Although the following is a sponsored review, as always I strive to provide an honest opinion of the product reviewed.
One of the most complicated things to do for the first time is build a web site. Most people don’t even know what the HTML acronym stands for, much less how to turn hundreds or thousands of lines of HTML into a web site. And let’s be honest. Your first web site is usually hideous just like mine was. One way around this is to hire a website developer to create your site. An alternative for those without a huge web development budget is a site like the free website maker reviewed here.
How uCoz.com Works
The idea behind uCoz is pretty simple. They provide a web site that helps you create your own website online. From choosing a site name and design template to installing and configuring even the small details of what they call site modules, the whole process is done without the need for any real skill, an HTML book, Photoshop, or even a paid hosting account because uCoz hosts the site for free.
When you build a website, you’ll get a control panel, and this is where all the magic happens. From the control panel, you can change basic site settings, languages and wording, and add, edit, and remove pages as well as view stats on individual pages. Becoming familiar with how everything works in the control panel is the first order of business that you should attend to. This was pretty easy with help along the way, but there were a couple areas that took a little longer to comprehend. In general, most processes were easy to follow and accomplish, but there is a lot to play with.
The uCoz.com Web Top
The part that surprised me a little was the uCoz Web Top. The Web Top is a web interface that looks and acts remarkably like Windows. With everything from background configuration and even its own programs, the Web Top is your gateway to your websites. This is because they let you have more than just one free site. At first glance, the Web Top looked like a very over-done way of providing simple access to your multiple sites, but after playing, I realized that it offers a lot more than that. It has games, which I think is fun but counter-productive. More importantly, it has applications built right in. Beyond the simple Calculator and Task Manager are much more useful applications like the code development program and Pixlr, the image editor with lots of great features.
I develop complex websites all day long in PHP and the tools I use the most are Photoshop for design and Zend for code editing. The offering of similar tools from within the Web Top makes this a much more viable web development and hosting platform for those with a little more skill and creativity.
Features and Modules
After you’ve created a basic web site you can add and configure a number of site sections or modules such as forums, photo galleries, a guest book, online games, a blog, polls, classified ads, and files. Each module is pretty configurable and most of them include user interaction like being able to give a photo anywhere from one to five stars. The sites also allow for user registration so that users can log in to interact. Behind the scenes, as an admin, you can block users, set up groups and permissions, and the list really does go on.
One of the cooler features I came across was the use of content tokens. A simple token I used was for an image. I uploaded an image to use with content and the system generated a token $IMAGE1$ for displaying the image. I copied that token to the spot in content where I wanted the image to appear and it showed up there. A more useful example was the widget token that was created when I generated a Twitter widget. I then just used the token in the same way I had used the image token and the Twitter feed widget appeared in the site.
uCoz.com looks great, but hides some really cool features behind your user login. I had no idea about Web Top until I was already using it. Other than the occasional broken image in the interface, everything was very intuitive and I had a basic site with some fun features up pretty quickly. The only area I felt needed some attention is the selection of templates. There’s a few nice templates to choose from (and you can modify any of them or make your own), but the selection is pretty slim. The non-commercial limitation is the only thing that should scare away those looking for a site on a shoe-string budget, but for a personal site, I don’t know of a better free solution. If you need a personal site, this should be your first stop.