Meet Web personality Bob Drudge. No, that wasn't a typo -- we speak of Bob Drudge, the polite and reclusive proprietor of refdesk.com, who also just happens to be the father of a better-known Drudge.
Yes, Matt Drudge is not the only Drudge to have turned himself into a dispenser of online information. Matt comes from a veritable dynasty of Webbed relatives: Not only does his father maintain a high-traffic site, but his grandmother Gladys Drudge has a sweet personal site -- The Drudge Connection -- devoted to documenting the Drudge family history. (Bob Drudge's brother David, Matt's uncle, is also online, as a journalist at the Barstow Desert Dispatch.)
Salon connected with Bob Drudge via e-mail ("I usually don't do interviews; Matt and I are very much alike in this regard," he writes) to get the family story. Writes Bob, "Most people now know Matt is my son. For a long time, many people thought I did BOTH refdesk and the Drudge Report. For those who don't know of our relationship, they truly seemed surprised and impressed we both produce popular sites on the West and East Coast."
Although the senior Drudge got Matt started by giving him his first computer, it was Matt who encouraged Bob to get online. Their online roles have diverged from there: Whereas Matt Drudge is typecast as a Net gossip columnist, Bob Drudge would be better described as a Web librarian. A family therapist and social worker living in Maryland, Drudge began refdesk.com as a "diversion" in 1995, around the time Matt's newsletter was taking off. It was, he says, a way to "create and maintain order" in the chaos of the Web.
Today, refdesk.com is a virtual emporium of utility; much like a librarian's reference desk, the site primarily points you to outside resources. Need the exact time in Bangkok, the franc-dollar exchange rate, a farmers almanac, stock quote or a world fact book? Refdesk will show you exactly where you need to go. The site carefully catalogs 400 pages worth of links, ranging from every American newspaper column of note to conspiracy theory Web sites to worthwhile Web cams.
Bob Drudge explains: "I'm not Yahoo, don't try to be. Yahoo lists anything. I index sites that people want and use. I know of no other site like refdesk. I was thinking of a 'cyber-Dewey' type of indexing system but that seemed too arcane and impractical. I wanted a more intuitive schema. Usable. Accessible." The resulting index is apparently so usable and accessible that the site draws an impressive 15,000 users a day -- many of whom Bob believes come from schools, libraries and universities that use his site as a "portal."
Although Gladys and Bob both offhandedly refer to Matt on their Web sites, they seemingly haven't tried to cash in on the now-famous Drudge moniker. Other than a modest link to the Drudge Report on the front door of refdesk.com, the only mention of Matt is worked in to a hidden mission statement: "My son, Matthew, is editor of the successful Drudge Report. Being sued for $30 million by the White House, Matt has come to symbolize First Amendment issues on the Net."
But while refdesk.com does diligently link to the Drudge Report, the Drudge Report does not have a reciprocal link. Is this a filial snub? Matt Drudge did not respond to e-mail and repeated telephone messages, but Drudge phre says: "Simple explanation. Matt only links to sites he uses on a regular basis. I link to useful sites regardless of my personal usage, although I read the Drudge Report daily."
An uncharitable observer might suggest that Matt could make good use of a fact-finding resource like refdesk.com, and that he should be visiting it on a regular basis. Regardless, Bob Drudge certainly does fill the role of a father proud of his son's online success: "Matt's fame is magical. He's truly a populist journalist. The people love him. The media love him. His critics love him. The White House logs on to the Drudge Report hundreds and hundreds of times PER DAY!"