How I become familiar with computers and then a Webmaster!

How I become a Webmaster and started Hearth.com

For those who are unfamiliar, I am the founder and publisher of Hearth.com, a popular web site about wood stoves and related appliances which has been active since 1995.

When I first decided to start this informational hearth site, it was my goal to have 10,000 readers per month…now we have more than that number in ONE DAY. Stats for Fall, 2011, show 460,000 visitors in November alone, reading over 3 MILLION pages!

In fact, Hearth.com is the most read stove and fireplace publication in the world and perhaps the only independent source of hearth information on the internet or in print!

Let’s turn on the wayback machine and discover how Hearth.com came to be.

My wife and I first started burning wood when we lived in rural areas of West Virginia and Tenneesee during the early 70’s. In fact, for part of that period we lived on a “hippie commune” which gave me a good background both in living close to the land AND in communication skills – as we were very much into Ham and CB radio as ways of communication. I also learned aspects of community living – which come in handy even today when trying to moderate a online site with over 22,000 members.

In 1975 we moved back east and purchased a house. We went looking for a woodstove to warm our living area and discovered that there were very few outlets for efficient stoves. Being budding capitalists, we decided to start a woodstove shop which blossomed into multiple stores and related enterprises.

As the years passed by I became tired of the action on the sales floor and retreated into my back office. As a result, I became quite proficient in the use of computers. I set up a network, a POS system and much more.

My computer experience started out with an IBM PC in 1982. I purchased the upgraded model with 64K of RAM – the computer along with a dot-matrix printer was $5200. That would be the equiv. of about $15,000 in todays dollars! I did very little. Hard drives were not yet available and most programs were expensive and very poor. There were no networks nor modems, so word processing and some record keeping was about the most one could do on these machines.

In order to learn more, I started reading computer magazines. Wow….I understood only about one word out of each sentence! But, slowly over time, as I read more and more and had more hands-on experience, I started making some sense of the way the machine worked.

Then I read about the Mac. In many ways, that changed everything. I immediately recognized that this was going to be an entirely different experience – that computers would become much more than just business machines. When 1984 rolled around, I bought my first Mac and thought I was in heaven.

But, still, no networking and no way to go online. But it wasn’t long before a dude named Dennis Brothers releases a program called MacTEP which turned a Mac into a communications terminal. This was a FREE program, as Dennis had released it to the Mac community as public domain…no cost! This program allowed me to purchase a modem (300 baud) and join Compuserve, a text-based online service.

Over the next couple of years I became a regular on Compuserve and the new America Online, two services which preceded the public internet. This gave me experience with modems, online forums and some of the possibilities of this type of communication.

When 1995 rolled around, the chatter about the internet became louder and louder. Finally, one day in the summer of 1995 I was able to connect to the net and see for myself what all the buzz was about.

What I saw completely amazed me…it was like the Wild West. Here was this extensive network which allowed everyone in the world to talk to everyone else….and unlike the previous online services, no one owned it! In fact, it was just waiting for everyone to claim their stake.

That same summer I visited the apple computer convention (Macworld) in Boston and questioned the vendors about this new network. In one booth I found a book called “How to be a Webmaster” and immediately made the purchase. After returning to my hotel room, I read the book from cover to cover in about 3 hours and decided 100% that I WAS GOING TO BE A WEBMASTER. I didn’t sleep a wink that night as I imagined the possibilities.

After returning home I learned the basics of how to create and publish web pages. My first site was for our own stove shop and immediately resulted in numerous sales, both local and throughout the country. Within a few months I came to a decision – rather than continue to sell stoves over the internet I would start an informational site…Hearth.com, a site where I could help people from all over the world with their safety and installation questions. I assumed I’d be able to make a little extra money by creating web sites for manufacturers and retailers and promoting these sites to the qualified readers of our online material.

And so Hearth.com was born. I got busy making calls to manufacturers – a typical conversation went like this “Kurt, I’m telling you that this internet is going to be a good thing. Sure, I understand you don’t know what it is or anything else about it, but trust me – you are going to want to be part of this”.

To their credit, many major manufacturers responded to this positively, and many remain our clients to this day. A number of retailers also had us create and promote their sites.

As the internet grew, so did Hearth.com. The current site contains tens of thousands of pages of information and numerous resources for both customers and the trade. It is our hope that we help these readers install, use and enjoy their hearth products in the safest manner possible.

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