Five years ago, on May 4, 2000, I registered the domain name of PaulKatcher.com. Here's an FAQ about the site's history.
Early influencers: Merrill Lynch, J. Stile and the girl who had a nail hammered through her tit.
Merrill Lynch was my main account when I was a producer for the interactive department of J. Walter Thompson, the U.S.'s oldest advertising agency.
Being a project manager (baby-sitter) for an old-school financial client that wasn't 1/10th inspired by new media as I was meant a lot of Napster downloading and web surfing.
That's when I discovered the E/N (everything/nothing) genre of websites that gained such popularity at the time. The king, by far, was StileProject.com, the 2000 Webby Award winner for Weirdest site, a mish-mash of writing and multimedia that ranged from sarcastic and silly to sadistic and horrific. Homemade Jackass-type videos, pictures of naked chicks in pretzel formations, prank-call audio. This was ground-breaking stuff. I'm not even kidding.
One day I called over the girl with whom I shared an office to watch a close-up video of a nail being hammered through a woman's breast. I think she may have thrown up. But I was in love. Not with said Sprinkler Tit, but with the idea of presenting a bunch of goofy shit online and actually attracting a fan base from it.
(Today, StileProject.com is almost entirely a porn-affiliate sell-out. But a then-21-year-old Canadian named Jonathan Stile is responsible for a lot of the "wacky" web sites you find today.)
How did you start?
There was no such thing as Blogger or Movable Type back then. Everything was done by hand. Just a blank screen and my knowledge of HTML. I copied a lot of the E/N styles of the day, which was light type on a dark, moody background. Oh yes, I was bad-ass.
That was significant contrast to my more friendly Geocities site, launched around 1997, which was mostly Syracuse sports reports, softball and fantasy football league news, and some Howard Stern and Seinfeld audio links thrown in. I don't think anyone but my friends ever knew about that one.
How did people first find out about PK.com?
The same way people find out about anything online: by searching for pictures of naked women.
A few of my oldest posts included photo galleries of wet t-shirt contests and Mardi Gras flashers. They were the carrots before the horses. The search engines caught on. And so did the readers, one-by-one. There were times I was psyched to get 40 visits in a day, maybe 100. Now I'm disappointed to see less than 5,000 on a given day. You wouldn't know that from the number of comments, but we'll get to that.
But your site's not a porn site.
Nope, and it was never intended to be. I wanted to engage, interest, entertain and pass time. But guys can tease, too. Girls have known this for thousands of years.
You didn't mind having your real name associated with some of this stuff?
Yep, I did. Not soon after quitting JWT without a job lined up again, this was 2000; I had to take the phone off the hook to avoid headhunters I landed at TIME.com.
That was the company I wanted to be at. I always said I was the dumbest guy ever hired by TIME magazine. I often joke about graduating from the Harvard of Central New York (Syracuse University), but I was surrounded by grads from Princeton, Stanford, Northwestern and Duke.
But I knew the web. I had a role. And I didn't want to lose it. But I also didn't want to lose my avenue for creative freedom here. I didn't give a shit about Israeli-Palestinian relations nearly as much as I cared about celebrity bra sizes. So I took down the nudie-pics bait and made no mention about my site to coworkers for a couple of years.
I did, however, continue to post links to "The Weekly Ladies," some of the thousands (I would estimate) women promoting themselves as bikini models online. Couldn't imagine AOL-Time Warner wouldn't endorse that, considering the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is one of its champion franchises.
But I didn't work for SI or anything swimsuit-related. I was in the TIME magazine masthead. I had nightmares, constantly, that they would find my site and fire me. Looking back now, with the proliferation of personal sites and blogs, that may seem weird. Back then I thought it was a legit concern.
Till one time, I couldn't hold it any longer. Web practice back then was a lot more about predicting what might work than knowing what should work. I had a lot of suggestions, and a lot of those suggestions stemmed from practices I already used on PK.com. I told my supervisor, "Look, I know what I'm talking about. And here's why..."
Today, you might even find a PaulKatcher.com t-shirt in the offices of TIME, though I no longer work there, but not because of anything having to do with this site.
Has PK.com always looked like this?
Nope. In the beginning, it had that dark look. If anyone was a regular back then, you deserve a prize. I updated every few days at first.
In April 2001, I redesigned and committed to posting every Sunday night, which was always free for me.
In October 2002, I posted a farewell message of sorts, lamenting on how I would post weekly update after weekly update and not really hear from anyone. Feedback ... nil. I still posted links to bikini chicks to get those cheap hits, but I didn't want to serve that audience entirely. Traffic wasn't the only barometer for "success." I didn't want to exist to help guys whack off. I remember going to bed that night and being very sad. Fucking weird, huh?
It took less than three months to come back with the blog you see now see original post. I came back with an edit plan that holds true to this day: a brief main "column" for those who like to read and related linked for those who like to surf. Best of both worlds, no?
Do you make money off this site?
The No. 1 question I've ever been asked.
