Personal websites are becoming ubiquitous, every ISP (Internet Service Provider) offers a ‘free’ personal website. However these are usually quite simple – just allowing users to upload .html documents to their website root (although many ISPs offer handy MyWebsite tools and templates).Large-scale commercial enterprise websites (e.g.
http://amazon.com) are a different story, supported by huge in-house (or outsourced) website teams including professional graphic designers and Internet experts.
However there is also a ‘middle-way’ for more ambitious personal users and small businesses alike. This is made possible by the wide availability of cheap web hosting services offering server-side databases and Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripting languages. The most common offering is a MySQL database server and a PHP (PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor) scripting engine, which can process uploaded .php documents and return HTML to the webserver (and thence to client-side browsers). This paves the way for ‘dynamic’ pages, generated on the fly from server-side functions, principally queries on the server-side database. All this sounds quite technical but life is made much easier by the associated proliferation of good, free, Content Management Systems (CMS) like Drupal, WordPress, and concrete5.
CMS systems are designed to support collaborative management of website content by groups of contributors, typically separated geographically but linked via the Internet. These may be Sustrans Glasgow or individual blogs but the principle is the same, they use PHP and MySQL and as far as possible they make it easy for ordinary end-users. Many such sites are entered via username/password and each user may have a different role with rights to make only certain changes. Howewever it is quite possible to use a CMS system as a quick way of developing a simple ‘regular’ website, like this one. See some of the links on the Website Examples page for examples.