PTguide.com reaches end of line after 22 years

Posted 5/27/20

It wasn’t a brick-and-mortar edifice, but the PTguide.com website was a landmark in a different way.

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PTguide.com reaches end of line after 22 years

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It wasn’t a brick-and-mortar edifice, but the PTguide.com website was a landmark in a different way.

Jon Muellner started PTguide.com in 1998, the same year Google was founded and years before Facebook, Twitter and Instagram debuted.

PTguide.com predates all modern social media, and for 22 years, it’s kept chugging along, listing local events and organizations and continually updating its calendars, but the site goes offline this June.

Muellner recalled how, back in 1994, he joined Wind’s Eye Design, the previously one-person desktop-publishing business started by his wife at the time, Carrie Andrews, by building websites and teaching people HTML code.

His wife’s stepfather was Ned Schumann of OlympusNet, who encouraged Muellner’s pursuits because he was convinced HTML was going to change everything.

“He was so right,” said Muellner, who went on to run classes in Olympia and was invited to teach Olympic Peninsula tourism businesses how to leverage this new technology.

Muellner and his wife were active members of the Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce when Tim Caldwell was director and Nancy Borino was the city tourism marketing director. Muellner recalled they were both “very enthusiastic” about getting Port Townsend online.

“We built the first hamber site around 1994 with a small tourism page,” Muellner said. “We volunteered weekly at the visitor center when it was in the little blue building, and answered many questions.”

Over the next couple of years, Muellner noticed the rise of competition had led to a number of “unscrupulous players” pretending to be the official Port Townsend website, to the point that Caldwell even had to take legal action.

“It was then that I thought, if I could create one portal and make finding information easier for visitors and residents, it would really help our town and small businesses,” Muellner said.

Starting in 1996, when his daughter Peri was born, Muellner began talking to local website owners, and by 1998, he had acquired all the Port Townsend domain names and sites, after which PTguide.com was officially launched.

Muellner found gratification in running the site for more than two decades because he saw firsthand its value in helping people, whether visitors, residents, small businesses or underfunded nonprofits.

“The free event calendar allowed lots of low- or no-budget groups to get their events out to the world,” Muellner said. “I felt good about helping the underdogs.”

For 15 years, Wind’s Eye Design also built and maintained websites for The Leader, Centrum, the Wooden Boat Foundation, Northwest Maritime Center, the Port Townsend Main Street Program and hundreds of other local businesses.

“It gave us a unique look at how all could benefit from a single portal, which is much easier for a visitor to navigate,” Muellner said. “Plus, we were honest; no syrupy marketing talk, just straight-up info with a touch of commentary.”

Muellner doesn’t see his own role as having evolved all that much from what it was when he started PTguide.com, even as the scope of those same duties grew exponentially.

“From the beginning, I encouraged people to communicate mainly by email so I could stay organized and always have records,” Muellner said. “In the past 10 years, the growth of the calendar alone was immense. The site kept its original framework, despite starting as separate hand-coded pages and becoming a full content-management system. Except for two or three occasions when I was bike touring in France, India or New Zealand, I’ve maintained the site myself.”

Muellner appreciates early supporters of the site, including Carol Shiffman from Centrum, Aletia Alvarez at the Wooden Boat Foundation the Northwest Maritime Center, and Mari Mullen from the Port Townsend Main Street Program, as well as a host of local businesses.

“PTguide.com operated the chamber’s business database, and we collaborated on many tourism promotions,” Muellner said.

Up until the late 2000s, despite the growth of search engines such as Google and social media sites such as Facebook, Muellner saw independently owned destination websites such as PTguide.com remain strong.

“Eventually, though, more big players entered the market, like Microsoft Streets and TripAdvisor, to capitalize on that market, and most other destination sites starved or were bought out,” Muellner said. “City tourism sites with Lodging Tax Advisory Committee money started making in-house sites with tax money. We stayed around, because there was still a unique community spirit and collaboration here. It felt good to maintain this independent space.”

Muellner recalled how random people would contribute history, photos or feedback.

“The rewards were helping all the small players succeed over the years, the increased value of the calendar, and the growth of a very successful newsletter,” Muellner said. “The challenging part has been the sheer amount of data people are getting bombarded with. Information is getting fragmented again, not only on websites, but all social media. It reminds me of the late 1990s chaos, but without the hope or excitement.”

Muellner derived satisfaction from serving as an “informal concierge” to Port Townsend, helping people find what they needed and “keeping it simple in an unnecessarily complex web space.” But with the changing local business scene, and increased options for promotion by and for well-funded players, he decided he was done this year.

“The COVID-19 effects accelerated my decision,” Muellner said. “It was apparent that the next few years will be a transition for all of us. After 22 years of maintaining the site seven days a week, I decided my energy could be better put to use elsewhere.”

Muellner still believes that PTguide.com could offer an opportunity for someone who has fresh ideas and wants to create something of their own, and keep Port Townsend online in some fashion.

“I would encourage anyone who might be interested or have some ideas to get in touch with me,” said Muellner, adding that his webmaster@ptguide.com address will remain active until June.

Looking ahead, Muellner looks forward to  continuing his world travels with his daughter, as well as moving back into the cycling and outdoor recreation world he was part of before Wind’s Eye Design and PTguide.com began.

“I just like to be outside on my bike,” Muellner said.

Muellner extended his “most heartfelt thanks” to his longtime sponsors, among them Puget Sound Express, Bishop Victorian Hotel & Swan Hotel, Palace Hotel, Elevated Ice Cream, Finnriver Farm and Cidery and Water Street Hotel.

“It’s been quite a ride,” Muellner said. “Cheers to all for being a part of it.”

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