Friday, April 01, 2005

Requiem for a Website

Way back when I was a Celebration wanna-be, I scoured the internet for information. After all, you can find virtually anything online, from the words to the jingles in Sesame Street cira-1970 to stores where you can buy Sen-Sen violet candy (anyone else remember that awful stuff?). But the Celebration mystique apparently extends to cyberspace. I found a few websites, but most either contained the offical party line (We're a high-tech community with progressive schools and community cornerstones...blah...blah...blah) or else were fraught with the usual stereotypes (it's the Disney town, all the houses are identical, actors are paid to walk dogs downtown).

Fortunately, admidst the clutter, I found the discussion forums at The main page of the site was a treat in itself, with stunning photography that the site owner rotated regularly. But the best part was the message boards, where there were always lively discussions about everything and anything related to Celebration. Outsides could join the fray, but the majority seemed to be Celebration residents. The discussions got rather heated at times, but I enjoyed it because I felt like I was getting a peek at the real Celebration. At the time, I had only been to town once (and quite briefly). On, I felt like I was getting a peek at what was hidden behind the Muzak on the spotless downtown streets and the white picket fences surrounding carefully manicured yards.

Perhaps the discussions might have frightened some people, especially when they touched on hot-button issues like crime (both violent and white collar), the ongoing problems with the schools, financial fiascos, and the like. But for me they made Celebration even more appealing by showing that it is a real place with real problems, not some artificial Neverland. Sure, it's next door to Disney World, but that doesn't amount to a hill of beans when it comes to the problems inherent in any town.

Actually, was the offshoot of another website,, that I think is actually defunct now. It hosted a Celebration discussion that got pretty vicious at times (or so I've heard). I never saw it personally, but from what the veterans have told me, the xone boards could be compared to the way you would compare a windy thunderstorm to Hurricane Charley. Eventually, the torch was passed...the xone discussion shut down and picked up right where it had left off.

Once we made the decision to buy our home, my internet lifeline became even more important. I was stuck in Chicago while eagerly awaiting the completion of my house, and became my daily Celebration "fix." It turns out that the owner of the website didn't live too far from the spot where Duloc Manor was slowly but surely taking shape. He kindly offered to send me photos, so even when I was pining away 1200 mile to the north, I got to see each phase of the construction.

Once I became an "official" resident, I gained access to the Front Porch. Anyone can get to te generic information on that site, but you have to live in Celebration and gain access through Town Hall in order to read and post on the discussion threads. Unlike, you can't be anonymous on the Front Porch. Thus, while some of the discussions were decidedly spirited (and sometimes even a bit mean-spirited), they never quite reached the level of, where people spoke even more freely because most of them hid behind pseudonyms.

I am the sort of person who would never say, or post, anything that I wouldn't be proud to stand up for. Thus, although I took a screen name, I signed my posts with my real first name. Between that and some of the details I wrote about, it didn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out my "secret identity."

I also learned that it was fairly simple to expose the identity of others. Writing styles are one giveaway, but they can also be altered. Still, everyone is ruled by human nature, and most people cannot hold their tongues when someone pushes one of their hot buttons. It's like baiting a hook with a plump, juicy worm and dangling it in front of a hungry fish's nose. Find a topic that they're passionate about on the anonymous site and post something wildly opposing on the Front Porch. If you do it right, they'll hop on the thread within hours, if not minutes.

While was enjoyable for residents, I admired the fact that it was also an invaluable aid for those who were seeking more information on our fair town. Perhaps they were researching a paper or planning a visit during their next vacation. Maybe they were considering taking the plunge and moving to Celebration. Or, like me, they might have already purchased a house and were waiting through the neverending months of anticipation and looking for a taste of their future hometown. had something for every type of visitor.

For a couple of years I drifted happily through life, enjoying the photos that showed Celebration in some decidedly unique perspectives and hopping in on the forums regularly. Even though I enjoyed the Front Porch, was more like the Back Fence, where all the really good, juicy gossip is whispered and passed along the grapevine.

One day, I heard that the site owner was moving out of town. Hmmmm, I thought, that could be a bad omen. Why would someone put in so much time and effort once they leave the community? Weeks went by with no further scuttlebutt, but then the inevitable happened. I logged on, eager for the latest round of gossip, but instead I was greeted by locked forums and a goodbye message. The dark and dreary day had finally come.

At least many of the photographs would be saved, thanks to Tom and his neat website. Besides an extensive picture archive, Tom also chronicles life with his wife, Connie, and their cat, Babylove in an amusing and touching way. You'll also enjoy his short stories, as well as snippets and memories of life in Celebration over the years (Tom is one of the original residents; he moved in way back in 1996).

I also plan to keep up my blog and, but even though I gear my website to newbies, there is something missing when you don't have an interactive format. The discussion threads offered a way to ask questions and get fast, reliable answers.

The owner dangled the possibility of passing on the torch to someone else in town. From a hosting standpoint, it's not too complicated; unfortunately, there is the human element. When you take on a discussion forum, you also open yourself up to a host of liability issues. Would another brave soul be willing to stick their hand in the blender?

Fortunately, a resident named Alex, who owns a computer company as well as the Celebration Trolley, had the fortitude to pick up where left off. He opened up a new forum at He's got much of the same information, some photographs, and best of all, discussion boards. Many of the old timers from have already registered by their old monikers and started up some discussions. There is also a chat room that got pretty busy last night. I'm not much of an online chatter, but you can see how many people are in there when you are reading the message boards, and sometimes my curiosity gets the better of me.

Hopefully will fill the gap that has left. Technology is one of the founding cornerstones of Celebration...arguably, it may be one of the strongest. Thus, even though the discussion forum is now in its third incarnation, I'm hoping that it will continue and grow to be as strong and integral to our community as ever.

And meanwhile, goodbye to You'll be missed.

You can email me at

My Celebration website is

No comments: