Every now and then you run across a cool website that you want to share with friends and colleagues. The website might be useful for business, educationally valuable or just plain fun but otherwise useless (I just flashed back to the original Hamster Dance website). I have a few websites that I’d like to share; websites that I think other travel professionals may find useful (no hamster dancing, I promise).
Bravenet (http://www.bravenet.com/) bills itself as “the world’s best interactive, fully customizable, remotely hosted tools for webmasters of all skill levels.” And they do just that. Need a guestbook for your website? They have it. Want a hit counter? No problem. An online calendar? Email forms? If you can think of it, you will probably find it at Bravenet. They also provide web domain registration, hosting, and website templates.
I specifically use Bravenet for their password protection service for websites. I create personalized websites for clients, providing links to payment invoices, itineraries, travel insurance policies, travel documents, and other pertinent information. Because of the sensitive nature of some of this information, it is important to password protect the sites. Bravenet provides a simple way to assign secure user names and passwords for each individual website. For a relatively inexpensive annual fee ($39.95) I can have up to 1,000 websites password protected at the same time (each with its own unique user name and password). To see an example of how the password protection works, go to http://tro.shipsntripstravel.com/. For the user name enter TRO-Tips and password 12345abc (user names and passwords are case sensitive). If you enter the incorrect information, you will not successfully enter the site.
Steve Cousino turned me onto Browsershots (http://www.browsershots.org/). There used to be a day when everyone browsed the Internet using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE). Alas, those days are history. Today many people do still use IE, but more and more folks are using other browser options: Google Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Navigator, and Safari, just to name a few. It is no longer feasible to create a website that works in IE, and leave it at that. I found this out the hard way. My website for Kick Butt Vacations worked beautifully in IE, unfortunately many of my clients were trying to access it in Chrome, Firefox, and other browsers – and the website was not rendering properly for them. Obviously, this is not good for business if a client cannot open your website! Browsershots is a free service that lets you verify your website compatibility with a wide variety of browsers. Simply enter the URL of the site you want to check, click the boxes for which browsers you want verified, and click “submit.” It can take a few minutes or up to an hour to complete the compatibility test (ultimately determined by how many browsers you are testing). Once complete it will return a series of thumbnails for you, showing you how your website appears in each selected browser.
This is a great (free) way to quickly verify that your website is indeed viewable by clients, regardless of what browser they choose to use. And if you find your website is incompatible with most (or all) other browsers, you can immediately address the issue before you lose more potential clients.
If you aren’t too tech-savvy but need some cool looking buttons for your website, then Cooltext Graphic Generator (http://www.cooltext.com/) is the site for you. I used this site to create a “vacation savings” button on my Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel website, and a “hot deals” button for my booking site (http://book.shipsntripstravel.com/).
The site is easy to use, and best of all, is free of charge. You do not have to know HTML programming, but it does help if you have a general understanding of how to enter HTML code on your website (or know how to contact your webmaster to have her/him do it for you). Simply click on a logo style or a button design on the front page of the Cooltext website, and from there you will be able to customize your button (text, font, size, colors, etc.). Once completed, click “render button.” You will then be able to download the finished image and get the necessary HTML code for your website. Those are the only two elements that you need.
Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/) is one of those websites that makes my internal geek giggle just a bit. It’s not quite the Hamster Dance, as it does have some practical applications (and best of all, no annoying music track). But it is possible to get caught up in “playing” with this particular site. You’ve been warned.
I can’t describe their site better than they do: “Wordle is a toy for generating ‘word clouds’ from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in (your) source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like.”
This is what a Wordle can look like:
You control the text that is included; pick the fonts, colors, etc. It usually takes some experimentation to tweak it to a final product that you like. Once you’ve created your Wordle, you can save it as a picture file on your computer or print it out. The applicable use for a Wordle? I’m thinking of using mine to create future “skinits” (http://www.travelresearchonline.com/blog/index.php/2010/07/skinit/) for my laptops. Or maybe as a graphic on a website, flyer, or other marketing materials. In the meantime, it’s a fun website to fiddle with.
(Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Brentwood, Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvacations.com) she focuses on travel for young adults under 35. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209).