How This Page “Happened”

The short version is I wanted to get something posted for myself and a few dozen friends, family members and clients, about what happened at the World Trade Center.

This was intended to be more or less a personal thing, a private little affair, my writing up Bill’s account. I hoped it would be purging. I e-mailed the link to my distribution list — a few hundred people. If maybe a few dozen saw it, well, perhaps it might help one of them cope.

The long version of how this evolved is a bit more complicated:

On my cc: list is a friend at the San Jose Mercury News. He runs “Good Morning Silicon Valley,” a page at the Merc covering the latest tech news. Thursday’s GMSV had a link to the “Personal Recollection.” It became part of their running Blog on the attack.

GMSV raised the hit count rather quickly to 877 — exceeding the Geocities hourly allocation of free bandwidth. That, I thought, was essentially that.

But then I received a surprising and generous e-mail from a lovely woman named Deb. She wrote me:

Your bpr.html page has overwhelmed your geocities data transfer allocation.If you want, send me the HTML and any ancillary stuff needed to display it and I’ll mirror it behind a T1 and send you the URL.

What a strange and generous offer, I thought. I sent her the code, which she immediately put up at her site.

Deb’s e-mail made me think: given the nature of this tragedy, and the truly heartwarming responses people were making, maybe I should keep the page live. Perhaps it might help someone somewhere somehow.

I called my friend Jeff at Yahoo! and asked — begged and pleaded, really — that, given the circumstances, could he please scare me up some extra bandwidth. I could upgrade to the premium Geocities service, but I feared it might take some time to get the bandwidth opened up. What could we do right now?

Jeff came through in a big way. He arranged “unlimited” bandwidth, and the page was back up.

Yahoo has their own internal system for linking pages. I guess when the number of hits raises a page’s profile, it reaches the point where Yahoo news picks it up. Their page on this — U.S. Full Coverage – Terror Attack had a section titled “Eyewitness Accounts.” This became the first linked story.

I will never underestimate Yahoo! again.

The flood gates opened up. If I was surprised when “Good Morning Silicon Valley” caused the hit count to tick up by the 100s, I was floored when it suddenly started going up by the 1,000s. When I left the office on Thursday, almost 19,000 people had read Bill’s tale. By the time I went to sleep that night, it was nearly 30,000. On Saturday morning, the 50,000th person had read the story.

That’s incredible, and more than a little insane to me. A private little observation became this giant web thing.

Its ironic because my office has a de minimus web presence. Since I write all of the market commentary for our employees and clients, I’ve kept a little archive of that work. Its a pathetic little “vanity” site, really — just an exercise in teaching myself basic HTML coding.

One of the many amazing things about the web is that the source code is all there for surfers to see. Go to any web page, select “View Source,” and there it is. I’ve “borrowed” other people’s coding to use as a learning tool. I don’t use it commercially, I don’t promote it or list it with any search engines. I always end up deleting it.

But its been a fantastic teaching tool. I’ve learned all sorts of basic, and even somewhat intermediate code. Then just last week, I found site by accident. Their templates looked great (I used Manila Portfolio “Soundwaves” Blue, Orange and Purple). So again, I “borrowed.” Who the hell was ever going to see it?

Amongst all the other madness this week, I get an urgent email on Friday from Weblogger’s CTO, a very nice guy named Erin. They wanted to know “who I was, and why was my site stressing their servers?” We exchange emails and telephone calls. I explain what happened and why. These guys are just unbelievable, totally supportive. Again, its “don’t worry about the bandwidth, whatever you need, oh-my-god-we had no idea.” I put their logo and link on the page — it’s all their artwork and design.

As all this was happening, a deluge of emails were coming from the site. I’m really not an emotional person; But when I start reading all of personal accounts, tales of people lost, the outpouring of grief and love and support are just too much to take without some release. You read these emails — and tears just stream down your face.

I feel guilty about receiving so many blessings from so many people, so much compassion and love and generosity of spirit. It’s all too, too much. I had nothing to do with this whatsoever; I was safe and sound, 25 miles away.

My only role in this was to write up someone else’s horrific experiences. I made that as clear as I possibly could — this was someone else’s life, not mine. A forgotten quote comes to mind: “I am just a lowly scribe. I am only a humble servant.”

Even still, the outpouring of generosity and affection from people is simply awe inspiring. I want to do even more, contribute, somehow make a difference.

I hope that, somehow, putting this up on the web has helped people. Maybe in this terrible tragedy, this has made a tiny difference.
Most Sincerely Yours,

Barry L. Ritholtz

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