October 17, 2001

"Unofficial" Web site still online

What began with a shrug of the shoulders and a internet server stuffed in a downstairs closet has evolved into a Web site with more than 500 pages. Indeed, Needhamonline has come a long way since its inception in 1996, and with the official town site (http://www.town.needham.ma.us.com/) coming online this year, needhamonline doesnt plan on going away. Nor, in fact, will it be doing anything differently.

Site Web masters Lee and Amy Levitt actually never envisioned needhamonline as an official site linked to Town Hall, but rather a site for the community, by the community, which is what they expect to continue.

" Id like to think the sites are complimentary to each other, not competitive in any form, " said Amy Levitt. " Nor would we want it to be. "

In 1995, the couple built Amys business, Amydoodles a Web site, and Lee remembers the software engineers telling him it was possible to put more than one site on a single domain server. So, he figured hed give it a whirl.

" I said, what should we do? And we figured why not do something about Needham, " said Lee.

Hence, Needhamonline was born.

From the womb, the site was basic and slowly grew to incorporate different parts of Needham life. Initially, the Levitts were spending between five and 20 hours a week building the site.

" Wed put the kids to bed and then come down here for two or three hours and build Web pages, " said Levitt.

Additionally, Lee went around town with his 35 mm camera and took various photographs, scanned them in and posted them on the Web. This was before the technology invented the digital camera.

But since its inception, the site has grown and now includes information on traffic coalitions in town, links with the library and a plethora of other information. And as town groups get together and continue to want information posted, the Levitts are more than willing to fill that need.

The site has even been immortalized in a Microsoft text book as it won an award given out by the software giant for Web sites using the specific software.

" We didnt even know about it, " said Amy, flipping to the five-page section describing the site.

The site includes a message board, which the Levitts talk about as if it were a pet. There are stories of people from paces like Brazil and Argentina, contacting the Levitts through the message board. In one instance, the message board spawned a long distance friendship.

" A man from Argentina contacted us and told us he was coming up here and wanted to know more about the town, " said Amy, who speaks fluent Spanish and was excited to be able to utilize the skill. " We ended up meeting at Needham Harvest Fair. "

Amy said one of the biggest compliments ever paid to the site were ex-Needham residents who had moved away and left notes on the message boards.

" They would say that it was like coming back home, " said Amy.

Brian Falla can be reached at bfalla@cnc.com


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