World Wide Weddings Nuptials: Whether they're planning a ceremony or keeping far-flung friends and relatives abreast of events, couples are using computers and the Internet in ways not imagined five years ago.

June 15, 1998|By JO BREMER | JO BREMER,SUN STAFF

When Gary Arnold asked Jenifer Bigler to marry him, the Catonsville woman was so excited that she wanted to tell the whole world.

So she did.

Visit their Web site and discover what happens when boy meets girl meets computer (www.asylum-bbs.com/moonie.

Watch the seconds tick away on their wedding countdown clock while you learn how Jenifer and Gary fell in love. Meet the bridal party - and peek at Bigler's wedding gown.

"I'm proud that I'm getting married," said Bigler, "and I wanted everyone to know about all the plans."

For many couples, the Web has become the ultimate wedding helper. They use it to shop online for caterers, photographers and honeymoon travel packages, or to register for gifts with their favorite stores. But now they're also posting their personal love stories as well, and asking their friends, relatives and even strangers to help them with the big event.

"The world is getting smaller, so people have friends in other places, and relatives," said Jacquelline Natter, product manager for Modern Bride magazine's Web site (www.modernbride.com). A wedding Web site, she said, lets everyone participate in the planning.

"There are really two things going on," Natter explained. "They want the traditional etiquette, but there's that new twist."

An online wedding community has sprung up as couples around the world share advice through Web sites, chat rooms, newsgroups and bulletin boards. One bride has even posted photos of three potential bridesmaids' dresses on her Web site and asks visitors to vote for their favorite.

"People are really happy to share information," Natter said, and the Web is a high-tech version of the old "she told two friends and they told two friends" network.

As a result of this interest, businesses and publications that cater to brides have taken to the Web in a big way. Some offer couples free sites to publish their wedding plans.

"It's a huge industry, and the Internet has taken over," said Natter, who is responsible for Web content at Modern Bride. "It's just another way of helping the audience we've always been reaching for."

While searching the Internet for ideas for her Sept. 12 wedding, Bigler began reading messages in the alt.wedding and soc.couples.wedding newsgroups. That's where she found addresses of couples who had set up personal wedding Web sites.

"A lot of them were doing [web sites] as a way for friends and family not directly involved to be able to keep up with their wedding plans," she said.

With a father and grandparents in Alaska, friends across the country and a wedding being planned in the groom's New York hometown, Bigler realized that she had to be on the Web.

She took about 20 minutes to learn a bit of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) - the code used to build Web pages - and created a site.

"I modeled it off of what I'd seen on other people's pages, what I liked about other people's sites," she said. Family members, friends and even strangers who visited her site offered suggestions for improvements. So far, there have been about 3,000 "hits," or visits to her wedding page.

"I've had people from as far away as Australia sign my 'guest book,'" she said.

"I was amazed there were that many people," said her fiance, Arnold.

Even Bigler's mother, Elaine Keech of Greenbelt, checks on their plans via the Web site, because her electronic bulletin board service is the host.

Jenifer's father, Stuart Bigler, was used to keeping up with his daughter via the Internet.

When Jenifer left Alaska to study history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, he taught her that e-mail was a lot cheaper than long-distance phone calls. At least once a week ("sometimes several times a day," he says), she would write to ask for advice or a recipe, or occasionally to send that time-worn plea: "Dear Dad, I need money."

Because he will be footing the bill for the wedding, Jenifer's father he was particularly pleased by her Web site.

"I get to stay right on top of what's going on," the 48-year-old air traffic controller said. "There would be no other way for me to see a picture of her wedding gown."

What did he think when he saw it on his computer screen?

"I was impressed," he said. "I thought, 'Wow, she's got good taste. I did something right.'"

In keeping with tradition, Jenifer said the bridal gown fitting page is one spot Arnold is not allowed to visit.

"I'm trying to be nice" and not look, said Arnold, who works for Virginia-based Trident Data Systems. "I had a chance the other day. I clicked all around it."

Other Webbed-up brides, such as 23-year-old Laura Stemkowski Baltimore, take no chances.

The Johns Hopkins nursing student is keeping her gown a secret from fiance David Burnham of Frederick, who created their wedding World Wide Web site at www.toad.net/caederus/.

"He has no clue what it looks like," she declared.

Burnham, 28, surprised Stemkowski with the Web site a month ago and plans to add a guest book and a countdown to their June 12, 1999, nuptials.

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