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Getting Hitched -- without a Hitch

By Arlene Weintraub Wedding season is in full bloom. And along with the diamond rings, beautiful bouquets, and cheery family reunions comes stress -- lots of it -- for brides, grooms, and yes, even guests.

When it comes to avoiding nuptial nightmares, the Internet has become even more important to a bride than her maid of honor. Two major sites are designed to help couples plan and pull off a perfect wedding: and

From a content perspective, the two are virtually identical. Both offer online planners that help brides keep track of key tasks like ordering flowers and booking reception halls. They have hundreds of pointers on everything from how to choose a caterer to how to plan a honeymoon. And both let couples design personalized wedding Web sites that they can use to communicate with members of the wedding party and guests.

MASTERFUL REGISTRY. But in one area, WeddingChannel clearly beats TheKnot: the online bridal registry. Founded in 1997 in Los Angeles, WeddingChannel has partnered with more than 15 major department store chains, including Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, and Federated (owner of Macy's and Bloomingdale's). Any bride who registers offline at a WeddingChannel partner store automatically receives a free WeddingChannel site, where her registry is posted.

She can go online at any time to monitor and change the registry. And her guests can buy gifts from any of the partner stores through the site. TheKnot, on the other hand, only lets brides register online, and it offers a much more limited selection of gifts assembled by TheKnot itself.

As a frequent wedding guest, I can attest to the fact that WeddingChannel's online bridal registry is the best thing since the invention of the five-tiered buttercream cake topped with chocolate flowers. Nothing is more tedious than shuffling around a department store looking for someone who can help you find some obscure item on a friend's massive registry list. (O.K., perhaps fittings for those pink taffeta bridesmaid's dresses are worse -- trust me, I own four -- but I digress.)

CUSTOM CREATIONS. I've purchased three gifts through WeddingChannel in the past year, and all three experiences were painless, even fun. All I had to do was put in the bride's or groom's name, click on "registry" and a full list of their chosen gifts popped up, complete with prices and notations of which gifts someone else had already bought. And WeddingChannel let me shop at stores we don't have in Los Angeles, where I live. For example, I bought a bowl for my friend Robyn and her groom, Eric, from Gump's, a chi-chi San Francisco boutique. WeddingChannel shuttled my order to the store, and e-mailed me to alert me when the gift was shipped.

Brides like WeddingChannel, too. "We had some fun customizing our site," says my friend Claire, who married Vikram last September in New York's Hudson Valley. They posted an engagement photo on their site, as well as romantic details about how they got engaged ("Vikram hinted, by online chats to Claire in Paris..."). And, Claire adds, "I kept adding directions and scheduling info as we got it." Robyn liked the month-by-month calendar feature, which suggested when key wedding chores should be completed. Couples can add their own to-do lists to tasks WeddingChannel helps them schedule.

Robyn was able to add two necessities for Jewish weddings: "order ketubah" (the Hebrew marriage contract) and "order kippot" (the traditional Jewish head covering). "Those were not standard features in the 'to do' list," she explains.

WeddingChannel is continually adding features to ease the planning process for nervous brides. Most recently it added "My Virtual Model," which allows brides to enter their height, weight, and other particulars, and then receive tips on what style of dress would be most flattering for them. It's yet more proof that if wedding bells are in your future, should be on your list of planning tools. Weintraub covers technology from Los Angeles

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