Unedited Derek M. Powazek interview, April 5, 1999

The below is the unedited basis for an article I wrote for now defunct free magazine Monitor. The original printed in Swedish of course, and was edited to look like a real interview. I also put up the PDF of the printed article, for posterity or some such thing. Here goes (Derek, if you by some odd reason should see this and in some way feel embarrassed, please come forth and say so):

Martin (MS): Short background: Why did fray come to existence? When? Why did you choose the web as you “canvas”? What is fray? The difference between fray.com & fray.org?

Derek Powazek (DMP): fray came into existence in September 1996, almost three years ago. I was working as a webmonkey for HotWired back then, and kinda disgruntled. I had all these ideas about what the web was good for that weren’t welcome at work. So I figured I’d do it myself, for myself. One late night, fray was born.
See: https://www.fray.com/work/stoked/
fray is the living embodiment of what I think the web is good for: engulfing, participatory, first-person storytelling. That’s what I love about the web.
fray.org was born of the idea that, if all these people could tell honest stories on the web, then they could do it in person, too. So I use fray.org to create and promote those events. The next one is fray’s 3rd birthday in September.
The basic idea is: fray.com is about telling stories on the web, and fray.org is about telling stories in real life.

MS: Is fray your main concern, or do you have other, as important projects? If so, what are they?

DMP: Well, I do a bunch of things as Powazek Productions
Kvetch! (www.kvetch.com) is a site devoted to user participation like fray, but it’s designed to solicit complaint. It’s intended to be a safe outlet for venting about your problems, so you can let it out and then feel better.
San Francisco Stories (www.sfstories.com) is a personal site, a place for me to share my own tales of the city. Of course, if you have a San Francisco story, you can tell it there, too.
And of course there’s my freelance design business which pays the bills.

MS: I think of fray as kind of a web equivalent of speak (no offence!;). I’m thinking of the combination of visuals and text, both equally important. What do you think fray is/should be? And why?

The magazine Speak? I love that zine. Way cool design. Way cool writing. But fray is more focused – fray is just about first-person storytelling.
I think design is very important on the web because it’s such a difficult way to present text. Not very friendly to the eye.
So what I’ve tried to do with fray is strip away the usual way people read on the web and make it visually engaging. I want the reader to forget they’re on a website at all. I want them to simply focus on the story. When it works, it’s magic.

MS: The web as a whole (this is the rock’n’roll interview question, you know where the interviewer asks what the interviewee thinks of the bizniz, what artists he/she likes, what inspires him). What do you think of the field? Have you been pleased by what you have seen so far? [Admittedly, I myself find very few water holes, but enough, I guess]

DMP: I am one huge web advocate. I love the web and I think it gets better with every voice that’s added to it. I think EVERYONE should make themselves a homepage and tell their stories. This is the one medium where we CAN.
That said, sometimes I’m disappointed that there isn’t more stuff like fray out there. fray is just my idea of what the web is good for. It’s not the only idea or even the best idea, it’s just mine. What’s yours? Why haven’t you done something about it?

MS: What do you think of internet/web technology? Does it develop too fast? Does it render content “unimportant” or obsolete. Fray, for example, is pretty high tech, but the content fits nicely in the form. I don’t see you use things such as Shockwave/Flash, QT, and other such high band width technologies.

DMP: Well, I believe very strongly in the “one medium for everybody” idea of the web. So I’m not going to limit my audience with a plugin technology or anything like that. As soon as you include flash or shockwave in your web page, you’ve chopped your audience in half, because not everybody has those plugins or systems that are powerful enough to run them.

MS: What do you like web art, in the vein of antiorp, hell.com, one38, superbad, etc? They don’t publish art on the web, they make it into a new medium i think, using the technology against itself. Do you see that such inclinations might find their way into the Powazek Compound?

DMP: Perhaps. But technology for its own sake doesn’t move me. The same goes for art. Frankly, I’m bored to tears by most traditional “art” experiences. Museums make me suicidal.
What moves me is people and their stories. So I’m always on the lookout for new ways to convey those stories in powerful ways. So I become interested in art and technology when they help me to tell (or hear) stories in new, bold ways.

DMP: Future projects, future ideas. Will you as many other web publications, if you’ll excuse the expression, “go paper”? Are you going to try your hand in analog publishing? A book? A magazine? A record? Feel free to expand. The future of the Internet? Will it conform or “dischord”? Will there be an alternative Internet, maybe, protected from the bogus, free from insipid porn banners and spam?

Books. Yes. I’d very much like to publish a book or two. I’ve been kicking around the idea of compiling fray stories into a yearly anthology, complete with blank pages for readers to tell their own stories, of course. I’ve also thinking about writing a web design book, with a personal touch. But books are pretty much the antithesis of the do-it-yourself web, and the prospect of dealing with the oldschool publishing world is pretty threatening. So we’ll see.
And the web? Frankly I hope it doesn’t change one bit. So long as ordinary people can put their voices online for a negligible cost, I’ll always love it.

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