Everybody Wins

WITH STEVE JOBS SELLING out Apple to Bill Gates, the bitter browser war between Netscape and Microsoft, and the New York Times Book Review screwing independent booksellers in favor of Barnes & Noble, the technology business is looking dirtier than ever. Fortunately, at the Cool Site of the Day, affairs are still pretty clean. For some four years now, the Cool Site has earnestly attempted to separate the brilliant from the banal--this while the industry at large continues its insensate quest to separate users from their money. Cool Site's tireless efforts culminate in their nominations for the coveted Cool Site of the Year, and judging by the voices expressed by some of the selected sites, there are a lot of committed people out there doing innovative work, and they aren't doing it for Coke or for Pepsi, but for themselves, and for you.

"We find a lot of sites that are beautiful, but vacuous," explains Russell Grimes, curator of the Cool Site of the Day. For the Cool Site of the Year, Grimes sent out e-mails to some 250 previous Cool Site of the Day winners and asked this "Congress" of webmasters to nominate their most deserving peers. "These nominations are probably the purest form of adulation a Web author can get," he says.

A brief tour through the nominees for Best Personal Web Page--The Fray, (water), Bill Domonkos, and glassdog--reveals a complex and varied approach to design and content, and demonstrates that the Web is evolving into a capable art form. "In the beginning it was a thrill for people just to have their name in big black letters at the top of a gray page with a picture of their cat," says Derek M. Powazek, curator of The Fray. "Because that was what you could do."

Using a shareware text editor to write the HTML, a PowerMac 7200, and borrowed scanners (a friend donates space on his server fatdoobie.com), Powazek maintains The Fray, a beautiful and sometimes powerful photojournalism site based out of San Francisco. For a good look at Powazek's artful integration of frames, photography, and text, check out the essay "Reality Check," a piece about a woman's bus ride through diverse, and sometimes contentious, San Francisco neighborhoods. Part of Powazek's mission for the Fray is to never accept advertising, and indeed many of the other nominees share an anti-commercial streak.

"The personal site needs to continue if only as a relief from the unending commercialism and marketing that is going on everywhere else," argues Lance Author, creator of glassdog. Starting with little more than a 486 clone, Arthur has created a site that takes the ultimate risk: using humor to explore personal history before an invisible audience. It's hit and miss, but there are moments of brilliance, and a big-heartedness to Arthur's writing.

Where Arthur is obliquely personal, Magdalena Donea dredges through her life, revealing herself in a richly detailed and painful story of young love betrayed. Her site, (water), is probably the most intimate of all the nominated sites. Everything, from the most casual entry to the central piece, points to an author's struggle with her anxieties and fears. "My personal Web page is much more entwined with my real life than most other pages out there," she explains in an online interview. "My life has evolved around it, and it has evolved around my life. It's difficult to get to know me without realizing that this site is an integral part of my life."

Donea's feelings toward her site are echoed by the others. To some degree, every nominee has become their site, and many of them are now Web professionals as a result of the time and passion put into their page. For Bill Domonkos, this means his site doubles as a showcase for his work. Schooled as a painter and sculptor and professionally trained as an animator, Domonkos uses more advanced programs like Shockwave Director to make his creations. "At first I was disappointed with a lot of multimedia, but we're just getting into cool stuff graphically," he said. "I'd like to see more artists use it." There is no text, no self-revelation, but he still evokes a spooky intimacy. The section "The Blue Room" is particularly creepy, and points to the possibility for fine arts on the Net.

As for the future of the personal home page, Cool Site's Powazek sees the playing field leveling, as more and more tools become available to facilitate easier Web site construction.

"I know of a man who is 'uploading his life' for his son," says Lance Arthur. "So it is always there in case he is not." Bill Gates may hold deed on the Future, but, for now, the Internet still belongs to geeks like us.

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