Angelo Sotira helped pioneer deviantART after the internet’s “boom days” with Scott Jarkoff and Matt Stephens. Scott ensured that deviantART functioned code-wise and community-wise, Matt focused on making sure that the world knew about what promise deviantART offered to aspiring artists, and Angelo covered the legal and some techinical bases, including directing the business concerns of deviantART as a company.
As with any venture, there were the "usual" hiccups, though it’s debatable whether anything about deviantART or how it came about can be considered "usual". The founders and the site weathered the storms that hit, and because of the initial and continued dedication of Scott and Angelo, along with the rest of the core developers and volunteer staff, deviantART continues to function, evolving continually to meet the demands of artists, exponential increases in deviations (and consequently necessary space) and operating costs, along with dozens and dozens of other daily demands.
Pt. 1 | Angelo's Past
yokom (Tom Shakely): Considering that most 15 year olds rarely ever know what they want to do in their life, let alone how to do it, founding a site like dMusic seems extraordinary. Where did you get your sense of purpose and direction from?
spyed (Angelo Sotira): Flattering of you. I focus on what I feel most passionately about. When I was younger I was fascinated with MP3’s because they were really cool. I wanted to share them with the world! Back then MP3 wasn’t the buzz word it is today.
Shakely: What kept you so devoted to a cause that many would probably have quickly become bored with?
Sotira: It was a love affair I suppose. Probably unhealthy; I should have let go and moved on to some of the other ideas I had at the time. They were good ideas.
Shakely: How did you translate the ideas behind projects like dMusic and deviantART into real world, working business models?
Sotira: In both businesses I had the benefit of being the same age as the demographic. I am the audience. So I focused our business models on things I’d be willing to pay for. So that’s a part of it. I also surround myself with people who are smarter than I am. And predictably, they come up with smart ideas. And I listen! That’s the key you know; listening.
Pt. 2 | deviantART's Birth
Shakely: What was the main obstacle to success, and what problem continues to dog you and the administration on the site?
Sotira: Same as with any business; capital. Early on it was really tough.
Shakely: Where did the capital come from to start deviantART as a business and corporation?
Sotira: Privately funded, it just needed a little push and a smart focus and off it went.
Shakely: Why was it named "deviant"ART? Do you try to redress the negative reaction some have when they hear "deviant" art?
Sotira: We deviate from the norm. “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible” – Frank Zappa. We love our name!
Shakely: What were your honest expectations for deviantART? Do they think that it has come along to plan or as you hoped it would? What directions has the site gone in that you are you surprised about?
Sotira: I think we were ready to take this all the way. It’s arrogant to say we thought it would get this far, that was just our dream, but we were ready for it. Our team has a lot of history running online communities and projects successfully; I’m really proud of the team we’ve assembled.
Shakely: Is there anything you could cover in more depth than you did in your short history of deviantART journal back in April 2003?
Sotira: Short? That thing was a book!
Pt. 3 | deviantART Today
Shakely: Rumor has it that at least parts of the deviantART administration are finally getting a paycheck. Assuming that this is true, when did the site begin to show a profit?
Sotira: The site has always been “profitable” (in the way “profitable” is defined in the question) otherwise it wouldn’t exist! We never took outside investment. It takes a lot of full time people to run deviantART and having a payroll is very similar (from an operating perspective) to purchasing the hardware that is needed for the site. Hardware with no one to maintain it isn’t very valuable.
Shakely: How have the prints and subscription programs aided the growth of the deviantART community?
Sotira: Um, those are important! Very!
Shakely: Do you see any particular aspects of the community that you'd wish disappeared?
Sotira: Nah. Well perhaps the occasional abusive user who drives our policy violations team crazy. But otherwise we have the most awesome community that exists and we’re proud to serve it!
Shakely: How will the reorientation of members of the core staff into the Los Angeles area change how things are run day-to-day?
Sotira: It’s made a lot of things move a lot faster.
Shakely: Do you notice what time of day the site is most active, and what months in particular see the most community participation?
Sotira: We peak at 2pm usually; and we see the most participation next month, and then the month after that.
Pt. 4 | deviantART's Future
Shakely: Is there anything you could share with us about what's next for/from the site?
Sotira: The 2005 deviantART summit will be held in Santa Monica, California in Late June 2005. It’s going to be a huge event, don’t miss it! Also the only screen from which you can access deviantART today is one that is attached to a personal computer, Mac, etc. In 2005 you’ll be able to get deviantART on as many types of screens as we can find. Cell phones, PDA’s … your TV.
Shakely: Many deviants have raised questions about how sustainable deviantART is. It's true that nothing lasts forever, but is there any credence to the idea that deviantART is being flooded with submissions many would classify as junk rather than art?
