I was looking through some old Google Docs and I found a spreadsheet (embedded below) that compares the features of various hosted (aka website as a service) web services. These are services that provide you a website and associated functionality (varying by service provider) that require no technical setup on your part. At the time I created the spreadsheet I was weighing whether or not I should launch a new website using either a hosted service or my own web hosting account. I know that this is a decision that people who are new to web publishing struggle with so I figured that I would provide some thoughts on the pros and cons of procuring a web site as a service.
- No technical experience or knowledge required. Fully hosted web services won’t require you to fiddle around with server configuration or database creation. In most instances you can change the template and features via drag and drop or by selecting check boxes.
- Fewer worries about site hacking or performance issues. While any site can be hacked regardless of where it is hosted if a hosted service is hacked it’s their responsibility to fix it, and if they want to stay in business they’ll do it quick. They will also take care to ensure that the site is responsive and performs well as your traffic grows.
- The most popular website features are usually included. With most self-hosted web systems you create a basic install and then have to go hunting for plug-ins or modules that add critical features such as site statistics and spam prevention. Hosted services will often include the most important features that are key to running a stable, full featured website.
- Functions and features are limited. Hosted services will limit the functionality available and that could be a problem if you want to build a very unique or complex website. Many plug-ins might not be available, certain types of embed codes might not be allowed and you probably won’t have access to the file system or database.
- Migration to another platform or service could be a problem. This varies from service to service but it could be difficult to migrate your site to another service or even the open source version of a hosted service. Check to see if the service offers migration options before signing up.
- You could be stuck if the service changes direction or goes out of business. This is especially a risk with newer services or even established services that have a small user base. This recently occurred with Posterous, which is set to close after getting bought by Twitter and Ning, which changed from a free to a paid service prior to being sold to Glam Media.
If you are very new to website management and want to get started publishing right away then I think going with a hosted service is really a no-brainer. What you do from there depends on the level of technical expertise that you aspire to in the future. If you desire to learn more about how things work so you can manage and expand your site then you will want to choose a service that makes it easy to migrate your content when you decide it’s time to do that. In the interim, start learning how to install and manage websites on your own host by downloading a local web server and spending your spare time building an example site off-line so you can gain a strong level of comfort before pushing your site out onto the Internet.