Story

Weaving the Balloon Fiesta® Web

Story by Marjorie Shapiro-Stein

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Barb Tomlin is the one and only KAIBF Official Web Diva: A technical wizard admired for achievements and contributions to the evolution of the World Wide Web through the Net. In other words, a woman on the front lines of the Internet Revolution.

An information technology pioneer, Tomlin began posting event information about Fiesta to the online bulletin boards of America in 1990. Four years later she brought the world’s largest ballooning event to an international audience year-round by publishing the first Fiesta Home Page on the World Wide Web.

Her adventure continued on January 7th, 1995 when KRQE (Channel 13) encouraged her to approach Balloon Fiesta to emphasize the importance of promoting this event on the Internet. She did, volunteering both time and energy to produce the site and find an Internet service provider to host it. KAIBF officials then named Tomlin Content Coordinator and her company, Westward Connections, the Official Online Communications organization.

Because web developer tools were so limited at that time, Tomlin had to encode by hand, one page at a time. This labor-intensive work required 16 hours a day, seven days a week for the whole month of April to prepare for Fiesta Web content.

Yet these hours paid off; 1995 was a benchmark year: On May 20th, Balloon Fiesta launched its first official presence on the World Wide Web. Response from the Internet community was overwhelmingly positive. As a result, Fiesta officials realized that a permanent presence would be needed for imparting future information; thus the aibf.org domain name was registered on May 29th.

“If I thought 1996 was professionally exciting, I was even more excited by the Web events unfolding in 1997,” Tomlin concedes. “During Fall Internet World ’97, our Web Site was featured on the Times Square Video Wall and at the Roxy on Broadway. Then more amazing things happened,” she adds.

“KODAK, Balloon Fiesta’s title sponsor, introduced a digital camera line for professional photographers and sent out a team to shoot live scenes for same-day viewing. These appeared within minutes after the actual photos were taken. And over 600,000 people visited the Balloon Fiesta Web Site Gallery during the nine-day period.”

“In 1998,” Tomlin continues, “KAIBF implemented balloonfiesta.com and opened its online store: ballooonfiestastuff.com.”

During the 1999 season, nearly 4,000,000 Web visitors retrieved event documents or images and ordered products online. Balloon Fiesta Monday became the highest traffic day for the year with almost 200,000 fans stopping at the sites. The year 2000 was especially significant for teachers and children. An EDU section was designed to disseminate historical and educational resources to educators and their students. From there, anyone can research the extensive ballooning chronology database, starting with ancient China and moving into the 21st century.

“From April 2000 through April 2001, a total of 35 million online tourists visited the Balloon Fiesta Web Site,” Tomlin acknowledges. “The highest traffic months were July, August, September, and – of course – October. This is what I call the height of Balloon Fiesta Web Tourist Season.”

With all the above creative computer activity, any observer would assume that technology was Barb Tomlin’s life. Not so. She is, in fact another kind of diva, a contralto-country-western vocalist. I’m not exactly a diva,” she says, “because I don’t sing opera or even musical comedy, but popular ballads – the ones from the heart – like Killing Me Softly With His Song. These I love to perform.”

Tomlin sings from her heart in a pure, compelling voice. Local audiences can listen to her live at the Radisson as part of Friday nights’ Karaoke. And this year she (with her husband Gary) cut their first CD. It’s a long distance from performing vocalist to computer guru, but Barb Tomlin does it all in grand style. “I absolutely love what I do,” she concludes.

This story was originally published in the Official 2001 Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta® Program, an annual publication sold to support the World’s Largest Ballooning Event. Over 100,000 copies are distributed world wide. Official programs from past events are considered collector’s items. The most recent edition of official programs can be purchased from the Balloon Fiesta® web store at balloonfiestastuff.com.

© 2001 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Inc. Reprinted by Permission.