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Welcome! I am Jason Nguyen, a graduate student in ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Bloomington, and this blog is where I make observations about music, culture, and academic life.

Tech for Scholars #2: Build Your Online Presence Part 1, Domain Names and a Basic Blog

Wordpress IconTech for Scholars is a weekly series of articles with tips and thoughts on leveraging technology in academic scholarship. This week, I take a look at the costs involved in building an online presence and introduce you to getting your own domain name and a simple blog with WordPress.

While the traditional ways of getting name recognition still apply, my observation has shown the importance of carving out an online identity.  Some scholars, such as Mike Wesch at Kansas State, have made a name for themselves by using the power of social media to engage with students.  Similarly, Jason Baird Jackson, at Indiana University, created a class blog that allowed him and the students in his class, “Public Practice in Folklore and Ethnomusicology,” to interact on a continuing basis outside of the classroom.

What does it take to start a useful site?

Costs

Let’s look at the possible costs of running a serious site up-front:

  • Domain name: the address, such as jrnguyen.com; for typical use, it costs in the range of $10-$15/year
  • Host/Service Provider: where your actual data is being stored.  The simplest providers give you access to pre-built architectures, such as a blog account with WordPress.com.  Others simply provide you with space, like a fancy hard-drive on the internet, that you then fill up from scratch.

Example One:

A host/service provider is always necessary, but a domain name may not be.  For example, you could make a free blog at WordPress.com which would have an address at [your-blog-name].wordpress.com.  WordPress offers you the ability, for $10/year, to connect that blog to a domain, so that people can link to [your-blog-name].com instead.  That domain may have cost you $10/year separately, so your total costs for maintaining that site would be $20/year.

That is how I set up the site for the IU/Purdue Asian-American Studies Graduate Student Conference at http://aastudies.org.

Example Two:

This blog, http://www.jrnguyen.com, is hosted with a hosting provider called GeekISP and I built it “from scratch.”  Rather than registering my username at a larger blog database like at WordPress.com, I downloaded my own copy of the WordPress software (an open-source application) onto my space at GeekISP.  Doing so required at least a rudimentary knowledge of PHP, MySQL (database creation software), and CSS (a scripting language to change the appearance of a website).  This kind of hosting typically costs at least $10/month (plus $10/year for the domain name) but offers huge flexibility.

Domain Names: Getting your own dot com

A domain name is the main portion of a website’s address, such as jrnguyen.com.  It is ONLY an address and does not store any actual information, but it is important for easy access and name recognition, like a highway sign pointing out the exit.

You buy the rights to a domain name (for a certain number of years) from a domain registrar.  One of the most popular domain registrars is GoDaddy.com (although they have drawn criticism for their contractual terms).  Others include eNom, Joker, MyDomain, and Gandi.  Domains that are previously unclaimed go for around $10-$15, although domain names in high demand go for thousands or even millions.

Picking your domain name

Each of these sites offers a way to search their records to see if a domain name is available. Domain names should be memorable, short, and easy to remember.  Also, avoid using any non-alphanumeric characters such as dashes and underscores.  Try to get a .com (or .org when applicable) if they are available.  If your desired .com is unavailable, it’s often better to think of a different term rather than to use one of the newer suffixes like .cc, .me, or .info, which don’t seem as legitimate to people.

Once you are ready to buy your domain, many sites will try to sell you a bunch of other services. Ignore/skip them all.  Go through with your purchase and feel good about having your domain name.  Wooo!

Register and Link A WordPress Account

The following method is what I suggest to many people who want a blog that will work with minimum hassle.  I’ll show you how to hook a WordPress.com blog to your new shiny domain name:

  1. Register a blog at wordpress.com (you will also have to register an account with wordpress.com if you do not have one already).
  2. Go to your blog’s administration panel and look for Settings on the left. Click it.
  3. Settings will expand to include “Domains.”  Click.
  4. On the new page, you’ll see a form to add a domain.  Type in the domain you just bought  above.
  5. Follow the on-screen instructions.  You’ll have to pay $10 at some point to get your domain mapped.
  6. Eventually you will be told to change the “nameservers.”  Open up a second browser window and go to your domain registrar’s page and login.
  7. Your domain registrar will offer you some way to edit the settings of each domain you have.  Copy the nameservers given to you by WordPress into the appropriate spot in your registar’s settings panel.
  8. Once saved, it often takes an hour or two for the changes to propagate around the entire internet.  Go back to WordPress and set the new domain name as the primary address of the site and save.
  9. Done!

Next time

So now you have a working blog, you’re making updates, and hopefully tons of visitors are coming to make comments and read.  Next week, I’ll talk about another way to leverage your domain name, using Google Apps for Domains, to set up an email address like mine at jrn@jrnguyen.com, along with personalized Google Docs and more.

Jason Nguyen

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