Sotira: The cream rises to the top; we have the widest & most talented array of artists in the world on deviantART. And we also have amateurs, who learn and improve their craft daily. I believe the quality is always rising. But at the same time there are more submissions from new amateur artists. The thing is we give both ends of the spectrum equal treatment. All art hits the front page and every visitor is exposed to newly submitted art first. This gives a bad first impression, but we’ll never change it. But do take a closer look; browse the daily top favorites and see the most popular images submitted in the past 24 hours. Or browse the most popular submitted over a week; it’s a whole new dimension to deviantART and if you haven’t experienced it I highly recommend.
Shakely: Where do you see yourself in five years? In ten years? How does deviantART the site and deviantART the business factor into your life’s plan?
Sotira: I’ve had a deep passion for creating communities since I was 12 years old. I don’t think that’s going to change. And deviantART is by far the largest online society I know of; I’m in heaven!
Shakely: Are there any other projects you’d like to work on, or are working on currently besides deviantART?
Sotira: It’s a lot like the early years of being married.
Shakely: Finally, how do you plan to use deviantART to further bridge the gap between “real world” art and online art?
Sotira: Our existing EVENTS system does not cut the mustard it was made to cut. Earlier tonight actually, Simon and I finished the plan for the new EVENTS system which will make quite an impact. Deviants will be taking over the world in droves!
I recently had the opportunity to interview the always elusive Angelo Sotira, aka $spyed for my school newspaper, and it seemed only right that the community he founded have access to this as well.
Angelo talks about his past and reflects upon what enabled success for deviantART and how that success will be transformed into continued prosperity for the artistic community, both online and in the real world.
The brief history of deviantART I authored purely for its informative nature, and can be skipped if you'd prefer to get right to the interview.
Some people told me I shouldn't try Because all you do is make me cry But I love you to much to let you go I love you more then you think you know You tell me that you just don't care All those times I needed you there to hold me when i hurt real bad to dry my tears, and take my sad you can't understand how i feel inside when it was over, I just died All I want is for you to see is what you really mean to me Ever since that horrible day that i heard those words you had to say I can't stop thinking about you I want you to know all this is true Everything you've read is about the things you've said I'll never, ever stop tryin' But I am so sick of Cryin'
We aren't northern, we aren't southern: we're just chill.
We can catch, cook, and crack our own crabs from our own bay.
We are in Maryland, the best state in the USA. Which means we have.. skiing out west, farm country to the north, the bay right in the middle, the ocean out to the east, && suburbs all over Take. Your. Pick.
Senior week is not only in Ocean City: it IS Ocean City. (It's the drunkest month in America)
We can drink any city/state under the table. (I.E. We have a better night life than you do!)
The best beer pong players are all Maryland born and bred.
Here, flip cup is considered a Varsity sport. Flip or get kicked off the table.
Baltimore has the highest murder rate in the nation. Don't fuck with us, we'll kill you.
Our governor fights for our right to play slot machines, `cause we like to gamble.
Drink specials.. everyday =]
Towson, Canton, Fed Hill, Fells, Powerplant, and so much more! So many choices.. so many beers.. again, the best night life
We can either hit the club, drink at a friend's house, or go to southern Maryland for boating, crabbing, and offroading ALL IN ONE WEEKEND.
We have an excellent selection of colleges to party at on the weekends; that means more fraternity boys and sorority girls!
We have 2/top 10 richest counties in the country! Yeah, we're that cocky..
We know how to drive in a traffic circle.
Old Bay seasoning is the shit, && is vveerryy accessible here!
We have WAWA! && ours have free chip nights.
We call it pizza because pie is just gay.
Summer will make you sweat your balls off, and winter will give them frostbite.
We've never thought anyone from Cali was a god.
We get a shit load of snow days, and use them to drink and/or go sledding/skiing/snowboarding.
TV shows about rich kids whining haven't got shit on `The Wire`, which was filmed right here in Baltimore.
Oh, and don't forget, `The Blair Witch Project`, and all the John Waters films.
Fuck real Mexican food; Chipotle is the shit.
We have some of the best lacrosse in the world.
We call a creek, "crick" We call a sink, "zink" We don't wash our clothes, we "warsh" them We have soda, not pop.
Every time you go to see the Orioles, you hope a home run breaks one of the warehouse windows.
You remember where you were when the Ravens won the Superbowl.
Grown men who wear purple are manly.
We all know Ray and Jamal didn't have anything to do with those crimes.
We get off school for three inches of snow.
We can take apart a crab like a surgeon.
&& we BONG beers like it's our job. ^ FYI, it's NOT funneling!
Chapter #2 Struggling to walk through the tangle of roots and leaves, we followed my dad through the woods. Tripping and stumbling we still managed to somehow continue banging the sticks together and scream as loud as possible, propelled foreward by the thought of seeing one of the mysterious snipes. I turned towards Misty and whispered tentively, "Do you really think that we'll see one? I think he might be lying..." She snorted,"Yeah, he's probably making this up." "Should we stop?" "Naw, let's go along with it." and with that we stumbled off after the mad procession, unsure of what we would see that night...