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the friar's
cyberspace adventure


Contents


Introduction

For the Church the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message. This challenge is at the heart of what it means at the beginning of the millennium to follow the Lord's command to "put out into the deep”: Duc in altum! (Lk 5:4).
I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net, so that now as in the past the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the world "the glory of God on the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6) -- John Paul II

I cannot forget the first time I got a webpage uploaded. Then, it was for me a successful first attempt at web publishing. It took me some six to seven hours of composing that web page through a browser window. But looking back at it now with three years of experience in maintaining a web site, I can only smile. That first effort has paid of. I have become a NETizen and I am privileged to be considered one of those who can write and talk about the Web. Below is a narrative about my first contact with the Web. I republish it in this new format in the hope that even those who have read it before may reread it in the light of John Paul II's summons to the Great Adventure.


Prehistory

My Great Internet Adventure formally began when our community at the Fathers' Residence of the University of San Agustin had our Internet connection set up on August 23, 1999. But my experience with the Internet did not start there; it began sometime in 1998 when the first Iloilo Internet Cafe was put up by one of our friars at the San Jose Parochial School. That Internet Cafe was closed down after awhile due to lack of funding and others have mushroomed in Iloilo since then. But while the Internet Cafe was open, I visited it quite a number of times, sometimes even bringing with me diskettes for downloading documents from the Vatican website. My first visits to the Internet was purely for information. Sometime later, I would discover that this was the original purpose of the Internet: to make the exchange of information easier. Well, I wasn't giving back something to the Internet then, that would come much much later... I was paying P 80.00 (eighty pesos) for an hour's Internet connection. (I could have had it for free, but I wanted to see that small establishment grow up and become stable. At that time, it wasn't just the right moment for taking advantage of the generosity of the proprietors.) And I felt that I was getting enough for my money's worth.

Some months after the San Jose Internet Cafe was opened, our own University Library put up an Internet section. There were some twenty units of computers there for students and teachers to use. I had my first free email account then, which I am still using until now. But for surfing, I still went to the San Jose Internet Cafe since the USA Library closed at 6:45 PM, which, at that time, was still work hours for me (I was teaching in a night class).

It was during this time that I accidentally discovered homepages. One night, I was looking for the topic "Augustinians." There were so many results to go through that I decided to click on the links at random. One link brought me to an Augustinian friar's homepage at Geocities. It was so nicely done that I wanted the owner (my brother in profession!) to know that I had been there. So I signed the guestbook. The significance of this small act of signing a guestbook will surprise me much later. I did not know then that the guestbook will bring my full name to the roving eyes of a search engine robot. But that is another story.

The First Steps

Sometime in the summer of 1999, I had my first personal computer setup at my parents' place (Antipolo City in the Island of Luzon). It was very much like the new computer that was given to the Campus Ministry Office where I then worked as the Campus Minister, except that this had two browsers (Netscape and Internet Explorer) and a CD Rom Drive and a lot more. When I looked at the Directory, I saw several applications that I have never seen before. What interested me were Frontpage Express and CoffeeCup. I tried CoffeeCup but I couldn't understand why it had strange tags like <html> and <a href="">. I also typed some things on Frontpage and found out that it had features that made it more than a desktop publishing software (before this I was very much at home with desk editing software like Word and WordPerfect). Later, after I've read some of its "Help" pages, I discovered that it was a web publishing editor. "Hey," I said to myself, "this is the software they use for making those homepages!" Unfortunately, we didn't have an Internet connection. I could have seen what those applications can do on the Net if we were connected then. But I soon found out that with IE, I can "browse" HTML documents off-line. It was then that I first made HTML pages with a WYSIWYG editor (What You See Is What You Get).

