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Oct 16, 2009

How to Build an Internet Identity with a Low Budget

This article is for people who are not willing to spend too much time or money on service hosting. If being present on the Web is part of your business, then sign up for a hosted virtual machine and install and maintain the services you need. This article won’t help you very much.

If you are still reading, I assume you are like myself – you want to have an essential web identity – intuitive web and email addresses. And you don’t want to monitor and maintain the background services. In addition to that, your spouse doesn’t really understand why you want pay to for a virtual computer when you have three real ones at home.

Here I present a procedure that allows you to build an essential web identity for $15 per year and no maintenance.

Step 1: Design your identity

Think what web site URL and email address you want to have. For instance, I prefer to keep it simple – if you can spell my name, it should be trivial to find me:

Following this guideline has an additional benefit – you can enable your entire family to build their web identities for free which you can use as an argument the next time you need a budget increase.

Step 2: Register a domain name

Make sure you are happy with the domain name you came up with in the previous step, because now you’ll have to purchase it. This is where my $15 per year go. It’s totally worth it. Owning a domain name independently of the services gives you the freedom to use different services from different providers and to change a service provider when you are not happy with the quality of service they provide.

There are many registrars. I’ve chosen – I have no complaint so far. The tools are pretty good and there are help topics dedicated to the most popular free service providers. Feel free to do your own research and chose the one you feel most comfortable with. That doesn’t deviate from this procedure.

We are done for now with the domain name. We’ll get back to configuring the DNS records once we open service accounts.

Step 3: Open an email account @ your domain

Microsoft ( and Google ( have free packages that allow you to have several email accounts @ your own domain. Those packages are intended for small businesses but there is no requirement to own a business in order to open a small business account. Yahoo ( also offers a compatible package, but I cannot see a free option.

Choose the provider you are more comfortable with and open a service account with it. Or, you can open service accounts with multiple service providers and later drop those you don’t need.

During the account opening process you may be required to prove that you own your domain name by creating a temporary DNS record that maps a special name to one of the provider’s servers. Don’t worry, the instructions will be easy to follow.

At the end of the email account creation process, there should be a page where the service provider shows you the list of their mail server IP addresses. You should do the following:

  • Log into your DNS account (that you created in Step 2).
  • Find the section related to DNS record management.
  • Create a separate MX record for each server.

Once you commit the changes you should be able to send yourself an email.

Step 4: Open a web service account

Here you have a variety of choices. The fundamental categories are:

  • Blog
  • Wiki
  • Web site builder platform
  • Plain HTML

And there a multiple options within each category. The properties you should be looking for are:

  • The service is free of charge
  • The service provider allows you to have your own domain name at no extra cost

Again, you can create multiple service accounts that you can evaluate in parallel. My personal choice is blog as blogs require minimum effort to write and they don’t demand too much content. Wikies are also relatively easy to write, but a wiki demands lots of content that you are unlikely to have for a long while. I’m also looking at Drupal which is a web site builder platform. It offers a high degree of flexibility to you web site but you have to spend the time designing. And finally, plain HTML is the easiest way to get started, but the maintenance cost grows exponentially as the content grows. So I strongly vote against it.

Back to blogs. There are two big free blog service providers – WordPress and Blogger. WordPress offers more features and styles than Blogger. However, having your own domain name is not included in WordPress’s free package. I’ve found two limited workarounds:

  1. You can redirect your domain name to the WordPress domain name. So people can still find you but then they will have to deal with the “actual” WordPress URL which may confuse them.
  2. You can redirect your domain name to the WordPress domain masking the actual domain name. Technically, this is a web browser feature – the browser always shows you root domain name regardless of where the user navigates. That becomes problematic when someone wants to save or forward a direct link to a page.

After all, I’ve chosen to use Blogger to keep the user experience intuitive hoping that Blogger will catch up on features and styles.

Again, you have to create a DNS record that redirects your domain name to the web site:

  • Log into your DNS account (that you created in Step 2).
  • Find the section related to DNS record management.
  • Create an A record for the web server.


This is all you need to get started. You can continue searching for better email or web service providers. Whenever you decide to switch, migrate your content and update your DNS records. The people who interact with you online won’t have to update their links. And please let me know if you discover a cool service provider.

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