'Purely by Accident': How Anglicans Online Came To Be
by Tod Maffin

Tod MaffinAlthough it's the world's biggest online Anglican resource today, five years ago, I started Anglicans Online purely by accident.

The Internet was in its infancy stages--barely a year had passed since general public access was even permitted!--and I had downloaded a program called Mosaic. (Later, the Mosaic people would go on to create Netscape.) Mosaic let you visit these new pages called Web pages. All text back then, the web pages of 1994 looked more like gray card catalog entries than the colourful things they are today. (Geeks will be amused to learn that Mosaic in fact accessed more "Gopher" pages than web pages.)An early Anglicans Online logotype

I was 24, a General Synod youth member, and was searching around for information on Anglican youth groups. I couldn't find a single page on Anglican youth, and only managed to dig up four Anglican links at all. So I built a small one-screen web page for a few friends who also had web access, and put the words "Anglicans Online" at the top. I really only meant for the page to stay up a week or two.

That weekend, I ran across a few new links to add to the page. The list grew to about a dozen Anglican links. Still, only myself and three friends even knew "Anglicans Online" existed. I posted a message on a Christian newsgroup, asking others to help me find other Anglican sites. And that evening alone, more than 500 visitors had checked out the site. It was enough to nearly bring the old web server to a halt.

People began finding new links, emailing them to me, and I'd add them to the growing, but still one-page, list. Eventually, I broke the list up into three pages, then ten, then more. And the list kept growing.

An early Anglicans Online logotypeAnglicans Online was becoming a big resource on the Internet. It was getting published in books, magazines, and one magazine awarded it top prize in the Religion category, and tied for 7th best web site in the world, beating out heavyweights like AT&T, the White House, and Microsoft. Partly because of the site, I travelled to the Diocese of Cuba on a project to build an electronic mail network for that country's Anglicans.

The Internet service provider that had donated the web space, began to realize that this small non-profit web site was accounting for its biggest traffic volumes. Luckily, Brian Reid from Palo Alto offered the free use of his expertise and servers. Without Brian's help, the site would have completely overgrown its success.

Anglicans Online began to attract a large regular following, and I tried to keep the main screen and inside links updated every weekend, and daily with breaking Anglican news when warranted. A number of volunteers around the world helped out. This once-temporary list of four links had grown to become a part-time volunteer job. Each weekend, I'd spend more than a dozen hours trying to keep up with the hundreds of emails.An early Anglicans Online logotype

While it wasn't doing much for my social life, the site was beginning to help my career. Partly as a result of its awards, I landed a job with a graphic design firm that wanted to start up an web division. I was hired to start it and within six months, the small "division" became its own company, and grew to be the largest Internet services firm in western Canada, employing more than 35 people.

Then, with a great deal of sadness, I realized I didn't have the time to do both a job and AO, and I was blessed that Cynthia and Brian were willing to step in and take over the site a few months later. I'm flattered that they've kept me in the "staff" list as Founding Editor, and -- believe it or not -- even stayed with a design and layout of the site similar to what it was the day I moved on.

Today, I'm a technology futurist and one of Canada's busiest professional speakers, generally speaking to more than 60 conferences and companies a year about the future of the Internet, media, business, and society. I have a small consulting practice, and from the website you can read more about my being founder of an Internet startup, founding editor of the Future File newsletter, radio show, and web site, and a national radio broadcaster.

And, of course, remain one of Anglicans Online's many regular readers and biggest fans.

Tod Maffin
Founding Editor, December 1994-August 1997
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

(This page features early logotypes from the site.)