Skip to main content

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 https://vsscorp.org/, the site for Vacaville Solano Services Corporation, and they also still use the opportunityhouse.us 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.

Popular posts from this blog

Pivoting a Website

The website Aberdeen Art and Music began as an effort to consolidate three older websites into a single website for purposes of trying to create a local walking tour as a tourist asset for this small town. It later took on a new purpose and I was tasked with updating the site to preserve and enhance the existing purpose while making room for new functions. The older websites were static sites that each corresponded to a printed brochure. The brochures and corresponding original websites were logically categorized by type of art: Murals, Critters and Urban Art (mostly sculpture). But much of this art can be found in close proximity in the downtown area, so I wanted to consolidate that information and enhance it to serve as an economic development tool for this small town. The intent was to support a walking tour via smartphone and begin phasing out the printed brochures while still supporting the existing brochures that were still out there and had the old URLs on them. In s

My Work

In the movie The Pickup Artist , Molly Ringwald's character utters my all-time favorite movie line: I'm too truthful to be good. I have apparently always been socially insightful. I was probably the bratty child yelling "The emperor has no clothes" and getting away with being rude, crude and socially unacceptable because I was cute as a button. When you are four, people laugh uncomfortably and don't explain to you why they are laughing. Being four, you stupidly think you are a talented comedian and then you spend your twenties and thirties baffled as to why everyone routinely gives you the death glare and wants your head on a pike instead of appreciating your witty insight and sense of humor. Me being me, I didn't stop being honest. I just tried to find ways to express myself that were less likely to have people wanting my head on a pike. This is a large part of why I blog. I still find social stuff very interesting, I see a need in the world for hig

Local News and Information Online

I recentely read an online article with local news. Nowhere in the article does it actually name the state and the name of the publication is generic enough it doesn't give clues as to the location. I poked around the site and found a county name somewhere, maybe in the same article, maybe in a different article. I googled the city name and the spelling is unusual such that it might be a unique city name though there are definitely other cities with names that sound the same. If this article were printed in a physical newspaper bought locally, using just the city name would be fine. You would know from context exactly which city was intended. But when an article is posted online, people can potentially trip across it from anywhere in the world. You are no longer talking to just locals and even if the city name is unique, not everyone will automatically know that. Don't assume your audience will go digging for more info like I did to try to figure out exactly where