Emmitsburg.net, how it all began . . .
While fooling around back in 1997, I entered
"Emmitsburg, Maryland" into the search bar of my
favorite Internet search engine. Being an historic little town,
which proudly traces its roots back to 1786, I was sure my
browser’s window would quickly fill with interesting and
heretofore unknown information about it.
Instead, I was directed to web sites whose relationship to
Emmitsburg left me scratching my head. Sites such as: "Paula's
Passion Pit of Pain & Pleasure" in Baltimore, out-of-state
real estate firms, used car companies, and one-size-fits-all
"commercial" community portal sites that contained
only links to the Hagerstown weather forecast. When a page did
actually deal with Emmitsburg, it was usually three or four
years old, crudely designed and, in short, an eyesore.
As I clicked through page after page of dead links and
irrelevant material, it became clear to me our town's name had
been hijacked. On the Internet, Emmitsburg looked like a long-decayed, rust belt town rather
than a thriving historic
The Internet: the 21st century equivalent to the
19th century railroad
In the 1880's, Emmitsburg was one of the largest cities in
Western Maryland, the hub of a thriving farming community.
However, like other small cities, the decision not to route a
major east-west railroad through the town marked the beginning
of what would become a long, slow, painful decline. Without
access to efficient mass transportation, local industries closed
and farms failed. Without meaningful work, the best and
brightest of its youth moved onto greener pastures.
Today, however, the tide is changing. Located within easy
commuting distance of both Baltimore and Washington, Emmitsburg
has the potential for becoming a Mecca for Internet savvy,
white-collar professionals. For this to occur, however, the way
Emmitsburg was presented on the Internet had to change. One
hundred years ago we moved too slowly and, as a result, lost the
railroad. We could ill afford to make the same mistake twice.
Piece by piece: the founding of Emmitsburg.net
In February 2000, driven by the desire to reshape Emmitsburg’s
Internet presence, the Emmitsburg Historical Society began work
on an Internet site they hoped would help facilitate the
collection of historical information from genealogy and history
buffs across the country.
Recognizing that material collected by the Historical Society
could be used by the Emmitsburg Dispatch to help educate the
Emmitsburg public on the rich history of the town, the
Historical Society agreed to host an on-line edition of the
newspaper as well as to share archival information.
The two web sites, while similar in design, served two
different communities and, as such, a web address focused only on one
of them would be a disservice to the other. The answer to this dilemma
came in the shape of the Emmitsburg Council of Churches.
In 1999, the Council had published a visitor's guide to
Emmitsburg containing information on things to do in Emmitsburg,
its businesses, churches, and civic groups. The Council’s
material formed a natural bridge between the Historical Society’s
and Dispatch’s web sites and opened the door for other groups.
Shortly after the creation of this third web site, the two founding organizations were joined by other organizations. Today, Emmitsburg.net consists of twenty-two
sites with more than 8700 web pages and draws more than 9000
visitors a day! - That's "visitors" - not "hits"!!!
It’s an 'integrated portal,' not a web site
The purpose of Emmitsburg.net is to provide Internet users an
easily located one-stop spot to access anything and everything
they would ever want to know about our charming town. To
accomplish this, Emmitsburg.net seamlessly integrates
information contained in all of its individual web sites.
A web site, by its very nature, focuses on a specific topic,
much as a business does. But to truly experience Emmitsburg, one
does not simply go to one store or talk to one person, but
visits many stories and talks to many people.
Unlike many portals, which are
simply web pages with links to external sites, the founders of
Emmitbsurg.net set out to create a site that will allow visitors
to experience Emmitsburg as if they were being escorted by five
knowledgeable town residents. This virtual tour is accomplished
by intensively interlinking articles and web pages with hyper
links, thereby allowing users to follow any topic or path they
With more than 4000 pages and growing, the path one takes to
experience Emmitsburg online can be as individual and unique as
one’s time and interests allow.
The benefit of being part of an integrated portal
You hear it everywhere today. It’s the opening comment or
the closing comment for every chance meeting: "Check out my
web site at www." Well the truth is, yes, you could log
into the Emmitsburg Veterinary
Hospital if you knew their address, the same with
the Emmitsburg Antique Mall. And yes, its fun to have your own site, but
the down side is that you're out there all alone. Strength is in
numbers. As any firefighter will tell you, when you work as a
team you win. Individuals might accomplish something, but not as
much as a team will.
Since moving here eleven years ago I have been frustrated
with trying to figure out what's happening in Emmitsburg. If you
are a member of the Lions Club, you know what they are doing,
but, if you’re not, chances are you haven't a clue. The same is
true with the Ambulance Company, the VFW, and the Moose Lodge,
etc. Each is its own individual community of interest with no
apparent communication mechanism outside of its circle of
While each of these organizations has good intentions,
lacking any central clearinghouse to coordinate their
activities, their impact is not as great as it could be if they
could join forces. As a member of a portal, however, a visitor to
one part of the site is exposed to the presence of the whole
group. The greater the exposure, the greater the chance that people
will visit any particular site. This is known as "exposure
A perfect example of exposure multiplication is the
"Upcoming Events" section. A visitor looking for
activities in Emmitsburg can log into it and discover what all
of our organizations have to offer. If they had been required to
find each site, who knows which site they may have missed. To
make it even more user-friendly, instead of going to a new home
page, viewers instead are taken to a page inside the
organization’s site that contains all the details on the
event. The more we can offer visitors, the more they will come
The beauty of the Internet, as well as its darker side, is
that visitors leave a trail for one to follow. With today’s current
technology, we can tell what interested each visitor, what pages
and sites they visited and for how long.
In April 2000, Emmitsburg.net averaged 25 visitors a day to the
site. In the first two weeks of January 2003, Emmitsburg.net averaged
1100 visitors a day, a fifty fold increase in just under three
years! To put it in different terms, 1100 visitors a day
translate into 401,500 visitors a year!
Of those 1,100
visitors, roughly a quarter came to read the history articles,
another quarter came to writings of our local priests and
ministers, another quarter log in to read entries in the
gardening and humor sections, and the remainder were looking for information on the town government
or businesses and services in local area.
Where do we go from here?
If visitors find it hard to quickly find what they want,
they'll rarely come back. Emmitsburg.net is designed to allow
visitors to explore all of Emmitsburg and all it has to offer.
But, while we’ve made great strides in the past few months, we
still have a long way to go. If we are to accomplish a truly
integrated presence for Emmitsburg on the net, organizations,
businesses and, yes, people will have to step back from
identifying with only their site and, instead, embrace a more
corporate or community vision of Emmitsburg.
While the addition of future community organizations and
the next few months will continue to insure greater content
supply, and the inclusion of a virtual tour will cement the
integration of the site, we need the rest of Emmitsburg
community to join the fight.
What can you do? If you’re not a member, join us.
never toured the full site, do so. Tell us what you think. If you
like what you see, spread the word whenever and wherever you
can. It’s your web site. Support it, and it will support you
and your community.
The Internet is today's Wild West and the rules of the game
are changing almost every day. Yesterday’s unknowns are today’s
billionaires. Why shouldn't Emmitsburg be a leader in how a
small town presents itself on the Internet?