I am taking a series of classes this year at the University of Washington on Social Media Implementation and Technology. These have been terrific resources, chock full of great information and tidbits. I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of these on this blog.
One subject that I am asked many times about is how one should host their site. What is the best tool or option? While I have some standard answers to this (usually!), this particular lecture in our latest class given by Samantha Moscheck of Digitalaid.net approached it in a different way, which I want to share here.
To fully address this question, a little background information is needed. In previous posts, (WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org) I have talked about WordPress. This is an open source content management system product. This means that it is developed and maintained by an open community. Access to the program is free; in fact you can get the actual source code and modify it if you want. This differs from a closed source system which is developed and maintained by a group of people or company in a for profit arrangement. It is not possible to get the source code, so the end user cannot modify the code. Users purchase the right to use the software or it is bundled into a hosted system for the end user to access.
Now you think “free software, what’s the catch”? Well, this can be broken down into two camps, free software and open source software. In both cases, there is no cost to the end user, but the underlying philosophies are different. Free software focuses on the philosophical freedoms it gives to users while open source focuses on the perceived strengths of its peer-to-peer development model. Free software is a social movement and is done for ethical reasons. Open Source philosophy is to offer the code to as many people as possible, who in turn will work with others to produce a better software product. For both free and open source, the end user can run the program, study and change the program if they want to and redistribute copies of either the original or modified versions of the code.
So how does this tie into hosted systems? A hosted system is a closed system. There is a proprietary software package that has to be purchased or leased to design and maintain the website. The benefit to the end user is that all hosting, maintenance and support of the tools is done by the company. The hosting site will backup the site, put patches into the software program as necessary and support you as you need. There is very little responsibility on the client’s part, other than the content. The end user pays for this benefit. The hosting site cost as well as the software cost is bundled into a monthly fee between $17 to $35 a month. There are some down sides to this arrangement. Since the software program is tied to a particular hosting site, you can’t take the design software with you to another site if you want to change hosts or companies. There are probably minimal porting options if you wanted to go to a different type of CMS, so you would have to start over with your site. Any options or features are dependent on the software company and if the software is proprietary or poorly supported, the risk of dissatisfaction is high.
On the other hand, in a self hosted environment, the end user has much greater control over the software and hosting environment. In a self hosted system, the user has the flexibility to use open source software as well as full flexibility and customization. However, with this flexibility and control comes the responsibility for a more active role in the website life cycle. There may be multiple people to deal with (hosting company, software developers, etc.) when a problem occurs, and any updates and backups would be the responsibility of the end user.
So what’s the best option, hosted or self hosted? Well if you are not sure about how a website fits into the overall strategy of your organization and want to ease into the process, a hosted site might be a good bet. However, if you are a little more daring, have a small budget or are investing for the long term on a website presence, a self hosted site is a better solution.