Living

Before you say 'I do,' make Web site a to-do

So, you're getting hitched, you say?

In addition to picking out a cake, flowers, dresses, centerpieces and all the rest, you'd better reserve a domain name.

According to a national report, more than a third of couples getting married created a Web site for their wedding in 2006. That's nearly 800,000 wedding Web sites created last year alone.

"They make a lot of sense," says Amy Ruocco, owner of weddingwindow.com, one of about 35 "host" sites for wedding Web pages. Each site provides templates and easy-to-follow directions for couples with varying degrees of tech savvy.

"It's a great place to post all the logistical information for a wedding -- travel advice, recommended hotels, transportation, maps to the ceremony. Stuff like that," Ruocco says. "They're especially helpful for destination weddings, where guests don't know anything about where they're going."

TO HAVE AND TO HOLD

Ben Bookwalter, 26, of San Diego, designed a site for his wedding, which took place in January in Cancun, Mexico.

"Without the site, it would have been impossible to get all the travel and booking information to everyone without sending out a huge packet ahead of time," he says. "We had links to where people should stay. We explained exactly what you were supposed to do when you got off the plane. It made it much easier on everyone. My grandparents loved it."

Host sites also offer software that keeps track of guest lists, address books, online RSVPs and guests' meal choices for the reception.

"I can look down the list and see, OK, these people have RSVP'd, these people are bringing a 'plus one' and these people want the chicken instead of the shellfish," says Michelle LaFrance, 26.

"It's not complicated stuff, but it's an Excel worksheet I'd rather not make myself."

One of the most popular features on wedding Web sites are links to the gift registry.

"It's still considered poor etiquette to print (registries) on an invitation," says Ruocco, who launched weddingwindow.com in 2001, when there were only a handful of host sites available. "But if you can direct guests to a link on the site, then it's all there."

JOINED AS ONE, ONLINE

LaFrance decided to design a wedding Web site partly because she and her fiance live in Seattle but grew up and went to college on the East Coast. She hopes the site will provide a forum where their East and West coast guests can "get to know each other" via photos and a virtual guestbook on the site before the wedding.

"Nowadays, it's not uncommon that a majority of the guests will arrive having never met the bride, the groom or their families," Ruocco says.

She recommends that couples use the "get to know us pages" on the Web site to describe their story: the first time they met, when they became engaged, what their plans for the future are. "That way the wedding day can be about celebrations, not introductions," she says.

FOR RICHER, FOR POORER

Some host sites offer full Web design services for a charge. Others operate kind of like Myspace: There is one basic template, on which couples layer text, music, photos or playful "wallpaper" to reflect who they are.

"If you can type an e-mail, you can make a Web site," says Petra Plazek, who co-owns elegantwedding.com, based out of the Toronto area.

Prices range from $5 a month for do-it-yourself couples, to a $500 one-time cost for fancy designs by professional graphic designers.

LaFrance, who designed her site for the minimum charge, estimates she spent "Oh, man, like a whole week" writing text, uploading photos and creating links to useful information.

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

But the trickiest part wasn't the design, it was trying to figure out how to encapsulate a traditional, formal event in a modern, informal forum.

"Etiquette-wise, a wedding Web site is sort of unexplored territory," LaFrance says. "On one hand, the Internet is all about blogs and half-formed sentences. And on the other hand, you're telling your friends and family about a really special, traditional event." She eventually opted for a casual, yet classy vibe.

With wedding Web sites on the rise, site owners like Plazek think that some traditions -- such as sending out "save the date" notices, intricate paper invitations and RSVP cards -- will fall by the wayside.

"Couples are beginning to realize, 'Maybe we don't need to send out paper invites.' They can save money on stamps and paper and offer RSVP-ing online," she says.

But Ruocco doesn't think wedding Web sites will replace the traditional dissemination of information about a wedding any time soon.

"Not if Martha Stewart has anything to say about it," she laughs.

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