Who is the webmaster
Ben Nieborg, the webmaster of Stamp Encyclopaedia Poland, is a 47 year old married Dutch man, living in The Netherlands, has no Polish relatives.
His first visit to Eastern Europe took place only one year before the collapse of the Iron Curtain in Hungary, when his parents participated in a Romania Aid program, initiated from local churches in The Netherlands. These churches organised food transports to Central Romania and East Hungary. From then on, summer and Easter holidays were spent for privately transporting food and cloth parcels to Romania combined with holidays spent in Romania and Hungary. His first holidays without his parents were spent in Hungary. The country being very cheap, the people incredibly hospitable and, with many culturally interesting young tourist places to visit, Hungary became his favourite travel destination. Great friendships developped and having a gift of languages, he learned to understand Hungarian. As an autodidact, he continued learning the language at home for a period of six years using books and dictionaries and writing letters to Hungarian friends. As the years passed with summer travels by public transport or hitch hiking from Sopron to Debrecen and from Aggtelek to Mohács, the focus on Hungary slowly blurred and he became interested in Poland.
Travelling by public transport is a great way to get to know people. Long summer holidays were spent in Poland, sometimes combined with the Czech and/or Slovak Republic. Old friendships faded, new ones developed. He crossed between the Poles from Poznań to Białowieża and from Hel to Bieszczady. The Polish language was learned in Poland and back home. More quickly this time, following private language courses organised by Poles in The Netherlands. He found that Polish was much easier to learn than Hungarian.
But his love for Poland did not fade. He decided to combine his interest in the history of Poland and his love for the Polish language with an old childhood hobby: stamp collecting. Who collects stamps these days? Children? Not anymore. Pipe smoking and lemon brandy drinking elderly? Yes. Now, as an autistic nerd, he had to contain himself in a subdued enthousiasm while feeling a sense of shame for practising this stuffy old hobby.
Compiling the Encyclopaedia
He noticed that stamp catalogues didn't tell much about who or what is depicted on philatelic material. Around the year 2000, there were no decent Polish stamp websites on the internet that focused on descriptive background information about stamp images. There were hardly any decent Polish stamp websites for non-Polish speakers. Inspired by Andre Mongeon's "Stamps of Poland" pages and Bjorn Harald Bakken's "Bulgarian history on stamps" pages, he started designing his own website. The initial plan was to make the images of all Polish stamps and sheets available online and to add descriptions and translations of all things depicted on them. Although it seems to take ages just to make all images digitally available, he managed to get his first homepage online on 10 September 2002, calling it the Stamp Encyclopaedia Poland. Stamps were initially displayed in the order used in the German Michel stamp catalogue. Initially, help was offered by people who offered scans of rare philatelic items by e-mail, while others payed more attention to textual content. It was also suggested to give the site a more complete and a more Polish touch if the Polish Fischer catalogue was used as the main reference. He's been working on this web project for many long evenings. In March 2003, his website was awarded a vermeil Web Excellence Award by Stamp2.com. In March 2006, the site moved to a new web domain at stampspoland.nl. Today, the Stamp Encyclopaedia Poland website contains more than 2,200 pages and more than 10,000 images to explore.
Programming the site in HTML in an application called Notepad++ doesn't get the design techniques much further. With CSS and database oriented programming in PHP/MySQL he could separate content from layout, but there's more to life than Polish stamps and filling the database with a content management system. Lack of time.
He also realizes that the current site is written in ancient HTML, uses frames... for #@%'s sake... frames!, and it uses table tags... Using frames doesn't make the site look very nice on a smartphone or an iPad. With such a long menu in the frame at the left... well once you've selected a page of one of the more recent issues, you're going to see an empty page in which you'll have to scroll all the way back to the top... if you're still interested by then.
He has taught himself more contemporary HTML and CSS and he is even trained in working with PHP and MySQL. He has even built his own content management system to work with a database-oriented Stamp Encyclopaedia Hungary. All on a local computer, nothing uploaded so far. But all of this was and still is a time drain. A database needs to be filled with data... It just takes too much time. Well at least he now uses div tags instead of tables... and he has finally discovered the UTF-8 character set...