by Terry Gardiner

As a novice Webmaster I’ll go out on a limb here and say: “I love Microsoft”! This company has given me software that has made my computing life a pleasure. I don’t use their browser but everything else that Windows 95 has to offer, has made my internet experience high caliber. Making a very complicated tool work easily for the masses has enabled most John Doe types to access, download and unzip software, that can enhance writing and graphic ability which can parallel the work of top professionals. Brainstorming ideas and content for the website was hard enough for me and without the exciting website software that is available today I could have never been successful at the Webguardian website final product.

Mastery of the Website
After a click on the win95 dial-up icon, I connect and the high pitch and crackle sound we all have come to love fills the air. My default URL is the traffic and status report of my website, which gives me: numbers of visitors, where they came from, which webpages they looked at and many other unbelievable things. At times like this I really feel sorry for the people who complain about today’s computers being too complicated and that they will never, ever use them. The mastery of any website was a mystery to me before windows 95 and the website building information that can be found on the net. All the best ideas for quality websites are in front of you while surfing the net, all you have to do is analyze them with the editor in your browser and come up with the kind of format you want to see at your site.

“What’s it take?”
The webmaster supposedly knows all the latest effective website enhancement software, exotic JavaScripting and server engineering. Well this webmaster had to learn HTML 3.2, how to work with the InterNic, how to access the newsgroups and for rest of the mastery I rely on the experts in the alt.computers newsgroups where the beginner can get expert webmaster help. With over 50,000 visitors a month on my site, I have to constantly update and amend the webpages to keep them user friendly and full of new internet information. Our latest project is to completely make over the website to meet the new IBM website specification. I finally learned to go to the best and I’ve hired a professional IBM website designer that will make me look good.

Life Changing
The experience of directing a large consumer oriented website like Webguardian has been life changing for me. After years of mechanical engineering work, I finally found a work form I truly love. The funny thing is that being an emerging nonprofit organization with no financial support for operational expenses and no compensation for my endless hours of research and consumer interface; my day job has to support the website and my family expenses. We do get our server donated and there are the wonderful volunteers without whom I’d be lost, but donations are hard to come by and the consumer problems keep coming in everyday. Webguardian works as a virtual team in a virtual office. Webguardian volunteers are located all over the world and I’ve never met most of our volunteers. An interesting thing has happened, when it comes to helping the consumer volunteers have come to me by the dozens. Some people really care about the internet consumer.

“OK Terry, what’s in it for you?”
The press and people in general always ask me the same question once they find out that Webguardian is a nonprofit, free service: “OK Terry, what’s in it for you?”. So I tell them that all my life I’ve worked at starting several of my own businesses with the ‘profit motive’ driving me. All my past business ventures have floundered for one reason or another, until Webguardian. The first time I start a non-profit business that is focused on helping others instead of my bottom line, I end up in the New York Times and USA Today, go figure!

Working with ‘real’ hackers
As the director of investigations I must research many consumer fraud cases. Many of the fraudulent ‘shadow’ websites are very hard to trace and locate so I’ve had to find and work with ‘hackers’. The hacker has been known as everything from computer sleuths to computer scientists gone mad. I won’t go into their reputations but I’ve found some of them to be fantastic helpers and very giving. I use volunteer hackers at Webguardian to find things that I can’t through normal channels like the responsible technical and business officials for fraudulent (shadow) websites. These websites can pop-up and shut-down in several places all over the globe in a manner of days after defrauding many consumers. Hackers have the uncanny ability to find this kind of information for Webguardian and I’m very thankful for them. To find good hackers, one doesn’t just call a phone number, I have found my own ways to do this that I cannot mention here. Nevertheless, the hackers I have worked with will do nothing illegal for Webguardian but they can find information that enables our reporting consumers to solve their internet related problems. These hackers usually remain anonymous using untraceable ways to contact me, I never know where they are from or if I’ll ever talk to them again, but they are in valuable tool or this consumer website.

Don’t be mad at the webmaster!
The final area I would like to discuss are the many emails I receive as webmaster. Many people who surf the net and land on our website want to ask or tell me the strangest things. Some are very complimentary and their notes are filled with good ideas and admiration. Then there are the people who flame me with angry questions about where I get my authority, who do I think I am or how do I like the batch of viruses they just sent me? This is a job that can be very rewarding and crazy at the same time. The internet is changing so quickly that if a webmaster doesn’t keep on top of things like the correct URL links, good grammar or the correct up-to-date legal information, everybody and his brother will let you know. I love this job and will leave you with this thought: without the internet and great webmasters, where would you be reading this article?