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Weblife: cyber greetings | Internet | The Guardian

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My learning-disabled sister, Marcy, is a keen surfer and fan of electronic or virtual greeting cards. She’s a sociable person who sends a constant stream of birthday, holiday and “hi there” cards from her home in Florida to friends and family across the world, and I am one of the lucky recipients.

Cybergreetings are big business in the United States. An Infoseek search showed more than 2 million cards sites, catering for every conceivable sentiment and holiday. Hallmark’s Online Card shop is currently offering cards for father’s day, graduation day and memorial day, while reminds us that in the US national tea month and national fishing week are coming up.

In the past year, I have seen cybercards progress from illustrations or simple, silent animations to 120 second extravaganzas with specially recorded soundtracks needing Media Player and Flash downloads to enjoy them properly. Many of these are free and you can also send postcards, interactive games, I Ching readings, horoscopes and virtual gifts.

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Blue, the largest and most visited card site on the web became the target of a virus hoax last year. The hoaxer claimed that customers could be infected by sending or opening a Blue Mountain card, which is a complete impossibility. Online success can breed envy and ugly business tactics.

The site was started four years ago to publicise Blue Mountain’s paper cards; it now sells gifts, flowers, chocolates, gourmet foods and virtual gifts, as do many others. The free ecards are a potent draw for visitors.

Once on site, you can choose your category – and there are dozens of them – pick a card and personalise it, adding names, messages, stamps, colours and fonts which the software integrates into the format. The cards are emailed to the recipient as a hot link which he or she can click on to see the card.

Another free site, specialises in animal and artist designed cards; it makes a donation to the World Wild Life Fund for every card sent and also functions as a virtual gallery for the artists. Cards are free since advertising and sponsorship pays online and site costs.

Greeting will send “free” cards if you fill out a membership form and suffer the resulting advertisements. For $1.45 (approximately £1) paid by credit card, you can take a card “home” with you and send it as many times as you wish, although it can be customised only once.

Its sister site, Zing, specialises in photo cards and has software facilities for users to upload and customise their own photos, integrating them into card formats.

The variety of sites and cards ranges from the excruciatingly sweet Hugs Place which sends “virtual hugs and kisses” to your recipients, to the raunchiest of adult sites.

All~4~Free is an excellent directory that lists more than 6,000 card sites connected by hot links and divided into useful categories.

But if you want to make your own e-cards to send as attachments, there are publishing kits like Sierra Print Artists Plus (£14.99 The more sophisticated Microsoft Home Publishing 2000 package which has a section for making and sending e-cards and other web projects. (£29.99-£69.99

These kits are an electronic version of the childhood collage technique, cutting bits out of magazines and pasting them on paper. Of course, they are complex and sophisticated, offering hundreds of fonts and colours plus thousands of graphics. But they are great fun and easy to use, once you’ve mastered the basics.

For those who really get into card design, All~4~free helps potential e-retailers by providing a free online course, Greeting Cards 101 which gives all the information and links needed to set up your own online card business. They also host a graphics vault and other design services.

This is an area crying out to be developed by UK companies and designers. The Americans dominate the market but their products are too sentimental and too saccharine for British tastes and are oriented to American holidays.

With a few honourable exceptions, such as Giftstore and Wicked Moon, there are almost no well run, innovative UK sites.

At Hallmark or Blue Mountain, fierce competition has forced designers to create something approaching a new artform – fine art animations and mini films that can be saved and savoured. This is a developmental forum that has no parallel in this country despite the UK’s reputation for producing world class designers and animators.

No central body or design council, no art school seems to have noticed and filled this gap in the global market. Perhaps I should send our prime minister a “Let’s do something about this” card. I can probably get one at

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