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ONLINE BUSINESS

Put Some Wow In Your Website
 

New graphics, sounds, and more.
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Your business probably has a website. And you may have paid a developer a lot of cash to set it up. But have you invested in it recently? Technology on the Web gets stale fast, and it doesn't take long for sites that were once fast and shiny to feel sluggish and dated. Fortunately, Web design and development are experiencing something of a renaissance. Thanks to near-ubiquitous broadband, features that developers once could only dream of--digital mapping, smart searching, customer analysis, video, podcasting--are now within reach of nearly everyone. And you don't have to spend a fortune; many of the most intriguing bells and whistles are open-source tools available for free. Bear in mind that this can be a far cry from plug and play: If you're not versed in, say, Asynchronous JavaScript or XML, you might need to engage a techie. But a site that feels fresh is probably worth the investment. Here are six ways you and your tech team can get started.


Best for... Sprucing up your site

Yahoo Design Pattern Library

What it does: Some of the most talented Web developers work at Yahoo. The company's design pattern library puts their expertise at your disposal by offering a library of Web templates that the Web giant uses for its own site development.

What's cool: Yahoo's library contains more than two dozen features, such as user ratings and content highlighting. Web design mavens will appreciate the detailed explanations of each design--and a blog that lets users discuss fine-tuning and other issues.

Drawbacks: Yahoo's tools are aimed squarely at professional Web developers and designers. If you're a programming neophyte, don't expect the site to make much sense.

Price: Free


Best for... Podcasting

Big in Japan PodServe

What it does: Podcasts sound terrible if they're not produced correctly. PodServe brings together a suite of tools to make it easier to make and manage high-quality podcasts.

What's cool: The PodCall feature allows you to record podcasts from your personal phone. Other tools let you create social podcasts, in which several people podcast on the same feed, and public podcast "channels" that are open to anyone--say, customers who want to deliver testimonials via podcast. PodServe also supports 5- to 10-minute video podcasts.

Drawbacks: Why podcast when an MP3 or Flash audio file might work? Also, the software does not yet come in a hosted version, which means you have to install and maintain it yourself.

Pricing: PodServe can be downloaded and used for free. A companywide customization and installation runs as much as $20,000.


Best for... Adding a blog

Six Apart TypePad Business Class

What it does: Business Class is a blogging tool designed specifically for businesses. Though Six Apart hosts the service, the blog runs through your Web domain (there's no "blogspot.com" or "typepad.com" suffix) so your blog is more closely associated with your business--which, of course, is the point of blogging.

What's cool: It's easy to set up and includes advanced comments and anti-spam tools. Management tools make it easy to control who has access, to feed posts to search engines, and to categorize content. Business Class also offers one-click customer support.

Drawbacks: The main one is that it costs money in a market where most tools are free. 

Price: $89.95 per blog per month (with 4 gigabytes of hosted storage and 40 gigabytes of hosted bandwidth per month)


Best for... Smarter searching

Baynote Content Guidance

What it does: Baynote's Content Guidance tracks every term visitors search for on your site and tracks their actions as they navigate the results. It captures the results and the links that work best, then presents these to other visitors when they search for the same information. The service, which is hosted by Baynote, also has an analytics engine that can help companies reorganize site content.

What's cool: Baynote makes searches on your site more effective, reducing the average number of clicks it takes to find what visitors are looking for from six to one. It also gets smarter as it tracks more searches.

Drawbacks: Baynote is generating a lot of excitement, but it's a fairly young start-up that has yet to prove it can serve a large number of customers. Free tools such as Google Analytics may ultimately duplicate many of its features.

Price: The small-business package starts at $95; the enterprise version at $950. In both cases, final price depends on site size and visitor traffic.


Best for... Increasing speed

OpenLaszlo's Advanced Ajax Application Platform

What it does: "Ajax" is Web lingo for a new breed of technology that gives webpages real zip, even when they use bandwidth-clogging multimedia and e-commerce features. Laszlo System's open-source development platform alters the way a Web application loads and displays data so that an entire page doesn't refresh every time consumers do something like change the number of items in their shopping cart.

Cool features: OpenLaszlo pulls together five development languages and tools that integrate seamlessly with one another, saving coding and testing time. OpenLaszlo is the most advanced open-source Ajax platform.

Drawbacks: What, you thought Ajax was a cleanser? For now, these tools are for Web pros only. But if you have a techie nearby, he'll have a blast playing with this software.

Price: Online support forums are free. Help from Laszlo reps starts at $2,750 for five hours, or $15,000 for a year.


Best for... An all-in-one solution

Macromedia Studio 8

What it does: Made by Adobe, Macromedia Studio 8 combines five of the best Web tools into a single suite for building and running a website. These include a Web development tool (Dreamweaver), an interactivity tool (Flash Professional), image manipulation (Fireworks), content management (Contribute), and document conversion (FlashPaper) tools. 

What's cool: The best suite of tools for building a website. Flash graphics are a significant advance over earlier versions. Even a nontechie can take Studio 8 and create a good website.

Drawbacks: There is a learning curve, which leads to the following issue: Support can be pricey. Adobe gives four free calls, then starts charging $99 per call. The cheapest support plan is $449 for five "incidents."

Price: $999


Last updated: Sep 1, 2006




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