Think of the visitor's book in a hotel or B&B, and you've got the idea - anyone can leave a message in your guestbook (hopefully a complimentary one), and the book is open for anyone who visits your site to view. The message database is stored on a third-party guestbook server system, which also generates the guestbook's HTML pages. You place hyperlinks on your site to dummy page URLs on the guestbook server; when a visitor clicks on a link the server intercepts the call and generates the appropriate viewing or data entry page.

You need to keep an eye on your guestbook, as there are people out there with strange senses of humour (you can remove unwanted messages via the guestbook server). On the other hand, it's great to see positive messages from happy visitors (thanks to everyone who's signed my guestbook, by the way!). Swedish-based Stich, providers of thecounter.com, have done it again with the excellent www.theguestbook.com . Performance is good, and you can customise your guestbook page with your own background and page-heading graphics, so that it really looks like part of your site. You can also change the page titles and new-message form captions. The pages display banner ads, but they're reasonably small and unobtrusive.

There's no shortage of alternative guestbook servers, with good examples at www.websiteresources.net/guestbook/ ,guestworld.tripod.lycos.com/ and www.glacierweb.com.

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