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Free Web Sites - grab one now!

If you can find a name
Saturday 10 July 2010.

Once upon a time if you wanted a web site you had to be geeky enough to know stuff like HTML, CSS, JavaScript and FTP. Then along came the free blog services such as WordPress and Blogger - and suddenly anyone could run their own site.

But blogs are limited to, well, blogging. If you don’t want to blog, you don’t want to write HTML and you don’t want to pay a company for the privilege of hosting your site, what are your alternatives? One is called Jimdo. You can sign up for a free Jimdo account at http://www.jimdo.com and start creating a real web site with separate sections for pages of text, pictures or videos, a contact submission form, a guestbook - even an online shop. And yes, of course, a blog too if you wish...

The nice thing about Jimdo is that the site design tools are all ‘live’ in the user interface - that is, once you log in, you can add or delete sections, enter text and restyle pages right there in the web site. You don’t have to log into an ‘administration’ back-end to make changes and then preview them. The site shows you the changes live as they happen. For example, to add a YouTube video you just click a menu, select the ‘YouTube’ icon then paste in a video’s URL.

It’s a nice system. There are also paid-for versions if you need more features and don’t want any ads on your pages. My main criticism is that far too many names for potential sites are already taken. A site name takes the form of a word followed by .jimdo.com. I wanted to set up a site about writing. When I was picking a name for the site, I tried all the following: scribbler, writer, writers, writing, word, words, pen, author, write, ink, inkwell then I tried a few random names such as abc, xyz, ooo, xxx and even jimdo. They were all taken. Most of these names had been registered but the sites never used. People (or maybe software robots?) register the names then just leave the site empty so that new users, frustratingly, are left with a very limited choice of site names. Incidentally, in the end I chose the name ‘inkblot’ - so my site is http://inkblot.jimdo.com/. There is nothing much there yet - just a brief ‘hello’ message, a Twitter feed and a photo of my dog and cat. But that is already more than many other Jimdo users have added to their sites!

I contacted the Jimdo team and asked if they had any plans to address the problem of ‘name squatting’ by all their inactive users. I was told “We’re actually in the process — started around two weeks ago — of contacting and notifying inactive users that their accounts will be deactivated if they don’t log in in the near future.”

Once they free up a few of these inactive names Jimdo will, I’m sure, be of more interest to people who want to be able to create a complete web site as easily as a blog. It remains to be seen whether services such as Jimdo will be the Bloggers and WordPresses of the future. I guess it all depends on whether enough people - like me - who sign up for an account in a burst of enthusiasm, really have the stamina to produce enough content to attract regular readers.

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