Free Web Hosting – Pro/Con

It may come as no big surprise to you that there are a lot of FREE web hosting sites available.

(Updated on Jan 27, 2011)

Over 140 free web hosting sites are listed at http://www.free-webhosts.com/ plus there are no doubt many others if you search hard enough. With that information, why would anyone want to PAY for hosting? Well, I’m glad you asked <grin> because that is what I am about to answer…

The free sites seem to operate on one or more of these business models:

  1. Make money by giving  away service and hoping that you will purchase their other products (WordPress.com, Blogger.com, etc)
  2. Offer truely free gratis – but often limited services – just to help non-profit or community service organizations – and sometimes, individuals (http://cdntoday.com is an excellent example – except that their service is NOT severely crippled)
  3. Offer a free but limited version in hopes that you will UPGRADE to their paid version (MOST free hosting sites use this “freemium” model)
  4. Make money from the advertising that they present to your users (Yahoo, MS Live, etc)
  5. The hosting is an extra “benefit” thrown in as a result of your business relationship with them (ISPs, etc) BTW, these are perhaps the most onerous because they impose themselves on you and load you – & your users – down with advertisements everywhere.

freeNote: ZDNet did an interview with Wired’s Chris Anderson on the ‘free’ business models in use today. Anderson describes two business models: media or ad-revenue and “freemium” (upgrade to a paid version). This is true in the overall (big money) sense but there are exceptions (as he also mentions in reference to “open source” software) and I have tried to take some of those exceptions into consideration also.

One thing that most free hosting sites have in common is that their service is standardized, giving you very limited options. The CDN Today “Community of Family-Friendly Sites” is one exception to this. Generally, they offer 3 or 4 “themes” and may allow you to select a color and perhaps a picture. This is quick and easy for you but also makes your site look “cookie-cutter” bland. But the real reason for such standardization is that it simplifies their operation and cuts down on the number of support questions they have to answer. Also, with the “freemium” sites, it is their “hook” to get you to upgrade to their paid version. When you see how dull and uninteresting your site is, you are more likely to accept their “generous” terms for an upgrade.

Again, the http://cdntoday.com “community” is an exception. This service offers over 100 themes. Many of the themes have extra configurations that make every site appear unique – even if using the same theme. Also, the CDN Today system provides a wide selection of plug-ins to extend the functions of your site. Even so, there is no advertising or other charge for you to set up a site on what they call their “community of sites.”

So, here are the top ten reasons NOT to use a free web hosting service (the most important reasons at the top):

  1. Advertisements are pushed to your users that you have no control over (paid hosts do NOT push ads to your users) (CDN Today does not place advertisements on your site)
  2. Limited functions available for creating a unique site (I can install a wide range of software and/or enhancements on the sites that I create) (CDN Today DOES offer such extended functions)
  3. Cannot have your own domain name (such as bishoptec.com for this site) (CDN Today allows this)
  4. No support when you have questions (or very limited email only support – my host provides 24/7/365 phone support) (CDN Today has free personal support)
  5. Limited amount of storage space available (file size of the stuff you keep on the site – my account is unlimited) (CDN Today does impose some limits on space)
  6. Limited bandwidth (how many megabytes all of your users, combined, can access on your site in a month – my account is unlimited) (CDN Today does impose some limits on bandwidth)
  7. Cannot MOVE your site if you change hosts (I can duplicate and move any site or application I have installed) (CDN Today allows full download of your posts, pages, comments, categories & tags)
  8. Cannot host a separate domain on the same hosting service (I have 10 separate websites hosted with my one hosting account) (CDN Today does not allow this either)
  9. Cannot have domain-specific email accounts (I could – but don’t – have an email address of me@bishoptec.com) (CDN Today does not provide this function)
  10. Cannot support IMAP email servers  (CDN Today does not provide this funtion)

Previously, I have encouraged everyone to self-host their own site (as in the next paragraph). However, since the development of the http://cdntoday.com network of sites, I have changed my opinion. If your proposed site meets their Terms of Service (http://cdntoday.com/tos/ generally, non-commercial, family-friendly) then I encourage you to visit the site and request a free website on that service: http://cdntoday.com/getblog/

If you require an IMAP/POP mail server, or if your site is commercial, NOT family-friendly, or otherwise does not meet the CDN Today terms of service, then I recommend the Bluehost.com service. They have full service (as described above) for just $6.95 per month, paid annually. Disclosure: Clicking on the Bluehost link will not increase your cost but Bluehost will give me a small fee.

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