Joe Jenett is one busy content developer. Always working with an eye toward interactivity, Joe is the founder and keeper of the popular Coolstop portal and bulltown.com, a personal webspace housing several different sites. He lives in the Chicagoland area, in the western suburb of Aurora. "Unlike most so-called award sites and portals, Coolstop is singly focused on the spirit of the web that is personal, creative and non-commercial. As the web has become increasingly commercialized, Coolstop is committed to providing an alternative kind of portal and innovative ways for independent web builders to network and gain exposure."
This is your friendly interviewer, Jeff Clark, as he appeared in 1999. Time changes things.
A successful graphic designer since the early eighties, Joe has wide breadth of experience at both the corporate and free-lance levels. It shows in all his creations. Constructing a user experience is an extremely important aspect of sticky web property and Joe Jenett has become a master. We will share with you some of Joe's thoughts about building community on the Internet as well as getting into his passion for the grunt programming that makes it all work. This interview was conducted in early April 2000.
[Internet Brothers] Joe welcome. We're grateful for your time. You have so many different web projects going, it's oft times hard to keep up with everything you're doing. Please tell us about some of your work to introduce yourself.
[Joe Jenett] Thanks for having me, Jeff... "hard to keep up"... tell me about it! I guess I could sit here and rattle off a list of all my projects and quickly turn this interview into a neatly organized list of links with carefully worded, self-promotional site descriptions for each. And in the left margin next to each link title, we could carefully place a small banner advertisement that's directly related to the words in the link's description. What the hell — if your visitor is reading the description of Coolstop, they must also be interested in buying books about "cool" — and they must surely want to see a list of CD titles related to the "alternative" in "alternative portal" — yeah, baby — we got tons of alternative music to sell you! And in the right margin, next to the description, it would say "just click on a word in the paragraph to shop for related items."
That's what the big portals and search engines have become and they make a fortune doing it that way. That's fine, but in the process, the big portals and search engines are paying less and less attention to the small independent web builder — it's harder to get listed and sheer numbers make each listed site virtually invisible anyway. And what's worse, the same e-commerce giants that the big portals and search engines affiliate with to make their fortunes, have also perpetuated the myth that the small, independent web builder can make money with their website by strategically placing affiliate links on their pages.
In reality, Yahoo! with as many as 95 million page hits in a day, can make money with their web site that way, but the little guy who struggles to get a thousand or so visitors a day can only make pocket change. But look around you — see all the little sites who have bought into the myth of gaining riches on the web — see all the creative content ruined by the effects of over-commercialization. The lines between creative content and commercial content have become blurred and as far as I'm concerned, that really sucks. I have absolutely nothing against business and e-commerce — I just don't like phonies who try to appear to be one thing while they're really something else!
Before you accuse me of forgetting what your question was, I'll tie it together now. My personal work on the Web is a reaction to what the Web has become and a mission to promote and renew a spirit of the web that has to do with people and creativity and personal expression — it's an effort to enjoy what's unique about the new medium instead of focusing on what old media corporate giants are choosing to do to the new medium to enhance their bottom lines. It's also an effort to provide alternative ways for independent, creative web builders to network and get real exposure. To some extent, my personal web work is also an attempt to entertain and engage my visitors and to provide diversions from typical reality. My web is pretty scattered, but there is a common thread of motivation and attitude behind it all, and that's what I just tried to explain...
“I always enjoy seeing what favorites or inspirational links the producer of a website lists.” — Joe Jenett
So, here's a brief rundown of my webthings. My biggest and most popular project, Coolstop portal, is an alternative portal to the creative side of the web — it's an attempt to return the word "portal" to its original meaning (at least, as I understand it). Primarily a meaningful daily award site, it also features a variety of venues where independent, creative web builders can list their sites, including the Links Arena, the Coolstop openNetwork, and YooNoHoo! Another venue, the i2k network, has become quite well known for being an alternative way for really good websites to help each other gain exposure without banners and hype. In a nutshell, Coolstop is a user-oriented guide to the creative side of the web, realized through a variety of means of submitting or finding websites.
My personal domain, bulltown.com, houses a number of different projects. "Simply.personal" contains some of my writing, poetry and digital art and does tell you a little about me, though you may really have to spend some time there to extract it. Creative expression does not necessarily mean telling the world everything about yourself — it could be that for some people, but in my case, it's not. I've been told I'm a little mysterious and secretive and I guess I am to a certain extent. My sites in general are more about you than they are about me.
Colorspeak is an interactive exploration of how we associate colors with personal experiences and emotions. I was reading a piece on color theory one day, and thought there must be a less academic and more people-oriented way to see how color influences us. That motivated the creation of this project and I check it constantly for new responses. It really has evolved into being an excellent, real-time resource.
iNSPiRiT, explores what I call "circuits of creative affection." I always enjoy seeing what favorites or "inspirational links" the producer of a website lists, and iNSPiRiT is a simple collection of data that shows you these links in both directions for a given site. It's interesting to me to see who points to a site and who that site points to. As more and more data is being collected and added to the database, it's become apparent how interconnected creative websites are.
The dailywebthing is a guide to cool sites that update frequently, utilizing a spider to grab excerpts from the member's latest updates (with their permission, of course), and also features guest articles about web building and creativity, a daily news page, and plenty of pointers to interesting web sites. This has become a pet project at the moment, and a recent redesign has helped renew my focus on what I hope to accomplish with it. The member sites are carefully selected for quality and content and include the Internet Brothers (hey, that's you, isn't it? cool!), Jeffrey Zeldman Presents, Kaliber10000, and a number of other great sites that update their content frequently.
There's other projects — I guess you'll just have to go to http://coolstop.com/jenett/ to see the full listing.
[IB] We never cease to be amazed at the creative interactive genius you inject into your web presentations. You have obviously understood from the beginning that people like to be able to talk back and play a part in the evolution of content.
[JJ] People are the web and I guess that many of them enjoy the Web on the same level as I do. "Genius?" — I'm not so sure about that — but the interactive component of the medium has always intrigued me. If you don't provide the means to interact in just the right context, most users will not participate. I've been lucky in discovering some of the contexts that do work. Colorspeak really brings things out of people — it's almost magical. The interface was designed to keep the color they choose in front of them, and it really does work in stimulating meaningful responses. These people are communicating directly to me and telling me exactly what I want to know. It's even more effective than a face-to-face discussion of the color would be.
Proceed to part 2 of Internet Brothers interview with Joe Jenett.