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Ten ways to replace iWeb and MobileMe hosting

Yesterday, we reported on a rumor that Apple's website creation software, iWeb, is about a year away from obsolescence, along with MobileMe's hosting of iWeb sites. An iWeb user allegedly sent Apple CEO Steve Jobs an email asking if he should start looking for another website builder and a new host, and Jobs provided one of his patented terse replies: "Yep."

In my post about this, I mentioned some alternatives that TUAW readers might want to look at. Here I'm going to take a more detailed look at several easy website creation tools and hosting alternatives, so that you can start making your plans to move away from iWeb and MobileMe. I will not be covering professional web design tools in this post, as iWeb is designed for easy creation of sites. Instead, all of the suggestions I'll make here are aimed at the folks who just want to create a relatively good-looking website quickly, without a lot of training.

iWeb hosting via FTP

If you want to keep using iWeb for a while but would like to move your iWeb site away from MobileMe hosting, then get yourself a domain name, get a web host, and start publishing via FTP.

iWeb 3 made it possible to publish your website on a traditional web host. You set up the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) settings in iWeb's site publishing settings, and pressing the Publish Site button takes care of uploading graphics, text, and any changed pages to the host.

Just about every major and minor web hosting provider supports FTP. Note that some of the standard iWeb features, including password protection, blog and photo comments, blog search and the hit counter don't work when you use FTP for publishing.

The great thing about this solution is that you can just change the host for your website, point iWeb to the new host, and publish your same old site to the new location. Not much is lost in translation, and you won't need to go through a lot of redesign work.

Unfortunately, iWeb probably won't be supported in the future and may eventually stop working with future releases of Mac OS X. The other negative? You'll need to pay for web hosting from one of the many hosting providers. You can also use your own Mac as a web server (no matter how old), but that's the subject of another post...

iWeb hosting on Dropbox

If you have a lightly-used iWeb site and don't feel like spending money on web hosting, consider getting a free Dropbox account and hosting your iWeb site there. I wrote some instructions on how to use Dropbox as your iWeb host a while back, so check them out.

Advantages? You can continue using iWeb for a while longer. Disadvantages? Dropbox isn't designed for large-traffic web hosting, and might shut you down if your site is wildly popular. Likewise, if you have a huge and complex iWeb site with a lot of photos, you might go over the free 2 GB free storage limit and have to start paying for web hosting.

Facebook

Do you just want to have a "site" where you can post pictures and videos, let your friends know what you're doing, and get comments on your content? Then you may just want to move over to Facebook. It's free, and most of your friends and relatives are probably already using it.

Facebook is fine for the new material you create, but how do you move your old posts to the land of Zuckerberg? It's probably not going to work very well. I can envision some sort of long session involving copying and pasting text to Facebook, but with the constantly changing wall of content on Facebook, your old content is going to be wiped off the wall fairly soon.

If you have a lot of your iPhoto pics on your iWeb site, then you're in luck. Just open up iPhoto, put all of those iPhoto pics into an album, and then use Share > Facebook to move the photos into a Facebook album.

What if you're looking for a more personal and unique site? That's where my next suggestions come in.

WordPress / WordPress.com

When I want to put a website or blog together quickly, I use WordPress. This blogging tool (content management system) has been around for years, and it is wildly popular. Over 14% of the top 1 million websites were created in WordPress, and the most recent major release of WordPress had been downloaded over 32.5 million times by February of 2011. There's even a professional version, WordPress VIP, which our sister site TechCrunch uses as its underlying CMS.

WordPress is not a Mac application; rather, it is an AMP (Apache / MySQL / PHP) application that runs on a server (or on your Mac). You log into a dashboard from your favorite web browser, add content, change the look and feel of the site with themes and plugins, and then publish your changes. There's no need, as in iWeb, to make changes locally and then wait for your modifications to be uploaded to a server.

For beginning WordPress bloggers, I recommend a free WordPress.com account. It's a great way to learn how WordPress works, all your content can be migrated to another WordPress host at a later date if necessary, and the fairly new step-by-step tutorials are an incredible way to learn all about this powerful content management system.

