The Way-Back Machine: Knox Websites Could Use Some Updating

It's one of the great ironies of our era. Websites, the 21st-century technology for getting information to the public, are almost always conspicuously out of date. It's exciting to start a website. Back in the ‘90s, people loved to say, at parties, "We've even got a website now!"

But updating a website can be a drag.

Most prominent local websites include outdated information. Many herald attractions and events now in the past. Anachronisms are almost everywhere, even on homepages.

Not long ago, when newspapers were every event promoter's primary means of advertising, sponsors watched their paid advertisements closely, announcing cancellations or sellouts promptly, usually the next day. The day the event was over, whether it was a bake sale or a lecture or a vaudeville show, the advertisement vanished, never to be seen again.

In the alternate universe of websites, however, events are sometimes prominently advertised for weeks, months, or even years after they're over, even on main pages. Sometimes it can cause confusion.

At least two prominent non-profits currently advertise big events in September, with multiple links. Is that September six months from now—or September six months ago? The latter, it turns out, in both cases; but with no year mentioned, you'd have to do some triangulating with a calendar to know for sure.

Three months ago, there was some popular confusion about whether First Night, Market Square's popular New Year's Eve music festival, would be held as it has been the last several years. As it approached, at least a few readers, following a link from the Market Square District Association's main page, found apparent confirmation in a multiple-page site for it, with very specific information about 11 venues and 24 performers. There was a date, 2012: but was that the new year being celebrated, or the old year departing, during which all the events actually took place?

***

As it turned out, the site was a year old, heralding New Year's 2011-12. As of March 2013, if you go to the main-page list of Market Square festivals, the First Night link still touts the 2011-12 event. If you got pregnant that night, your kid should be eating solid foods by now.

Prominently displayed on websites, sometimes on main pages, are dinners, lectures, meetings, holiday sales, all spoken of in future tense, but long since passed.

One busy and well-funded arts organization recommends local restaurants to its patrons, several that have been closed for years. A commercial organization shows a colorful main-page sponsored ad for a restaurant that closed in 2011. Another commercial district's website, in March, is still dominated by exciting news of Christmas-season sales.

Amazing as they are, websites are only occasionally as up to date as hand-printed newspapers were 200 years ago. Even in 2013, the yellow pages in a phone book can sometimes be the better bet.

On the Internet, things in the past, regardless of how they turned out, can remain indefinitely in the future. Our Internet present is full of hope for the promise of a brighter yesterday.

City and county government, obliged to keep websites updated, fare better in some regards. However, you'd think County Commission might have some use for its category "Public Notices." It's the main item below the commission's prominent portrait. Since 2011 there's been only one entry, about Mike Brown and Ed Shouse meeting with the Fort Loudoun Lake Association last week. The last one before that was 14 months earlier, Jeff Ownby announcing his meetings for the coming year.

You wonder whether websites will ever be what we expected them to be, back in the sunny '90s. In the City of Knoxville's website, under the heading "Visitors," click on the very first link, "Current News in the Knoxville Area," and you'll get the following, quoted in its entirety:

"Enjoy these current news articles about the Knoxville area. These links are gathered by the City Webmaster. Do you find this page helpful? - Please email the Webmaster with comments. CURRENT HEADLINES: This feature has been removed."


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