Spotlight on Jamaicans in Business, and Businesses for Jamaicans
This month Jamaicans.com will continue its chat- bout interview series by hosting another progressive citizen from our community. A creative genius and marketing guru, Sandor Panton has been riding the wave of computer technology and the internet straight to the bank.
Here is just a sneak peek of the brains behind what has been arguably Jamaica’s premier new media resource- Top5Jamaica.com.
When you speak with different people about how they got started in their careers, or how they developed interest in certain hobbies, quite a few will indicate that they started on these paths by accident, or out of necessity, or even a combination of events. Such is the case of Sandor Panton, Owner / Webmaster of Top5Jamaica and Top5Trinidad Web Sites. The Top5 sites have quickly become a gateway to a multitude of businesses, community groups and other valuable sources of information on all things Jamaican (and Trinidadian).
In spite of a fast paced career, and the time required to manage and operate these rapidly growing sites as a sideline, Sandor was generous enough to take the time to share a little of his life with us, and will be on-line with us August 17th as well.
SistahD: Sandor, please tell our Members a little about yourself, where you are from, childhood experiences and special memories.
Sandor: I was born in Kingston, lived my childhood years in Port Antonio, then moved to Kingston in 1986 when I was 12, and lived there right up to 2001 when I migrated (temporarily I’ll add) to Canada. Life was amazing as a child in Port Antonio. I lived almost directly beside the sea, and seemed to spend endless days fishing, riding bicycles or whatever else the kids in the neighbourhood were up to at the time. Sometimes its a bit depressing for me to visit Port Antonio now, because it looks nothing like the place that I enjoyed as a child. Roads and infrastructure now are almost totally ‘run down’ and the town itself just seems clogged and congested.
SistahD: Regardless of the type of work you do, the type of profile you have in any community, there must be one person who stands out during your life, who has contributed in a positive manner, to moulding you as the type of person you are today, or even the type of business-person. Please tell us a little about that person, and the impact they have had on your development.
Sandor: It’s really two persons – my parents. I think they complimented each other very well and did an excellent job in setting an example and raising me. They both worked full time jobs, but time was something that they always had for their children. From my father helping to show me how and ensure that I managed my time properly to my mother seeing that I always went to school with food in my stomach, they both gave 100% to the effort of raising me. The fact that I have only seen them argue once in my entire life is also something which impacted on me later in life, but which I now see as an important factor in the moulding of me as a person.
SistahD: What were your interests, formal training and types of work before designing and setting up ‘Top5Jamaica’ and ‘Top5Trinidad’? Who developed the concept of these informative sites and how long have they been on-line?
Sandor: I have a BSc. Management Studies and a MSc. Management Information Systems (both from UWI). I started fooling around with web page design just around the time that I started the MSc. programme (1997). As it turns out, in 1998, one of the course projects in the programme required that I design and create a web page. At the time, there were quite a few Jamaican web sites on the Web, but no one place that linked to the best of what was online. So I decided that my project would be a web site that featured ‘The Best of Jamaica Online’.
Not sure why I ended up calling it ‘Top’ and not ‘Best’, but I do remember that I chose the number 5 because 3 was too low, and greater than 5 would be too much; hence TOP5JAMAICA was born. I got an ‘A’ for the project, and the CWJamaica internet dial-up package that I had at the time came with a free personal homepage spot. So I put it live there, and emailed the link to everyone in my address book. I
also started emailing other Jamaican webmasters, asking them to exchange links and such. I still have all those emails – from 1998.
By July 1999, the traffic and interest in the site had increased to the point that I decided to register the actual domain name top5jamaica.com. Setting up a network of these ‘Top 5’ island sites was something that I had planned to do for the past couple years, and in December 2002, the 2nd site in the ‘Top 5’ network, Top5Trinidad.Com was launched.
SistahD:To maintain such a massive information database, with regular updates and verifications, acquiring sponsors and advertisers etc. you must have a dedicated team working with you. Tell us a little about the team you work with.
Sandor: Some people seem to think that there’s some huge corporate engine with lots of employees that’s behind Top5Jamaica. However, while I do get my wife to help occasionally with a couple things (contests & surveys), all the HTML work, verifications, updates and handling of enquiries and communication with webmasters, visitors and advertisers are done by me. This while having a fulltime job as well.
SistahD: What do you feel is the most exciting or most rewarding aspect of what you are accomplishing with these web sites? In the same token, what are the down-sides to being a Webmaster?
Sandor:Most rewarding for me is that the site is achieving exactly what I intended for it. That people would not have to search ‘high and low’ for Jamaican web sites; that they simply needed to visit Top5Jamaica.Com and the Jamaican site(s) that they seek will be there. It’s also rewarding from the perspective that a lot of Jamaican webmasters and site owners know that a listing or an ad on Top5Jamaica will send traffic to their web site.
Hence some are now more than happy to pay a few dollars for an ad – a good feeling, given that for the first couple years I had very few advertisers and basically ran the site at a loss. Downsides – there are a few occasions, when webmasters that are convinced that their site is deserving of a ‘Top 5’ spot may ‘rant and rave’ at me in an email. Not really a downside, but I’ve learned to take the good with the bad and remember always that nothing will ever be so perfect that it is not criticized.
SistahD: How many Jamaican related web sites are listed within ‘top5jamaica’ at present? With the growth you have had since ‘top5’ started, where do you see the site in another 10 years?
Sandor: Currently, there are approximately 2,050 sites listed at Top5Jamaica. This figure is constantly growing as new sites are added throughout the week. In another 10 years, I envision that Top5Jamaica will be one site in a network of other ‘Top 5’ search portals that will feature regional, international and topical site listings. (Hopefully they’ll all be quite profitable so I would have retired by then 🙂
SistahD: What advice or suggestions would you have for others who are considering striking out on the career path as a Webmaster, or any type of business?
Sandor:If you’re doing your own site, understand that unless you have a big advertising budget, nothing (in terms of traffic and income) will happen overnight. Traffic to and income from your site are things that will happen in time, as long as you put in the effort to market the site so that you’re constantly getting first time visitors, whilst ensuring that you maintain the quality of what you have on offer so that you always also have repeat visitors.
If you’re webmastering a site that you do not own, just work hard at it and let the quality of your output show the dedication, commitment and profitability that could be a stepping stone for you to greater things.
General advice – don’t give up too easily.
SistahD: Sandor, on behalf of Xavier, the Administrators and Moderators and our strong Member Base, thank you once again for contributing to the variety programming of jamaicans.com and I know we appreciate all Top5 has to offer us as well. Although I personally haven’t been a Member for very long, I remember well the comradery demonstrated in the months leading up to final selections of the Top5 Jamaican sites for 2002, and of course shared the pride felt in ja.com being selected the Top in those 5. Keep up the great work that you’re doing for Jamaica, Jamaicans and others who want to learn more about the land we love.
We certainly look forward to greeting you as our Guest in our Business Forum on Sunday August 17 at 2:00 pm, and the background you have provided us certainly helps set the tone and scope of the pending dialogue. Hope you have a Patois keyboard!
For more information please see: www.top5jamaica.com
To join this interview in real time, hang out with us on August 17, 2003, 2-3pm in the Business professional and career networking forum on our explosive community bulletin board.