39 ways to put yourself on the Web

Whatever your passion -- creating video, networking with friends or colleagues, blogging, running a business, making music, or publishing a novel -- you're bound to find a site or service that can help you pursue your goals.

The Web is not a spectator sport. Sure, you can watch videos and do countless other low-brainwave activities online, but the Web's outlets for self-expression and creativity are boundless. In fact, the medium doesn't come alive until you take advantage of the participatory Web -- the sites and services that can present you and your talents to the world.

Whatever your passion -- creating video, networking with friends or colleagues, blogging, running a business, making music, or publishing a novel -- you're bound to find a site or service that can help you pursue your goals. While many of these services are free, others may charge from a few bucks to thousands of dollars. We'll give you our favorites in each category.

Star in your own videos

The best thing about a lot of video-posting sites is that they let you earn cash based on the number of views your videos generate. And if you're a fledgling amateur, some can help you get discovered by the entertainment industry.

Metacafe claims over 1 million users a day. Equally important to video creators, though, is the site's revenue-sharing program, which pays US$5 for every 1000 views, although payments don't arrive until your clip receives 20,000 views and an average viewer rating of 3 stars (out of 5) or higher.

Another income-sharing site is Revver, which offers a 50-50 revenue split based on views and ad clicks. You can disable the ads that run before your video starts. Some Revver clips play on Verizon Wireless VCast phones, which extends your opportunity for cash and exposure.

If you're waiting for Hollywood to discover you, Crackle can be your online casting agent. This Sony-owned site limits file uploads to 100MB, so don't post your feature film here. Crackle's contests offer prizes such as pitch meetings with studio execs.

Several innovative features distinguish Veoh, a hidden gem whose video-playback quality is a notch above that of most sites. If you have an account on Google Video, MySpace, or YouTube, Veoh automatically posts your clip to those sites too (you must activate this feature first). And it imposes no size limit on video uploads -- a rarity.

It's no secret that YouTube has the biggest audience of video viewers, so naturally you'll want to post there. The site's playback quality isn't great, particularly when compared with that of Crackle and other newer sites. You won't find a video site that's easier to use, however, and its Video Toolbox section provides helpful shooting and editing tips from the pros.

Formerly known as iFilm, Spike provides a platform for fledgling filmmakers. You can embed your Spike-hosted clips on personal sites, including blogs and MySpace pages. The service offers no revenue sharing, though. Your file uploads can be as large as 500MB -- many sites limit you to 100MB.

JibJab is the place to submit video jokes: You'll find everything from stand-up routines to the ever-hilarious guy getting kicked in the groin. JibJab accepts photo, audio, and text jokes too. The site's editors decide if your bits are funny enough to post; if they're not, well, there's always YouTube.

Yahoo Video lets you link clips to your blog and drive traffic to your site.

Videos are a breeze to upload at Google Video, thanks to the service's intuitive (and bare-bones) interface. The site provides an optional desktop uploader for files larger than 100MB. It doesn't offer revenue sharing, and we'd like to see more (or at least some) integration with YouTube, but Google Video's big-name pedigree and utter simplicity make it a good place to post your videos.

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Be the center of your social network

If you've moved beyond Facebook, LinkedIn, or Orkut and are ready to build your own online community, either for personal or professional use, these sites will let you create a social network, complete with discussion forums, RSS feeds, member profiles, and other essentials. Constructing a simple social network costs nothing, but you'll likely want to upgrade to the sites' paid services as your network gains members, or to remove the ads that display on networks you build for free.

The best design tools we've seen for building a social network are at Ning. Organize your network's main page by dragging a text box, forum widget, or other component into the layout window. Then select fonts, colors, background images, and other page elements. Invite friends and associates by importing addresses from AOL Mail, Gmail, MSN Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and other Web mail services -- but not from Outlook or any other desktop mail clients, unfortunately. Your finished product has a polished and professional appearance.

A close second is Nexo, which provides a great site builder that is simple enough for anyone to use. Just choose a design template, or start out with a blank page and insert your choice of more than two dozen modules, including forums, feeds, images, and polls.

The page-design tools at KickApps are targeted more at Web-savvy developers who have built sites before. Getting your KickApps network to look the way you want may take time, but experienced designers will appreciate the site's advanced tool kit.

For people whose Web-design experience ends with their MySpace profile, there's Me.com, where setting up a network is a snap. You won't find the type of top-notch customization tools that Ning offers, or KickApps' developer-friendly features. And Me.com has a few weird quirks: For instance, you can't upload a video into the viewer, but must instead import a feed directly from a Webcam. The service is for personal, not professional, networks.

CollectiveX offers many business-friendly features, but it lacks the customization and hand-holding options that you can find on other social-network sites. You can import contacts directly from Outlook and Outlook Express, as well as from the major Web mail clients. Setup is a bit confusing; the service could use more Ning-style help guides. However, your finished CollectiveX page will be nicely organized and visually appealing.

