C.G. Masi Weblog

Building an Online Bookstore - Part 4

21 November 2017 - Let's talk about Internet service providers (ISPs). If you've ever attempted to create a website of any kind, you know that the first thing just us folks have to do to secure our place in the Sun on the Internet is to contract with an ISP. The ISP's job is to secure that place in the Sun for you.

ISP Diagram
Your Internet service provider (ISP) is your basic link from your PC to the Internet.Image pilfered from Blacksheep Enterprises, LLC.

When you use your favorite browser to surf the 'Net to get a Web page, like the one you're looking at to read this blog posting, you follow the diagram above from left to right. For your ecommerce website, however, your customers will go from right to left. They'll come from the Internet cloud down to your ISP with a request for a webpage from your ecommerce website. The ISP, however, won't need to go all the way back to your PC to get your webpage because they'll have stored a copy of the thing on their server.

That's what the term "server" means, after all. It's a computer (actually, some software running on a computer) operated by your ISP that has tons of memory to store digital copies of your webpages, which it "serves" to whoever requests them.

Think of it like an all-can-eat buffet. The website creator is the chef cooking the food. The ISP is like the company who owns the building and the metal bins into which the chef piles the food. The server is the line of bins from which the customer (the "client" in network parlance) selects what they want to eat. The food is the webpage the customer wants to consume, and the Internet is the line of customers carrying their serving trays past the food bins. Finally, the PC is the table at which the customer sits to consume their food.

In the modern "mobile-only" world, substitute your dinky little smartphone for the PC with its full-size keyboard, mouse and HD display. Folks who try to go mobile-only are pathetic.

Back in the stone-knives-and-bearskins era of Internet technology, website creators all had their own servers running on their own computers (which were called "minicompters" in that pre-PC Universe), which sent webpages as digital files over the phone lines (remember telephone modems?) directly to browser software running on client computers. We don't have to do that, anymore. The Internet is a vast pile of servers out there in cloudland owned and operated by ISPs that make things easy for just us folks, who don't even want to know about it.

For your ecommerce website, however, you can't just use any ol' ISP. You've got to contract with an ISP whose systems are sophisticated enough to run all the databases, security systems, and third-party money-handling facilities needed for an ecommerce website.

You'll have to do your homework to find an ISP for yourself. I can only tell you whom I chose for CGMbooks.com. I ended up with Network Solutions.

Over the years, I've tried a number of ISPs. For one reason or another, I've been happiest with my experience building ordinary informational websites with Network Solutions. For one thing, I noticed that they have facilities to help hackers like me build their own ecommerce sites. So, when I decided to build CGMbooks.com, I checked them out first. I liked what I saw and chose to work with them. They might, or might not, be the right choice for you.

Do NOT, however, fall for one of the "build your own website for cheap money" promotions. Bait-and-switch is the order of the day for Internet services marketing.

I've a friend who went for one of those $2.95/month specials. He found he'd gotten nothing but the right to set up an account with the company -- and give them his credit-card information so they could bill him every month for a lot more money.

It costs me many tens of dollars a month to keep CGMbooks open, and I do all the work of building and maintaining the website myself. If you need to have somebody else build it for you (not an unreasonable option, by the way) expect an initial outlay North of a grand, and pretty substantial monthly maintenance fees. That's before you even start talking to banks about handling credit cards.

Then, you have to start thinking about marketing and advertising!