No. 38, Fall/Winter 1995
The Whole Wired World
in the future
no more than
On the World Wide Web you'll find a site called Abbey's Web (1). Browse it and you'll find a biography of the late author Edward Abbey, an extensive bibliography, a searchable collection of quotes, a list of links to related sites, an archived discussion group, and hundreds of comments added by visitors to the site.
Abbey's Web is reachable from anywhere in the world via the Internet, but it is physically located on a computer in Stockholm (2), Sweden (3), of all places, and is written and maintained by me, a Swedish software engineer. The obvious question is, Why me?
Let's go back to 1987. At that time I was bored with my job, with the wet and cold Swedish climate, and with my personal life in general. It was time for a change, and circumstances landed me a software engineering job in Reno, Nevada, USA.
Back then I was more of a computer hacker than a nature lover and I paid more attention to bits and bytes than to the nature around me; as my co-workers dragged me out on camping trips and bike rides, however, my eyes opened to the beauty all around me. Still, I preferred the Sierras over the hot, dusty, and harsh desert.
One day a friend gave me a book to read; it was called Desert Solitaire (4) and it was written by one Edward Abbey. That evening I read it from cover to cover. I was hooked by his writing, with its unique combination of beautiful descriptions of the desert and a biting wit that attacks the forces that would destroy it. The next weekend I ventured out on my own to try to find the magic of the desert that had obviously eluded me so far.
I found it.
This experience fueled my metamorphosis from a computer nerd to an outdoor enthusiast and nature-defending nerd. Before returning to Sweden in October of 1989, I took a month-long trip through southern Utah, northern Arizona, and the eastern Sierra Nevada. Along the way I read more books by Edward Abbey and got even more firmly hooked when I had a chance to see and feel the areas he loved and fought for.
Back to StockholmAfter a few years back home in Sweden, I felt the lure of the desert. I re-read all my Abbey books but craved more. I searched all over the Internet for a full bibliography, but to my surprise I found nothing on Edward Abbey. The US Library of Congress (5) had its big catalog LOCIS hooked up for anyone to search in, though. The user interface was a bit old and not very friendly, but I was able to find information on almost all books published by Abbey, as well as on many books to which he contributed. I saved the search results in a file on my computer.
By that time I had gotten interested in the World Wide Web, with its user-friendly interface and ease of publishing. I wanted to experiment with the WWW and, because I had free access to the Internet through my work, I decided to make my collected bibliography available for all.
Building Abbey's WebI formatted my list using the word processing program Microsoft Word. Then I got more ambitious than I had planned and added more and more information to the document. I wrote up a little biography of Ed and a section with facts about his death and burial, a topic that has been surrounded by rumors. I copied the cover text from all the Abbey books I owned to give the reader some information on what each book was about and added my personal thoughts. I wanted to collect the opinions of others, too, so I wrote a small program that enables the reader to leave comments on each book. These comments have become part of the document for others to read.
I created some graphical icons for navigating among the pages and for a logo I "borrowed" the cover design for the book Abbey's Road (6), substituting the word web for road. I even kept the little sign: "Take the other."
My employers recently had hooked up to the Internet and gave me permission to mount Abbey's Web on their WWW server. Otherwise, I would have had to sign up with some Internet provider that allows personal WWW pages, or with one of the "WWW hotels" where you can publish your pages for a small fee.
As you probably know by now, a document published on the WWW must be cast in the format called Hyper Text Markup Language, or HTML (7). If I were to publish the text as a Word document, all my readers would be required to have MS Word on their computers, which would exclude all who use a UNIX workstation or a text terminal.
Fortunately, there are programs-both commercially available and free for the downloading from the Internet-that can convert documents created in popular word processing packages (MS Word, WordPerfect, PageMaker, FrameMaker, etc.) to HTML. That way, the web builder doesn't need to learn another editing program. I picked an application called rtftoweb (8), which has a nice feature: it can create many small hyperlinked documents from a big Word document by breaking it up at heading levels.