Blog for show, blog for dough

Getting your blog read takes more than compelling prose. These sites will help you attract and hold an audience.

Vox has the best blog editor we've tested. To add an image, song, or video to an entry, just click the appropriate button above the text window. You can embed a reader poll or other widget on your page, too. Vox's bigger sibling is TypePad -- both are owned by blogging-services provider Six Apart. TypePad has the powerful design tools that professional bloggers crave, offering easy drag-and-drop design and more customization tools than other blog sites provide. Six Apart won't place ads on your blog, but you can supply your own via a third-party ad network, if you wish. TypePad's fees range from US$5 to US$30 a month (more for custom plans).

Yet another Six Apart site, LiveJournal is designed as a community tool rather than a standard blogging service. For instance, you can join user-created groups and text-message other LiveJournal members. The free Plus service provides 1GB of photo storage.

A good choice for first-time bloggers is Google's Blogger. Setup couldn't be simpler: Choose one of a dozen design templates, enter your blog title and text in the browser-based editor, and add an image, video clip, or links with just a couple of clicks. The service lacks TypePad's sophisticated features, and we'd like to see more editing tools, but what Blogger does, it does very well.

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If you already have a Yahoo Mail account, Yahoo 360 is the fastest way to blog -- no additional setup required. The service's editor lacks the ability to post audio and video clips, among other features, but you can add reader polls. Microsoft's Windows Live Spaces is fine if you don't need high-end features. Its basic editor lets you add photos and embed videos, but you can't upload videos directly from your computer.

The WordPress service provides handy editing tools, including a word counter, and the option to open links in a separate window. For US$15 a year, you can access the site's CSS Stylesheet Editor to modify your blog's template.

Get help for a business or workgroup

You have a business to run, and you don't have the time or skills to build a Web site from scratch. Let these services do the heavy lifting for you, allowing you to focus on more important management matters.

The Homestead hosting service has a great tool kit for building a professional site, even if you can't tell "HTML" from "BYOB." The Design Gallery has more than 2000 templates, so chances are good that your site won't be a clone of your competitors'. Homestead's drag-and-drop tools let you easily add your company's logo and other brands. Homestead's least-expensive hosting service for businesses costs US$20 a month, plus a US$25 setup fee (skip the "Starter" package, which is too limited to be useful). For more-affordable hosting, try Yahoo Small Business: Prices start at US$9 a month, and when we signed up the startup fee was waived. The page-design tools are serviceable, although they can't match Homestead's. Constructing an e-commerce site is easy, and you get plenty of tips to help your site succeed.

Google Custom Search is a free, Google-hosted search window that you place on your business's site. You choose the pages that are searched when your visitors enter a query. For professional sites, the fee-based Business Edition is worth the cost (rates start at US$100 a year). Business Edition removes the Google logo from the search window and Google ads from the search results, while adding more tools and support.

The Microsoft Small Business Center supplies free technical support for the company's popular business-oriented apps, including Windows XP Professional, Live Meeting, and Small Business Accounting. The Startup Center provides advice for entrepreneurs as well as an eclectic mix of business essays, such as the always-popular "5 rules for on-the-job romance."

The EarthLink Business Resource Center provides Web hosting, e-commerce, and other business services. Its Traffic Builder optimizes ad copy and search terms to boost your visibility on search sites.

Become a music sensation

Maybe you don't need a major label to make it big in the music biz. These sites help you promote and sell your tunes.

The eye-bleedingly ugly page designs on MySpace haven't stopped the site from becoming the top promotional resource for fledgling musicians. Sign-up is free, and the site's music-related content runs deep, including dedicated classifieds and forums. One drawback: You can upload only four songs total. Competing sites let you post more.

You may know GarageBand as the Mac software for creating music, but a Web site by that name -- unaffiliated with Apple, apparently -- also exists. Musicians get a generous 200MB of free storage for their songs. To have your tunes rated by other members, you first must review 30 songs from other artists, or pay US$20. If you're not a starving artist, a Gold membership (US$100) buys ad placements on the site, a contest entry, and other perks.

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Jamendo lets you post and share as much of your music as you want, but you must post at least an album's worth, not a single or selections from an album. You can distribute your tracks free of charge -- allowing others to remix or alter your creations if you choose -- while retaining the right to sign an exclusive deal with a label.

Magnatune splits purchases 50-50 with its artists and allows them to set a purchase price, within reason (for example, artists can't charge less than US$5 for their CDs). You're responsible for recording your own tunes and paying for any studio time, if necessary. And if a record company just gave you a big advance (whether or not your tires were slashed and you almost crashed), that doesn't mean you can't keep peddling your wares here.

