November 13, 2009

Dog and Pony Show Website

Now completely off-line, Dog and Pony Show (DAPS) was an entertainment/internet culture blog created with Andrew and Chris O (later ran with Chris O, Tavis, and Damian) that gained 1 million views per month at it’s peak.

But more than a website, it was a collective of friends who used the website (and it’s subsequent network of blogs) as an excuse to create.

Throughout the DAPS tag, you’ll see a lot of the content I created, or worked heavily on, for DAPS.

Below is a piece I wrote as a eulogy for DAPS in 2013.

DAPS, at it’s best, was an incredible ego boost and great excuse to spend a few nights a week with friends. At it’s worst, it was a labor of love that sometimes left me unfulfilled and detached. But that’s how relationships go, right?

My entire “career” on the internet was spent trying to organize like minded people into a creative community. DAPS was the logical conclusion to that process, in that it was the highest example of what I was trying to achieve, and the project that finally allowed me to realize the idea I had been chasing for more than a decade.

When this pursuit began in the late 90s/early 2000s, I was hacking together snippets of HTML I picked up from various HTML tutorial sites, building what I hoped would be a reputable federation in the very niche sector of the web that participated in online wrestling role-playing. I had been a member of this community for a while, and decided that I could do it better. In my mind, I did. But finding people to join my federation proved to be too much and most of my roster quit on me after the third “taping”.

I gave up the web (save Napster) until I had a comedy troupe to try and promote. What eventually happened was, we grew tired of performing live, and focused a great deal of effort on web content. While this wasn’t the “community” I had hoped for a few years earlier, it was me and my friends, making funny shit on the internet. When our comedy troupe disbanded, the internet bug stuck with me.

A year later, I started a website called that showcased all of the creative output of me and my friends. This site grew to host the work of about 15 different people I knew, some of it was pretty wonderful. Interest in this site faded among friends. This was okay. I was done curating and collaborating, or so I thought.

During college, I was probably the most creatively productive person. I tried everything and anything. My major in design allowed me to begin showing people the things I made, and I was hooked. It also gave me the opportunity to work at the college paper, sorely in need of an entertainment section.

Chris and I went right to it. It was huge for us. We (maybe only in our own minds) turned the paper into something students actually read. We wrote ridiculous things, made hilarious Photoshops, and redesigned the entire paper (it looked damn good). Since we only had 1 year left in our college careers, we decided to bring our work to the web, if only to retain our readership.

We joined with Drew (whom I was working preliminarily on a news-ish blog with at the time), and formed DAPS. We worked tirelessly for weeks to get a site built, content curated (from a TON of our friends), and buzz created around it. We used our semi-celebrity status at the school to hijack radio shows to promote our YouTube videos, which were shot only to promote the teaser web page, which itself was a promotion for the website that was being built.

Those first 2-3 years were great. We had a stable of roughly 20 incredibly talented and motivated people willing to contribute to our vision. There was rarely a night out that didn’t involve the website, or content for it. We were possessed. For me, DAPS was always about making stuff. It didn’t matter what that stuff was.

I grew up listening to Wu-Tang, and something about them always stuck with me. The collaborative, defined by it’s individuals.

The years that followed were hard for me. The site was looking to become a bit more serious in it’s practices. There was already one less founder involved, and less people interested in “making stuff” for no gain. Traffic was modest, and money was a yet-to-be-had goal. The stone had no more blood and imposed obligations were lifted. Some of my favorite content came from that period. It was fun.

The “teenage” years of DAPS were very interesting. Being leaner and meaner, we made some friends and gained access, insight, and most importantly, notoriety among influential people. DAPS was no longer a spectacle, a flash mob of, well, something. Now we were an entity. We met famous people. We were seeing concerts. I got Brazilian waxed. Our business paperwork came in, we started selling some ads, and traffic steadily increased. With less people contributing, the remaining group was given more responsibility and still nothing in return other than good times, good friends. This gets surprisingly stale when every night at the bar becomes a 3 hour pitch meeting/planning session/or worse, fundraising party.

For a while, This was my favorite period in the DAPS saga. I was now “self-employed” (which means that I quit my real job and lived briefly off my ex-wife’s student loans and an inheritance from a late aunt), posting 8 times a day on the site, trying to craft it’s voice, and take a creative ownership of it. What hurt the most during this time was that it wasn’t enough to get the site where I thought it should be. No one really cared about my TOTALLY. HYSTERICAL. YET. POIGNANT. take on some Russian wedding video. They really just wanted to see the video.

We again implemented a platoon-style posting schedule. “Pump it out every hour on the hour.” We all did it, posting a shit ton of content that people wanted to see. As our content grew in “quality” (only placed in quotes because click bait, no matter how well crafted, is still manipulative), so did our numbers. Time this with an unintentional feature of StumbleUpon, and we were doing huge numbers. This, of course, increased the workload and decreased the number of people interested in doing it.

The truth about business, and life (kind of), is that anything is possible, if you have the money to do it. We had hit our ceiling in terms of content production, and server size (!!!), and audience. Sure, we had plenty of loyal readers, many of which I chatted on Twitter with years later, but we needed much more than that.

When I think about this next period of time, this Susan Heller quote just rings in my head. “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”

We were able to secure some funding from a local businessman who truly believed in us, and saw our talents and put complete faith in us. Sadly, it wasn’t enough money. Not that we wanted more, it was just that the price of entry was just too great, we were priced-out by the big boy pants. We did have a pretty incredible server for a while though. That thing was a beast.

We never earned a profit from DAPS. Sure we bought drinks a few nights and had a crazy steak dinner (thank you BangBros), but at no point did the thought of “cutting checks” even come into play. It all boils down to sucking at business.

It’s not just money though. StumbleUpon blocked us from listing on their site after an exploit was found (and a paid promotion service was being announced). We tried to pay them for the placement service, but we had really gamed the site for a shit ton of traffic. They refused our money. Traffic dipped, and enthusiasm went with it.

The knock-out punch really came when we were forced to move to Tumblr, but it was after a flurry of stiff jabs. A focus on original content met tepid response. Do we suck? I feel like a lot of people must have thought we sucked, which would have been fine, but the ability to “move traffic” was the problem we did not expect to have to solve.

Going through so much learning about something that is so all encompassing is intense. DAPS was a 6-year immersion program. Throw a toddler off a diving board without swimmies, no lifeguard. It fucking rocked.

I wont speak for anyone but myself when I say that I took a lot for granted. I now have a pretty great life informed by years of knowledge. There is always a “safe” way to go. DAPS had no “safe” way. Safe is death and that is an insane way to live.

After going completely broke and re-joining the working world, I no longer had time for DAPS, and I kind of enjoyed the time away from it. Now it’s time this thing ends, otherwise it’s nothing but an obligation. Obligation being the thing that chased people away from the start. People do things they like. They’ll make the fucking time for it. I like drinking beer. I set aside that time. When play becomes work, people don’t like it.

My dream was to sell hot, get some business minded people in there, and earn a salary writing about fart fetishes. Having to think of “strategy” there was no room for the fetishes, and no strategy for the salary.

And here we are today, going out with a bang, throwing a party to pay a loan. As Kenny Rogers famously sang; “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em.” There’s a flush on the board and we’re holding a 2/3 unsuited, hoping for the straight. We’re all-in and then headed home. It’s late and we’ve got work in the morning.