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So your web host is retiring: How to back-up and move forward

On Monday, AOL (Weblogs Inc.'s parent company) announced that they are shutting down the AOL Hometown and AOL Journals services. AOL Journals members will be able to migrate to a new service, but AOL Hometown users have been instructed to back-up their files and prepare to go somewhere else.

There have also been reports (but Wikipedia is the source, so keep that in mind) that Yahoo! GeoCties has removed or shut-down some of its UK web servers. With Google killing its Page Creator tool and migrating everyone to Google Sites, the free static web host is a dying breed.

So what can you do if you are an AOL Hometown user (or you use another older service that might be on its last legs)? Read on for tips on backing up your content and publishing options for the future.

Backing up your files

The AOL Hometown announcement page gives some details for backing up your content using the AOL FTP tool, but here are some free software alternatives might better suit your needs, especially if you have a hard time using or locating the AOL tool:

FileZilla - FileZilla works on Linux, Mac and Windows. It is very easy to use and very powerful.

Cyberduck - If you are a Mac user and you want a more Mac-like feel, Cyberduck is free and also very powerful.

FireFTP - FireFTP is a great plugin for Firefox that lets you use FTP right within your browser. It works with Firefox on all platforms.

After you decide on an FTP tool, follow the instructions to connect and download all of your files and images. Download everything that is on that server. It might be a good idea to burn a copy to a CD or DVD for safe-keeping, if the information is important.

Moving Forward

For users who want to move their content to another service, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that today, you can build even more advanced web pages, blogs or photo albums using any number of free services. Aside from free hosted services like Blogger, Live Spaces and that let you create blogs and photo galleries, there are services like Weebly, Wix and Sauropol that let you easily build more "traditional" static web sties. Keep in mind that WordPress also let you create separate "pages" if you want more than just a blog.

The bad news is that there is no easy or automatic way to import your existing HTML content from a service like AOL Hometown or Geocities onto one of these new sites. For image hosting, you can simply re-upload your photos and tag them accordingly. If you have lots of web pages, however, you might want to look at hosting your own content. Take a look at your content, if it is old or in need of a good update, starting over might not be a bad idea. It will certainly be easier than it was before.

Self Hosting

Even though more and more services are becoming web based (e-mail, storage, document collaboration), there is always the chance that the company hosting that content could either fold or decide to discontinue to the service. That's what is happening to AOL Hometown users now. If you want to have full control over your own content, the best option is to pay for web hosting and host the content yourself.

There are dozens of inexpensive webhosts that offer full hosting services for only a few dollars a month. These packages often include a domain name, meaning you don't have to have a URL like (a blog I have incidentally, never ever used), you can instead have something like Hosting yourself also means you can choose to either host the content exactly as it appeared on your old site, or upgrade to the world of dynamic publishing.

Even if you don't want a blog, building a website is much easier and more efficient using a system like WordPress rather than cobbling together the static HTML files. You can more easily update not only the content, but the look of your site, and you can interact with visitors via comments.

By hosting yourself, you could even choose to host your old content the way it appeared before, while creating new content using newer technology.

The caveat with paying for your own hosting is that you are responsible for the upkeep and the maintenance of your page. Most hosts offer tools to help beginners get up and running quickly, but control means control. You deal with the good and the bad. A hosted service, while it offers less options, also means no technical upkeep on the user's part.

Final Thoughts

If you are still using one of the older static hosts of yesteryear, consider backing up and migrating your data now. Self-publishing is bigger than ever, but the old model is dying and the faster you start the transition, the better off you will be.

Tags: aol, aol hometown, AolHometown, web building, web hosting, WebBuilding, WebHosting, websites