The Perspective
   
WINTER 2012

Entering the Superhighway in the '90s

It was 1997. Titanic was a box-office success (and, at the time, the most expensive film ever made); the unemployment rate was 4.9 percent; Bill Clinton was serving his first term as the president; and the health district launched its very first website—all nine pages of it.

Constructed to merely create a presence on the “World Wide Web” the inaugural site was designed by an Information Technology (IT) employee Rocky Gerzel, who built the site from scratch using HTML code. Shortly after the website was live, senior administrative clerk Ray Chua, who worked in the Health Education office, was approached to start updating the website.

Ray admits, with a grin, that the early site “almost had a web presence” and offered very little useful information outside of program names and contact information. It was essentially an electronic version of the Yellow Pages listing with two downloadable forms. Self-described as tech savvy, Ray confesses his least favorite part of updating that early website was learning, and then using, HTML code: a markup language that essentially uses phrases and commands to format a webpage and its content. Excited to be a part of the groundbreaking technology, Ray also felt slightly intimidated by the daunting task of learning a whole new language.

He and Rocky continued to try out new features on the website – predominately the animated icons (GIFs) that they would “lift” from other websites they liked. Ray said, “Rocky taught me how to look at a website’s source code and copy it into ours.” At that time, the animated GIFs (such as cartoon words or arrows) were easier to steal than trying to develop graphic elements from scratch – or even using photos in the page layouts for that matter. At the time, the health district had very few scanners and access to them was sketchy at best.

Because the technology was still so new, “most people back then still picked up the phone to find out about our services,” Ray explained. In fact, only 36.6 percent of American households had home computers and even fewer (18 percent) had Internet access in 1997.

Ray recalls the irony of receiving requests for website updates by having face-to-face conversations since not everyone at the health district had a desktop computer, let alone Internet or email access. Even though the actual task of updating the website only took up about 10 percent of his time, the most time-consuming activity was learning code and new software.

After he got the hang of updating the simple and very gray website, Ray took it upon himself to start working on a redesigned, updated website to match the colors of the health district’s new logo.

The self-motivated Ray took classes at CompUSA to learn Front Page, a web editing software program that would limit his use of HTML. However, the project posed one very interesting problem for the young go-getter: he was color blind.

Shortly after Ray began work on the updated (and more colorful) site, he moved out of town for a couple of years. After Ray’s departure, the website was taken over by a web-savvy IT employee who transformed the original text-based website from a domain name placeholder to a fully functional website. Since its transformation in the early 2000s, the website underwent one more radical redesign to its current format in 2007.

Currently, the health district’s main website (www.SNHD.info) contains more than 2,500 pages and boasts 4.5 million page visits annually. Additionally, the health district hosts three other interactive websites to promote public health and healthy living: www.GetHealthyClarkCounty.org, its Spanish counterpart www.VivaSaludable.org, and www.FluRevolution.com. The district’s websites are managed by a full-time web content specialist and supported by a software engineer.

We hope you have enjoyed our final issue of the "Retro Perspective," which commenorates the health district's 50th anniversary. Look for new issues of the "Perspective" in 2013. We wish you a happy and healthy New Year!

     
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