Arlene Laing, Jamaican Web Pioneer

laing_arlene~s600x600Arlene Laing is a pioneer when it comes to Jamaican websites. She created the first Jamaican website online in 1994. X Murphy interviews Laing for Jamaicans.com, founded in 1995 and inspired by her pioneering work. Here are excerpts (with a link to the full interview below):

Tell us what drove you to create the very first Jamaican website on the Internet?  I have been on the Internet, since 1989.  At first, I used email to keep in touch with my brother, a computer scientist in Jamaica who was among the first to have email back then, fellow students, professors, and friends around the world.  Prior to the “World Wide Web”, I had used “gopher” to browse the Internet and “USENET” to connect with the Caribbean diaspora. Then in early 1994, a friend showed me Mosaic, one of the first web browsers, and I immediately realized that the Web was really powerful because of the visualization. After that first view, I was inspired to learn how to build websites. Naturally, I also searched for information about Jamaica and the Caribbean and found two popular Caribbean collections at MIT (by Geoff Seyon) and University of Illinois (by Ryan Alva Stuart). Neither collection nor anywhere else I searched had much information about Jamaica. So, once I learnt HTML, I started creating what I called “An introduction to Jamaica”. As an avid bookworm, I had a collection of books about Jamaica, which, along with videos and photos, I had used for presentations about Jamaica at Penn State and elsewhere. Following the Jamaica website, I also created the first website for Hampton School and Munro College; in response to my first homepage question “Any other old girls and old boys out there?” That site served to bring together Hamptonians and Munronians from around the world and inspired other Jamaicans to do the same for their schools.

Did you think you would be a pioneer on the Internet when you were creating the website?  No. By the way, I would call someone like Prof. Robert France, a Jamaican-Guyanese, an Internet pioneer, since he launched “soc.culture.caribbean” on USENET, the first virtual community for Jamaicans and other Caribbean people to talk with each other.

What was the response to the site?   The site was immediately popular as it seemed that people were thirsty for information about Jamaica. In fact, I got in trouble with my systems administrator at Penn State because our research center web server was overloaded by people hitting my site. I had to email Yahoo, who had the biggest collection of web links at that time, and ask to be removed from their collection. For a while, I set up my own web server (another thing new thing I learnt). People, especially Jamaicans, were really happy to find the site. [. . .] Through the site, I got involved with organizations helping Jamaica, e.g., the Jamaica Computer Lab Facilitation Project, who provided computers for schools.  Of course, non-Jamaicans asked for tourism information.

[. . .] What do you currently do as a profession?   I am an atmospheric scientist.  My recent research has focused on thunderstorms and heavy precipitation in the tropics, climate variability and armed conflict, and the impact of weather and climate on meningitis. I also develop multimedia education and training resources for forecasters and students to access on the Web. I authored a peer-reviewed online textbook on tropical meteorology, in response to the lack of such a text when I was teaching undergraduate meteorology.

What was your proudest moment during the time you had the website?  In 1998, when I was a featured scientist in the Gleaner during Jamaica’s National Science Month (http://jamaica- gleaner.com/gleaner/19981125/news/n5.html), they listed my pioneering work in creating the website. A close second is in 1997 when the Jamaica Tourist Board informed me that “Your site, Introduction to Jamaica, is the most popular link in the Jamaica Tourist Board’s new Link Bank.”

Thanks for your time and we appreciate all you have done for Jamaica leading the way on the Internet. Any words of inspiration for our readers?   Jamaica’s influence on the world far outweighs the size of our island, our population, and our GDP.  I hope that other Jamaicans will do their part to magnify and publicize the good and decrease the bad and the ugly. The Web offered a new way to do what I had done in person many times, to share Jamaica, but this time to a worldwide audience. So I learnt the skills necessary to showcase Jamaica, in a comprehensive way, beyond reggae, Rasta, and the beach. In the process, I was blessed to connect with people from all over the world.

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

For full article, see http://www.jamaicans.com/articles/primeinterviews/12-questions-with-arlene-laing.shtml

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