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The Archive of our Own (AO3) is in the middle of its semi-annual donation drive again, and as is customary now, the antishippers are out in full force whining about a no-ads-ever, massive archive website like the AO3 needing money to stay online and how dare it asks money of people while hosting so much “problematic” content.
But this post isn’t about this.
This post is about a tangent I’ve seen to the above discourse, about how all free hosts are gone from the Web so the haters have no choice but be forced to post their fics on AO3 and suffer.
So this post is about the cost of hosting your own website to post your own content on the interwebs, whatever it may be.
The notion that “free” (as in, no upfront cost, but ad-powered) hosting is gone from the Internet since Yahoo! (boo, hiss) closed Geocities in 2009 is simply not true. Sure, Angelfire and Tripod, the other of the other big 3 of free, ad-powered web hosting, has also stopped offering free hosting space (they also belong to the same company now, Lycos). But, following in the footsteps of the late Geocities, there’s Neocities. Heck, look up “free web hosting” in your search engine of choice and you’ll find plenty of companies vying for your attention by promising the best hosting a complete lack of money can… buy?
Now as to whether these hosts are worth the not-existent price tag… well, that’s a whole other question. Remember: if the price tag says “free”, the product the company is selling is you (and/or your data). And, just as importantly, the kind of content you produce may not be allowed on their servers…
The Cost of Web Hosting
If you, understandably, decide that you’d rather pay for hosting, for your own peace of mind and the ability to post whatever you want (as long as it’s legal and adheres to your host’s Terms of Service and/or Acceptable Use Policy), it doesn’t have to empty your wallet. Yes, it costs a pretty penny (latest budget) to host the AO3 and keep it running; however, the AO3 has over 7 million fanworks in over 40,000 fandoms and over 3 million registered users, with all the disk space, database sizes, database hits and concurrent user activities this implies. Your website will not reach these numbers.
But what does it cost?
I’ll take my own web space as an example because that’s the one set of data I reliably have access to, haha.
First of all, you need hosting, aka to pay a company to keep the files and databases (although databases are not always needed) on their server, which is simply a computer always connected to the internet and that will display your pages to anyone who requests them.
For various reasons, I am currently hosted on shared hosting provided by HawkHost. I’ve found them to be a helpful host with good customer service, their hosting is fast and reliable, and I like the modern tech their hosting provides me with, like free SSL and modern and up-to-date PHP versions. If that last part was alphabet soup, don’t worry about it, it’s not necessary to know what that means right now.
But anyway, my annual (I pay once a year) bill for hosting comes up to US$33.52/year, so roughly US$2.80 per month. That might be more or less expensive depending on where you live, I realize, and I’m sorry.
Once your files are hosted, you need a domain name, because to reach your website(s), people need to have something they can type into their web browser’s address bar. The price of domain names vary wildly, depending on the Top-Level Domain (TLD, aka the part after the dot, like .com, .net, or .org). Common TLDs like .com or .net are relatively cheap. Fancy ones like .pizza, .blog, .store or .wiki are much more expensive. .sucks is particularly expensive. Some domain names also come with restrictions: for example, to own a .ca name, you have to be a Canadian citizen, and, as PillowFort found out the hard way, you cannot use a .io domain name to host pornographic material.
My fancy domain name, a .zone, is roughly US$44.50/year. I also pay $12/year for privacy protection (basically if someone does a whois on my domain name it doesn’t display my actual real name and address). Privacy protection is included in the price of certain TLD, like for .ca domains. On the other hand, a .ca domain, like I used to use, is US$16.00/year. Going with the generic domain TLD (.com, .net, .org, .info) or a country TLD (.ca, .us) is much cheaper than anything else.
A company that allows you to buy a domain name is called a registrar. I personally use Rebel, although mostly because they bought the registrar I was dealing with before. Google also has a registrar service… for now. I have heard good things about Namecheap and Gandi.
Note that it is recommended to NOT buying your domain name and your hosting from the same company. The TL;DR version of the explanation is that in case you’re unsatisfied with the company’s services and want to move your website elsewhere, if your host doesn’t have control of your domain, they cannot hold it hostage.
So, How Much Is It?
Given the above costs I’ve mentioned, I believe you can have a web space to call your own for about US$50.00/year, all told, including hosting space, a domain name with a generic TLD, and free privacy protection (Namecheap and Gandi offer free privacy protection with each domain you register with them). I know it seems relatively cheap and reasonable to me, a legal adult able enough to hold a job in a developed country, and that not everyone can afford the cost of hosting a website, for all sorts of reasons. I also didn’t mean to imply that keeping the lights on at the AO3 should be cheap and easy, because it isn’t. But what I mostly wanted to demonstrate in this here post is that you don’t need to be a millionaire to have a little corner of the web that you can call your own.
Provided, of course, that you follow the law and your host’s Terms of Service and Applicable Use Policy, as the vast majority of paid hosting, even if you’re the one paying, cannot be used as a platform to threaten, harass, hack, doxx, spam, or DDoS others.