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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Blog: A 17-Year Journey

The year was 1997. The sky was the limit in the IT Industry, and I (someone with a History degree who never understood anything about mathematics) was hired to become a Test Engineer. I did not know what being a Test Engineer involved, but the company offered me a permanent contract, a company car and a reasonable pay. I was happy. AND they gave me something else that was to fundamentally change the way I spent my spare time: a space to develop my own website!

The Baby Steps

The Internet then wasn't as widespread as it is now. People just created their own "homepage", a little spot for themselves and their hobbies. The Under Construction sign was a common sight. I knew right away what the theme of my website should become: all those faraway places that I longed to travel to. Already as a child, growing up in the Dutch countryside, I dreamt of sites such as Easter Island and Nan Madol. After finishing elementary school and being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I firmly answered 'Explorer'. Maybe I had just read too many books by Thor Heyerdahl.

Back to 1997: for my birthday my parents gave me the Erfgoed der Mensheid book about World Heritage Sites. It had a story and a large picture of each of the 478 WHS to that date. On my own website I slowly started creating pages for WHS that I had recently visited, following the format used in that book. I wasn't a "WHS collector" at the time. I just loved travelling in general.

The very first version of this website was made in plain HTML and written in Dutch, my native language. I learned fast how to develop and maintain a website, mainly by looking at the source code of other websites that I enjoyed. This was one of the better early versions:

Connecting with others

One can travel only so much in one year, and new content was lacking. So after a few years, I decided to invite website visitors to write up their "reviews" of WHS. And I switched the language of the site to English, to attract a larger audience. This was around the year 2000, when I also officially registered the domain name 'worldheritagesite.org'. I thought the 'org'-suffix would give the site a trustworthy look.

Those reviews that I needed, started to come in steadily. The first one covered Dorset and East Devon Coast. The power a community of like-minded people can have was shown already early on, when we together uncovered the secrets of visiting the Flint Mines in Spiennes. Every visitor got a step closer to unravelling this quirky site's opening hours. Today, some 12 years later, 6684 reviews have been submitted. This huge contribution spans 95% off all 1007 WHS.

From 2004 until 2008, I sent out a regular Newsletter. This was mostly to draw attention to news items and updates to the website. Some more editorial attempts were made later on, such as the infamous "17 Mexican World Heritage Sites in 17 days?!" by Paul Tanner. My first email exchange with Paul was in 2003. He has been very supportive during all stages, and so are many others among you that have been present since the early beginnings.

During this period I had a little brush with UNESCO too. There was the surprise phone call ("This is UNESCO from Paris"). A ramshackle sign with a handpainted UNESCO logo pointing to the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia, that I used as website logo, wasn't to their liking. I had to remove it, added a Disclaimer to my website and never heard from them again. This was the sign:

Further growth to 6,000 visitors a day

In 2008 I made some elaborate changes to the website. I added pages for every Tentative Site for example, a major operation. Also since then it was possible to track your Count of visited WHS. The "Connections" first appeared in 2008 too. You cannot imagine how much feedback I get on these. You are all true listophiles.

With it came a more elaborate technical setting: I started using PHP and MySQL to create dynamic pages. Again, I learned a lot from examples made by others. I was involved with the Dutch travel website Reisomdewereld at the time too, and learned a lot of technical stuff over there.

A New Phase

This journey has lasted for 17 years now. I still work for the same IT company, although I have left the Testing profession (which proved to be very boring) behind me and moved somewhat up the corporate ladder. The job supplies some 40 regular days off each year, and an income high enough to travel to all corners of the world. This website, the travels and my day job have become a mutually strengthening chain that I do not want to break.

With this first post, I will lead the WHS website into a New Phase. With a new design that offers more space for further development. I will be building on the same content and the incredible efforts of the WHS Community of course. But I believe so much more stories can be told related to WHS.

So say goodbye to the old design...

What do you remember of the first stages of this WHS website?

Published 12 October 2014

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Responses to A 17-Year Journey
Alessandro Votta (17 October 2014)

Good job, and it was good to see you in Banff last month!!!! Keep up the good work!