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October 12, 1997

Man's job dissatisfaction
leads to passion for Web design

By Timothy C. Barmann

For the past two months, Keith McCain has been spending most of his days and nights staring at his computer screen, sipping iced tea and busily typing, often until 4 or 5 a.m.

His gaze has been fixed on a World Wide Web site he has developed called Rhode Island Bestlinx. The site (http://members.aol.com/squidnunc/bestlinx/index.html) features more than 1,000 links to all things Rhode Island: museums, newspapers, history, music, religion, hotels, people, and more.

What started as a way for McCain, 41, to spend his free time while searching for a job, has turned into an obsession that takes up nearly all of his waking hours, he says.

It has also resulted in the most comprehensive Web site to date of Rhode Island links. McCain has put together a Yahoo!-like index of just about any imaginable site that is related to the Ocean State.

Dive in and you'll likely find yourself immersed in some of the cool stuff that McCain has found, such as the 1895 map of Rhode Island from John Hopkins University. Or you might stumble upon the site by a group of South Kingstown honors English students called an "An Oral History of Rhode Island Women during World War II."

There's plenty of useful information here, including links to state and local government information, local libraries, schools, tourism and entertainment information, Internet access providers and other businesses. Each link is accompanied by a brief description McCain has written.

There's room for the trivial on McCain's site as well, as illustrated by the link in the People section to the "Dr. Pepper the Cat" Web site. (That's where you can read about the life of a feline who is owned by Barrington residents Karen and Bob Pelletier.)

One glaring omission from Rhode Island Bestlinx is a way to search the listings. As it stands, visitors must find information by navigating index boxes that run down the left side of the opening page.

McCain said he would love to add a search feature once he finds the best way to do so, he said.

Also absent are any sites that deal with sexual issues or have sexual content. These were excluded because McCain wanted his site to be "family-oriented," he said.

McCain, of North Kingstown, is a New Jersey native who moved to the state five years ago after he and his wife divorced. His wife moved to Rhode Island and McCain said he decided to move here as well to be near his son Kevin, 6, who lives with his mother in Peace Dale.

McCain worked at Stanley-Bostich, in East Greenwich, until he was layed off in 1994. He enrolled at the University of Rhode Island, and worked nine months at the Kent County Times overseeing the newspaper's carriers. He left that job in April, he said, because he was unhappy.

While looking for another job, he began to list Rhode Island Web sites he and his son enjoyed visiting. As his list grew, he discovered two things: that there was a need for a clearing-house of Rhode Island information; and his new-found interest in the Internet could lead to a new career.

"I began to realize that I was really fascinated by the possibilities of becoming a Web designer," he said.

Building the Bestlinx site became his opportunity. He taught himself HTML, the simple computer language that Web pages are written with. McCain spent most of August and part of September working 15-hour days on his home computer, collecting links, writing descriptions and organizing them.

He reached his goal of categorizing 1,000 sites last month, but he continues to add to it daily.

He hopes that a local company might take notice and hire him to build or sell Web sites.

The site itself has already garnered some attention after its address circulated through some local Internet mailing lists.

"Your page is excellent," wrote one visitor in an E-mail message to McCain. "This could be the start of something BIG."

Indeed, McCain may have stumbled upon something. His site combines two of the most popular types of Web sites: those that provide indexes to other sites, such as Yahoo!; and those that provide local information.

While Internet users have the world at their fingertips, it seems that many are seeking information about their own backyard.

According to a study released last month by Find/SVP, a New York research firm, 51 percent of Americans who surf the Web, do so to look for local news, sports, business listings, school information and community resources.

That may explain why companies such as NBC, America Online, Yahoo! and Microsoft are scrambling to create sites with local content. Microsoft recently opened sites in several cities, including Boston, called Sidewalk.com. They feature local entertainment information, and provide a new venue for local advertisers.

But McCain said his interest in creating Rhode Island Bestlinx was not to make money. He said he doesn't think he will sell ad space on the site.

"The chances of me ever taking advertising are pretty slim," he said. If people see ads on his site, he said, they may look at his listings with a little distrust. People might think to themselves that "maybe this person has a better write-up because they are slipping him a few bucks," he said. "I don't want people to ever think that."

However, he won't rule it out.

If the project continues to take a great deal of time, he said, "I might reconsider that."

So far, the project continues to keep him busy. McCain said he spends at least two hours a day adding new links, answering E-mail, and trying to market the site by getting it listed with the major search engines.

McCain said his work has been so all-consuming, it even stays with him when he falls asleep.

"All my dreams these days are fragmented scenes that change with my mouse clicks. My family thinks I'm nuts."

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the Computers and Technology page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.