As cell phones with Web access become more common, a growing number of small businesses are interesting in creating an online presence tailored to mobile devices. Hostway, a Chicago-based Web-hosting company, has released a new service that facilitates the construction of ".mobi" websites.

Because traditional websites are designed to be viewed on a computer screen, they are often inaccessible on mobile phones, appearing in a format too small to be navigable. For a business to optimize its mobile internet presence, a ".com" website should be supplemented with a site on the ".mobi" domain, which requires that a website adhere to format guidelines that make it suitable for access on a mobile device.

The Mobile Business SiteBuilder offers a template which enables customers to build a six-page website designed for viewing on cell phones and PDAs. The template site consists of a homepage, an "about us" page, as well as pages for company news, contact information, and descriptions of products and services. The service costs $39.95 a year.

"Tap-and-Pay" Purchases Made Easy?

Soon, your customers won't have to swipe their credit cards to charge purchases. A new electronic payment device, recently released by Paris-based Verifone Holdings, could make it feasible for more business owners to offer "tap and pay " transactions.

The QX100 is a programmable contactless card-acceptance device, which offers high-speed encryption of customer information. Because the device uses downloadable software, the technology can be frequently updated to comply with changing contactless card-payment security specifications.

The QX100 has RS-232 or USB interface, so it can be easily connected to existing electronic cash registers. The product is currently in evaluation testing but Verifone plans to have it on the market by the end of the year.

A Virtual-Reality Sales Staff

You may not be familiar with avatars -- a graphical image representing an individual online -- but your younger customers definitely are. Avatars, commonly used in chat programs, make a website seem more accessible, and their friendly presence may help business owners generate new leads.

A new website,, allows small-business owners to create customized talking avatars for their websites. Sitepal users design their avatar using an online interface to select attributes such as gender, age, and hair style. Sitepal users can then make their avatar speak by recording their own audio messages or uploading an existing audio file.

Avatars can act as virtual salespeople, answering frequently asked questions and collecting information from potential customers. Sitepal also offers an artificial intelligence feature that enables avatars to respond to free-form queries entered into a question input field by site visitors.

Sitepal's avatar package prices range from $9.95 a month or $99.95 a year, to $49.95 a month or $499.95 a year, depending upon the number of features and functionalities desired.