Twenty years ago, Schumin Web started to get noticed…

10 minute read

September 7, 2020, 9:37 PM

It has now been twenty years since Schumin Web really started to get noticed by people.  My first four years doing this site, I was having fun, but I always assumed, in those very early days of the Internet, that very few people were actually looking (though I had no way of measuring it at that time).  But that was okay, because ultimately, it gave me an outlet to express myself, and I was having fun doing it.

Then, in the summer of 2000, things started to change.  I was featured as “Geek of the Month” in the June 2000 issue of the now-defunct magazine Front, a men’s lifestyle magazine from the UK, i.e. a “lads’ mag”.  Check it out:

Front magazine "Geek of the Month" article from June 2000  Front magazine "Geek of the Month" article from June 2000

I was not notified or otherwise formally contacted by Front prior to the publication of the column, but I suppose that when your column is only a few inches, including a photo, you really don’t need anyone’s help for that.  So it caught me completely by surprise when word started to trickle in as readers of the magazine sent me much feedback about my site – most of it pretty hostile.  I got a very quick crash course in British slang from these readers, as I got called all sorts of things that I’d never been called before.  Thankfully, AltaVista was able to tell me what all of those words meant, and unsurprisingly, the terms that they were using were not particularly flattering.

Another big one around this time was Portal of Evil.  That site was intended to showcase and discuss the stranger websites on the Internet, and I was apparently considered one of them.  That came in the fall, a couple of weeks after after I started my sophomore year of college.  Like Front, I found out about it when a reader gave me a heads-up about it.  That was an interesting experience, because I actually participated in the discussion on their website, which was something that they were not used to over there.  In hindsight, participating in that discussion was probably an unwise decision, but I suppose that it cemented me into a number of people’s minds that way.  And that was where I really came to realize something: people were actually reading the stuff that I wrote.  Whether or not they liked it was another matter, as was the question of whether they were reading it on its own merit or whether they were reading it because it was like watching a trainwreck, but they were reading it nonetheless.  Looking back, I can sort of understand where some of the “watching a trainwreck” idea came from, since my writing skills were nowhere near as refined as they are today.  Compare an early Journal entry to a more recent one, and see for yourself.  In any case, we started a bit of a dialogue for a while, though I eventually had enough of them, and stopped participating.  When it came to Portal of Evil, however, I ultimately got the last laugh in 2011, after I nominated the Wikipedia article about the site for deletion.  The same day that the deletion process was completed and the article was removed from Wikipedia, Portal of Evil itself shut down, with the owners’ citing legal issues that made the continuation of the website unwise.  I forget where it was said, but someone even acknowledged as much, that I got the last laugh when it came to that experience.  In any case, it provided a good sense of closure, and as I understand it, the people that used to run that site are now very successful game developers.

Then there were smaller little pages about me that cropped up.  One that always amused me was one by Sandra Polifroni, who was a student at York University in Toronto at the time.  She made a little page spoofing my Walmart photo set called “Honouring Schumin“.  The photos amused me.  Here are two examples:

It’s funny because for a website that they allegedly did not like, they certainly went to a lot of effort to make sport of it.  Go figure, I suppose.  Based on the content visible on the site, it would appear that they did the photography work the week of April 8, 2001.

The Walmart photo set actually got a lot of attention back then.  It was my very first photo set, and even back then, it was a goofy little photo set.  The website was a bit different back then, and a lot of areas were not as well defined as they are now.  The Walmart set, being the first, was presented in less context than it is now.  It was just another random page on my site back then, rather than being presented with other photo sets as it is now.  Most importantly, though, most people gloss over the real reason for why the Walmart photo set was made: putting the new camera through its paces.  I say it right in the introduction: “The following day, with the intention of learning the camera, I decided to take it with me on a trip to Wal-Mart with my mother and sister.”  And for that, it served its purpose, as I was able to put my then-new camera through its paces pretty well.  Acceptance testing complete.  The fact that I got some usable content out of it was a bonus.  I suppose that I could have done that test shoot about anything, but it just so happened that we were going to Walmart, so that was it.  I’ve done acceptance testing for all of my cameras.  Big Mavica’s acceptance testing two years later was done at JMU, and it resulted in the Autumn Leaves photo set.  You get the point.

Though my favorite bit of coverage that I got from the Internet around this time was when I was featured on Greg Galcik’s SpinnWebe site.  I had known about SpinnWebe for a long time before I was featured there.  I initially found the site some time in the 1990s when I was searching for something to do with The Family Circus, i.e. the comic strip by Bil Keane.  The first result that I got was for “Dysfunctional Family Circus” on some site called “SpinnWebe”.  It was entertaining, albeit a bit crude.  I also explored around the site a little bit, and came to realize that Galcik was a really smart guy, even if he didn’t always use his smarts for good.

So when someone let me know that a feature about me was ongoing in September 2000, I was already familiar with the body of work, though I hadn’t really been there much since I explored it back when I discovered Dysfunctional Family Circus in the nineties.  When I went back, I was a little disappointed to find out that DFC was gone, though you really couldn’t blame Bil Keane for asking that the feature be retired.  The characters were modeled after Keane’s real-life family, after all, and I couldn’t imagine that he took the captions that readers wrote about what what were essentially his children particularly well.

