DeviantART Co-Founder Angelo Sotira On Building Thriving Communities


DeviantART is a fun, creative place with hundreds of millions of pieces of art ranging from the ordinary to whatever its users can dream up.

Launched in August 2000, the social network was co-founded by Angelo Sotira, and at a time when sites like Myspace and Facebook weren’t even thought of yet.

Now, nearly 14 years later, it’s the world’s largest online community for artists and art enthusiasts.

We got to chat with Co-Founder Angelo Sotira about its success, and building communities.

What inspired the idea for deviantART?

DeviantART was started to service the community of artists who, at the time we started, didn’t have a place to congregate, share their work and publish what they were doing.

We noticed then that application skinning (changing the look of your apps) was becoming increasingly popular and there were artists having a great time creating “skins.” We learned that these artists were interested in posting on Winamp Facelift, and or other specialty sites but they needed their own platform to publish their other artworks.

We began by enabling these artists to publish original art and news content to the Web, collaborate with each other, comment on each other’s artwork and build a fan base to further promote the art. It quickly expanded past “skins” into the more than 2,500 categories of visual art we have today.

DeviantART is now the world’s largest online community for artists and art enthusiasts with more than 30 million registered members and over 250 million pieces of uploaded art that generate 2.5 billion page views per month. It was created to inspire, entertain and empower artists and art lovers, and features an extensive and evolving platform used to exhibit, promote and discover art and interact with members.

As you know, social networks come and go. How has deviantART managed to stand the test of time nearly 14 years later?

While we’ve outlasted some of the earlier social networks like MySpace and Friendster, I don’t know that there’s ever been another attempt to build both a social platform and technology tools to foster art. In that sense, I think we consistently thrive because we’ve become home for millions of artists and fans, and a happy discovery for teens that are just finding their talents and interests.

Because we are focused on a single vertical, visual arts, we just pay more attention and don’t get distracted from our core community and responsibilities.

DeviantART has played a crucial role in the artistic growth of many artists since its inception in 2000. What set deviantART apart is the focus and purpose of the network and community as a whole. We thought digital photos, digital art and skins themes for software would be the core but we quickly found that there was such a lack of opportunity for community among people who make art that every kind of work found its way on the site pretty quickly.

We also had a philosophy about respect and encouragement. For many months at the beginning we commented on every single submission to deviantART because, largely, it was just that exciting. This turned out to be a cornerstone of the success we have in creating community.

Our members, or “deviants” as we call each-other, offer one another constructive feedback and critique, which inspires us to create more – that is the main value of this community. Reciprocity is the key to our thriving membership and we are dedicated to providing a productive environment for anyone from the amateur to the professional artist. Because it’s the Internet, the conversation stretches across the globe 24/7 and we have worked hard to welcome all genres and media for art.

Anyone with computer/internet access can come to the site to view virtually any type of art spanning from fine art, digital, comic, literature, anime, manga, flash, visual narratives and more. Artists can display their work to the millions of people on the site (and to even more who visit) and promote their art to the world.

Over the past several years, we’ve really seen an evolution into a more visual web. Why do you think images/video do so well and is there a winning recipe?

Images in social media may have taken off over the last several years, but we were way ahead of this curve in 2000 with our foundation of user-generated visual art. In the new era of social networking, images are the highest currency of the web.

Images can “say” more than a few words of text. Images cross language barriers. Social media is the ends and the means to answering ‘What’s on your mind?’ ‘How are you feeling today?’ ‘Where are you?’ ‘What do you think of my art?’ Most people want to see those responses in a picture rather than text, which is why we will continue to see the image-driven social networks like deviantART dominate.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to build a successful online community?

Attitude and intention are the core values you need to bring to community online or offline. If you get those right, everything else can fall into its place. It will take a great deal of patience to find the right tone and the right purpose that the community will accept for itself. And as simple as this will sound, online, your technology has to work for the needs of the community you intend to attract and serve.

Kokou Adzo

Kokou Adzo is a seasoned professional with a strong background in growth strategies and editorial responsibilities. Kokou has been instrumental in driving companies' expansion and fortifying their market presence. His academic credentials underscore his expertise; having studied Communication at the Università degli Studi di Siena (Italy), he later honed his skills in growth hacking at the Growth Tribe Academy (Amsterdam).


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