has a program running that accepts "requests" from other computers for files. If the server program can find the file, it "shows" it to the "requesting" computer which downloads it. When you type in a web address (URL) or click on a link in your browser you are the "requesting" computer. If the file is there, you get a web page, if it isn't, you get a different web page with an error message.

That's what a web browser does. Now a web browser is a program for translating HTML and displaying it on your screen. You are probably familiar with email, you get your email by using a program like Outlook, Eudora etc. There are many different email programs (also called email clients) but they all work in very similar ways, they "request" the email server program for files addressed to you, there is some chat between the two programs to make sure the right email goes to the right client and then the email server allows the email client to download all your email.

What are you getting at Brent? I didn't know any of this stuff, some of you might not as well. Anyway, this is my blog so I can write anything I like so ther nyah nyah nyah...

What I was getting to is that FTP just involves another two programs. An FTP client on your computer and an FTP server on the online computer. Mostly, when you setup the FTP client and start it, it will connect with the ftp server, do some chat like the email client, and show you a list of what is already on your web presence. So how do I get my new web page to the web?

I can do a copy/paste to move the file, I can drag-and-drop the file or I can click on the upload button. So I did that and went to check out my new page. What? Where are the images? Eventually I worked out that I needed to upload the images as well as the page. Doh! OK. So we have to upload everything we want on the web site to the server. I knew that.

Well, now I have build a whole bunch of pages, they have links from the navigation section to each page, the images are all there and I am ready to sell millions of widgets (widget is a generic term for a product). How are they going to buy my widget? Oh, I need a form for them to fill in and order the widget. Or they could just email me. Ok, the composer program can build a form for me but what does action="" mean. It seems that I need a script. When I began this online journey I found out about cgi scripts and Perl. I didn't know about PHP, Python or any of the others.

It seems that, for people to buy my widget I need more than a web site, I also need a way for them to buy. So I set up a form and found a perl script online, made the changes I needed to and uploaded it into the cgi-bin directory of my web site. Now, at last, I was ready for the money to come flooding in. Woo Hoo.

So, after several days slipped into weeks and no sales I began to wonder what had happened.

That's probably enough for this episode. Next installament "What happenned to the sales?"

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