If you decide to head out on your own, most major web hosting providers have one-click installers for WordPress. In other words, you sign up for a hosting plan, then say that you want WordPress installed. A few minutes later, you get an email from your WordPress site saying that you need to log in and create an administrative account. Do that, and you're on your way to blogging superstardom. Among the hosting providers that provide one-click installations of WordPress are Bluehost, DreamHost, MediaTemple, and GoDaddy. Note that you're going to have to pay for a hosting plan, so maybe the $99 you'll be saving every year by not renewing MobileMe will pay for your web hosting.

WordPress is remarkably powerful, and a vast developer community is constantly creating new plugins to add functionality to the tool and designing new themes to make pages that are unique and beautiful. If you can't find a theme to your liking, there's always Artisteer, an app that you can use to easily create your own custom theme.

iWeb users who might have set up a small shop using something like Google Checkout or PayPal buttons can actually get a real web commerce site going with WordPress. There are several plugins now available for WordPress that integrate with shopping cart services like FoxyCart.

Finally, WordPress is an excellent way to get familiar with most content management systems. For anyone who has aspirations to become a professional blogger, starting with WordPress can get you familiar with the tools and workflow that you'll need to move on up the ladder.

Tumblr

Want a very easy to use and free way to host a website? Tumblr's a good start. You can sign up for free in minutes and be posting immediately after that. There's a selection of Tumblr themes -- none of which I found to my liking -- that you can choose from, and all you need to do to post is have a web browser or use an iOS app like Tumblr (Free) or QuickTumblr ($2.99, for iPad).

As you can see from the Tumblr dashboard screenshot above, once you've logged into your account you have a choice of what you can post. Each one of these buttons leads to a data entry page that you can use to post a specific type of content.

On Tumblr, you can create some social engagement by choosing other tumblelogs to follow, or by liking/favoriting posts which you can quote or reblog on your own site. Tumblr's bookmarklet and email posting tools are pretty snazzy, and they make it easy to clip and share popular links or videos. You can call in posts from your cellphone, if you like blogging in audio format. We even have a TUAW Tumblr for material that might not be suitable for the main site.

I personally don't like the vibe or feel of Tumblr, which is why I use the next tool for some personal posting.

Posterous

The only thing you need to start a Posterous blog is an email account. Why? Because you can actually do a lot of your posting by just sending emails to a special Posterous address. You can also use the web-based editor with Safari, Firefox, Chrome, or any other modern web browser to update your information. Posterous is completely free, and there's also a free iPhone app for posting on the run.

I've been using Posterous on and off for three years for my personal blog, and I really like it. There are some great themes -- the current one I'm using uses a grid of fifteen photos to show the last fifteen posts, and it works very well on an iPad. Speaking of the iPad, I recently found out that I can use the handy Writing Kit app ($4.99) to write posts in Markdown and then email 'em to Posterous for publishing. It also has some of the same posting options as Tumblr, and it offers a Groups feature for collaboration & sharing among friends or family.

[Since it's graduation season, don't miss the Posterous "instant collaborative photo album" trick, which leverages the geolocation features of the Posterous iPhone app to cluster pictures around an event. So slick. –Ed.]

As far as I'm concerned, Posterous is the best for free hosting of personal websites. It's incredibly flexible, drop-dead simple to use (I mean, how hard is it to send an email?), it has links to and from the social networking world, offers great looking themes, supports your own private domain names, and never seems to have any downtime. However, for small business sites, which are one of the other main uses for iWeb and MobileMe hosting, it's really not appropriate.

Squarespace

Businesses looking for a way to make beautiful sites with associated hosting should take a peek at Squarespace. This is a combination of a typographically-friendly web-based design tool and hosting that produces some great-looking sites. As with MobileMe hosting, you can have Squarespace host your own domain, and the hosting prices are relatively low -- $144 to $432 per year depending on how popular your site is, how many editors you want, and how many big business features you need.

