Historic Route 66
Only on the Internet could a man from Belgium become one of the foremost authorities on an American icon. Route 66 is the definition of pure Americana and is immortalized in a tune that extols the virtues of the open road.
Swa Franzen heard the siren call of the legendary route in the early '90s and compiled information on his Route 66 site way back in 1994. Since then, the intrepid Belgian has kept the motor runnin' on this labor of love...
Hey Swa, what was the impetus behind the Route 66 site?
The site got started in 1994 while I was working at the University (KULeuven) in Leuven, Belgium. I was working for the computer science department and had to install and test web servers and web browsers for our users. Of course, I needed content to test the servers.
At the time, I was also researching where Route 66 ran. I was getting fragments of information from other early Internet users on Route 66 and where it ran in their home town.
I was sifting through the information, but I wanted to share what I had already learned in order to move things ahead.
What was the initial response?
When I announced the site on usenet's rec.travel group in June 1994, I had 600 page views the first week. Today, the site gets more than 700,000 page views a month
How have you kept up the desire to run the site since 1994?
After traveling Route 66 in the fall of 1994, my initial reason to keep the site going was an old usenet tradition—those asking questions provide answers to those asking for the same thing after them.
I also felt I could help the struggling businesses and towns along Route 66 by sending them more and better informed tourists.
What was the Internet like back in 1994? Did you have a feeling it would be as big as its become?
In 1994 the Internet was very young and the future of the "world wide web" was far from a certain thing. The previous protocols like gopher were clearly not doing all that great.
It was also before the creation of ISPs catering to home users. Most users were academics or large corporations.
Spam was totally unheard of in those days. And that made things like usenet and email much more usable and effective than they are today.
What sparked your initial interest in Route 66?
It's hard to say where I actually picked up on the legend of Route 66. It was merely a destination I heard about and couldn't find on maps. It was hard to find even the most basic things about it like from where to where it ran. But the legend itself was enough to spark our interest to want to travel it.
Have you driven the length of Route 66?
I've driven it end-to-end two times and have driven many sections of it over the years. I drove it for the first time in the fall of 1994 and revisited that trip in 2004. Since 2004, I also visit the International Route 66 festival every year. The festival moves from city to city along Route 66 each year and it's always a good opportunity to travel a decent stretch of the mother road. I drove Route 66 from Chicago to Clinton, OK last June to attend the 2007 festival. Historic Route 66 signs have improved over the years, so it's becoming easier to travel.
What's been the most gratifying thing about running the site?
Helping people with what I struggled with back in 1993 and 1994—not knowing a thing about Route 66. Helping them with the information they need to travel the old road and get their kicks is definitely number one.
Besides that, being nominated for the very first Webby Awards was probably the most prestigious award the site ever had. Seeing that ceremony on TV gave me a very special feeling. I couldn't make it to San Francisco for the ceremony.
How often do you update the site?
I normally touch the site once a day, if only to moderate the forum. I have a bunch of projects I'd love to have more time for. I'm a strong believer that a site is never "done," that there's always something to improve. I'm currently working on improving the turn-by-turn directions
What other projects occupy your time?
We have our own consulting business and I mainly do information security consulting. I'm also working as a contractor for NET2S Benelux as lead security engineer.
Since 2002, I've been one of the 40 or so volunteer handlers at SANS Internet Storm Center. We write a diary and help people with security problems as well as issue warnings and explanations on security incidents.
Swa, you're one busy dude. We'd expect nothing less from an Internet pioneer.