MusicSubmit helps you promote your music by sending your MP3s and artist/band info to hundreds of Internet radio stations, music magazines, blogs, and other sites. Sign-up is free, but promotional services range from US$17.50 a month to a one-time fee of US$239. (When we tried the service, it was offering special rates of US$99 for 400 submissions and US$210 for 800 submissions.) If you'd rather sell your own CDs, you can let people play the music on your own site by embedding the MusicSubmit player there for free.

Sony's slick AcidPlanet site allows artists to review other people's songs, and maybe get discovered by making the site's Top 25 list of the most-popular tunes. Among the useful freebies is the AcidExpress music-creation software. As on similar sites, the more you review other artists' songs and join in the forums, the more likely others will check out your music.

Musicians receive a lot for free at MP3.com, including 100MB of storage for their music, 10MB for photos, and unlimited space for video clips. The site has an egalitarian feel, with lesser-known acts enjoying equal billing alongside major-label stars.

Get your book read

Some online-publishing sites don't charge up-front fees, and unlike traditional vanity publishers, print-on-demand services don't require that you buy a single copy of your book.

BookSurge, Amazon's self-publishing arm, offers various fee-based services, each tailored for a specific breed of writer. Publishing fees for fiction books, for instance, start at US$500 and range upward to US$3600. The high-end package includes the talents of a professional editor who reviews your manuscript. Royalty rates -- the amount you make per book sold -- range from 25 percent of the list price for trade paperbacks purchased via retail channels to a mere 10 percent for those sold via wholesale. Frankly, these rates should be higher -- particularly since you're paying to publish and market your work. Then again, you don't have to buy copies of your publication up front, and BookSurge handles the printing and distribution. (First-time authors at traditional houses rarely get much of a marketing budget anyway. They do most of their own publicity until they demonstrate that their title can sell.) Amazon and other online retailers will offer your title, and BookSurge provides tips on how to boost your Amazon sales opportunities.

If you prefer not to pay up front, Lulu, an on-demand publisher, will print your book, even if it sells only a single copy. The process is simple: You upload your manuscript at Lulu.com, and then follow a series of steps to select a book size, binding, cover art, and other features. If you're serious about marketing your work, however, you'll have to pay. Obtaining an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), for instance, costs US$50. Lulu lets you set the book's price; it prints and ships each item, and its author-royalty rate is a very generous 80 percent. Lulu sells its authors' books at its site, as well. It's a good service for self-starters who are strong on marketing skills but light on cash.

Self-publisher iUniverse offers a Premier Pro package (US$1300 to US$1400) that includes guidance on polishing your manuscript, plus marketing assistance and a custom hard cover. There's even the (slim) chance that your book, if it's commercial enough, will appear in Barnes & Noble bookstores for eight weeks -- or longer, if it's selling. The bargain Fast Track service (US$400) publishes your work without editorial guidance, cover graphics, or illustrations. Choosing the best royalty rate requires a bit of homework, though. While 20 percent is the standard, authors who buy iUniverse's Premier Pro and Premier packages can take 10 percent if they agree to sell their books to wholesalers at a 50 percent discount. This sounds counterintuitive, perhaps, but if your book is cheap, wholesalers will show more interest. And despite the reduced royalty, you might make more money through volume sales. No promises of a best seller here; just an easier way to get your work published.

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You might need a marketing degree to fathom the promotion and publishing choices at Xlibris, though the site's detailed FAQ section clearly explains the fine print. The service's US$300 Advantage package includes printing a paperback version of your masterwork, while the US$13,000 Platinum deal adds marketing help, including an ad in the New York Review of Books' Independent Press Listing. You can set your own book price (for an additional US$249) and even your own royalty rate, although a higher rate also boosts the cover price. Xlibris's options may befuddle some wordsmiths, but business-savvy writers should be able to land a favorable deal.

CafePress.com makes one-offs of all kinds of stuff, including books. You won't get any marketing help here, but you won't pay any up-front fees, either. Simply choose the size and binding, and then upload your manuscript. You set the price, which determines your royalty payment. CafePress.com gets US$10 for each book you sell, so if you set the price at US$15, you make nearly US$5 per sale. CafePress.com's online shop will even sell your book for you. One drawback: The available bindings are best suited for training manuals and photo albums rather than full-length works. The good news is that if your book doesn't sell, you're not out any money.

Tools for building a more perfect Web

You don't have to take the Web as it is. These two sites help you do your own in-browser customizations.

YouTube Remixer: This browser-based applet allows you to quickly add captions, graphics, borders, and transitions to clips you've already uploaded to your YouTube account. To get started, sign in to YouTube, and click Try Remixer. In the My Videos window to the right, you'll see thumbnails of your clips. Drag them into the editing window, and use the drag-and-drop tools to add effects. When you're finished, click Publish. Your original videos remain unchanged, but the edited versions appear on YouTube.

Feed Rinse: This freebie lets you enter your RSS subscription URLs singly, or you can import your OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) file to add them all at once. Then you set up rules for each feed (to block posts that contain a certain objectionable topic or word, for example).