As with WordPress, Squarespace is easily integrated with shopping cart services. And when you see small business sites like this or this, you can see how professional and compelling Squarespace websites can be.

Drupal / Drupal Gardens

WordPress probably powers more websites and blogs than any other content management system, but Drupal is another hugely popular tool. It's an open source system like WordPress, meaning that the software is written and supported by a community, and the base files are free for the copying. Drupal powers the websites for The Economist, Examiner.com, and even the White House, so you can see that it's a professional system.

For those who are making the move from iWeb and MobileMe hosting, Drupal Gardens might be a good place to start.

It's a hosted system similar to WordPress.com and offers a lot of the power of Drupal 7. It's free for low-bandwidth use, with paid subscriptions for more users, more traffic, and support. Drupal sites can be extremely idiosyncratic in style, and the content management system has built-in features like forums, polls, galleries, and more. The free account is a great way to get your feet wet in the ocean of Drupal, and you can then either move to a paid subscription or put a Drupal installation on another host and move your content.

RapidWeaver

I've talked a lot about web-based blogging tools here, but what about easy Mac-based website tools? RapidWeaver ($59.99) from Realmac Software is a favorite of a lot of Mac users. In many ways, RapidWeaver is similar to iWeb. You create a site using a template, add pages, drop in addons (like widgets in iWeb), and then publish your site. While you're working on your content, you can toggle between an editing mode and a view of the site as it will look when it's published -- that's helpful for making sure that there are no surprises when the publish button is pushed.

If you use RapidWeaver, you'll need to have a web hosting provider. The app supports FTP publishing, so just about any web hosting provider will be able to accommodate your site.

Realmac has a store for RapidWeaver themes, plug-ins, and another feature called Stacks. Themes define the look and feel of the site, plug-ins provide extended capabilities like forms or ecommerce, and stacks are another way of including features that are not built into the basic app. There's a free trial available from RealMac before you buy RapidWeaver from the Mac App Store or direct from the company.

Sandvox

Another venerable web creation app for Mac is Sandvox 2 ($77) from Karelia Software. For a website creation and publishing experience that is close to that of iWeb, but with a lot more features and flexibility, Sandvox is probably the way to go. Even the user interface for Sandvox looks a lot like iWeb.

As with both iWeb and RapidWeaver, there are a variety of themes included, many of which come in more than one choice of color. Unlike with iWeb, you can edit the raw HTML of your website and even run it through the W3C Markup Validation Service from within the app. Sandvox includes a long list of objects (essentially the same as iWeb widgets or RapidWeaver plug-ins). Things like Amazon lists (for use with an Amazon Associates account), a built-in Facebook "Like" button, Flickr thumbnails, or a built-in Twitter feed are easy to drag right into a Sandvox page.

Once again, you'll need to get web hosting from any of the many providers out there. Sandvox supports publishing not only through FTP and SFTP, but WebDAV as well. You can download the app for a free trial and see if Sandvox is for you.

Conclusion

These are just ten of the possible web creation and hosting solutions that iWeb users have available to them. If you're currently hosting an iWeb site on MobileMe, it's a perfect time to start thinking about what you'll do in the post-MobileMe world. Whether you choose to continue using iWeb for a while and just host your site elsewhere, or decide to go with another tool or a web-based content management system, there's no better time to begin planning your website redesign or move.

Keep in mind, though, before you tear up every bit of your carefully crafted iWeb workflow: it is still June of 2011, and there will be a full year before the MobileMe servers go dark in June of 2012. It's likely that we'll be hearing something more from Apple with regard to iWeb site migration around the time of the iCloud launch later this year. After all, as Fortune points out, this isn't the first time that an Apple web publishing tool has been kicked to the curb -- .Mac HomePage got the boot in July of 2009.

I did not include professional-level tools like Adobe Dreamweaver in this list, since we wanted to show tools that anyone who is well-versed in the use of iWeb could easily use. If you favor other easy-to-use web creation and publishing tools, let us know in the comments.