Building Your Own Homepage

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You've got the e-mail thing down, and you've even started attaching photos. You're getting so comfortable in computer land, you're contemplating buying a digital camera. You've overcome your fear of the online world, and you're ready to communicate your thoughts and images to millions (or at least to your cousins in Vancouver). It's time to set up — ta da! — your own home page.

Don't be scared. Nothing could be easier. And if you know where to look, it'll cost you nothing. Here's how to do it.

Before your website can join the ranks of our favorites, you must get organized. That means putting all the pictures you want to share through your site into an easy-to-find folder on your computer desktop. Make sure they're in the JPEG or GIF format and less than 40K in size. For managing these files, Microsoft Photo Editor is a big help, and it's pre-installed on most Windows PCs. Macintosh users, try iPhoto, which is free for anyone using OS X. If you don't have either one, pick up Adobe's Photoshop Elements ($99) or any other inexpensive photo program.

Once you have your pics (and, one assumes, some witty prose in mind), go online. Many places host Web pages. Three easy-to-use sites are Yahoo GeoCities (www.geocities.com), AOL Hometown (for members, Keyword: Hometown) and Homestead Personal (www.homestead.com). Each offers a quick, template-based option designed to have your home page up in about an hour.

AOL's 1-2-3 Publish is the easiest to use but at the expense of personal creativity. Also, it allows only one photo per page. Yahoo PageWizards takes a little more time to figure out but is more useful. It prompts you for everything — pictures, text, choice of borders, background and clip art. Homestead's SiteBuilder goes further than the others, letting you organize multiple pages with a common visual theme and add maps, site counters and funky text effects. It even automatically sets up site navigation so your visitors can find their way around.

AOL and Yahoo also offer more powerful editing tools that let you click and drag images and text onto your home page. These programs let you see your page in wysiwyg (for "what you see is what you get") as you're working on it. Both the AOL tool, Easy Designer, and the Yahoo editing application, PageBuilder, are easy to figure out. But because the site-building tools are on the Net rather than on your hard drive, editing tends to be a little herky-jerky.

Yahoo's GeoCities Web service has the advantage of a better file manager, so once your site is up you can go back and easily edit the components, link them together and even add others that you created somewhere else. With AOL's tools, file management isn't so easy.

While all three home-page services start out free, Homestead charges $49.99 a year to host your page after a 14-day trial period. Some users might find it preferable to GeoCities, which puts advertising on your home page. AOLers don't pay extra for their home page--it's covered by their monthly service fee. (AOL Time Warner is the parent company of this magazine.)

Some people get bitten by the home-page bug and may want to do more. Programs like Macromedia's Dreamweaver ($299) and Microsoft's FrontPage (part of the Microsoft Office XP suite, or $169 separately) are click-and-drag applications that let you add animation, sound and interactive features. Relatively easy to use, they also offer more for the advanced designer.

Finally, if using words rather than pictures is your favorite method of communicating online, consider a weblog. Called "blogs" for short, these little websites are like message boards, and the best services, like Radio UserLand (radio.userland.com) 30-day free trial, then $39.95 per year), build in tools that allow you — and your pals — to post messages. Home, sweet home page.