Born and raised in poverty, Internet trailblazer-cum-civic activist Eve Smith is making headlines and big moves into new domains

Fearful that the developer might destroy the Tequesta-created relic before its future could be ensured, Smith and other activists devised a system on the Website. If the words code red appeared on it meant activists should rush to the circle. "If you saw a code red it meant 'Bodies count. Get to the bridge,'" Smith explains.

They only used code red once, on February 14, when a television news truck showed up at 10:15 p.m. to do a standup at the circle. The usual crowd had already gone home, leaving behind two volunteers to watch the site. One of them called Smith on his cell phone, and she put an advisory on the Website to turn out supporters. "It was important to show that people were willing to be there at 11:00 at night," she says. Within five minutes 30 people had arrived. Within fifteen minutes 50 people were there to show television viewers the depth of their support for the circle.

The response stunned her. "That's when it became clear what a powerful tool I had at my fingertips," she declares. It is a power Smith insists she takes very seriously. "I had always been keenly aware of the responsibility I have to provide credible information and direction," she maintains.

Jane Gentile e-mailed Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas -- and got Smith instead
Steve Satterwhite
Jane Gentile e-mailed Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas -- and got Smith instead

Smith refused to commercialize the site, although she had opportunities to do so. Yet not everything about the struggle to save the circle or her involvement is quite as uplifting. When it became apparent money would be needed to buy the land around the circle, Smith and others formed a nonprofit fundraising organization with the same name as the Website. The effort ended in a power struggle. "I think she backed off when there was some dissension," conjectures Matkov.

She is reluctant to talk about it now but Smith did give an interview to the Wall Street Journal last August on the subject. In the article she described a meeting on April 15, 1999, when some of the supporters demanded ownership of the Website. She characterized the move as "an attempted coup d'état" to take over the nonprofit and The organization dissolved acrimoniously after the meeting, its mission aborted. Smith kept the Website.

Smith's climb out of poverty came suddenly but not without difficulty. Born in Naples in 1960, she has no recollection of her natural father, who died around the time of her birth. Her mother took the family to the farm fields of South Dade that same year. Five years later, when the migrant camp was condemned, the family moved again, this time to a chicken farm on the other side of South Dixie Highway. When Smith was eight years old, her mother gave her up for adoption. She refuses to talk about her adoptive family or the years she spent with them.

As soon as she could, Smith embarked on a destructive party lifestyle. "I woke up every day and slowly destroyed myself," she recalls in a quiet voice as the car she is in drives away from the migrant camp.

Yet she also can laugh about some of her escapades during this period. One day while driving down U.S. 1 in the Keys, she sent her car sailing into the Gulf of Mexico. By some miracle the electric passenger window was open. "I was a drowned rat, but I got out," she says.

In another alcoholic delirium, she became convinced the world was about to end. "I was absolutely freaked because I could not decide what to wear," she says, laughing. "The world was coming to an end and I had to be decked out, baby."

Smith took her last drink in 1988, after experiencing a moment of clarity following a near-fatal illness. She refuses to go into specifics but it seems clear that along with her epiphany came a spiritual awakening. "It's like I've lived two lives in one," she marvels.

After her illness she worked as an office manager for a number of different companies. She also studied toward a communications degree on a full scholarship, first at Miami-Dade Community College and then for a semester at the University of Miami.

In 1996 Smith began to ponder seriously the question of what to do with her life. The Internet, with its flexibility and promise of continual growth, seemed tailor-made for her. "I saw the lifestyle and the opportunity," she says. "I saw that I could be my own boss and have my own hours. I could work anywhere in the world that I wanted to." She decided to concentrate on Website development. The creativity attracted her, she says. So Smith taught herself HTML (HyperText Markup Language), the code developed to create Webpages. She established a Webpage design firm, but the budding businesswoman became convinced there could be more lucrative uses for the medium. By January 1998 she had begun an intensive study of the moneymaking opportunities in cyberspace. The research led her to Internet domain names.

An Internet domain name is an address, a location in the vast nothingness of cyberspace. Usually the name begins with www. (for World Wide Web) followed by the actual address, and then .com, .net, or .org, which signify commercial, network, or organization respectively. Until recently Internic, a nonprofit organization, had an exclusive contract in the United States to distribute and manage domain names. Now under a new government procedure, several for-profit companies can register names. Despite the competition the price has remained fairly stable: It costs $70 for the first two years and $35 each year thereafter. Failure to pay the fee results in forfeiture of the name.

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