Workgroups, see the benefits of building your own Web site

Did the LAN administrator have a panic attack when your workgroup requested a Web site
for leaving or retrieving messages remotely? If so, just consider the booming market in
firewalls. Security breaches have plagued many administrators who linked their office
networks to the Web or provided dial-up access for employees.

No need to give the LAN manager nightmares or expose the office to viruses or junk mail
overload. Instead, build an independent, private Web site that functions in many ways like
an intranet.

You can restrict access to authorized users, but if the site has no sensitive
information, you could also ignore the access issue. After all, there are millions of Web
sites. Choose a vague-sounding uniform resource locator, and don’t promote it to
Internet search engines. Probably no outsiders will visit even if access is completely

Need public access for a demonstration project or a place where local citizens can
contact your small office online? Build a site the same way, but publicize it.

Caution: This approach is only for branch offices, individual projects or small
workgroups. It’s not appropriate for anything larger, and be sure to get management
approval first.

A small public or private Web site can host real-time text conferencing, provide e-mail
links and public information, display maps or other images, and do most things you see on
other Web sites except for commercial transactions.

Such a site could replace the office newsletter, display opening hours and vacation
schedules, show maps for visitors, track a project’s progress, promote safety,
provide links, post frequently asked questions—just about anything.

If you like the idea but don’t have a budget, keep reading. Sites are free at
several Internet search engine sites. Yahoo, Excite and Lycos all provide free personal or
small-business Web pages they refer to as clubs or communities. The only drawback for a
small government office is that the free sites might contain some advertising.

Tripod pages at the Lycos site have a pop-up advertising window. Excite Community pages
were in beta form when I wrote this, so I don’t know what sort of advertising will
appear there to support the project. Yahoo Club pages carry no advertising other than a
permanent button for downloading a Yahoo utility.

The free sites are automatically formatted, generated and accessible via the usual
http://www addresses. Most of them require a password for access. Visitors can be invited
or can surf in, depending on how you configure the site.

I tried setting up a Yahoo Club page and an Excite beta Community page. The Community
page was very easy to configure and could post uploaded images. The Lycos Tripod page
built itself automatically from the templates provided or could be customized via
Hypertext Markup Language.

Customizing does require a feel for HTML programming, but a power user could probably
cut and paste everything, adding some of the provided clip art or uploading custom images.

It took me about 20 minutes to initialize my first Tripod page, including signing up,
keying in a fair amount of text, building links to my books at and posting a
few digital images.

I installed a page-hit counter, built a link to a Lycos-provided guest book for
visitors’ messages, and added survey questions and an interactive newsletter.

Setting up one of these free sites is a good way for beginners to gain experience at
HTML coding. Most Internet service providers supply free Web pages for subscribers, but
few are as convenient and powerful as these metasite community pages.

It’s difficult to see how any virus or other attack could ever reach your local
network, because the free site is hosted by a third party. Even the most skilled cracker
would find it difficult to locate, let alone penetrate your LAN when your workgroup merely
picks up e-mail from a completely independent Web site.  

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at [email protected].


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