My first HTML pages informed anyone who opened my computer of the changes that I have on the Windows 98 Desktop. This required me to change the computer's System.ini so that it would load "abet.html" at startup. "Abet.html" was the first in a series of four HTML pages that I wrote using Frontpage. "Abet.html" welcomed the user to My Computer. A link ("Next") brought in another page that described the features of the desktop he or she was about to see. The "Next" link on that page led to another page that explained why the computer had to open up with my pages (it contained elements of self-praise). And the last page thanked the user for paying attention to my pages, instructing them to close the IE browser (which loaded at the same time as "abet.html") so that they can see the desktop.

I wrote those four pages (with graphics!) just a few hours before I returned to the University of San Agustin, Iloilo, on a 5:45 AM flight. It was the first sleepless night I spent writing pages for a browser to read.


The First Homepage

So we come to the beginning of the beginning...

As I write this I have a little over just two months of web building experience. During that time, I have learned more about the use of Frontpage Express, CoffeeCup and the Netscape Composer. I can now write an HTML page using Notepad. I have begun troubleshooting the tables I make through WYSIWYG editors. I can now customize the HTML codes done by others and the Javascripts I have received from the great free stuff providers of the Internet. This framed page which you are looking at is just the beginning of my serious attempt at a framed homepage. What follows is the story of how I finally got a page into the Web.

On August 23, 1999, the computer I have been using as the Secretary of our community was replaced by one that can be connected to the Internet. Four days afterwards, the computer was connected to the Internet. My first act was to get a new email account since the old one can only be accessed through the Library facilities (at that time I didn't yet realize the possibilities of Outlook Express). I got the email account from the only Internet portal that I knew of then: Yahoo. It was Yahoo that brought me to Geocities where I would put up my first page on the Net.

I began toying with the idea of having a homepage of my own during one log in session at Yahoo mail. The "Get your free homepage" invitation from Geocities looked so inviting. The name "Geocities" was already associated with "great homepages" in my mind because of the homepage of another friar. One sleepless night I clicked on the invitation and registered. Immediately, I started out with their Easy PageBuilder (then at the Beta-testing stage). As I typed and rearranged the elements on my page, I was thinking that it would be more convenient if I learned how to use the software I had on the computer. I haven't heard of file uploads or FTP then. My first page on the Net was published at about 3:35 AM, August 28, 1999. It was entitled "Agustinong Pinoy" (English: "Filipino Augustinian"). This page is no longer in existence. It got deleted during update. The homepage is still there, however, and quickly being transformed into a site for my students and teachers. [If you are interested to see it, click here.]

I got to know about the Lycos Network through the Lycos browser I downloaded some time during the first week of September. I was at a free stuff site -- I don't remember which now -- looking for some way to enhance my growing web page. The Lycos browser looked special, with its "Skin" and other stuff, so it immediately became my favorite browser. It eventually led me to Tripod.com where I began building this homepage just for myself. I was still quite inexperienced with layouts and backgrounds then. And I still didn't know how to properly paste the HTML codes provided by Tripod (the first service of its kind I knew of!). My experimentations with Tripod's Quick Page Builder are still in existence. Just click here.


Meeting Problems

My first two months' experience with web-building was some sort of a self-imposed crash course. From the time I had my first web page published, I began to look for ways to improve it. Content was no problem because, in the case of "Agustinong Pinoy" I already had a specific purpose in mind: to make it a place for publishing my articles on Augustinian Thought and Spirituality. With my first homepage here, I intended a site for my Biblical studies.

My first problem was on how to economize on the time I spent connected with the Internet. It is much better to put up pages from one's web-publishing software and then to edit them on-line after uploading them. To write one's page on-line can be heavy on the wallet (here in the Philippines, it can cost P30.00/hour if one has a dial-up connection.)

My second problem closely followed the first. If I use an off-line editor, which editor would I use? At the time of this writing, I have tried five or six different web publishing software, but I have leaned heavily on Microsoft Frontpage because it allows me three things: to compose my text the way I would compose on Word and Publisher, to edit it as HTML and then to see my text as it would appear on the Net.

