Everyone knows what a website is. You type an address (like shooflydesign.org) in your web browser, and there it is. The pieces that actually are needed to make a website are not necessarily very clear, so this article will offer an explanation in (hopefully) plain language.
If you want to create a website (and, if you're working with us, it's safe to assume you do), you have to take care of some technical requirements before you'll really have a website:
Your files. This is the stuff that makes up your website. A website, as experienced by regular people, is just a bunch of files. It's text files, usually combined with image files, and often including audio files (like MP3s), rich media (like Flash ads, games, or applications), and other such goodies. But really, it's just files. When you "go to" a website, your computer is actually downloading files and displaying them for you in a structured way. That's an important thing to understand -- the web experience, as far as consuming stuff online, is pretty much structured downloading. There's frequently more to it, but not much, and not it's important enough to go into here.
Web hosting (or a web server). This is a computer, or just disk space on a computer that's connected to the internet (usually with a really fast connection), that holds the files that make up your website, and knows how to hand them out, by request, on the internet.
ShooFlyDesign has a favorite partner for web hosting (Hostbaby), but there are lots of them out there with recommendable qualities. A good web host will offer a fast connection, good communication with you, and whatever combination of features is appropriate for your website needs.
Once #1 and #2 are taken care of, you have everything you need. You can offer your website to the internet. The problem is, if you stop here, the address of your site is often a bit weird, like monkeyserve.example.com/users/paulf0123/ or even just numbers and dots, like 127.87.45.1. To solve that problem, you need the next item.
Domain name, like shooflydesign.org. You register these, which is essentially renting them, to solve the problem of your website having a weird address. Along with web servers, there are other types of computers (forming the Domain Name System) that translate domain names into addresses computers use to find other computers -- in this case, your computer uses a domain name to find a web server of interest. Each computer connected to the internet can have more than one domain name.
Domain names make the process of finding and navigating websites easier, as well as allowing more sensible email addresses (i.e. [email protected] instead of [email protected]), and more. The benefit is pretty entirely there to serve humans, who deal with words much more easily than long strings of numbers.
The domain name system is kind of complex, but one important point to note is that each kind of domain name (called top level domain, like .com, .org, .net and so on) is under the auspices of one organization or company. Other companies and organizations are allowed to rent domain names out to people, and there can be many layers of middlemen in the process.
Webmaster. This means a lot of different things. It's almost always the person or people responsible for making sure your website is running. Sometimes it's used to mean the person who designed the site. This can be a person, or a team of people, or you, but generally speaking it's the person who's responsible for making sure the website is up and running.
Offering domain name registration relatively easy and not expensive, but domain names are used as identifiers, and we think it's a good idea for our colleagues and clients to keep their domain names as close to their vests as possible, instead of imposing ourselves as a middleman. We're happy to serve as technical contacts, and to help with registration and all parts of the process, but in the end, we want the domain name to be yours, with ShooFlyDesign serving as your appointed webmaster to help.