Friday, December 31, 2010

Webs.com - A free website builder with lots to offer!

Webs.com is a free website provider. I have set up one of these for some of my photography, and have found it easy to use and effective to view.

The site
The site is clearly laid out, with a fairly intuitive navigation system which is on several levels - for example, certain buttons only appear when you are in the appropriate part of the site to need them, such as page editing buttons, site editing buttons, etc. There is plenty of white space, so that it doesn't look too crowded. There is also a clear link to the support centre - useful if you get stuck!

Getting started
Getting started on Webs is easy. There is a simple registration process, after which you get a welcome email asking you to confirm your email address. Once you have done this, you are taken to the site builder, and you can get started.

Your first job is to pick a template, although if you change your mind, you can always pick a different one later without losing your existing content. There is a pretty good range of templates - the site offers more than 300, although it has to be said that this is made up of a core of base templates, plus variations, such as the same layout with a different colour background or different header picture.

Next, you decide what pages you want. These can include galleries, a blog, a forum, and a number of ordinary pages which can be used for introduction, about me, etc. You can choose whether the pages are shown in the navigation menu, and can shift the order easily so that they are listed in the order you want.

All the pages are set up for the type of content you want, with bars for subheadings, side bars and navigation. On my site, I have added a photo gallery, blog, about me, and a links page. The links page can be separated into categories: for example, I have one category for photography-related links and one for general ones.

Photography pages
This is where Webs really shines for me. When you upload photos, the site automatically creates a thumbnail for each. You can also add a title and a caption for each one. Adding photos is easy with their uploader, and once you have uploaded all the ones you want, you are taken to a page where you can add these details.

What else does it offer?
You can also upload videos and, as mentioned, add a forum and a blog. Photos can be sorted into albums according to subject, and basic editing of the photos can be done - you can crop, recolour, resize and rotate your pictures.

The site also offers visitor statistics, which are clear and easy to follow. You can add sidebars - I have one showing the latest photo updates and one showing the latest blog entries. There is a user forum, where members can show off their sites, ask for advice and help, or just generally chat.

Who would this site suit?
Apart from sharing photos and videos, this would make a good collaborative or family site, as you can give permission for other people to upload to it, and you can also make part or all of your site private by password-protecting pages.

Paid versions
The free version is supported by advertising - a banner at the top and a link to get your own site at the bottom. You get a web address in the form of http://yourname.webs.com. It is also possible to buy a top level domain name, eg www.yourname.com, but I can't seem to find how much this costs.

There are also 3 levels of premium site, at US$49.95, $99.95 and $249.95 per year. These offer extras such as more bandwidth, a domain name, email addresses and the ability to sell from your site.

Ease of use
First of all, I will admit that I can (and do) build sites in authoring packages such as Dreamweaver. However, a complete beginner could easily build a site on here, as the whole thing works with a 'wizard', and many parts of it are simply drag and drop. I found that I could get a working site up very quickly - I had mine up and running in a couple of hours. There are handy little hint boxes on the page, and a clear toolbox on the side.

The finished site
My site has a rather annoying flashing banner at the top, as I'm too much of a skinflint to pay for an upgrade, but other than that, it looks very professional. Because it is for photography, I have chosen a black background to the actual site part, with charcoal grey surround and very light grey text. The thumbnail pictures are fairly big - around 150 pixels, and click through to good sized pictures with a comments box below each. If you are interested in having your own site, PM me and I'll give you the link to mine so you can see what you get. I don't know if I'm allowed to put it here, although I'm not selling anything on the site.

Pluses
It's free
It's very easy to set up your site
It accepts a variety of media such as text, video and photos

Minuses
The templates are not very customisable, although you can change the text size and colour throughout
That flashing banner (on the free version only) is bl**dy annoying!

Overall verdict
If you want a site that is quick and easy to set up, don't need a lot of bandwidth, and don't want to spend a lot of time editing photos for size, making thumbnails, etc, this is for you. If you want it for your business, I'd go for the middle or top paid version, as a top-level domain always looks more businesslike, and you get the email address and no banner.

Summary: Highly recommended

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