Long-time Charlottesville website—one of the earliest local sites—cvillemovies.com has been acquired by The Hook. It’s long been a really great site. It does one thing, it does it well, and it’s been run as a labor of love since I was a kid. Unless I’m mistaken, it was the first truly local Charlottesville website; back in 1996, the idea of a local website was laughable, since the web was seen as a way to connect with people far away, not people in your own back yard. (No doubt it inspired me to start cvillenews.com and Charlottesville Blogs.) I e-mailed former site owner Doug Ross to ask him how it all went down. He writes:
Cvillemovies.com was the invention of a UVA grad-student in Philosophy and went online in April 1996 (originally as CineVille.com). Control of the site changed hands a few years later, and in September 2003 the site went down and was almost lost. Serendipitously, I was trying to track down the site’s owner at the same time.
Well, I knew what was wrong (it was a Netscape 4 / IE proprietary tag issue, the “button” tag), but the email address went nowhere, so I started asking around and making phone calls, until I found the “owner”. An employee of his had been tasked with the site’s maintenance. He’d been hand editing the HTML for the movie times, and uploading via an FTP client with a stored password that he himself did not know; on a laptop that suffered a crash. The poor guy didn’t even know who’d been hosting the site and hadn’t renewed the domain name, which expired at almost the same time I was setting up a meeting with his boss. Further, he hadn’t yet told his boss anything about the disaster that was unfolding and my desire to do a good deed ended up exposing him.
I offered to “save” the site and after a bit of digging through Google Cache and the Wayback Machine for recoverable markup, and tracking down the Philosophy major (moved to the West Coast) I grabbed the neglected domain name and began resurrecting the site.
I scrapped the original markup (Tag Soup) and replaced it with valid HTML 4.01 Strict + CSS, but I carefully kept much of the original look and feel. I built a backend for the site with PHP and MySQL and got it back online by that October. That was five and a half years ago.
I had fun tweaking the site here and there, added space for local and Google ads; put in a rating system and experimented with some (modified) off-the-shelf forum systems. I felt that a forum could keep the site “relevant” in a world wide web where one could just as easily look up times on Google or Fandango, but I just didn’t have the time or energy to put into the project anymore. I felt very responsible for the site and wanted to see it continue in good hands.
After some interviews with different parties, the Hook seemed like the most responsible; the most likely to understand the significance of, and appreciate the history of the site in it’s local context, and they have a proficient technical staff.
Curious about The Hook’s perspective on this, I e-mailed editor Hawes Spencer. He writes:
One of the things that’s so great about the site is that it started in 1996, in the earliest days of the public’s awareness of the internet, so it has a ton of bookmarks and hundreds of incoming links. And according to Google Analytics, it gets well over 5,000 weekly visits. One other thing that’s really great about it is that it’s not bogged down with a million bells and whistles, so it works equally well on computers and mobile phones—even old-school phones and simple computers with dial-up connections. We’ve been operating it since late April, and our changes have been extremely delicate. We respect the 13 years of history that Doug and his predecessors put into this site, and we’re not about to undo such great work.
One other thing cvillemovies.com has always had and always will have, and which the national movie sites can’t match, is info on special indie screenings and things outside the mainstream cinemas. In the past month, for instance, we’ve given times for special screenings at Newcomb Hall, PVCC, and the Paramount. Local, local, local is what we’re all about. And, hey, I’m a former movie theater owner/operator. I love this stuff!
I’m glad to see the site carried on in the spirit with which it’s existed for so long.