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Getting creative online

Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on November 22, 2002
(Issue 2047, Let the Games Begin)

One of the recurring themes in this space is documenting the ways in which the existence of the Internet is allowing for — and even stimulating — new ways of doing things.

While spam, viruses and kiddie porn get the headlines in the media when it comes to Internet coverage, it may well be that it is in less visible ways that the 'Net is most profoundly affecting society. For from small businesses finding new customer bases to hobbyists sharing their interests with others of a similar bent, the Internet is slowly, quietly but very definitely changing the way human beings organize, share information and interrelate.

Some may choose to dismiss hobbyists as harmless nobodies whiling away their days. But hobbies are often the focus of tremendous passion and effort — many a hobby is a lifelong endeavor far more important than the career which was only a method for paying the bills.

Brendan Powell Smith is just one example, but not a bad one to trot out for our purposes. He has created and maintains his own mini-web of sites, featuring everything from a text-based game ( to a growing Lego diorama of the Bible ( Then there's his new band he formed (, plus an archive of his comic strip (

Outside of the music, it doesn't appear he's making any money at all off his various online endeavours. Why do it? Apparently because it matters to him. The Lego stuff is fascinating, and obviously takes up a lot of his time. It's also deeply at odds with the sacrilegious tone of the rest of his site(s).

Photography fans may know A.D. Coleman as one of the most celebrated photo critics and writers about photography, especially the high-end photos you find in art galleries. But like most of us, Coleman has a broad set of interests. Maybe he can't make money off all of them, but that's not always the point — and so his site The Nearby C@fé allows him to explore all kinds of other topics besides photography.

One new project you can find at The Nearby C@fé is Coleman's own chronicle of life on Staten Island — "Island Living: Tales of the Forgotten Borough." Photos, essays, history, travel info all detail living on Staten Island. (Which it turns out is larger than Manhattan — significantly so. Learn something new every day.)

Other sections of The Nearby C@fé contain Coleman's essays, poetry and essays by Earl Coleman (who I'm guessing is A.D.'s dad), the History of Photography Calendar and other goodies. Again, there are no ads here, didn't see anything for sale although some of his books might be offered somewhere.

This isn't about money — it's about a man with a full life using the Internet to connect with others who share one or some of his passions.

Before the 'Net, if you wrote an essay and wanted anyone to read it you have to find a magazine or newspaper willing to publish it. If you weren't the most gifted writer on earth, or if your viewpoint deviated too far from the norm, you were unlikely to find success in that effort.

Now, you can publish it yourself.

And if you want to make biblical dioramas out of Legos, you don't have to move to central Kansas and try to dupe bored vacationers to stop in off the I-70 to look at your little scenes. You can take photos of them, post them online and share them with whomever stops by.