Session 1: What and Why?

Why are we building websites?

There are a number of reasons why you might want your own website. Maybe you want to have your email, web content, and other parts of your digital identity all in a stable place over which you have complete control. Maybe you are looking for capabilities, like building the kind of interactive learning exercises that accompany digital textbooks, that you cannot get from commercial offerings. Maybe you want more control over the format and presentation of your materials or want to help protect the privacy of people who touch that material. Perhaps you simply want to understand how some of the fundamental technologies of our networked society function. Building your own site can help with all of these things and more.

What kind of site are we building?

So what kind of websites are we going to be building in this course? The software we are going to use, Wordpress, is best known as a blogging platform and, as part of my preparation for this course, that is just the kind of site I built. Exactly what sort of site you choose to build will depend on what portions of your online activity you want to put on the site. That is why your site building task for this session is to monitor your own online activity (see the "Tasks" section below).

Wordpress is actually such a flexible piece of software that it can be used to build many different kinds of sites. In total, Wordpress powers a full 25% of the websites currently online. This flexibility and ubiquity mean that you are very likely to run into Wordpress during your career, even if you choose to build your personal website using different software right now or move away from Wordpress after this course is over.

Why Reclaim Hosting?

If you read the "Prerequisites" section of the About page you will know that we are going to be signing up with Reclaim Hosting as part of this course, which is a commercial operation that spun off of the University of Mary Washington's Domain of One's Own initiative.

Much of what we will be doing here will work just as well on other paid Wordpress hosting platforms, on free Wordpress accounts sites like, or even on other public blogging sites like or So, if the funds are not available, or you would prefer to spend them elsewhere, you should still be able to participate in this course.

That said, I encourage paying for hosting, and paying for hosting from Reclaim Hosting in particular, for a number of reasons:

Why Pay?
  • Paying is the only way to get your own domain name and having your own domain name is the only way to sustain a presence on the web in the long term. Anything else will put you at the mercy of a particular company or site operator that could change their mind or close up at any time.

  • Paying gets you services like custom email addresses at your domain, and the ability to run other software for everything from web forums to photo galleries or even whole course management systems.

  • Paying gets us the full power of Wordpress to install plugins or themes and fully customize every element. Free Wordpress sites, including most campus offerings, give very few options in this regard.

Why pay Reclaim?
  • Reclaim Hosting's goal is more than just hosting, they want everyone to build their own corner of the web and so their tutorials and other documentation is going to be targeted at us directly.
  • Reclaim grew our of and still works primarily for the educational community so the decisions they make are informed by the same concerns we are likely to have.
  • Reclaim Hosting is low priced but offers powerful features and, from what I can see, excellent support.


Site Building

Online Courses

Web Fundamentals


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