The story of an art corporation

By Maija "DiamonDie" Haavisto

While demosceners were gathering in Helsinki for Assembly 2000, Scott Jarkoff was working hard to prepare for the launch of a new website dedicated to application skins. It was essentially going to be the skin section of a popular MP3 site called Dimension Music (now known as DMusic), run by a young man named Angelo Sotira, better known as Spyed. Jark had settled on the name DeviantART, with the logic that skinning applications was deviating from their normal look. He decided to call the users Deviants and the submission were to be known as Deviations.

Jark spent the entire summer weekend coding DeviantART and it was released to public on the 5th of August 2000. Besides Jark there was also another co-founder. Matt Stephens aka Matteo came up with the idea of opening DeviantART to other forms of art, not just skins. There would be other forms of digital art, eventually even traditional art and literature. The site was small in the beginning and Jark and Matteo commented on every single Deviation.

The amount of feedback people received was one of the reasons why DeviantART grew so popular and the fast growth was what almost killed the site only a few months after its opening. It was originally hosted on a single server, but soon it become evident that this wasn't enough. In the winter of 2000 the bust sweeped out numerous websites. One of the main funders of DeviantART was the entepreneur Michael Ovitz, who lost a lot of money in the downfall and he wanted to get out of the Internet business. The end of DeviantART was very close.

Obviously, DeviantART survived. The ones to thank for it are Andrew McCann and Ian Lyman, the guys behind the Sonique music player. They invested a lot of funds into the site and the company DeviantART, Inc was born. DeviantART continued thriving. New servers were added and new features constantly introduced. Besides commenting on artwork, the users could communicate with each other using forums, notes, IRC, the Shoutbox and later in 2004 the Flash-based IRC interface known as dAmn, DeviantART messenger. You could submit journals, share thumbnails, watch other Deviants' submissions and add them to your favorites.

So what does this have to do with us? DeviantART doesn't appear to have much to do with the demoscene and this is true, but numerous sceners host their artworks on the site, where they likely receive much more attention than on any FTP server. You can see the DeviantART home page linking to groups like ACiD and iCE. Many demoscene artists like raynoa, robotriot and maxon have received the highly respected Daily Deviation feature. The artgroup Mimic sells prints of their members' ASCII and ANSI work through DeviantPrints. DeviantART even sponsored the graphics competition at Pilgrimage 2004. We're talking about the most important art website on the Internet.

It is perhaps inevitable that the administration of a large community will run into disagreements about the way it should be operated. These things had been happening behind the curtains for a long time, hidden from the users of DeviantART and even some of the admins. On the 29th of July 2005 the DeviantART community was set off by news: Jark was no longer in charge. It soon turned out he hadn't resigned, but was involuntarily demoted from his status as an admin on a site that he co-founded.

DeviantART was Jark's brainchild, there's no doubt about that, but officially Spyed had been the CEO of the company for quite some time. Spyed suddenly started to claim to be the third co-founder, something he had been quiet about in the past. The whole co-founder issue caused plenty of dispute and the DeviantART page in Wikipedia was constantly edited back and forth with conflicting opinions. Spyed was even caught in an attempt to add himself as the founder in Wikipedia. The entry is still marked as "This article needs more attention because it may contain inaccuracies".

The community was beginning to lose its integrity. At least 14 admins resigned over the event, including two members of the core staff. Most of those who didn't still expressed a great deal of upset over the issue. Many strange things happened, like comments being deleted, something that DeviantART officially doesn't do. Even some journal entries vanished with the admins claiming they don't have a journal deletion tool, but a former policy violation admin dismissed that as a lie. Some members were banned for speaking out their mind. Staff sources leaked information, including Jark's emails to Spyed and discussions on the staff forum where Deviants were being mocked by the admins.

Thousands of Deviants expressed support for Jark through journals and Deviations. The 5th of August, DeviantART's fifth birthday, was declared the Yellow day and thousands of people celebrated it by submitting yellow Deviations. There were special Jark clubs set up and many members replaced their avatars with either a yellow one or one depicting Jark's Yellow Alien character. Later in October it was time for the gray Matteo day in honor of the other co-founder of the site. When Jark announced that he was suing Spyed, Deviants donated thousands of euros to "Save the Yellow Alien fund". The court process is in its initial stages.

After a substantial loss of admins many of the remaining ones were kicked off, which caused quite an outcry. Most of the helpdesk admins were fired or moved into new positions. Instead they hired one new person to do the job together with her supervisor. What was once a volunteer duty with a handful of people taking care of it had now turned into a paid full-time job. There are still people volunteering their time for DeviantART, but a large portion of the admins are compensated for their work, something rather unusual in online communities.

DeviantART, Inc creates revenue through banner ads, optional paid subscriptions and the DeviantPrints service. The number of ads has grown huge with time, but subscribers see none of them. In addition to that the paid members get many other benefits in terms of site functionality and a different symbol in front of their username. Subscribers can also sell prints of their work, even though limited from the premium prints service. Both prints and subscriptions have become very popular and admins and members alike dish them out to friends, admired artists and as competition prizes.

DeviantART successfully introduced business into the community. With Jark's dismissal the attitude abruptly changed. Deviants weren't too happy when the new commander in chief Spyed posted a picture of his office, complete with expensive apparel like a a large plasma screen. A year ago Spyed had promised that in addition to subscribers not seeing advertisements, other visitors would also not be seeing ads on their pages. A few months after this turn of events the promise was declared a "mistake" and the ads returned to subscriber pages.

But one thing is certain. DeviantART will not collapse, it will not shut down despite this uprise. With two million registered users it's just too big. It's likely that Jark and Matteo will set up a new community and numerous Deviants will migrate there, but many of them will still stay on DeviantART. If it was just an art site things might be different, but DeviantART is most of all a community. Many users have given up on submitting art and use the site to communicate with their friends. The turnover at the official DeviantART summit held last summer wasn't all that great, but unofficial meetings florish in many countries.

Demoscene only has a fraction of the participants and fame of DeviantART, but as an anarchistic and uncentralized movement it would be even harder to destroy. Its structure could even be compared to a P2P network, which is impossible to break down. This is an analogy we should pay more thought to, because it might not be immediately obvious. If you aren't someone with a successful t-shirt venture, you don't make money off the scene. You don't expect to, because it's not a business.

When the end of Mekka Symposium was announced in late 2002, sceners didn't mourn it for long until Breakpoint was announced as the replacement. Loss of an institution like Assembly, or Slengpung would hurt the scene, but that would be just a flesh wound. Even the demise of Internet wouldn't deal a final blow. I've got out of loop for pen and paper, but I'm sure I could handle swapping. And I know that in the post-nuclear world some people will continue preaching how the scene is dead and I still won't believe them.