Jason Dearien logs onto his computer every day and finds another 15,000 people have checked out his little experiment.
They’re connecting to North Idaho from India, Tasmania, Finland or Rio Hondo, Texas, population 2,843.
All those visitors are surfing through Dearien’s pet project called “Homepages for the Homeless,” a cult phenomenon among the Internet crowd.
A year ago, the 23-year-old computer programmer started the project - which provides people on the Internet a free home page.
Correctly put, Dearien is not offering help for the homeless. He’s providing no-cost home pages for Internet users who cannot produce them elsewhere.
That interest has boomed right now, Dearien said, because home pages are the hip and happening thing in Internetland.
“For now, this is just the latest thing,” he said.
“In a year, people will move on to somewhere or something else.”
Home pages are the Internet’s version of a personal billboard, brochure or fullcolor poster.
With the right Internet connection and software, people can look at millions of different home pages - most from companies like IBM, but an increasing number from people with a home business or just keeping up with the digital Joneses.
Dearien’s home page project started slow, taking up a small amount of computer space at First Step Research, the Moscow firm for which he works.
In the past two months, word spread and the volume of visitors and those creating home pages at Dearien’s service jumped dramatically.
The total at HomePages for the Homeless just reached 2,500 - a number that grows by about 100 each day.
Some of those home pages are simple, with lists of other favorite home pages. Others are more complex, with personal photos, comments, even statements of philosophy.
“This lets people say, ‘Hey look, I’m on the Internet.’ It also lets them have some way to voice their opinions,” said Dearien.
“It’s their 15 minutes of fame.”
Those creating a home page at First Step pay nothing for the service. Though First Step Research gets free advertising through Dearien’s project, one of the company’s computers has been engulfed by the home page project.
“This is a problem with the net,” said First Step owner John Teeter.
“It’s like inviting the Bloomsday folks to run through your flower garden. The success of a site can also kill the site if care isn’t taken.”
Teeter and Dearien now ask those who like the project to make donations. When they get $1,500 they plan to buy a separate computer devoted just to the home pages.
Most of the people reaching Dearien’s home pages find the Moscow site by accident or through one of the sources that recommend interesting Internet destinations.
Others get there after a friend or buddy tries it and passes along the Internet address.
With computer storage now an issue, Dearien deletes dozens of pages each week that people haven’t changed or edited.
He’s asked only two people to remove nude photos from their pages. “Both agreed the photos belonged elsewhere,” he added.
Dearien’s is one of about 20 such free home-page services around the country, but it’s considered one of the easiest to use, letting people produce a home page within a halfhour.
That speed and ease impressed Ron Ziuraitis, a 53-year-old psychiatric nurse in Harlingen, Texas, who has one of the best, most intricate home pages parked on the First Step system.
“As soon as I saw what they were doing (at First Step), I began working on my home page and got it on-line in 20 minutes.
“That’s a form of instant gratification for Internet addicts like me,” he said.
His page is a lengthy, alwaysgrowing set of other Internet pages he’s found - some offering free software, others telling people where to find scientific and historical information.
“One girlfriend told me once I have this thing for Time magazine, gizmos and trivia. I guess the home page lets me put those interests all together,” said Ziuraitis.
Dearien has noticed many Internet cruisers come back to the home pages project often, either for new ideas or to find out what makes other people tick.
Nearly every home page is a digital snapshot and character map, a statement of each person’s interests and activities.
Pages like Ziuraitis’ reveal someone who wants to help others find good information or acquire computer products and programs.
Other pages, said Dearien, reveal a person who’s self-centered or indulgent. For them, a home page provides an easy form of vanity publishing.
Dearien himself spends little time looking at the pages he’s unleashed. “I’ve seen so many pages. There’s really not that much variety, after a point. Right now I’m bored with it,” he said.
Homepages for the Homeless can be found at: http://www.moscow.com/ homepages/