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The Apollo 13 Model of Website Development

I've done little websites of various sorts for around twenty years or so. Some years after I began doing little websites on various topics, I watched the 1995 docudrama Apollo 13 about the real world incident.

The movie shows how the people on the ground were able to help save the lives of the astronauts and get them home again by providing useful information, researching how to solve the problems they had and so forth even though they could share no physical sources. They could only share information with the astronauts.

To me, that was a powerful mental model for how to relate effectively to website work.

I guess I had always been doing that -- or trying to do that -- but the movie gave me some means to clarify what was already sort of a half-baked idea. I had always seen websites as a means to "do" something real, not just a way to share memes for lols or something like that.

When I took a class on Homelessness and Public Policy through SFSU while living in Fairfield, I did my internship with Opportunity House, a homeless shelter in Vacaville, California. I continued to volunteer there for some time after my internship -- a requirement of the class -- ended.

One of the many things I did was I helped them set up their first real website. Up until then, they only had a Geocities page and it wasn't really doing anything.

I bought them the only Opportunity House domain name available at the time: OpportunityHouse.US. They still own it, but it now redirects to, the site for Vacaville Solano Services Corporation, and they also still use the URL for email addresses for staff at the shelter.

I set them up their first PayPal account and made sure the website could take cash donations, had lists of in-kind things they needed as donations, listed their Thrift Store and did other real world things that furthered their mission. It wasn't just a means to say "Hey, we exist." It was a means to directly engage with their cause from the comfort of your home to some degree.

Shortly after I got them a real website set up, a serious programmer joined as an avid volunteer and promptly upgraded the website, but did keep some of the important pieces I had already put into place. They have apparently grown a good bit more in the years since I was there.

The shelter has a different street address and they have two thrift stores, not one, but some of the pieces I put into place for their website remain in place, though updated. Some of those pieces are about actually accomplishing things in the here and now via a web portal.

That was always my vision for how to use a website. Watching the movie Apollo 13 just helped crystallize something in my mind about how powerful good information can be and how much we can make a difference from a distance.

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