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January 16, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 16, 2004

Weekly Web site marks 10th anniversary Weekly Web site marks 10th anniversary (January 16, 2004)

'Palo Alto Online' logs more than 1.2 million home-page visits for news, films, master calendar, ads and community information

In Palo Alto's Centennial year, the Palo Alto Weekly published its full editorial content on the World Wide Web on Jan. 19, 1994, becoming the first newspaper in the world to do so.

In 1994 dial-up modems were slow, and most people still asked, "What's the Internet?" or "World Wide what?"

In 1996, the Weekly created a separate, comprehensive community Web site, named Palo Alto Online -- which in 2003 logged more than 1.2 million page views of its home page.

Information about the past 10 years
The site includes local news headlines, the content of the Weekly and two sister papers -- the Mountain View Voice and The Almanac -- as well as an assortment of information-rich databases, a new "Master Community Calendar," movie and restaurant listings, advertisements and special offers.

It also includes maps of school boundaries, neighborhood information, community resources and links to city, Stanford University and neighborhood Web sites. It includes the area's largest real estate guide, as well as providing classified ads that are updated daily.

The site gets spikes of extra visitors during major community news events -- fulfilling its initial goal of providing timely information to residents and businesses. And people can sign up to get online news bulletins for significant breaking news.

"Our goal is to create a place that helps to link people and resources together, with the hope of building a stronger and healthier community," using the technical tools of the Internet, Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson said of the launch of Palo Alto Online, in September 1996.

The expanded site "takes our concept of what a community newspaper is all about and extends it to the World Wide Web," he said.

The site placed second in the 2002 best newspaper Web site category of the California Newspaper Publishers Association's annual Better Newspapers Contest. Palo Alto Online Director Lisa Van Dusen said she sees Palo Alto Online conceptually "as the local online guide -- the Web site people go to for information about almost anything in the Palo Alto or Midpeninsula area, without hesitation.

"It's the authoritative guide to the area, whether it's about what to do next weekend, what happened this morning, what's for sale in classified or the background of current community issues."

Van Dusen has been involved since the early days of the Web site, when the Weekly worked with a start-up firm, Internet Data Services, to launch and maintain the site. She was part of the team that created Palo Alto Online in 1996, and was named director of Palo Alto Online in 1999.

Webmaster Frank Bravo helped create the initial site and has been involved in all aspects of the site development and expansion.

In early 2003, the site added a "Master Community Calendar," starting with a soft-launch in January to test-run the calendar program -- put together by Bravo, who also oversees information technology for Embarcadero Publishing Co., the parent organization of the Weekly and its sister papers.

Johnson was met with a burst of spontaneous applause when he announced the calendar at a gathering of nonprofit organization leaders last spring. The nonprofit representatives immediately recognized the value of knowing what other events are planned weeks, months or even a year or more in advance (to avoid scheduling conflicts), and of being able to list their own events well ahead of time.

"People providing community services have talked about the need for such a calendar for decades, literally," Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson said of the calendar. "But gathering, processing and publishing the thousands of items for a comprehensive online calendar is a daunting task. It took a combination of the Weekly's pre-existing printed calendar system, the Internet and a lot of work by many people to bring the Master Community Calendar into existence and get it operating smoothly."

Sue Dremann is calendar editor in addition to editing special sections and writing for the Weekly. Prior to helping launch the master calendar, she unified the data-gathering systems for the printed calendar listings in the Weekly, Almanac and Voice.

Tyler Hanley, assistant to the editor at the Weekly and online editor, handles news postings each day and sends e-bulletins when events warrant, working with Shannon White, assistant to the Webmaster.

Priorities for 2004 include further revising the functionality and appearance of Palo Alto Online and increasing the use of photography on the site, among other efforts to further enhance the site's usefulness to people of all ages, Van Dusen said.

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