Friday, August 26, 2005

Okay, I promised in my last schlog that I would reveal how I got the title “Dark Lord of the Web.” To understand that, you have to endure a little of my life story.

I went to college back in the ‘70s, when there wasn’t really any such thing as the “Internet,” at least not to most of us who weren’t on LSD at the time. So when it came to choice of majors, you couldn’t get a degree in Internet or eCommerce or anything e, really. My best friend (John Veale, the creator of http://www.FunWithDad.com) got a degree in “computer science” but that meant he had to spend a heck of a lot of time in a cold dark room fully of large whirling tape thing-a-ma-jigs. That was a little scary for me; I wanted to be out sitting on the grass and reading books.

So I decided to be an English major, since I did pretty well in English in High School. Huge mistake. I thought I was hot stuff and took a senior-level English lit class during my first semester as a freshman. I did a report on “Dante’s Inferno” titled, “Is it hot in here or is it just me?” The prof gave me a D and that was I think because she pitied me. You get the picture.

Anyway, I changed my major to “Print Media Communication” (which was really mostly journalism but also some “creative” writing) because I enjoyed working on the school newspaper and it was one of the easier majors around … which was important to me since I was stinging so bad from that failed experiment with the lit class. I’ve never really been much good at studying, so I tried to avoid classes and majors where that was important.

But what I really enjoyed most about school, besides trying to fool professors into thinking I deserved better grades, was the student newspaper. At Biola that’s called “The Chimes” after some big bells now sitting in the middle of campus. But many people called us “Wind Chimes” since we were such windbags. (Some things never change, do they?)

And working at The Chimes was my first taste of “high tech.” And it was love at first byte. (Ouch, I know, if this is going to be full of bad puns I’m sure you’re not going to want to read it, right? Sorry!)

We had some really cool digital typesetting machines. When I first started working there they could only “remember” one line of type at a time. You would type it, correct any typos in the line, then hit “return” and it would print the line on photo paper. Sounds terrible now, but to us it was better than pouring letters from vats of hot lead. Later on, we got fancy typesetting machines with huge floppy disks (they held something like 128 kilobytes of data each! Less than most modern emails) which could remember an entire article or two. Very cool.

After graduation from college I began searching for some employer I could bless with my eminently employable Print Media Communication skills and experiences. After a fruitless six months of searching, I got an interview at a great Christian relief and development organization near Pasadena called “World Vision.” I asked if they had a position as editor of their magazine. They said,

“No, sorry, we don’t … what else can you do?”

“Well, I can type 120 words per minute.”

“No kidding? Accurately?”

“More or less. If you want accuracy it might go down to 100 or so.”

So they gave me a test to see whether or not I was lying. When they discovered I was telling the truth I got my first real post-baccalaureate job … working swing shift in a “word processing department.” They promised that if I was patient, some day an editing job might open up. Meanwhile I was the only guy on my shift (probably the only guy in the organization who could actually type more than 30 words per minute) … but I had a lot of fun.

That was the coolest job … and World Vision was a great organization to work for. It was a neat thing to know that the work you did helped starving kids and poor people all over the world. At that time (1983) the famine in Ethiopia, in which about a million people died, was just heating up. World Vision had been around for more than 30 years, but was still relatively small. In the next few years they would more than double in size.

But I didn’t stay to see it. I loved the technology we used, and so my brother and I got a loan and bought one of those fancy-schmancy high-end word processing systems and started our own “tech business.” We did digital typesetting for the print trade and also got a contract with the State of California University system to offer word processing services on campus at Cal Poly, Pomona. (If anyone reading this remembers “PolyType,” please let me know!) We employed a lot of students and did a booming business in resumes, term papers, theses, dissertations, etc. … until I saw the desktop computer revolution coming around the next bend and got out of the business while the getting was good.

I spent the next 10 years writing magazine articles and books, doing technical consulting and some other things, and then in 1994 wandered back over to World Vision for another interview … this time for a true writing and editing position.

World Vision moved to the Seattle area in 1996, and so I up and moved my family. That was a new experience. I’ll write about that sometime.

About the same time we moved, World Vision started to get interested in the Internet. I had been doing some of my own websites and things in my own business, so they asked me to write a paper for a committee that was looking at the potential of the Internet. I wrote glowingly (and apparently convincingly) of the potential of the Web channel to break all previous records as a medium for communication and even commerce. (By the way, even my most pie-in-the-sky predictions in that paper have long since proven themselves laughably understated.)

The committee members read my paper and said, “Wow, that’s great. We should do it! If only we knew someone who knew something about how to get on the internet.”

I said, “I do.”

They furrowed their collective committee brows for a moment and then hit me with the Big Idea that changed my life: “Hey, this famine in North Korea is heating up. We really need to tell people about it, and also to figure out a new way to raise funds so that we can help stop people from starving to death. If you could actually get us up and running on the Internet by May 1997” … at this point that was about three months away … “we’ll give you a budget and you could be our first webmaster!”

No kidding, it was that easy. Like a fool, I said, “Sure, why not?” I sentenced myself to three months of hard labor; I had to learn a lot fast, but I got some great help from some folks in Virginia (who now run the Crosswalk.com website) and in just one week short of three months we were up and running with World Vision’s first U.S. homepage at http://www.worldvision.org/. We were even collecting credit card donations for North Korea famine victims.

The early days of the Internet at World Vision were great. I didn’t really know much about the internet, but no one else did either, so to them it must have looked like I knew a lot. People were awestruck whenever someone actually succeeded in making a donation online. Rich Stearns, president of World Vision, called me “The Dark Lord of the Internet” in chapel one day. The name stuck.

Today, of course, our donors are using the internet constantly and the World Vision website is thriving. In fact, if something happens and our servers go down for five minutes in the middle of the night, everyone freaks out. The good news is that we have been joined by a great team of a lot of folks who really know what they are doing. They look at me and shake their heads. I’m sure they’re thinking, “How on earth did HE ever get to be the Dark Lord of the Web?” Nonetheless, fortunately for me it’s one of those things that’s relatively irrevocable. Sort of like Howard Dean -- once he screamed, that was it. No matter how calm he has acted since then, people still think of him as a nutcase.

So, that’s my story. Hopefully you can tell that I have been incredibly blessed. Some people would say lucky, but I don’t believe in luck. Next time I write, I’ll tell you why.

2 comments:

Abigail said...

I totally just randomly came across your blog.

I was Managing Editor at The Chimes last year.

I did volunteer work at World Vision in Seattle in June of 2001. And I'm pretty sure I visited Elim E Free then. Small world or what?

Dark Lord of the Web said...

Abigail, thanks for leaving me a comment! I was totally shocked.

Seriously, it's cool to meet former Chimes editors. I was assistant editor one year (I think it was 77-78) then editor in chief 78-79. I think. Or maybe it was 76-77 and 77-78. Unfortunately that was many years ago.

Sometime it would be fun to compare notes. I spent most of my time back then in the dean's office. I think they were really glad when I left.

I've often wondered how technology has changed the face of the Chimes. Do you have an online edition? I haven't been able to find one. That would certainly present new challenges.

Anyway, drop me a line again sometime if you get the chance. It would be interesting to discuss further. Would also be interesting to hear your impressions about World Vision (what dept did you volunteer in?) and Elim.