In my test, QuickSites grabbed several photos from my computer's hard drive and automatically resized them to replace images in the Spartan design I chose. Editing took place directly online, with changes showing up quickly on the live Web site. People familiar with Web-page editing can download and use a more advanced software program to tweak their layout offline, a tool I tested and found helpful to expand the navigation menu on my six-page site.
Kitch, Homestead's chief executive, said his seven-year-old company became profitable for the first time last year and has 60,000 paying customers for its existing publishing service. Soon, QuickSites will add other premium services, he said, including the ability to register visitors at a site and schedule appointments online.
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.
I randomly contacted designers building for QuickSites and found a wide range of experience. California's Kitty McNeil, for instance, has a long résumé of full-time work at big technology companies. Ljubisa Cavic, 20, has done little professional design work, lives in the small city of Red Hill in Alberta, Canada, and said he is hoping to land a job with a design firm. Ted Hantak, co-owner of Roxana, Ill.-based Sitedesigns4u.com, has been putting together Web sites for clients for seven years.
Most saw the service as a boon for small businesses more than for designers, who typically charge $1,000 to $5,000 to custom-design sites.
"Trust me, it hurts our businesses," said Hantak, who called QuickSites a useful but limited tool for small firms. He and other designers said many pre-built sites don't get customized much, leaving customers with cookie-cutter displays.
I also contacted a dozen small and medium-size firms in the D.C. area that have Web sites and found most had paid a lot more to develop them than QuickSites charges. Moreover, several said site updates are costly.
Typical was Greenworks, a D.C. florist with four shops at hotels including the Willard and Mandarin Oriental. Greenworks paid a contractor $1,500 for its existing Web site six years ago. Recently, it contracted with a designer in Milan to develop a fancier site that will cost more than $4,000 when it goes live. "We need a Web site that reflects the creativity we display in our cutting-edge designs," said employee Peggy Stanley. Greenworks staffers, however, won't be able to make site changes, which will require going back to the contractor.
Calibre CPA Group, a D.C. accounting firm, also is grappling with the updating issue. Its elaborate Web site has 70 pages and was built by a staffer who spent two weeks developing it. Calibre initially sought a bid from an outside contractor, but the $20,000 price tag was more than Calibre wanted to pay.
"The biggest challenge with our site has been keeping it relevant, trying to keep fresh information on it," said marketing director Mark McClain. Making changes still requires effort by the in-house programmer, he added, so Calibre is exploring whether to hire a consultant to add an updating tool to its home page.
And that, to me, is the most valuable part of QuickSites, the way it lets you click to feed the Web beast yourself at no extra cost. Of course, figuring out what to feed the beast is another story, which is why I may give my test site the heave-ho next week.
Join Leslie Walker online at 1 p.m. today for a chat about Web search with Udi Manber, chief executive of Amazon.com's A9 search service, by visiting www.washingtonpost.com. Leslie Walker's e-mail address is email@example.com.