ite History


How Our Website Grew and Grew

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Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico
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We made our first web site before most people even knew there was a web. That doesn't mean we invented the web! But because we were in the computer industry and worked in a large industrial lab (Bell Labs, to be precise) we were aware of the first browser, then called Mozilla, when it first appeared. Boy, was Jan excited when she saw it at work! And then Gerry, too, when he saw a browser at a computer show. We'd been using Gopher and other long forgotten, difficult to use tools. What a step forward.

As we looked forward to our odyssey we decided to sell our home. For that Gerry created one of the first ever real-estate sites on the web. (Too bad he didn't think of/wasn't interested in commercializing this idea.) It was a pretty-much hand-made site that was hosted by AOL. (We're tempted to say "hosted for free" by AOL. But in fact we paid them $20.95/month for dial-up access and other services.) The website was made with some graphical tools (Corel Draw and others) and hand-code HTML. There were no photos because digital cameras weren't yet consumer items, we didn't have a scanner, and — most important — our AOL host didn't offer enough space for more than a few photos. We posted our notice about March 29, 1999 and placed a small newspaper ad referring to it. The day our ad appeared we had 11 inquiries waiting on our answering machine when we came home; we sold the house to one of the first callers.

When we let friends know that we were going off on our big journey several said they'd like to "track" us via the web. Why didn't we make a web page? Well, we already had that idea, and as noted, had experience with using AOL to host us. So we were planning to make a presentation when we had done something and also had the time.

Our first destination was Paris — we arrived June 21, 1999 and stayed three months. There Gerry established an internet connection for us and then created and uploaded a web site: the first of a thousand pages to come. We found that the cheapest way to get internet service was through our AOL account. Getting on-line required hooking up our computer modem (then external, not built-in as today) to French connections. American and French connectors don't match and Gerry hand-wired a connector.

In Paris we bought a scanner (at Surcouf, still one of the biggest French computer stores). While watching TV Gerry would simultaneously operate the scanner; it took about an hour to do a roll of 36 pictures from our film camera.

Our very early web pages — really those in the first four years — had very few pictures. Uploading took a long time, the dial-up lines were so slow. But even more important was the simple lack of disk space. AOL initially offered 1 MB, then after a year made it 2 MB, then 4 MB. We can't remember if it had reached 10 MB by the time we moved host.

The AOL site was at members.aol.com. It stayed there forever and ever. Even now, if you do a web search you'll get links to it. Until October 31, 2008 you could see those old pages; on October 31 AOL eliminated support for members.aol.com and our first site vanished into the ether.

In June, 2000 Gerry got his first digital camera, a Sony PC-100 digital combined video and still camera. For a few months after that he continued to take stills on his Minolta and scan them. But the Sony digital still mode was so much easier and also so much higher quality for web display than the scanned pictures that the old trusty Minolta was retired. Since about October, 2000 all of his (and our web) photographs have been digital. The Sony PC-100 stills were 1 MB, i.e. 1152 x 864 pixels. Because the two usual limitations — disk space, and upload/download time -- all of the posted photos were reduced to 576 x 432 pixels. Among other things we wanted to make sure that our visitors didn't have to wait forever for a web page to appear.

In January, 2003 we were in an apartment in Arlington, just across the Potomac from Washington, DC, when Comcast, the local cable company, offered a free 1-month trial of broadband. We jumped at the chance. Now, with unlimited and zero-marginal cost web-surfing, we searched for a better site host. We found Barron Hosting (now out of business) and took a 100 MB account; how big that seemed compared to the 4 MB (or 10 MB) that we left behind at AOL. With Barron we also got our own domain name, chandlerbates.com, now also gone. (See below).

In the next month we re-designed our website; it pretty much got the appearance that you see today. In the following years we made improvements to the display but hardly ever changed the original text or photographs. Jan learned about CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and retro-worked our pages to use them. We hadn't been to careful about color mismatches and inconsistent styles; to the extent reasonable we fixed up these problems.

By a year and a half later, in August, 2004, we were in Cartegena, Columbia. Our web had grown and grown, far past the initial 4 MB. It had grown to about 250 MB. That sticks in our mind because we did another major clean-up and the simplest way of making all of the changes was to reload the entire site. Cartegena is an important stop on round-the-world yatch trips and its biggest yatch harbor has a giant, very modern supermarket, with a web-case in one corner. Gerry sat there one day for five hours while the new website was uploaded.

When we'd signed up with Barron hosting we'd chosed the cheapest plan. At that time the allocated disk space was twice the size of our website. Fortunately for us prices dropped and the disk space provided for the same price doubled and doubled again; this was faster than our website was growning.

Keith Barron ran Barron Hosting and intially he did a terrific job. But — and this is a guess — he just couldn't make a good living out of the company. Bigger, better financed competitors offered more for less. We stuck with him, but always wanted the disk space others were offering.

In January, 2008 our decision to quit Barron Hosting was made for us. Keith went out of business, or more exactly he transfered his business to IWS Hosting. An email was sent to us by IWS but we apparently treated it as spam. Whatever the exact truth, in February we looked at our website for the first time in months. And it wasn't there. We hadn't confirmed to IWS that we wanted to be served by them and down went our site.

We thought it was no big deal because we just about never heard from friends or family that they had looked at the site. The most frequent communication we got related to the site was from somebody who had done a search -- Narodichi or a small town in China or Cuarenta Casas in Mexico — and found our site and had a question. The last example, Cuarenta Casas, let to Gerry selling a photograph which was published as part of an introductory Spanish textbook.

We always thought we'd re-establish our site but didn't get around to it until August, 2008, when we got to Berlin. Then we went to register ChandlerBates.com and were mildly astonished to learn that somebody else had registered it. Why? What other ChandlerBates was there? When you look at the site today (November, 2008) you see a advertising portal. Aparently there are enough people who go to our old site that the advertisements pay for the domain registration. In fact, a search of Google shows there are many links to our old site, almost of of them by strangers who never informed us.

Because the .COM domain was not available we picked .NET as our new home. And that's where we are now.


November 7, 2008