Until recently, noncommercial pet Web sites were either text-based bulletin boards or
one-offs (Fluffy's personal spot on the Web). But now that digital cameras have become mainstream, there's a new breed of community Web site proliferating online. Most of these
are based on the Friendster model, in which people post photos and vitals and build a
network of linked members. Ted Rheingold, whose 28,000-member Dogster leads the pack, says his site is "similar to a brag book -- but in the end, everyone's sharing their dogs." If you've got an Internet connection and a JPEG of your loyal companion, there's a free Web site out there with your pet's name on it.
Open to all feathered friends, this site -- probably the most colorful of the species -- features bird recipes (what to feed your parakeet, not how to prepare chicken), breed-specific chat rooms, and a tool that allows you to create a photo
album or e-card with the image of your cockatiel, macaw or toucan. It also tracks the comments people leave after visiting. (Though there's not a peep on the mug shot of a terrier labeled "bird murderer.")
Where there's a service for canines, a feline version isn't far behind. Dogster's Rheingold is busy on this pet project, set to go live soon. He says it will reflect kitty sensibilities, with a sleeker, more sophisticated design than that of the goofy, straightforward Dogster. Profiles will list favorite napping spots and how many lives kitties still have left. Inter-species households will be able to cross-reference family members between Catster and Dogster.
Click a thumbnail of D.C. resident Mona and you'll discover her favorites ("New Age music, vinyasa yoga, meat-scented candles") and how she found her housemates ("cagey mannerisms"). A link leads to her pal, Mister President, a New Yorker who likes "anything edible and some things that are not." His only pet peeve is "dogs behind gates." These are the denizens of Dogster, where canines from six continents have been getting their pictures and profiles uploaded since January. An advanced search function lets users browse, say, all the Chihuahuas in California or recently added three-leggers.
Why didn't David Hornbuckle decide to launch the Internet's definitive meeting place for rodent lovers at Hamster.com instead of Hamsterster.com? Because he thinks that URL "would be put to better use as the community site for pigs" (and anyway, a search engine had already purchased it). This small site (with fewer than 200 members) launched in April with the
posting of a photo Hornbuckle's childhood hamster, Mickey. Gerbil enthusiasts are also welcome, though other small animals such as rats, porcupines and hedgehogs have had their applications rejected.
This is the place to come to show
off photos of your snake, ferret or iguana -- unlike most pet sites,
Petster actively encourages the mixing of the menagerie. Owners have a good time even without species-specific prompts. For
example, a cat's most embarrassing moment:
"I got a really bad shaving job when I was spayed." A gecko's best trick: "posing for pictures." And a python's best -- and worst -- trick: "escaping."
Rebecca L. Weber