When I had converted the documents to HTML, the only other thing I had to do to get it out on the Internet was to copy the files to a specific folder on the computer that runs the WWW server software.
Home, Home on the Web
Now Edward Abbey had a home on the World Wide Web, but no one would ever find it unless I advertised it. I did this in several ways.
First, I informed the maintainers of big subject indexes like Yahoo (9) and Galaxy (10) that there was now information about Edward Abbey available on the Web. Anyone who came there looking for information about authors would find a link to Abbey's Web on the "authors" page. There also are some sites that are dedicated to literature and I informed them, too.
Then I made sure that the automatic indexing programs (a.k.a. "robots"), like Lycos (11) and Infoseek (12), would find Abbey's Web. These robots roam the Internet continuously, looking for new or updated information and building huge databases of keywords. Now, anyone who searches these databases for words like Abbey, monkey-wrenching, or Arches (National Park) will be pointed toward Abbey's Web. (This step was not really necessary; the robots would have found my pages anyway because other sites point to it, but by telling them myself they found it faster.)
The page called What's New on the WWW (13) is a popular place for announcing new Web sites. When Abbey's Web showed up on the list, the site was inundated with a flash flood of connections from curious `Net surfers in 28 countries scattered across the globe.
I also posted information about the pages in selected discussion groups on the Internet, like rec.backcountry and rec.arts.books.
I still search the Web now and then for other references to Edward Abbey; when I find one, I inform the owner of that page that there is now a dedicated site for Ed and that he or she is welcome to add a link to it.
And that's one of the secrets of Web success: to get as many people as possible to learn about your site, you have to maximize the number of links to it.
The Word Spreads
Soon after I made Abbey's Web public, readers started adding their own comments on different topics, just as I had hoped. Abbey's Web was growing!
I also got a lot of positive feedback via e-mail. It has been very rewarding to get all these nice words from people who really appreciate what I have done. I have even received Edward Abbey books and audio and video tapes in the mail from appreciative readers.
One suggestion from visitors to Abbey's Web that kept popping up was that it would be nice to have a forum were people interested in Abbey could meet and discuss his life and work. In the analog world, you would have to get a bunch of people together in a room or maybe set up a conference call to discuss something. On the Internet, you create a mailing list or maybe a newsgroup instead. By subscribing to a mailing list you get electronic mail from other subscribers; if you reply, your mail is sent out to all the other subscribers. This way you can keep up a discussion without being restricted by such worldly things as time zones and physical distances.
I located some free software, called majordomo (14), that makes maintaining a mailing list easy. I called the list abbeyweb and was allowed to put it up on my employers' server. There are now about 120 subscribers who engage in sometimes lively debate. All the articles posted to the mailing list are archived in Abbey's Web using another free program, this one called hypermail (15), which sorts articles by date, author, or subject.
To become a subscriber to abbeyweb, just send the line subscribe in the body of an e-mail message to: email@example.com.
With a little luck and some help from friends of the author's work, Abbey's Web will continue to grow. The bibliography in Abbey's Web is updated whenever I get more information about some book or a new book is published. As the Internet grows, more and more people discover Abbey's Web and add their own comments. I also plan to add a gallery of some sort, where photos, essays, poems, and so on can be displayed.
In short, my experience with publishing on the World Wide Web has shown me that it is cheap, fun, easy, and potentially very rewarding. Please visit Abbey's Web and see for yourself.
[URLs last checked March 2000]
1. Abbey's Web
. Welcome to Stockholm!
3. Sweden Home Page
4. Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey
5. U.S. Library of Congress
6. Abbey's Road, by Edward Abbey
7. Revised Introduction to HTML: 1995 Edition
8. rtftoweb [20 Nov. '98, site not found]
13. What's New on the WWW?
Christer Lindh is a software engineer for Abalon AB who lives in Stockholm, Sweden. He welcomes all your questions and comments by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by post to: Christer Lindh, Alstensgatan 84, 161 39 BROMMA, SWEDEN.
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