In any case, I watched as this feature was built over the course of a week, seeing what Galcik wrote about Schumin Web next.  He called me up on the phone prior to writing his fourth day’s coverage of my site, and the thing that amused me about his reportback from it was where he said, “About the most interesting part was what wasn’t there, which is who the hell am I and how the hell did I get his phone number.”  After all, I was already very familiar with SpinnWebe from the days of Dysfunctional Family Circus, and that I had also watched this feature build over the course of the previous few days, so I already was aware of his interest in me, and in my website.  But Galcik probably didn’t know that I was following the story as it was written, and I didn’t mention that I was already familiar with his work.  It wasn’t a deliberate omission, but rather, it just never came up.  As far as how he got my dorm phone number, there was no reason to ask, because I already knew.  At that time, JMU published the phone numbers of all students living on campus on their website, and it was searchable by the public (this is no longer the case, as student directory information is now behind a login prompt).  I didn’t publish my dorm number anywhere, so I knew that was the only place that it was listed.

And on his fifth and final day, he did a spoof of the Walmart photo set, where he walked southbound on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago from near his house to the Starbucks at 4553-4557 North Lincoln Avenue.  I viewed the area on Street View, and it’s actually not a bad place to do a photo walk.  I might have to go out that way for a photo walk next time I’m in Chicago, whenever that ends up being (I have no current plans to visit Chicago, though I need to go).  In any case, I was amused as he took it a little further than I did, and even threw in a few references here and there to site content, such as the quote article about the no-swearing signs in Virginia Beach.  The things that amused me most, though, were right at the top.  First, this:

SpinnWebe logo, done up in rainbow like my logo

Galcik did his SpinnWebe logo up in the rainbow color that I’ve used for my logo.  Very nice.  And then this:

Greg Galcik's selfie

The placement indicated that he was spoofing the photo that I used at the top of my site at the time, which was from my senior photos.  Someone else later photoshopped his face onto my original photo, though the result was a bit… weird.

In any case, I suppose that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and he made a photo set in the same style as I did.  And it genuinely made me laugh.  So that was fun.

But that wasn’t the end of SpinnWebe’s coverage of Schumin Web.  In December, he came back for a second round after he had launched a blog feature called Brainshots.  I found out about it when someone messaged me while I was out, telling me that I needed to look at SpinnWebe (though I don’t remember how this happened, considering the technology at the time), and then I looked at it when I got home.  That one had less to do with me directly, but used a photo of me from Schumin Web as a subject for the actual topic, which was a test to see if women using the “Hot or Not” website were less superficial than the men on the site.  He took a photo that I ran on my site about my homemade Schumin Web shirts (I made them at home for myself before sites like CafePress were a thing):

A photo that my sister took of me in June 2000, showing off a freshly made Schumin Web shirt

Before we continue, though, I just want everyone to notice that beautiful head of hair.  That stuff’s been gone for a very long time at this point.

In any case, with this photo, he ran with it, running me four different times:

Original, minus the URL, because with the URL, it kept getting removed  "YOU CAN'T AFFORD ME", going for some attitude this time

"Titanic" design, going for a softer touch  Going for the athletic look this time

For those wondering, the first version scored a 2.1, the “you can’t afford me” version scored a 1.8, the Titanic version scored a 1.7, and then the athletic version did a 1.5.  And then, trying to get me a better score, Galcik really went to town on me:

He ran me as a woman. Okay, then.

And he ran me as a woman.  I thought that he made me look like my elementary school librarian.  And rather interestingly, in that guise, I did exactly the same as I did the first time, which led Galcik to conclude that the women were just as superficial as the men.

In any case, I was laughing pretty hard reading this.  Especially with that last one.  If nothing else, I suppose that you could say that I’m a pretty good sport about things.

All in all, though, this period, and this little bit of attention, changed the way I viewed Schumin Web forever, because now I had actual confirmation that people were looking at the little slice of the Internet that I inhabited.  And apparently, I managed to be memorable, too.  Many of you know that I participate on Reddit, starting in 2013.  In December, someone recognized my username (“SchuminWeb”), and asked if I was the guy with the website.  I posted proof:

My proof that /u/SchuminWeb was really me

A lot of people were over the moon finding out that I was a Reddit user.  People were so happy to see me, as it brought back fond memories of my site from back in the day, and they visited all over again.  I experienced a “Reddit hug of death”, which was a little unnerving because I couldn’t do some planned maintenance for a little bit because everyone was coming over and bogging down the site, which prevented me from accessing the backend, but it was good, because I still had fans.

Nowadays, the way that people react to my content has changed.  My site is very different from the days of Front, Portal of Evil, SpinnWebe, and so on.  The writing is much improved (thank heavens), and I discuss a lot more topics and go into a lot more detail than I used to.  Nowadays, I get more discussion on the merits of the content, rather than “look at this loony over here” interactions.  And I don’t mind that.  But there will always be a special place in my heart for the attention that I got in the very early 2000s, because it symbolized when Schumin Web started to take off.