History of this online economics glossary

In early 1995 I was struggling with my first year of graduate economics. I was struck by the amount of time one could spend trying to find a clear definition of a technical term, or a term in wide use among specialists. Even professors often did not seem to be able to give an unambiguous, starting-from-scratch sort of definition, but to make analogies, present related mathematics, or cite authorities. And in journal articles it would be assumed naturally that the reader knew relevant definitions. So I tried to make a glossary for myself on paper. Having recently seen the Web for the first time in Nov 1994, and having been blown away by it, it wasn't long before I envisioned that the glossary could be, and should be, on the Web, where it couldn't get lost (as my own papers often do), and where it would be globally accessible -- to just me from various locations, perhaps, but in principle to everybody. (The economics of the Web are amazing; the glossary's construction might be worth the effort even if only I ever used it, and having made it, the costs of making it available to millions of others wouldn't be very high.)

My friend Cam Clarke gave me an account on his system, which was capable of running CGI programs. (A CGI program, unlike HTML, can accept input and process it; unlike Java programs, a CGI program runs on the Web server not the client.) My cousin-in-law Paul Reimer gave me a sample CGI program which WORKED, and was therefore a great base to start from. I started hacking at the problem experimentally, and was pleased to discover that nothing I did wrong would ever crash the system. I thought about the kind of operations that a glossary program would have to do. I believe it was about January 1996 that the searching capability first worked.

My purpose was quintessentially academic, so it seemed natural that Northwestern University would host the site. I looked into this at length, but the players responsible for assisting me were astoundingly unhelpful, and after a year of occasional meetings and approvals, I still did not actually have an university account with the permissions required to run my CGI program. (The concern seemed to be that a CGI program written by an amateur such as myself could be broken through to give intruders access to the hosting system. This is a routine problem with routine solutions, it turns out; at the time I did not know that for a fact.) [Tangential commentary: Northwestern was allegedly trying to battle its way higher in the ranks of top universities, against great inertia in the perceptions of those ranks. At a time when new technologies are changing academia, they should rationally invest heavily in the hardware infrastructure in the new technology and the human relations that give them a chance to jump ahead. For FREE I'd have given them a forward-thinking online project to point to. It was interesting that the tiny costs of my project were taken seriously, but not the potential benefits to Northwestern. Their support would have been useful.]

I gave up asking Northwestern for help, and explored some inexpensive commercial providers, settling on hardlink.com, which seems to be fine. I think that was in 1997. In 1998 I arranged for the domain name econterms.com.

As July 2000, this site got around twenty hits a day, from all over the world -- often from spiders and robots, which should tell me something but I don't know what. It's a blast, and I expect the number of users to increase as time passes, word gets out, and the site improves. And I hope to coauthor with others other glossaries and improvements to the software that supports them.

As of January 2002, I'm happy to be back at work on the project.

History of the magnitude of the content in this glossary:
10 Jan 03 1261 entries  677K 
28 Jan 02 1214 entries  642K 
20 Jul 00 1159 entries  549K now something like twenty hits a day
17 Apr 99 1036 entries  446K getting ten hits a day
08 Dec 98  994 entries  426K
15 Nov 98  971 entries  422K does not include proofs/derivations or graphs
01 Jul 98  958 entries  414K
18 Jan 98  864 entries  400K
20 Apr 97  723 entries  290K
25 Feb 97  627 entries  238K includes comments and Gauss code, not bibliography
27 Jan 97  561 entries       includes lists of terms in fields
06 Jan 97  519 entries
25 Nov 96  495 entries  190K
15 Aug 96  315 entries  120K
(K means 1000 bytes not 1024 bytes in this list.)
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