I feel guilty not having my own Web site, as if any self-respecting journalist covering the Internet ought to be blogging her heart out and learning firsthand the latest trends in Internet publishing.
But blogging is a lot of work, and so is any kind of publishing on the Web, a bottomless pit if ever there was one. Once you start, you're never done.
Transcript: .com's Leslie Walker hosted a live Web chat with Udi Manber, CEO of Amazon's A9.com search engine. They discussed the future of Web search.
So I was all ears last week when Justin Kitch stopped by my office to show off QuickSites, a Web publishing service his company launched on Monday. For $49 to $499, depending on how fancy your tastes are, you can buy a ready-made site pre-designed down to navigation menu buttons and logos related to your industry. After the one-time creation fee, a customer pays $25 a month to Kitch's company, Homestead Technologies Inc., to host a site on the Web.
Since only half the country's more than 20 million small businesses have Web sites, and many that do are unhappy with theirs, I figured there would be much interest in any service that truly provided a professional-looking Web presence for under $500. I decided to test QuickSites to see what small businesses face today when they try to go online.
A decade after the Web went commercial, the reality is that most small firms still can't figure out how to get a useful site without paying thousands of dollars to a designer or settling for a crude collection of static pages slapped together by a teenager or friend. Web publishing innovations in the past year have focused mostly on e-commerce stores and personal publishing, helping people create blogs, for example. That hardly helps if you're a dentist or engineer. And those who do manage to design custom sites using off-the-shelf software or online tools find it's still not easy getting their sites published or "hosted" on the Web.
"For many people, the most complicated part is figuring out where you are going to host your site and then getting your site up there to the Web," said Kitty O'Neil, a Web designer based outside San Francisco who has been selling her designs to Homestead. "You have to keep a Post-it note around to remember how to get into your [Web hosting] server. The nice thing about QuickSites' software is it does that high-tech stuff behind the scenes for you. You can go in and change your daily special without knowing anything."
So far, Homestead has hundreds of site designs and is recruiting designers to submit more, offering royalty fees of 10 to 25 percent each time someone buys one of their creations. Unlike prior click-and-publish services, QuickSites offers pre-built sites with up to 10 connected pages, rather than page templates people have to assemble on their own.
I tried out the service this week and got a clean, personalized test site up and running in about two hours at www.lesliewalker.homestead.com. The design I chose cost $250, a price common for non-e-commerce sites at QuickSites (www.homestead.com). Anyone can try the service for free for seven days.
You customize a site by clicking and typing on dummy text and images, then substituting your own words and pictures. Most of the canned text and images are tailored to specific businesses, such as real estate.
The "Rusty Thai" design, for example, offers five restaurant pages, including a menu with 30 common Thai dishes, along with ingredients and prices.