My third problem was that although my web pages would look great, on "preview" they'd look bad after upload. This happened most often because of images that won't appear. Later I discovered that Frontpage was writing my page's HTML and making links to my web graphics according to my hard drive's directory. And I realized this only after I learned some things about HTML! This was easily solved once I got to know more about my software. With Frontpage, the hard drive directory to which I save my web pages should look like my homepage directory. (Tripod has this advantage: that its File Manager is Frontpage enabled). Of course, I had more freedom with Frontpage once I got those HTML tags mastered.

My fourth problem was how to make my pages more interesting. I thought at first that animated graphics should do it. So I tried to add images to my web pages. But images should be properly placed and I just didn't know where on my pages an image would fit (Can you imagine me putting an animated .gif of Tweety the Canary on an article entitled "Ten Augustinian Values for Students?")! Later I tried Javascripts. (After this, I'd give reference to some Javascript sources I took advantage of during those early days). Now, I am beginning to understand that it is not really the images and the special effects that one has on a page that makes it interesting. It is the content plus the integrity in which that content is presented. (In web-building "integrity of presentation" is equivalent to "easy navigation.") But of course graphics and Javascripts will always have their proper place...

My fifth problem was, and still is, how to increase my hits. Right now, I have no solution to this problem. The problem, in fact, is not just one. Involved are the following factors: promotion (somebody must know that your web page is on the Net!), getting linked (here, membership in the right webring, for example, is important), services rendered (more surfers go to places where they can get something). After this is solved, one can go to the next: how to keep your captured audience. This is what the big boys like Tripod are doing. In the case of this homepage... well, you be the judge.


Sites That Helped A Lot

During those months in which I was trying to figure out how to improve my web pages, I came into contact with a lot of websites that provided me with free resources for web building. I will first mention those sites which led me to other great sites in the web:

Sites for Free Stuff

Free.com. The first free stuff site I came upon. This was my reference for free graphics for a while. I guess I stopped going to the site because it was slow on the download. (Not their fault perhaps, but due to my Internet connection.)

321Free.com. This remains to be my free stuff site of the moment. (I don't know why, but it loads easily even when internet traffic is heavy.) What I like most about the site is the reviews they make.

TheFreeSite.com. Lately, I have been going here for information about WebMaster's Tools. They also review their links and they have quite a number of these.

Sites for Web Building

PageResource.com. I find their tutorials on HTML easy to grasp. Lately, I have also begun to view their Javascript tutorials.

WebMonkey.com. WebMonkey is the first site I went to for tutorials. But I felt that their tutorials are best followed after one has grasped the basics.

Not to be left out of the list, of course, is Tripod.com which provides not only the web space but also the tools for the homepage builder and the on-line community that makes one feel at home


Opened Doors

As I write this, I find a lot of Internet doors opening up to me. Giving back something to the Internet, even if it comes in the form of links or homepage accounts does have its fruits. The first fruit is more familiarity with the ways of the Net. After more than two months of surfing, the Net has brought me to sources of information and services that I never knew existed before. The "training" I got from building my web pages has initiated me into a kind of knowledge that only a few in my country and in the University where I work are privy to. How have my new found skills helped others:

1. With my growing familiarity with HTML and Javascripts, I have been able to help my friends with their homepages. Those friends whom I have helped get started now have another reason -- apart from getting information -- to surf the Net.

2. Personally, I find it satisfying to be able to make a "dead" website come to life just by linking it to a free service and adding a few pages to it. I am referring to our University's homepage which has also benefitted from the skills I developed during these past two months.

3. The Theology2000 homepage I made for our Theology Department has begun to generate some hits since November 3 when I detached it from my classpages it placed it on a different address. (It has a Quick Loading version here in Tripod).

From hereon, the possibilities are limited only by my browser and Internet connection. And you, what do you think? [Click here to make your comment.]


The Adventure Continues...

Below are links that I hope would help the reader see where I am now: