John Z Wetmore was born in a neighborhood in Minnesota with 6-foot-wide sidewalks. After his family moved to Illinois, starting in kindergarten he walked to school along 5-foot-wide sidewalks. When he was in sixth grade, his family moved to a suburban neighborhood in Maryland … half a mile from the nearest sidewalk! Thirty years later, his family celebrated when the County finally built a sidewalk along their street.
Mr. Wetmore received a B.A. with High Honors from Princeton University and an M.A. and M. Phil. in economics from Yale University. He is an independent television producer, specializing in documentaries when he isn’t working on Perils For Pedestrians.
Mike: Pedestrians.org is home to the television series “Perils for Pedestrians.” Tell me a bit about the program.
John: “Perils For Pedestrians” is a public affairs series that looks at problems confronting pedestrians in communities like yours, and solutions to those problems from across the United States and around the world. It’s on 150 Public Access Cable Stations around the country. The title is a little misleading, because we also look at bicycles, transit, and urban design. And we look at good examples when we find them, not just “perils”.
Mike: Is this a for profit or not-for-profit endeavor?If for profit, what is your business model? How do you generate revenue?
John: “Perils For Pedestrians” is not-for-profit. Since it runs on non-commercial public access channels, there is no advertising to support it. We keep production costs low and get some donations, particularly in-kind donations to help with travel costs. I make my living with the other video projects I work on.
Mike: Were you the first to register the domain name or did you purchase it from a third party?
John: We were the first to register the domain in 1998. I had struggled for a year with a long URL full of slashes and tildes. When my web manager pointed out that pedestrians.org was available, I followed her advice and obtained it. I plug my site at the end of every television episode, and it is essential to have something that viewers can remember without writing it down.
Mike: The dot com and dot net are both parked pages, available for sale.Have you inquired about purchasing either of those? Why or why not?
John: I don’t think there is a high level of confusion between my URL ending with dot org and the alternatives. Back in 1998 when I told people my new URL, people rarely said, “dot org or dot com?”. What they did say was, “pedestrian or pedestrians?”. A week after I got pedestrians.org, I got pedestrian.org. About a fourth of my traffic comes through pedestrian.org even though I only promote pedestrians.org.
Mike: Where did your passion for sidewalks develop?
John: It all started when I was a wee little lad, literally. I went to grade school in a town with sidewalks on every street, and I walked to school starting in kindergarten. In the middle of sixth grade, my family moved to a suburb where I was half a mile from the nearest sidewalk, and I had to take a bus to school. By the time I graduated from high school, I realized the government wasn’t going to build sidewalks until people asked them to build sidewalks. It took 17 years to get the county to put in a sidewalk so that my elderly aunt could walk to the bus stop and the drug store without struggling on uneven grass.
Mike: The episodes show copyright of 2012 and the site looks like it may not have been updated in a while.Are you still maintaining it?Is it active? Are there more recent episodes?
John: The site underwent a major overhaul a few years ago. Prior to that, the design had not changed much since the 1990s. I added a couple of new sections last year. The part that needs attention most right now is the “Episodes” section, which is missing the last couple of dozen episodes. They are all available on my YouTube channel, but have not been embedded on my site yet. My web manager does a good job, but she has limited time to work on the site. That’s one of the perils of having a limited budget.
Mike: You mentioned to me that your web manager really understands SEO.Can you elaborate?
John: We have consistently shown up on the first page of results for [pedestrians] since Google was started, although as Google personalizes search results that is more difficult to measure. The most important part of that is having good content that encourages organic incoming links. However, there are design details that matter. For example, since the site relates to a tv series, it is very visual and I have pictures throughout the site. Each jpg has alt text, which helps out blind users but also helps out the search engines. We also have pages devoted to specific topics. Once again, that is good for the user, but it also helps us show up for search strings like [sidewalk obstruction] or [sidewalk setback].