Choosing a Website Platform

For the purposes of the Digital Fellows Program, we recommend that you create a website using WordPress, either through the MSU Commons or Humanities Commons platforms, or by using the Domains hosting service that MSU provides.

MSU Commons/Humanities Commons
MSU Domains
A Note on WordPress
A Note on other platforms

MSU Commons/Humanities Commons

MSU Commons is a part of the larger Humanities Commons network, and you are welcome to create websites using WordPress in either the MSU specific network, or in Humanities Commons. Sites created on MSU Commons have the url: [yoursitename] Here is an example. This is the best way to create a site that you want to live on

Sites created on Humanities Commons have the url: [yoursitename] Here is an example. This option might appeal to you if you are not going to be at MSU for the long term, or if you are working on a site in which you are collaborating with people from outside MSU.

With the Commons (either MSU or Humanities), you can create one (or more) website(s) for free, and you do not need to worry about maintaining the systems at all, nor do you pay anything. In this system, you have access to the themes and plugins that the Commons provides. So, if you have very specific customization needs, or plugin/theme needs, this option may not work for you. Also, if you want to embed lots of visualizations and other content, Commons’ security measures might limit your options.

If you leave MSU and have site(s) created on MSU Commons, you can transfer your site(s) over to Humanities Commons. You can always export your site(s) away from the Commons (to host on Domains or wherever you like) as well.

To get started with MSU Commons, register here. To get started with Humanities Commons, register here. Note that all MSU Commons users by default also have access to Humanities Commons, so you are more likely to only register for MSU Commons.

MSU Domains

MSU Domains is a web hosting service that we provide to MSU faculty, staff, and graduate students. The company that we work with for this service is called Reclaim Hosting. Web hosting means that you are given space to install and store websites, including (but not limited to) WordPress. You can use Domains simply to run one WordPress for your professional site, or you can use Domains to run your site plus other sites, for courses, projects, etc.

The default url that you receive for free with MSU Domains is [yournetid] Here is an example. You are welcome to work with that domain name, or you can purchase a domain name and attach it to your site. Here is an example. If you use Domains to create sites for other projects too, you have the option to purchase domain names for each of those sites as well, all within your one Domains account.

Using WordPress through Domains gives you free reign over themes and plugins, so you can customize however you like. This does mean that you may need to sift through themes/plugins to only find ones that will not create security challenges. There will be several resources available on this site to help you do that. You also have greater responsibility to manage updates and backups. Again, this site will provide resources for doing this.

Domains is free while you are at MSU. If you leave MSU, you have a few options: You can export all of your sites and use any other hosting service that you wish; or, you can take over the hosting service yourself by becoming an individual Reclaim Hosting customer ($30/year); or, if you move to another university that offers this service, your account can be transferred.

To get started with Domains, request an account using this form.

Comparison of Domains and Commons features. Find a more accessible PDF version here.

Notes on WordPress Itself

  • Available through an MSU Commons or Humanities Commons account for free and without ads.
  • Originally built for blogging (core components are “posts” and “pages”) and very widely used, in and beyond the academy
  • Open source (the code is freely available)
  • Strengths
    • Widely used –> many tutorials and help guides are available online, and skills used in learning it can be re-used in other jobs and classes
    • Many theme options (especially in MSU Domains)
    • Images and media have alt-text fields built in to support accesibility
  • Weaknesses
    • Images and other media do not have robust metadata
    • Because it’s so widely used, it can be overwhelming to get help and select a theme

A note on other platforms

Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, and* are all popular platforms for creating websites. In the Digital Fellows Program, we recommend not using these platforms, however.

We prefer to recommend free and non-proprietary systems because they allow you to keep your site available for as long as you want it to be available, and they allow you to move your content and backup your content more readily.

Some of the platforms above charge a monthly usage rate, or they require that you pay in order to have your site searchable on Google etc, or they put ads on your site. These are things to consider when selecting a platform in any context.

*A Note on – sites created on use the same fundamental system as all WordPress sites but live on WordPress’s servers, which is why you can set up sites there for free (which is the appeal). The downside is that you don’t have as much control over the files of your site in this context, and that ads may show up on your site without you knowing. By contrast, the WordPress sites that we are working with on the Commons or through Domains, are hosted through servers that are run by MSU or paid for by MSU, which is why they do not have ads (and won’t ever have ads).