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Web site aims to put The Villages at your fingertips
Daily Commercial: April 6, 2006
Megan Shannon, Staff Writer


THE VILLAGES: Karen Donnelly spends hours a week sitting at Starbucks on Lake Sumter Landing Market Square, sipping smoothies and perfecting the Web site that she says keeps The Villages and surrounding areas informed. Three years ago, Donnelly decided to dedicate her time to developing a Web site that provides information about local businesses, charities, and organizations. She said its her way of giving back to the community. Businesses are charged a fee for a listing, but nonprofit organizations are profiled on the site for free.

Next week, Donnelly will host workshops to teach people how to use her digital directory, TheVillagesGuide.com. The workshops will be offered in many areas in and around The Villages. She said a large chunk of her sites audience is retirees, so she wants to ensure that people are comfortable using the Internet.

More than 1,000 people have personal accounts with the site, which is free to guests. Donnelly said she had a slow start but the site has come a long way. Originally, the site was just a point-and-click directory, but it recently became much more interactive. She called The Villages Guide a cross between MySpace, which allows people to post blogs and send instant messages, and eBay, which allows consumers to rate businesses and services on the site.

This is the one place online where all the Web sites are there in an organized fashion, she said.

Users will find more than 140 businesses listed and about 1,700 churches and organizations to choose from. Each includes their business profile and contact information. Donnelly said she also requests that each advertiser on her site provide coupons for her guests.

"I know how important it is to watch money",she said.

Donnelly said the site has been used all over the world. In fact, Jo Ann Forman said that was the appeal of the site when she decided to list her business. TLC Rentals lists rental homes in The Villages on The Villages Guide. Forman said the rentals have been very popular with snowbirds. She said listing her business has made it possible for TLC Rentals to come up on any search engine when people look for rental homes.

"Sixty percent of my business has come from her site," she said. Three people just contacted me after searching on Google. It has been amazing".

Donnelly moved to The Villages in August 2003 and started working on the site in November. She said she immediately saw a need for a guide to events, clubs, and more. She said with so much going on it was a necessity.

For more than 10 years, Donnelly has owned and operated her marketing and Web design business called Plaid Frog. She loves working with small businesses but marketing them so that they look very competitive to the bigger businesses.

"My favorite customers are the ones that we can build up, the small fries", she said. "That's what I like to create."

Donnelly spent most of her career in New Jersey. There she worked with clients like Campbell Soup designing things that people might find in a grocery store and Princeton University when she designed on of their chemistry home page.

She said The Villages Guide gives her the chance to not only give people the opportunity to have fun and get the service they need but also in lend a hand in getting local charities and organizations names out there.

"This is for people who want to get involved, but there I a fun factor there too", she said.




DAVID MANNING: Staff Photographer
Karen Donnelly, creator of TheVillagesGuide.Com, displays the Web site on a laptop computer outside a coffee shop in Lake Sumter Landing in The Villages on Wednesday. Donnelly created the Internet portal to help residents find information about local restaurants, clubs and events easily.
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