An Association News Commentary

If They Can Do it...
Higher Education Editor

Everybody has seen them. You can't miss them. They've even become some of the biggest ones out there. Hell, these were the beginning of it all. What am I blabbering on about? The collegiate Web site.

If your institution is still brash enough not to have one, well, shame on you. And if your school still relies on gopher or archie, double shame on you. Web sites have become the mark of an institution (as you see in the corporate world); colleges and universities use this new medium to promote and advertise their wares. Even I am guilty, being employed by one such college to develop its Web presence.

I was hired in September of 1998 to develop, maintain, and improve the Web site of a small professionally-oriented college in Western Massachusetts. This college, in the year before, hired a design firm to create its Web site. At least I wasn't starting from scratch. But as with the political nature of a college, I have some obstacles to my work. Everyone who has something to say lets it be heard. This is definitely the case when it comes to Web sites. Everyone has their opinion, some valid, most not.

Lucky for me my previous job had prepared me for this. I was working at the Big State U in a part-time stint after graduating. You cannot imagine how political this was unless you actually worked there. Imagine there being two campus offices charged with the maintenance of the most high profile Web sites of the university. One office had control of the front door, the other developed the main news and information portals. Imagine the conflict. This, however, spawned some of the brightest ideas and concepts for what a Web site should (and could) be.

The college Web site plays a major role in the development of the Internet. Remember those yahoos from Stanford? As with myself, and the scores of others who have learned and mastered this medium with only with a hobbyist's zeal, a new occupation has been borne. Decades ago, the "Internet" was devised as a new and efficient means of researchers sharing their work amongst themselves. What?

Developing Web sites in an educational setting can be fun, don't let me mislead you on that. There are no deadlines, there is the freedom of creativity, many places employ their own graphic design team, provide an almost limitless supply of the latest computer gear, and the combination of art departments, computer science departments, marketing departments, and college computing facilities provide a seemingly endless pool of talent. Even my small college of 1,400 undergraduates can boast a Web site that rivals many of the major universities.

As of today, there is no formal collegiate training for the Web site developer. You can major in graphic design. Or computer science. Maybe information systems. Or even a blur of all three. Even business or marketing throws more into the fold. But regardless, no one to date of this article has received a degree in the art of Web site design/programming. So how do corporate "Webmasters" earn in excess of $50,000 a year? Simple. The Web is THE new thing. And it is only getting bigger. Television took decades to reach the level of influence it enjoys now. The Web exploded in less than five years, quickly closing in on the power of television.

Keep your eye on those college Web sites. They are more often than not, developed by a keen-minded student. It is these students who have gone on to become major players in the new world of the Internet. Ask Jerry Yang and David Filo.

Keith Paul is the Web site coordinator for Western New England College in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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