I have been very encouraged of late to see more and more ecologists embracing the potential of the web for communication and interaction. I’ve recently blogrolled some graduate student blogs and in the last few weeks I’ve come across American Naturalist’s trial run of a forum system, Ecological Monographs’ blog, and a blog soliciting feedback on a new initiative to digitize existing biological collections.
All of these folks are taking advantage of the availability of simple, hosted, blogging platforms for their sites, specifically WordPress.com and Blogger. These sites a great because you can easily get up and running with no technical background and and practically no work. This is why we run JE on WordPress.com. However one of the major downsides of these services is that, by default, you end up with a url that looks something like
ecomono.blogspot.com. This isn’t the worst thing in the world course, but there are some very good reasons to get your own domain name and it’s so easy to integrate with Blogger and WordPress that ecologists really should think about doing so anytime they need to set up a site of any kind on the web.
There are two main reasons why would you should get your own domain name:
- Professionalism – two or three years ago this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but when I go to a site that is supposed to be a legitimate digital presence for a journal or for a major scientific initiative and I see that their domain is *.blogspot.com, it comes off as being pretty bush league. This is even more true when the site has something to do with using the web for something scientific, because what you’re communicating when you don’t have your own domain is that your institution/initiative is either lazy or incompetent when it comes to the web. Not good if you’re taking Ecological Monographs into the Twittering Age (I love “Twittering Age” by the way) or leading the digitizing and web-based provision of museum collections. This obviously isn’t a big deal if you’re just running a personal blog, but #2 might be.
- Portability – the biggest problem with not having your own domain is portability/lock-in. What happens to your blog/website if at some point you decide to switch from WordPress to Blogger, or you get really motivated and try a self-hosted blogging platform. You can move all of your content easily enough, but all of the search engine indexing and users’ bookmarks still point to the old location. In contrast, if you have your own domain name you just point it to your new home and the transition effectively didn’t happen from the perspective of users and search engines. Your users will notice that you’ve got a fancy new look and that’s about it.
A (very) brief tutorial
This might all seem like it could be complicated to implement, but it really isn’t. Here’s the quick rundown.
- Choose a registrar (the people that manage the buying of domain names). I recommend Namecheap, but there are plenty of good ones out there. If you want more options you can check the web for reviews or ask your friends on Twitter.
- Find and buy an available domain name. Your registrar will have a tool for checking to see if a particular name is available. It should cost you less than $10/year.
- If you are using one of the major blogging platforms mentioned about then just follow the directions (for WordPress or Blogger) to have your domain point to your site. You can also do this for many hosted wikis, websites, etc. Depending on the company it might cost you a few extra dollars per year, but it’s worth it. Some companies will even purchase the domain name and set it up for you, but I generally recommend that you keep your domain name with a separate company than your site just to avoid any shenanigans if you try to move your site.
It’s not my intention to criticize the websites mentioned above. I think it is really exciting to see journals experimenting with blogging and comment systems, and there are new ecological informatics initiatives popping up everyday, which I think is really fantastic. This is an exciting time for ecology on the web. I would just encourage all of you who are involved in such ventures to take an extra 30 minutes during the setup process to get a domain name and link it up with your site. It will make your site look slick and make it easy for you to move.
UPDATE: Apparently using the phrase “domain name” in the title of a blog post is a siren song for spam comments and pingbacks/trackbacks. Akismet and I (well… OK… mostly Akismet) have been working overtime getting rid of it. If any real comments got caught up in the house cleaning just send me an email. On a related note, according to Akismet’s website, 83% of all blog comments are spam!
UPDATE 2: I’ve gone ahead and temporarily enabled comment moderation to spare our comment feed subscribers too much junk, so for the next day or so it may take a little while for your comments to be posted if you haven’t commented before.