From Today's Parent - Family Living, Fall 2001
New simple-to-use software has begun to strip the Internet of its daunting aura of high-tech mystery. These days, anybody can build a Web site, and it doesn't have to be hard work. It can be challenging fun, as three Canadian families with three very different levels of "techspertise" will attest. They've built unique Web sites that tell tales, show photos and keep relatives updated on everything from new babies to summer vacations.
The Forsyth family Web site (www.islandactive.com/forsyth/) photo album features toddler Nolan from infancy on up, Mom and Dad's life together, and the pets, Molly the cat and Delphi the dog. Putting together the site was a snap, says Mark Forsyth. "I don't think people need to be Web developers to do a Web site." That's easy for him to say - he's "director of imagination" for an interactive Web application company in Summerside, PEI.
Albertan Sarah Champ, on the other hand, knew nothing about Web sites two years ago. Champ built her first site using WYSIWYG or "What You See Is What You Get" software, where "you kinda tell them where to put what," she says.
While WYSIWYG was easy, Champ wanted finer control over her site's appearance. By herself, with practice, trial and many an error, she learned HTML, the picky, arcane Web dialect. "I wanted it exactly like I wanted it," she observes of her site. "In the beginning, it was a very slow process. But now I find it more fulfilling because I can say I built it from scratch."
The Champ family's Web site, which is complete with music, proudly announces the birth on May 24, 2001, of Brooklyn Taylor Champ, whose first appearance on www. telusplanet.net/public/schamp was as a four-month fetus. That ultrasound picture was later joined by a snapshot of days-old baby Brooklyn, and a note promising her very own page soon.
Over at www.rollans.com, Edmontonian Scott Rollans presides over an extended family domain with individual pages for family members. Rollans.com started late in 2000, when Rollans, who'd dabbled with self-taught Web site-building for about five years, "found a place (www.redirection.net) that offers URL redirection - they'll register a domain name for you and redirect to your location of choice. I thought, I can give everybody their own domains. That would be a fun Christmas present."
For less than $50, Rollans registered the Rollans.com domain - the unique, easy-to-remember URL name that the Rollans family now owns - and set up simple pages within the Rollans domain for each cousin. Rollans, a writer/editor, and his wife Karen Redford have two girls, six-year-old Evelyn and eight-year-old Claire. They and the Rollans kid-cousins all get a kick out of the site, especially the chat room where a dozen of them "meet on Sundays and yak back and forth for a couple of hours," he says. "Most of my nieces and nephews live in Edmonton and have a close relationship, but there are a few scattered about and I thought it'd be a good way to keep them in the loop. They've really enjoyed being included on this."
And Rollans is having tons of fun. "You keep having new ideas for ways to use it. With my dad, we're working on digitizing some old family photos. So as I work on those, I'll be putting some on the Web site with stories about the family some of the kids don't know."
Rollans has looked at "host" Web sites where people can build pages on-line almost instantly, right at the Internet location that will host the site, free. "The idea is that by building your Web page on their server, you give them an audience for their ads," he explains. The upside: it's utterly simple. Possible downside: if the server goes broke, your site disappears, and you don't have the file on your computer to upload to another server.
Forsyth, Champ and Rollans all believe anybody building Web pages should learn HTML basics. A Web site built with WYSIWYG software is "hard to screw up because the software doesn't let you do a lot," says Mark. By contrast, "If you're using pure HTML, it's really easy to make it not work - but you have so much more flexibility. With HTML, you can do anything, but if you have a comma where there should be a colon, the whole page won't show up."