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The Self-Made Man: Lowtax

Most of this column’s featured self-starters, especially those who’ve used the Internet to establish themselves, have been fairly serious, earnest, business-oriented people. This is not the case for Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka, creator of comedy website Something Awful, which has become one of the keystones of Internet culture since 1999, when the site was first founded.

While Something Awful is a real (and profitable) business that has diversified beyond just providing free online content, Kyanka is not a typical businessman. He doesn’t give many interviews, and typically presents himself in the same absurd, heavily sarcastic manner that defines his website.

He also got beaten like an old rug by film director Uwe Boll in an exhibition boxing match, although Kyanka claims that he threw the fight because he thought the whole thing would be a joke.

In any case, Kyanka studied engineering at Vanderbilt University, and moved to California to find work right as the infamous dot-com bubble was about to burst. He wound up working for GameSpy, where he accomplished next to nothing and had to endure meaningless buzzword phrases like “we have to enable the community” at company meetings.

Kyanka also worked for Gamers.com, Backbeat Media, and eFront, and he’d taken to venting his spleen on his personal website (specifically calling out coworkers for their unprofessional behavior), which later became the basis for Something Awful. Basically, Kyanka wrote comedy articles to amuse himself and make fun of/chronicle the darker, dumber corners of the Internet, and a community of like-minded people gathered around him. This community was given voice in 2000 with the creation of the Something Awful Forums, which are still highly active today and have generated a lot of Internet memes and phenomena over the years.

The site generates revenue through the $10 activation fee (implemented in 2001) to post in the site’s numerous forums and subforums, and between all the new people registering accounts, account upgrades such as custom avatars and access to archives and search features, and associated merchandise sales, Something Awful does okay. The activation fee is also, according to Kyanka, a convenient tollbooth that keeps out a lot of spambots and jerks who purposely interfere with online discussion. That, combined with the forums’ vigilant moderators, makes Something Awful one of the least infuriating places on the Internet.

Kyanka is still an active member of the Something Awful community, albeit in fits and starts, and his learn-as-you-go approach to business gets him into trouble sometimes (finding an advertising network not run by scam artists took forever), but for someone who had no plans to become an entrepreneur, I think he’s doing okay for himself.

I’ll end with this 2005 video of him speaking at the University of Illinois about his professional history and the development of Something Awful, as well as giving a broad overview of Internet culture.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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