How to make a website for almost free (legally!)

Domain Name: $8/year
Running total: $8

One of the first things that I realized that I needed was DNS (Here is a nice little rundown on what that means). I could pay for such a service, but that didn’t fit in with my budget. I searched around and eventually found out that such places do exist where they provide such services for free. The only problem was that I would have to know a lot about how DNS actually worked. I didn’t really want to invest in a large amount of learning exactly how DNS worked, I just wanted to get something that would work with as little work as possible. I eventually settled on DNS2GO (once they started to charge for their service, I went to the marginally more complicated but still completely free

DNS: $0/year
Running total: $8

Now that I had a catchy and trendy name that people could type in and get to my site, I needed someplace to put it. I looked around at some hosting plans and thought to myself, “I have a cable connection to the internet, why don’t I just use that?” This is essentially free, since I’d have a connection to the Internet
anyway, so it doesn’t count. Hooray!

Hosting: $0/year
Running total: $8

Now that I had a connection to the Internet, I needed something to put the site on. I looked around the house and managed to scrounge up enough parts for an almost fully functional computer. I had RAM, a CPU, a video care, a network card, a case, a floppy drive, a keyboard, a crappy monitor, and a keyboard (if you had to go out and buy all the parts that I had just laying around, you would have spent about $40-$50, or you could have called up your computer geek friend and ask him to make something for you). I just needed a motherboard. A Super 7 motherboard (to put it mildly, a good one at a good price is next to impossible to find any more). I lucked out and a computer store locally had a decent one in stock, but he wanted something like $80 for it. I really wanted to get my site off the ground, but that was way more than I wanted to spend.

I caved.

I asked them to get it for me, and the proprietor told me that since it was the last one that I could have it for $60. Yeah, it was cheaper, but my wallet still stings.

Misc. Parts: $0
Motherboard: $60! (Ouch!)
Running total: $68

Okay. Now that we have an assembled computer, what do we do with it? This computer wasn’t nearly the class to run something like IIS (not like I could afford something like that anyway), so I turned to the Free Software solution. I decided to install Linux on the machine (if you’re following along at home, you can use Xitami or something similar on your main machine if you don’t want to bother with learning how to install/maintain a new operating system). After looking through the alternatives, I decided on Debian Linux with Apache. Mostly because it was a distribution that I could install from floppy disks (no CD-ROM, remember?).

Operating System Software: $0
Web Server Software: $0
Running Total: $68

That total doesn’t include all the time I put into learning how to administer my new system. I had never taken on a project like this before, so I was pretty new at everything. Thankfully, everything I wanted to do was documented well enough so that I could get everything going like I wanted it to.

[Fast forward a couple of weeks]

Okay, the system is up and running, Apache is serving up pages properly, and I’m ready to go! Well, sort of. In doing all of this setting up, I didn’t have time to create any kind of site. I really wanted to get something going, and I even spent a couple of days working on what kind of site that I wanted to build. It was then that I realized that it would take too long. I wanted a site and I wanted a site now, so I decided to look at the prepackaged solutions.

I looked around and (after trying and failing at installing Slash, among other things) decided to install PHP-Nuke. PHP-Nuke is an OK solution for a story-telling home page, but it isn’t really customizable if you don’t know your way around PHP and MySQL really well. I managed to learn enough PHP to add a box or two, and found a theme from one of the theme sites out on the Internet, and was moderately satisfied for quite a while.

Publication Suite: $0
Final Total: $68

Cool. We’re in business. I started the site and started promoting it everywhere I could. Since I wanted to keep it as cheap as possible, I relied primarily on word of mouth. I also submitted my site to as many search engines as I could find, and in a month’s time, I was averaging around 100 hits a day.

Since then, a lot has happened. I got an advertiser, I have migrated from PHP-Nuke to Movable Type, I have set up my own email service, my site was defaced once, and my traffic is up to about 400 hits a day. I’ve spent a bit more on promotion since the first couple of months (mostly tee shirts and sponsoring tournaments at AsylumLAN). All in all, I haven’t put too much more money into this site. I’m still under the $100 range, and I’m mostly happy with it now. This site has generated less than $20 in revenue, but that’s not what it’s all about. If you want to make money off of a website, that’s fantastic and I hope it works for you, but I’m not doing this to make money. I’m doing it to have fun. That’s what this project is all about.

Good luck and have fun with it!