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Steve Champeon

The Web is a small portion of the technology which makes up the Internet. On the backend are servers, databases, mail clients, low and high level languages that glue the front end to the back end. This is where Steve lives.

About you

What did you do before the Web?

After a brief educational foray into commercial design, I got my BA in religious studies and philosophy, worked for a while as a carpenter, put together steering shaft components for Ford Tauruses, delivered pizza, worked as a Pepsi bottling plant worker, did more carpentry, graded standardized student essays - the usual underemployed pre-1994 liberal arts graduate crap. Then I got a job doing document conversion from paper into SGML, learned SunOS and Solaris and perl and started getting more interested in the guts under the GUI.

How did you find the web?

Well, because we were doing SGML work, and the company I was working for was pretty well wired into the Net, I heard about it pretty early. We played with Mosaic for the X Window System and that sort of thing. I still remember stumbling across sites like the Xerox PARC map viewer and thinking this was the coolest thing I'd ever seen.

I lucked into a position in an R&D wing of the company, and got to play with NCSA httpd and building our own Web apps. We actually did a lot more with the Web internally than on the public side, built a huge intranet and used it for internal projects, that sort of thing. I founded a department called Web Services and I had twelve people on my team, just maintaining the intranet and so on. So I dove in head first, started doing evangelism right away, and did my best to drag everyone else along with me.

Why are you here?

UNIX and the Net appealed to my love of words, and the Web appealed to my love of connectedness. Both encouraged me to dig in and get my hands dirty, to really find out more about the way things worked, which was a strong point in their favor. I grew up on an old TRS-80, so I wasn't afraid of programming, indeed, you had to know how to program to use that box for anything useful, so the idea of jumping into UNIX and the Web wasn't daunting at all - more of a challenge than anything.

So far, the interest hasn't let up, I still find stuff that interests me and I can satisfy those urges without having to fork over a wad of cash to the Evil Empire. And, of course, now that I'm co-owner of a Web company, that keeps me involved in the Web and the Net. Plus, I figure I owe it to the folks who put up with all my dumb questions and helped me find my way in the network.

Methods of production

What do you use to create your sites?

I asked Jamie Zawinski once what he was using to build Navigator, and he responded, "blood, fear, and hate". I've always liked that answer.

I myself mostly use vi and emacs and other Linux/OS X tools; Photoshop on my Mac, and BBEdit, CVS, perl, and various databases (Postgres, mysql). I've been using XML more and more, and Apache/mod_perl as well, and have used practically every server side environment you could name, except maybe Zope. I can't seem to like Python, no matter how much I try. But mostly, it's just the old school text editor and Photoshop; I find I work better that way.
Oh, and whiteboards. I love whiteboards.

About the Web

What do you see as the greatest strengths of the web?

Well, I try to think of the whole network, not just the Web. Email, p2p, the Web itself, and so forth give us the opportunity to build communities, to strengthen bonds, to reach out to new places and have shared experiences we can't have in isolation. So I'd say the community-building aspects are the greatest strength. And, of course, the fact that it's so damned big and there's so much there.

What do you see as the greatest dangers?

Fragmentation of standards; the lack of recognition on the part of many that the network is a privilege, not a right, and that its value is due to how much you produce and provide, not just to how much you consume; and the insidious ways in which the old guard (record companies, large software companies, the patent office) are trying to restrict the very freedom and innovation that powers the network.

The fight against open source, for example, is just one arena in which old models are running scared and threatening the openness of the network. Another is spam, in which undesirable elements and ignorant scum are taking advantage of and undermining trust relationships. I'm worried that to save the network we'll have to kill it, like Usenet, or remake it in a far less open fashion.

What would you say to folks who want to work the web?

You don't want to work the Web. You just do it. It's like writing. You can't keep saying "I always wanted to write", you just have to sit down and do it.

Don't worry that your first attempts aren't world class, and don't worry that there's so much to learn. Pay attention to what the people you admire say, join a community and ask questions but make sure you give back if and when you can. Eventually, you'll be the one answering questions, and asking better questions that make others think about new ways to do things.

But understand that you're entering a place, not just turning on a TV, and that the place has as many rules and social conventions and mores as your average neighborhood pub, place of worship, school, or professional organization, and that to scoff at those often unspoken rules in ignorance is the fastest way to find yourself cut out from the heart of things. And I'd add that the most important thing to understand is that you have a responsibility to everyone else on the network - when you run an insecure mail server, I get spam. When you send along a virus, it hurts people and wastes their time.

If anyone helps you at all, it's because they want to, not because they have to, and even if they may be getting something out of it, that doesn't mean you shouldn't react with gratitude.

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Steve Champeon
Photo by Derek Powazek
Photo by Powazek

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