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Internet ousting the family album

AN ENGLISHMAN'S home may be his castle - but his website on the Internet is proving to be his window, with the curtains undrawn and the lights left on.

Meet, for example, the Bevis family. Hit a few keys and you will discover that their interests are "bell ringing, hiking and reading Enid Blyton books".

Or take a look at exploits of the Broadhead family, of Bishop's Cleeve near Cheltenham, whose interests include the British Sugarcraft Guild. Or perhaps the Mitchells, who live near Maidstone and are keen on rowing and ferrets.

In fact, the Internet is rapidly replacing the family photo albums that get dragged out to show dinner guests. The number of Britons with a home computer and an Internet connection is rocketing - more than 2.2 million people now have home accounts, from a standing start four years ago.

AOL, the world's largest provider, announced yesterday it has taken just under three years to attract 500,000 UK home - rather than business - users and growth is accelerating. It took only a year to add the latest 250,000.

Its nearest rival is Compuserve, also owned by AOL, with 400,000 UK members.

The prospect of having free web space is a great attraction, says Erik Kuntz, senior executive producer at AOL. "People say, `Ooh, if you get on the Internet check out my web page.' It's a real feeling of belonging."

Charles Arthur