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    Open E: Starting An E-Commerce Website

    This is the second post in a series called "Open E at MT." In the spirit of the Open Source software movement, I'll be openly sharing my learning experiences at an e-commerce entrepreneur.

    Choosing Your Business Name URL.
    Judaica Modern was second runner for the name of the website now called ModernTribe -- and strongly lobbied for by my dear friend Reid. After learning so much about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), it may have been a better choice. That's because it has "Judaica" in the URL which weighs heavy for Google -- try searching for Judaica. You'll see that most top ranking sites have Judaica in the url but not much else going for them. For example, the third ranked site has a note on the home page about being closed for Passover! which was in April! But ModernTribe, I thought, would make a much better t-shirt. Oh if I only knew then...

    Fun Fact: ModernTribe.com was owned by one of those internet bottom-dweller conglomerates who squat on thousands of domain names. The asking price was $1800 and I negotiated them down to $500.

    You'll Need Two Kinds of Help to Build Your Site
    You almost always need someone who will make your site look pretty: a graphic designer. These days it's not enough to know some html to create a good looking site. Sometimes you will also need a systems programmer. Some people say they are good at both design and programming. Be skeptical. Which type of help you need depends on the solution you choose for your website platform.

    Choosing Your Website Platform is One of the Biggest Decisions You'll Make
    Platforms are time-consuming and expensive to change so you've got to weigh the options carefully. Below are the four main choices you've got. Once you decide among one of these four approaches, you'll still need to narrow down to the particular what. But making the decision among one of these below is a good start.

    Lease a site. Yahoo Shopping sites are an example. You pay a monthly fee to use their system which is hosted for you. The disadvantages are (1) the monthly fee and usually a percentage of gross sales and (2) although you can customize the look -- meaning -- you can pay a graphic designer to customize the look for you, the functionality of the system is whatever they offer. The advantages are (1) it's cheap and easy to get started and (2) the system is maintained and upgraded (I assume). Nexternal is another brand of site leasing.

    Buy a solution to configure and host yourself. X-Cart is an example. You pay upfront for the software (X-Cart Gold is $229), upload the software and configure your site yourself. X-Cart says you don't need any knowledge of php (the programming language) to get it up and running. Yah. But you'd have to pay a programmer and/or graphic designer to customize it if you want unique look or function. Advantages are that there are no monthly fees or transaction fees, you can get the customization you want if you are willing to pay for it, and there is company support and a community of users around the solution.

    Get an Open Source solution such as OSCommerce. Similar to buying a solution but you don't pay for any software. However, you wouldn't attempt to install and configure this puppy yourself unless you are a programmer -- ever -- just try following the forum posts, and there is no company support because there is no company. Instead there is large community support for your programmer. You would hire a programmer to create your site using the open source solution and you'd hire a graphic designer to work with the programmer.

    Build it yourself. For completely customized function and look you can hire a programmer and graphic designer and go for it! This requires a lot of planning and specification writing and a general masochistic outlook. This is how we built ModernTribe. Advantages are big: you get what you want (or at least you try) and you own the site. Disadvantages are big too: you pay up front and age quickly -- both you and your website. You have to always be maintaining and upgrading. You become as dependent on your programmer as an infant to his mother. And on that note, I'll say goodnight, as I need to go email my programmer.