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The Importance of Free Websites

On October 26th, ten year old Charlie Thompson went to a Halloween party at a friends house in rural New York state. The weather was reasonably mild, so much of the party took place outside. At some point the children began playing a game of hide and seek. Charlie and another boy found a wooden board that Charlie thought would be a perfect place to hide. He lifted the board and knelt on another board that was underneath.

The board on which he knelt was old and rotten. Unbeknownst to Charlie and his friend, it was also covering an old abandoned well. Under his weight it immediately broke, hitting him on the forehead and knocking him unconscious. He fell straight down into the well, which was eighteen feet deep. His friend immediately ran to get help.

Fortunately, very little time passed before the rescue squad arrived. They managed to get him back up to the surface quickly. However, it’s estimated he’d been underwater for five to fifteen minutes. He had no pulse, his heart was not beating and his pupils were not reacting to light. The paramedics did CPR and got him breathing using a hand, held squeeze type device, which they had to continue using all the way to the hospital.

Since then, as a family member put it, it’s been two steps forward and one step back. He’s been on a ventilator, off the ventilator, and now he’s back on. There’s been a bout with pneumonia. The doctors are just now lowering the amounts of sedatives he’s receiving so there’s been no verbal communication. He is aware, however. On occasion he can answer questions through a squeeze of the hand.

My involvement here is that young Charlie is my roommates first cousin twice removed, if I’m understand what Wikipedia has to say about the terminology of cousin relationships. More simply, he’s the great grandchild of my roommates aunt. My roommate keeps me up to date on Charlie’s continuing progress and occasional relapses daily as she learns about them on the Internet.

Not surprisingly, for the first couple of days after the accident information on his condition was being disseminated to friends and family via Facebook as that’s where everybody seems to meet these days. Two days later somebody set-up a free WordPress site, Thompson Family Update, as a place for friends and family to keep informed on his progress and the efforts being made in his behalf. Each day either Charlie’s father or his mother posts a detailed account of their son’s progress and difficulties on the long road to recovery. Almost every evening when I return from work, my roommate reads to me the day’s account.

Until Charlie’s accident and the creation of the website to keep people informed, I’d never thought much about free website services such as those offered by WordPress and Blogger. Because many of the blogs I frequently visit use these free sites, I’ve mainly seen them only as a way to publish a blog or website on the cheap. Now I see that there are other reasons to set-up a free WordPress or Blogger site. The site for Charlie has certainly been a blessing for those who love this young man.

For me, this has been a perfect illustration of the positive aspects of the web. With the rampart commercialization of the Internet and issues such as advertisers tracking users surfing habits, the NSA’s gathering data on nearly everything that happens online and crackers trying to break into computers at every turn, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that the public network is nothing but a virtual space fraught with danger. But it’s also a place of great promise, as Charlie’s story so aptly demonstrates.

Twenty years ago, my roommate and her family would not be able to follow the progress being made by Charlie nearly so closely. They would’ve had to rely on bits and pieces of often unreliable, certainly incomplete, information picked up by word of mouth through phone calls. They would not have felt as involved with the situation as they now do either, which is also important.

Indeed, they are involved. The whole community in the area where Charlie lives is involved. A group of supporters are printing T-shirts designed by local fifth and sixth graders and will be selling them to raise money for Charlie’s family. Other friends have established the Charlie Thompson Benefit Fund through a local bank to help cover some of Charlie’s medical expenses. The word get’s out through the free website from WordPress. This is important, since the medical insurance policy covering Charlie is already nearly exhausted.

Down here in North Carolina where I live, many hundreds of miles from Charlie’s home, I hope against hope that everything works out well for this young man whom I’ve never met. I’m also thankful that WordPress provided Charlie’s friends and family a way to rally around and come to his support.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

3 comments to The Importance of Free Websites

  • W. Anderson

    The story about Charlies is very moving, in that it should teach us that a healthy life is precious and should be respeted and preserved.

    In regard to free Websites, they have been a boon for many schools and community organizations of which I am aware and a few directly connect to. I have advised several to setup Free websites with Google sites, which not only provide the complimentary hosting, but also offer many really nice Website templates from which to chose serving many purposes, including one similar to that of Charlie’s family, a Community Church Fund Raiser for badly needed repairs on a crumbling section of a church and others.

  • Maybe im getting old but i do seem to recall that Angelfire, Tripod and Geocities allowed people with little money or computer skills the ability to have a web site.
    I know that many young bands had them and it was a huge boost to the 99.99% of bands of the time who could reach fans in a new way (i remember when the announcements for ‘leave your name and address on our mailing list’ became ‘leave your email address on the list at the back’) even though Real Audio and Video were how youd communicate the music.

    Geocities was there for the start of the WWW and was the democratization of technology for the non-technically gifted until Yahoo swallowed/destroyed it right aroud the time of the dotcom bust. The SunSet Strip neighbourhood was where most music sites used to be.

    Myspace was the 2nd big online movement for musicians where artists who often didnt even have computers in their own villages in Bolivia or Senegal would travel to check out their Myspace page. It was a game changer for musicians around the globe and no replacement has ever come close to its heyday.

    Blogger was something different when it came out than Geocities but nothing you say here hasnt been true for almost 20 years.
    In the 90s we ran tour diaries where a band member would call over from europe and someone would type out the happenings and Id add a title and date to the latest entry.
    We organized fundraisers for the civil war in Yugoslavia to buy ‘butterfly’ needles because it was put under medical embargo and like always it was the children who suffered from lack of proper equipment (intentional human suffering is revolting and not having proper tools for infants should have been a crime).
    This was all done through the free web sites of the era.

    Everything you say is right except this part about it not being available then.