Yes, I have Google AdSense coded into my archive pages. They bring in quite a bit more than it costs to run this site, which is next to nothing: $100/year for web hosting, $30/year for Fotki.com photo hosting.
With labor factored in, though, I make about 2 cents an hour. Obviously, profitability has never been my biggest concern. People think I'm crazy to not work on that. Maybe someday I will.
I have, however, landed some freelance writing gigs after people were impressed by what they read here. So you have to take everything into account.
And, while I have no proof, I would bet that applications for jobs have been rejected after HR pussies saw I had a personal website that dealt with more than how much I like/hate Starbucks. A search for my name in Google brings up 22,300 results. I'm sure there's something in there someone hasn't liked. I wouldn't want to work for those places anyway.
Have you gotten laid through this site?
The No. 2 question I've ever been asked.
Sure. Through this site, I've made a lot of new friends who I ordinarily would never have met.
But the same could hold true if I owned a hardware store. It's all relative. I don't think Howard Cunningham had as many girls send him pictures, though.
What have you learned?
So much about so many things, it could fill a book. Among the most important:
I have a greater appreciation for artists, or as I like to think of them, people who create something out of nothing. Place your own value on my writings about Alyssa Milano, the Yankees and celebrity impersonators, thousands of people a day get a kick out of something I made out of a blank screen and my brain.
Don't dig it? Cool. I respect that. I'm not saving lives here, but neither is the Goodyear tire salesman who won't be able to sleep tonight because he's worried that Firestone is moving in on his turf.
Most people are voyeurs. You wouldn't believe how many first-time e-mails I get from people who say, "I've been checking your site every day for two years and..." TWO FUCKING YEARS!?! How come I haven't heard from you before? The first few times I guess I thought that was weird. Now I just know it's how it goes. But don't be shy, people. I don't bite. That's Marv Albert.
There are a lot of fucking assholes out there. So many spammers and tricksters out there on the web, it's downright depressing. The reason you have to register to comment here the the reason the sheer number of comments per post has plummeted is because spammers straight-up blasted open-comment systems with your typical bullshit URLs. Sad.
But there are more cool people out there. Thankfully, my readers get it. Yeah, the occasional Yankees-hater spits from a 12th-story window every now and then, but for the most part you get it. I'm just clownin' here.
Hey, Paul. I'm starting a site. How should I go about getting traffic?
1. Submit your URL to the major search engines. They'll come crawling soon enough.
2. Make your pages search-friendly. Put keywords in your titles. Make your titles stand out. Instead of "What's This Girl Doing Now?" use "Hey, Britney Spears, Is Your Head Up Your Ass?"
3. T&A never hurts.
4. Post comments on blogs. Leave your URL. Site owners and comment readers will at least give you a peek. So make sure you...
5. Post good content.
6. Have patience.
What were some watershed moments in the history of the site?
The first time a model e-mailed to thank me for linking to her. I'd sent her like 800 new visitors or something, and I understood that "Howard Stern phenomenon" where people will appreciate you lusting over their breasts so long as you give them enough publicity.
I don't have nearly that much reach, of course, but it's nice to be able to throw some visits towards people, events and causes I believe in, like the May 13 Mondo Porno Party in NYC.
When I offered free t-shirts and had to close down requests after 24 hours. Why did I make up t-shirts? For two reasons. 1) I just kinda liked the idea of 150 or so people wearing a shirt with my name on it. Yes, narcissism plays a part in so many websites. 2) It was kind of a networking thing. You might have forgotten the name of the first girl you kissed, but you never forget someone who sent you a free shirt. (By the way, I have a few women's shirts left if anyone's interested.)
When I was told a group of readers in Lawrence, Kansas, were toasting my 30th birthday. Some kids I'd never even met were celebrating my work? Rock on. Hope you guys remember more about the night than I do.
When my dad passed away in 2003. I always looked at this site as an entertainment vehicle, or at least a way to engage. Some topics are serious, sure. Not too many. But PK.com has always been about readers. It was never just an open window to scream out of, where I didn't care if people read it or not. The night my father died, I needed to write something. In some ways I did it for him, as I knew he would at least have a testimony somewhere online. But I needed a place to write, too. Hard to put into words the feeling. Hard to describe any of those emotions, really.
I wrote that piece just hours after he died, after my mom, brother and I returned home from a dinner we couldn't eat. I never edited a piece so carefully in my life. I think I read and re-read it 50 times, crying over every pass-over.
I learned that night that sometimes I really do need this thing around.
What have you enjoyed most doing PK.com?
Meeting people. Whether it be parties or events I've attended after promoting them, or setting up road trips or just meeting out-of-town readers for a drink, I get the most satisfaction when virtual relationships become real ones.
Having an influence. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than when a webmaster cites me as an inspiration. The most successful of the disciples is, without question, Ryan Perry at GorillaMask.net. I root for him big-time, but he's the Junior to my Ken Griffey. He's long past needed my advice. Now don't go crashing into walls and ruining your career.
