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When I was in college, if a student wanted to work on a computer, he or she would gather their punch cards and head off to the math building. (Not that I actually went to the math building, mind you, but I was told that’s where computer science classes were held.)
A few years later, I was living in Washington, D. C., and desperate for a job. I went to work for a company that ran an online news and information service for the energy industry. Nothing particularly interesting about this, except it was 1985, before the launch of Windows, AOL, and a little thing I like to call “the World Wide Web.”
If my bosses at Information, Inc., were ahead of their time, they certainly didn’t know how to capitalize on it, and the business soon disappeared. Nonetheless, it was a formative experience for me, and I developed what has been a life-long interest in communications technologies.
When we began preparing for this trip, we knew we wanted to document our travels and make the production of a web site central to our children’s year of “roadschooling.” I had work experience with web-based projects, but always from the content side. Technology was something others did.
As I thought about a blog to document our trip, I wasn’t sure I could build the kind of web site I pictured in my mind’s eye.
Then I found WordPress.
No need to bore you with the process we went through to plan and develop the site. But I will say, in designing it we had four goals: We wanted to document the trip for ourselves; to understand and explore storytelling online; to add another resource for families and travelers making a round the world trip; and to create a site that was easy to manage and would not feel burdensome on our trip.
For others with modest technical skills who want to take on a project like this, I recommend a first stop at WordPress. It’s an amazing, clearly written resource to very powerful free software that allows you to run a pretty sophisticated web site.
I’ve added a number of free plug-in widgets to increase the fun and functionality of the site, including:
Flickr Badge Widget – the plug-in that displays the three most recent photos in the sidebar was developed by Ben Coleman.
Share This – this plug-in allows readers to share content on this site with others through social networking sites and is available at Share This.
Countdown – the countdown widget (and eventually a “time since” widget) was developed by Adam Brown.
I’ve also tried to take advantage of a lot of great free and low cost functionality available on the web.
Our photos are being housed at Flickr. I edited some of the images on the site at Picnik. We’ll use Google Maps to track our route. We’ll be bookmarking our recommendations and information resources at del.icio.us. We’ll host our video at You Tube. And email updates and RSS services are provided by Feedburner.
Amazingly, this entire site has been pulled together based on free software and services. In some cases, we’ll be paying small fees for added functionality – but even so, the total annual budget for running the site will be under $125.
Finally, I’d be remiss without acknowledging my technical guru, Jon Melzer, who gave me great advice – and fixed the things that I couldn’t.
UPDATE: You’ll find more information about The Wide Wide World on the web here.