Newgrounds Relaunches, My Interview With Founder Tom Fulp

Posted by on February 24, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Newgrounds, as its tagline suggests, is everything for everyone. Adobe Flash made a crowdsourcing star out of the site with tons of quirky, violent, and comical games and movies before it powered the internet video revolution with sites like YouTube. Founded by Tom Fulp, a kid from Pennsylvania, Newgrounds originally served as a comic book in 1995. The site grew at the turn of the century as its Flash Portal allowed people to upload their work to the site to be judged, then celebrated or blammed (the site’s term for ‘sent to oblivion’). While Newgrounds doesn’t celebrate YouTube’s traffic, it’s developed a cool, insular community. Newgrounds recently launched its first major redesign in over half a decade and I got to sit down with Tom about the new look and feel and how the site is going to move in the future.

FleshEatingZipper: First off, how the hell have you been? What’s your life been like in the past few days/weeks/months bringing this new version of Newgrounds to life?

Tom Fulp: I’ve been anxious, nervous and excited for the change. It’s scary to make dramatic changes to the site but this was a band-aid that needed ripping for the sake of NG’s continued evolution.

FEZ: Before this grand unveil, the front end has really only seen tweaks over the past, well, half-decade. What was the definity behind a whole new look and feel? What kind of stuff did you do on the backend?

TF: After the 2007 redesign launch it became clear that we needed to widen the layout. The 2007 layout was started in 2004 when 800×600 resolution was still common, three years later that wasn’t the case but we were too deeply committed to the design.

In 2009, we updated the game and movie view page to be wide but were also working on a new layout to address numerous other changes. Rather than continue going wide with the current layout, we moved all ongoing development into the redesign basket. This is why the Project System, intended to launch during the 2009 Power of Three competition, ended up not arriving until the 2012 relaunch.

On the back-end, more old code was updated to a modern framework and all the javascript was rewritten with jQuery instead of Prototype. We never escape ALL the old code but we gradually have less and less of it, to the benefit of ongoing development.

FEZ: One thing I noticed is that the site is really loud now, primarily because of the gorgeous wallpapers that artists have supplied. In fact, it seems maybe a bit too much so as the eyes are pulled in virtually every direction on every page. What was the philosophy behind that?

TF: The philosophy was to involve and showcase artists from the site as much as possible. Some of the skins probably are too noisy so we’ll need to strike a good balance with future updates.

FEZ: Newgrounds has always been of a dark corner of the internet. I recall it was particularly gruesome in the early days of the BBS before the moderation tools arrived. I guess you could say the site ‘broke me’ on the nasty content out there on the internet before I knew what any of that was. Then there were the webcam girls and the NG Adult stuff designed for the 18+ crowd, but obviously the average age was much, much younger. And the pop-ups. What was that era like compared to what you guys are unveiling now?

TF: The spotlight had always been owned and tightly controlled by large corporations, so when we introduced real-time game and movie publishing on Newgrounds (the first on the web), it felt necessary to be a complete free-for-all, a celebration of this new-found freedom. Webcams were this new thing too so of course that was exciting; our webcam girls were today’s chat roulette and Google hangouts. Pop-ups were standard advertising back then and bandwidth was uber-expensive. There were plenty of distractions but the underlying focus was on creating cool stuff, meeting good people and pushing eachother to be better. That continues to be what interests me most about NG today, along with maintaining that freedom as the web becomes more consolidated and controlled.

FEZ: Newgrounds had a big community before today’s really big communities really emerged, but unlike Facebook or Twitter, Newgrounds never really latched onto the social networking bandwagon. I’m looking at a random movie and there’s a Digg share icon before Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Does Newgrounds get social networking? Does it need to?

TF: I didn’t even want to launch with the Digg icon, I know that’s not getting us any traffic and it will be gone soon. Overall no, we don’t really get social networking. There are other sites that have exploited it waaay better than we have. I really don’t WANT to integrate other sites into NG, I like it being an island that people come and discover. Being an island can suck though when people aren’t discovering you, so we end up dabbling with the social networks. Some of our attempts get decent results, others don’t. As for social features within Newgrounds itself, we’ll have ongoing improvements but we don’t want to get to the point where everyone just exists in a pocket of their own friends.

FEZ: Where’s the Newgrounds shareable format where you can embed the content in other sites, YouTube-style?

TF: We had actually done this back in 2000 but stopped because there wasn’t any interest; it wasn’t until blogging became popular that the demand grew. We do plan to revisit this now that we have spare bandwidth.

FEZ: Do you feel that purely Flash work is inherently limited because the content can’t be controlled, scrubbed, or muted like, say, a YouTube video wrapper can do?

TF: Displaying movies in SWF format has definitely limited our options. We’ll continue to show movies in that format but we will also be supporting broader formats.

FEZ: Let’s go back to that community aspect again where many, many people have given their artwork to Newgrounds exclusively. Over time, you hired some of the best guys and had them do more exclusive content. What’s stopped you from creating some kind of distinguished private label of Newgrounds content that stands above the rest in its own category, or has it really been about keep the playing field even?

TF: That has been the downside of NG producing origial content: some users get upset when a staff member gets the award or front page spot and it’s demotivating to the staff member who wants to just be a member of the community like he used to be.

FEZ: Now you guys are the name in Flash content, have you internally thought about doing Zynga-style games for the masses?

TF: We toss around ideas for big games but they would still be aimed more towards people with our own sensibilities.

FEZ: What is Newgrounds’ mission? What will it need to do in five years to continue to be successful? Will more Flash content be enough? Will there be more Super Meat Boy partnerships?

TF: My personal mission is for Newgrounds to always feel like a special place full of interesting people and content to check out. Games and movies will branch out beyond Flash and will be accessible on more platforms. There will continue to be big success stories from people who come up on NG.

FEZ: One last question, and sort of an observation, really. I remember being super pissed when you guys removed FDA’s auto-playing Newgrounds jingle from the home page, but having brought it up recently on the Internet Vault several times in quick succession, it’s not hard to see how it could really drive someone bonkers. Did you realize this eleven years before I did?

TF: Yeah, a good number of people hated auto-playing sound on the homepage. Some would leave immediately in response.

FEZ: Thanks for your time!

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