From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

February 22, 1997: That Lingering (after the class) Web Site

During the winter semester of the 1995-96 school year I participated in a course taught by Avigail Oren. The main emphasis of the course was on MUDding as an educational experience, but part of our assignment was to prepare a home page. On one of the pages I prepared I wrote a bit about assigning the preparation of web pages as term papers: Little did I know. This month's column is devoted to a review of the changes that have taken place to those pages in the year that has transpired since that "assignment" was finished, and to the occasional correspondance that has grown around and because of them.

A few entirely new pages were added:

In addition to those new pages a number of pages received significant additions, some less significant changes, and some links to the new pages: But listing the changes hardly gives a proper sense of the ongoing nature of maintaining these pages. It's not something that gets attended to every day, but it's certainly much more than handing in a paper and forgetting about it. Who can forget when mail relating to it keeps coming in. I'm not referring to the occasional e-letter from a friend telling me that s/he enjoyed reading the material on the site, but to e-letters from people whom I don't know at all, but with whom I established contact (or they with me) via the site.

My first hint that something different from a term paper was upon me was when I received a request in the middle of November of last year, asking me for information on a particular aspect of the kibbuz movement:

I like being helpful to whoever needs help, though I had my doubts about how helpful I could be for a paper due less than three weeks from the time I received that letter. But in my response, in addition to noting a couple of (to my mind not particularly helpful) URLs I couldn't help asking "why me?". That would have been flattering if the "Kibbutz web site" hadn't been my own page, which didn't say that I had a lot of research on Kibbutzim, but rather that I'd like to concentrate web materials on the kibbutz on the page.

Next came a letter that anwered an ongoing question of mine. In my page of kibbutz related links I'd including a review of one volunteer's year on a kibbutz. That page didn't identify the author, nor did it contain links to any other pages that identified him, so when I added the link I simply wrote that I didn't know who wrote that review. A short correspondance grew out of that first letter. Among other things we found a mutual friend on the kibbutz in question and I passed a "hello" on to him. The correspondance also led to my changing the blurb about the link to include some information on the author.

And of course I also asked how he'd found the site:

And that apparently meant that quite a few people were finding my page of links as well. This was a strange case of "out of mind, but not out of sight".

Next came an offer to add a link to my kibbutz links. A student at the University of Pennsylvania had written a paper on Sexual Equality on the Kibbutz and uploaded it to the web. She suggested that I link to it. I checked out the article and found it informative and well written, and added the link. I also visited the author's web site and found it a pleasure, so I linked to it as well, and along the way I discovered that her father participates on a mailing list I'm subscribed to as well, so that now, when I receive postings from him a particular association gives me a picture of him in my mind.

By far the strangest e-letter I received related to my pages wasn't immediately identifiable as related to them. After all, the title: your queries about sibling rivalry, suggested that I'd somewhere asked about that topic. Rather quickly I figured out that my correspondant had found my page titled (rather humorously, I'd thought) "a note on sibling rivalry", and was responding to that. But if that was the case, had others received the same offer to read/buy the book? An AltaVista search brought up about 1000 hits for "sibling rivalry". Had my correspondant sent a similar letter to 1000 others? Taking the time I didn't have, I send queries to six or seven people whose sights mentioned sibling rivalry, and were individuals rather than organizations so that there might be a reason for them to receive a letter like the one I received, asking whether they also had received a similar letter. I quickly received four responses to my letter: no, nobody had received one. The next step was to ask the sender herself:

To which the reply quickly arrived: So it turned out that simply by being first (I wasn't on the AltaVista search I conducted) I was the lucky person who got an added adventure out of having a web site instead of a term paper. The latest correspondance around the site is regarding a typo. The typo has been corrected, but I can't help wondering about the nature of a medium that permits total strangers to write openly about anal compulsions.

That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz

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