Isn't that a little self-important, thinking you're an "inspiration" by writing about Randy "Macho Man" Savage?
Only going by what people tell me, man. Like I said, this site's mostly bullshit, but it's 5,000-visits-a-day bullshit, and we kinda like it.
Gonna be around another five years?
Eh, we'll see.
To be honest, the site's really been a drag this year. The problem is that I know the key to a regular audience is to take the guesswork out of their surfing. For example, I have a new post up every weekday morning. No guesswork. I want to hold that audience, because I think it could help me down the line. But for what? I don't know. I'm rambling now.
In a perfect world, I'll find the future Mrs. PK.com sometime soon, maybe move my ass to Key West, open a little crafts shop or something, go back to regular weekday updates for shits and giggles, who knows.
Then again, who's better at making plans that never come through than me?
Anyone you want to thank?
The list is endless, man. So many people have helped make this site a joy for me to run.
First, all of you readers. All of you. If I didn't care about readers, I'd write in a diary. So let me know you're out there, huh?
And, individually, to the site owners who've lended their support. I'll never, ever get all of you, so apologies in advance:
Gorilla Mask My absolute favorite site out there. Whatever I've ever wanted to do with this site he does 100 times better.
Tequila Dave My buddy over there on the Upper East Side is one hysterical motherfucker. I'm not kidding. One of the best songs he wrote for Harpoontang is Doable Mommies. Good luck with the wedding, man!
New York City Bartenders and Patrons My good buddy Kevin was rockin' NYCBP.com long before PK.com was even an idea. In some ways, I think the connections he made with his site influenced me to try to garner a local audience (which never really happened). He's been a huge supporter of mine. Next round's on me.
Shumpy With a name like Shumpy... well, he's better than that.
Ken Goldstein's Blog Actually, Ken's site sucks. Write something, for god's sake. But he's a good guy, funny as shit to down a beer with. Thanks for coming to Baltimore, man.
I Am a Slam Pig Livia's posted regular comments since my blog format went up. And the way I look at it, that's being a real contributor to a part of the site that some people rather enjoy. Thanks, Liv.
Jadedgrrl Smart cookie up there in the Great White North. Poker buff who'll kick your ass. If I had to bet, I'd say she's hot, too.
Gigglechick If you're wearing a PK.com shirt, you're wearing Erin's work. She did the logo for a fee that would make a Chinese factory worker go on strike.
Karen Bischer Hoboken's finest Yankees fan, she'd like to watch two every day. (As long as Kevin Brown's not pitching one of them.)
Living Reflections I say Boone. She says Ortiz. If it weren't for our love of the Orange, we'd probably never get along. But we'll always have March 2003.
Certain Oddities She misses her hockey, as do I. Like I miss Calculus homework.
Pat Stack Love my co-worker's writing style. If I had to pick one blog that has a good chance to take off once it's been noticed, it's Pat's. (Hey, wasn't that the title of a horrible movie?)
RobertCat Rob's got it goin' on, too. But he's facing a blogger's toughest challenge: pending law school. Good luck, man.
Stephanie Klein If you like my site, then hers probably isn't your style. But don't let me stop ya. People are addicted to her stuff. And she's a good gal.
Steve Silver Terrific style. Makes good points, is efficient with words, can mix in Donald Rumsfeld and Ko-Ko B. Ware in a single post. Love it.
Bitch Has Word Being a mom leads to an irregular posting schedule, but she's got a sharp wit and some interesting thoughts.
Up for Anything C.J. is another regular in the comments section. And because he attended the Harvard of Central New York, as well, he's a smart one.
Dan Back The Sarasota, Fla., sports radio host has had me on a bunch of times to talk about the Yankees and other New York happenings. I always love being a guest and appreciate all the support. Check out his site for regular takes on the world of sports.
Aaron Gleeman Hugely popular baseball blog with a focus on the Twins. Oh, AG, go national, brother, and really kick some ass. Juan Rincon and the 'roids can only take you so far!
Sports By Brooks Sports and breasts are a winning combination in my book. A daily must-read for links and news that you won't find on SportsCenter.
Shannon Nowak Beauty, brains and (shit) a husband.
Shaune Bagwell Always been a righteous supporter and a very nice person to boot.
Lame King Spooner's got a little of that E/N spunk left in him. Funny stories and pics that you'd have to be a loon to believe are real.
MurphGuide My friend Sean's NYC bar/events site includes none of the overpromising bullshit you get from most promoters. He's a nice guy with good friends and connections, and he actually goes to the places he supports. Can't go wrong with that site. Plus, he's letting me play on his softball team.
Mandarin Design Blog Longtime PK.com supporters, this site is a must-visit before you tweak any site code or styles. Smart, smart resources for anyone looking to implement a few quick improvements with color, typography or style.
gjWalberg G. Joe planted the seed that led to a lot of supporters from the University of Kansas. His writings are heavy on politics and local affairs, but if he ever delivers pizzas again, you'll want to make sure to read about that.
Erocktica My favorite band of naked musicians flanked by strippers. Rock on!