LOLcats and You: Hosting your Imagesfunny caption on your household cat, you'd mail that image electronically to family and friends. These days, it's all about links. Image hosting is undoubtedly one of the web's primary upload destinations, used for everything from quick screenshots to full-blown galleries. Depending on what you're looking to share, there's some great options to get your captioned cats online too.
Imgur and Twitpic are no doubt the easiest ways to quickly host the occasional photo or image. Imgur's interface is clean, simple, and easy to use — it takes mere seconds to get an image online and sent to the masses. The site also has rudimentary gallery support, which is great for sharing multiple pictures quickly at once. Twitpic serves a similar purpose, though is accessed through your Twitter account. This is another handy hosting site that's particularly geared towards the mobile crowd; if you take a lot of cell phone pictures and want another way to share them with friends, Twitpic is just what you need.
While these sites are great, they're relatively rudimentary in the functionality they offer. If you're looking to share hundreds of photos or more, Yahoo's Flickr and Google's Picasa are great tools for capable image hosting. Features like galleries, sets and tagging functionality are all included for easy organization. Photographers should appreciate the ability to view image metadata, along with a spacious file size limit that's much more suitable for camera-shot JPEGs. Also, while sites like Imgur reduce the quality of your image by default, Flickr and Picasa archive your full-size originals, making it a great choice for digital pack-rats.
The community aspect of both sites is also worth noting. Flickr is integrated with your Yahoo account, while Picasa does the same with Google. Pictures can be commented on and shared with friends, family and other users — even those without accounts. And best of all, both services are free, with a basic Flickr account allowing 100Mb's of images per month, and Picasa capped at 1Gb of storage.
Words, words, wordsBlogger accounts and Livejournal notes are a great way to get your thoughts across quickly, but they're not particularly useful as full-blown websites. There's only so much flexibility those sites can offer, which is a shame when you're attempting to establish a home online. These days, Tumblr and WordPress are the two best options for making yourself heard — both are more than just blogs, and can function as full-featured sites as well.
WordPress has been around for a few years now, and is one of the simplest and most customizable content management systems available. The best way to jump in is for free, through Wordpress's website. Here you can set up a blog, customize it, skin it, and add multiple pages of static content wherever you wish. You can choose to use it as a conventional blog, or set it up as a personal portfolio, with the help of custom pages and sections. There's 3Gb of storage included, but you can easily combine that with a Flickr or Picasa account to bring your words and pictures into one place.
Personal Hosting: The Kitchen SinkLet's say none of these services entice you. You've use Flickr, tried Tumblr, but want just a little more control. In this case, instead of storing content with a third party service, you can choose to host it all yourself. Personal hosting is a little more involved than simply signing up for an account, as it requires time, money, and a bit of configuration. GoDaddy, Mediatemple, and hundreds of other sites all offer online storage for you to do what you wish, be it videos, text or anything you can dream. For someone who wants total control, this is the ultimate option.
If you choose to go the hosting route, there's a few things to keep in mind. When you sign up for a Wordpress blog or a Tumblr account, things just work. However, there's a lot of background processes run on the server that you never actually see. PHP and MySQL are the two big services that power practically all web applications on the net. PHP is a scripting language, similar in some ways to HTML, which allows for rich, data-driven services to be deployed online. Wordpress, Tumblr and hundreds of other services are all based on the language, though you would never know it just from looking. MySQL, meanwhile, is a database application that keeps your content in order. Blog and CMS software rely hugely upon a MySQL database in order to store your posts and organize your data. By opting for a traditional hosting account, you'll be responsible for setting all these things. It's not particularly difficult, but not for the faint of heart either. By ensuring your hosting plan supports both PHP and MySQL services, you make it possible to install hundreds of applications in your online space, including Wordpress itself.
But wait. If you can already get a free Wordpress account, what's the point of setting it up yourself, on your own time and money? Unlike the company's free accounts, a hosting plan gives you full control over ever aspect of WordPress' inner workings, from themes to plug-ins, and everything in between. You can set up multiple blogs on the some domain, or use modifications or hacks not normally available to normal Wordpress users. Is that the sort of functionality most users require? Probably not. But if you enjoy tinkering and working with systems yourself, you might find the hosting approach ideal.
Moveable Type CMS is one of many web applications that can only operate on a personal hosting account — therefore, if you find Wordpress or Flickr don't quite meet your needs, a hosting account could allow you to explore other alternative options.
Services like Flickr, Wordpress or Tumblr all do a great job of hosting and serving your content. They serve a specific purpose, and for someone who only wants to blog, or share photos with family, each should prove more than capable. But for those who want to exercise a little extra control, and like to oversee things themselves, a hosting account could work nicely. But as with anything, the solution you choose comes down to the media you plan to share. Be it photos, videos or walls of text, there's more than enough options to meet your needs. Even if those options include stuff like this.
Lead image via flickr user S.C Asher.