Wildwinds Set Fair for the Future [Coin News, October 2009, Page 14]
by Brett Hammond of TimeLine Originals
Numismatists the world over are familiar with the website www.wildwinds.com and the resources available there. Founded just a decade ago by David Surber, a full-time software engineer based in California, the site was designed to be an aid to coin enthusiasts, collectors and researchers, offering a huge amount of information to assist with the identification, attribution and valuation of coins from the ancient world through to the introduction of milled coinage as part of the increasing mechanization of production. The site was established in the early days of the worldwide web, with dial-up connections and hand-coded HTML pages. It was also at just the time when online coin-dealing began to become viable, thanks to eBay and similar projects, and reliable, comparative information was hard to come by.
Surber's vision was accomplished by a vast amount of sheer hard work, coupled with the willing assistance of a handful of dedicated numismatists around the globe who saw the potential of Wildwinds as a spectacular resource. His cheerful and polite manner coupled with an unbounded enthusiasm brought him many friends, and the respect of fellow collectors and researchers of antique and mediaeval coins. The site was a labour of love, written and edited in his spare time and in often challenging circumstances. The traffic on the site is truly huge, with hundreds or even thousands of hits per hour; the value of the Wildwinds data is evident from this alone. No comparable coin-based website has such powers of attraction!.
Surber's untimely death from a heart attack in February this year at the age of 49 came as a shock to his friends and collaborators. He had just returned from a European holiday with his wife, Marie, during which he had managed to visit some of the locations which he had studied vicariously and admired through his coin collection. Many felt that the Wildwinds website was a fitting tribute to its founder and maintainer; they were appalled when, only days later, a hacker gained access to the source files and began destroying them. Clearly, if Surber's legacy was to be protected, a new owner would have to be found - but the task of taking on the maintenance of the vast Wildwinds site was daunting. Fortunately a small group of coin specialists approached Surber's family and reached an agreement whereby the content of the site could be managed from elsewhere while the Surber name would continue to be associated with David's lifework. The Wildwinds title, and more importantly the Surber vision, was safeguarded despite continued malicious attacks on the website.
However, Wildwinds could not be left as a mausoleum - out of respect for Surber and in order to ensure that the site could continue to be useful, a new vision would be needed to ensure that the Wildwinds name would remain the first point of reference for ancient and mediaeval coin-collectors and researchers. The original vision would be maintained, but expanded to take advantage of new technology and the opportunities which the greatly enhanced internet experience now offers the online numismatic community. The days of coding webpages in HTML are over - the world expects more content and better presentation, higher-resolution graphics and slicker navigation.
The new administrator, Dane Kurth, has had to take this on board, to modernize aspects of the webpages and to speed up download times. As a consequence of the site re-building necessary to deter further hacker attacks, the present content is still being revised and expanded to take into account recent research and technical advances. Conversion from HTML to PHP will be the first of the improvements the user will detect, but many others are planned.
Wildwinds has always been part-financed by donations and advertising, and this will continue in order to ensure that the massive content on the site can remain free to the user. If you wish to support Wildwinds, to keep the site alive and the content free, then as a seller consider advertising on the site, and as a purchaser ensure you buy from its advertisers. For details contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Users, collectors and dealers can also support Wildwinds by submitting details of their coins for inclusion, in order to ensure that the site's coverage remains at the forefront of the constantly changing state of numismatic knowledge.
Wildwinds.com is in safe hands, still true to the original vision of David Surber but changing to meet the challenges of 21st century technology and the increasing demands of numismatists around the world. The site is evolving to be more user-friendly, more authoritative and more comprehensive - details of more than 55,000 coins are already available with more added every day. The data are being reviewed, revised, rewritten and generally brought up-to-date - a huge task with so many categories and individual items to appraise. Collectors, dealers, historians and researchers can feel confident that the future for Wildwinds.com is positive at last and that the resource will continue to be available for years to come, the best and most-used tool in the numismatist's arsenal.
By Brett Hammond of TimeLine Originals
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