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It's hard to believe it was eight years ago. The experience is still seared in my mind. But before I digress, if you wish, go ahead and dive into 1996 Olympics: Through the eyes of an Atlanta photographer. It looks just the way it did when I put it online during the Centennial Games in the summer of '96 (you just couldn't see the Cascading Style Sheets in Netscape 3.0). Me, I'm going to stay here a minute, and ramble about the impact the experience had on me, and the perspective eight years has given. You might want to move on.

Even though the web is still in its infancy today, in the summer of '96, it still had its umbilical cord attached, and the fresh print of a doctor's hand on its butt. I had finished my first cheesey cliche of a web page a few months before, and felt sufficiently prepared to take on what I was sure would be a relatively common activity; building a web page of my Olympic experiences. I figured I would be one of dozens of folks starting a new media tradition; individuals covering events (as opposed to organizations), on the nearly free printing press called the World Wide Web.

In the end, I felt a little like the guy who shows up for the announced cleanup of the neighborhood park, and finds he's a crew of one. Where is everybody? Who's going to cover all this stuff? During the first week of the Olympics, I searched the web high and low for sites, or links to sites about people's experiences during the games. Not CNN.com. You know, home pages.

Nobody was home. At about the same time I was concluding I might be a Lone Ranger, I got an unexpected e-mail from someone well respected within the photo industry. He and I had never met or corresponded before, he just basically wanted to say "you know, you're doing something that's never been done before."

Great. Here I was thinking I was just having a blast doing something that a lot of people would, and now it's gettin' all heavy and everything. Luckily, I was just too darn busy to worry about it much (within the site, you can read the details of what a typical Olympic day might be like in That's a Wrap!).

But the evidence mounted in other ways. During July and August that year, I received over 500 e-mails, from all over the world. As impressive as that was, even more heartening was the number of total strangers who e-mailed me the morning after the Centennial Park bombing, just to check if I was OK. At a time I was feeling pretty low, it provided an unexpected boost.

Boost. Yes, this Olympics web site was that in many ways. For one thing, it eased me through the hangover many people felt when their Games ended, cold turkey. I had my web stash to wean me off of it, as I added and amended pages for a week or so afterwards. Only then did I have a chance to reflect and appreciate how many people had seen it, and the impact it had. But I never intended nor dreamed that my one site would take on that role alone in '96, or that it would "succeed" in ways that I'd never even considered. It was the whap on the head I needed to clue me in on the power the web could/would have.

Then I thought of those astronauts, who went to the moon at a relatively young age, and then had to wonder "What next? How am I going to top that?" Well, in my case, you're looking at it. I secured the PhotoDude.com domain a month after the Games ended, and launched it in January of '97. It has become the web equivalent of kudzu, growing at stupendous rates, and even spawning other sites, like PhotoDude Web Design, which has in turned spawned additional sites.

And it all started here: 1996 Olympics: Through the eyes of an Atlanta photographer.



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