November 2003

The Steven Spielberg Directory 4.0

By 1996, I was starting my third year of college. I had started a personal web site the previous year, but wanted to put something together that would really give me a challenge and allow me to learn some of the web's new technologies (in 1996, even html tables were pretty new). I wanted to pick a topic that wasn't well represented, something I wouldn't tire of and something that could scale up or down based on the amount of effort I wanted to put in it. I choose Steven Spielberg as the subject of my web site and started working.

At the time, I didn't own a computer. I put the first version of the site together on my girlfriend's computer (we later married) during the evenings after my summer job in a bottling factory. Over time, I used the site to test new technologies as they emerged; subjecting readers to such annoying features such as frames, animated gifs, tiled backgrounds, background sound, and later flash animation. In the process I learned some pretty cool software such as perl, 3D Studio Max, Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Flash. 

For a while, the Spielberg site took up quite a bit of my time (not that I had any problems spending time on the computer back then). The site was well-visited for quite a while, even making mention in Entertainment Weekly. I was having fun with it and learning quite a bit. In time, I graduated, got a job and never looked back. The site stayed up. A few links broke. Then a few more. Movies mentioned as rumor on my site were filmed, produced, released in theaters and then on video. The site never changed. 

I had moved on, content with allowing the site to fall apart and vanish. I program in Java professionally, so it seemed once a year or so, I would decide to automate the site. Each year I had a different solution, usually involving Java pulling data from a database or set of xml files. Each solution was over-engineered and frankly way to intense for such a small and relatively static site.

It wasn't until I discovered Ruby that I decided to dust off the old site and get it back on it's feet. Ruby is an object oriented scripting language that I was learning (once again, for no other reason than to learn a new language). It has many of the advantages of Java, but it doesn't require as much of the extra setup and infrastructure. When looking for a project to cut my teeth on, I remembered my Spielberg site. The site was still up. It was still second only to The Internet Movie Database in a simple Google search. At the very worst, it the project would fail, but I would still learn the language.

If you are reading this, it stands to reason that the project didn't fail. Ruby helped me put the site back together with very little programming effort. The automation allows for the pages to be very consistent and easily maintainable. In the first iteration, only the movie pages are generated, but I hope to have much more of the site controlled by scripts in the future. 

I don't plan on doing regular updates as I did in college, but I don't think that's necessary any longer. Small updates for movie releases should be easy on me and provide readers with the information they need. 

P.S. For a visual history of this site, you can see a few screen shots on my personal homepage.