Long Overdue – Culture Milk

There Was Light

Culture Milk is my baby. From the start, it was always seen as a place to do things “my way” even if it required the help and graciousness of people around me. Things were done for free, relationships were made, but a lot of the behind-the-scenes things were less than ideal. Some of the lessons I’ve learned from the site, the people, and even years after being retrospectively introspective, force me to believe Culture Milk is the single most pivotal thing to ever help me in an online world surrounded by tech.

It all stated with a dream my friend Rickie had. In his dream, he kept it simple saying he had dreamt that me and another friend of ours, Nate, had created a site that was designed by him. The very next second was me telling this same dream to Nate, and him saying “let’s do it!” In that moment, I started trying to piece things together and figure out who would do what, what the purpose of our site would be, and how everything would play out. A little while later, I had an idea for what it all was and would be.

The name Culture Milk has no deeper meaning or actual connection to any meaningful thoughts. I thought of it within the second and we all just ran with it. I told people that “people need milk and we write about the culture – so there you go” but in all reality, it was just a name that came out that **kinda** worked in the end. I don’t even think people need milk. Milk might actually just be straight up bad for you. I don’t know. A lot of this story relates back to how things just ended up working out and how a lot of us (mostly me) just ended up running with what we got.

Once the name was settled, we needed a design. I don’t design. Nor do I code, really. I have an eye for design and I can see code and see what would or would not work etc but I do not have any of these skills on my own. Rickie was meant to be the original designer, but with work piling against him and, y’know, no money being involved, he had decided not to. Which is totally fine and I don’t fault or hold grudges or anything. I hold no grudges here with anybody. Not even passively. Even if I did, Rickie would be the last on the list – he is truly a great guy, a close friend, and someone I’m beyond thankful to have met so many years ago.

The People

After Rick, I got my friend Jake Moore. There’s a lot of history between me and Jake, but a lot of it is passive aggressive anger and selfishness, both on my part. In any case, Jake went on to design the site for us with a minimal design that I’d argue still holds up today. He managed to not only make our logo and make a rad as hell “theme” for the site, he managed to do it all with our collective interests in mind. It wasn’t a quick in-and-out job, but something he worked on knowing that we wanted to make one of the best sites around with a dedicated focus. However, in the end, there was a lot of bad blood. Back then, I was immature, crass, selfish, and didn’t really consider other people as that important in the grand scheme of things. That whatever it is I was doing, it reigned supreme. Unless you were literally saving kittens from a burning old folk’s home, what I needed was probably of higher concern than whatever else could be happening around you. I had all these problems and Jake was at the end of the sword for a lot of them. I made jokes at his expense, I didn’t value what he said when he shared thoughts, and I projected arrogance onto his character. It wasn’t cool. Culture Milk would be nothing without him and I thank him for all he’s done for the site, the people, and how he really helped in shaping the identity of something I hold so dear to my heart.

Then came the writers. Oh, the writers. Throughout the five years of its operation, Culture Milk has had maybe two dozen separate writers. From guests, to permanent names, to even one-off people who eventually ducked away. Even with all this swirling around, the writers are the true backbone and heart of the site. My goal here wasn’t to gather a group of the best wordsmiths to craft stories about apps and programs, but to get people together that had a passion for something to write about that passion. I truly believe that the core of excellent stories comes people with a devoted interest in that story’s topic. People can be the greatest writer in the worLd, but with no love attached, the story becomes empty. If I can get someone who’s already an okay writer to write pieces, make sure they’re in love with the subject matter, and then write about things that matter, then the rest is just editing to touch it up. The writing more or less does itself. And each and every one of the writers Nate and I had on the team excelled at this. Gus wrote excellent pieces on film and television from the viewpoint of a cinematographer – a great one at that. Tyler had integral pieces on comics, culture, and also tv and film. Rachel was arguably the best culture writer/blogger I had ever come across. Rebecca offered pieces that showed true interest and devotion to things that would either fall between the cracks or not be on the radar for people in that tech bubble we were all a part of. Even before that team, Emily showed merits of growth and aspiration. Patrick, Collin, and Ryan all managed to talk about apps in a way that both showed the greater strengths of these apps, and the true reason why they deserved to be showed off the way they were. Sam exemplified the belief that there’s the essence of growth and hope to be held in every interaction we have with our phones. Every writer was pivotal to the “success” Culture Milk had. Every single one. Without a doubt.

Beyond these writers, or above them, however you choose to phrase it, is Chase. Chase Oros. Chase is one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met online with a genuine ability to love something and love it solely because it defines him. Chase and I would clash heads periodically and I was nasty to him. Beyond nasty. Super nasty. It wasn’t cool. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t something that I’m proud of and it’s not really something that I look back on in fondness. We were great friends, we were practically the same person with small differences therein. We had our problems, but on the face of it all, we were really cool. Chase devoted his time to the site in making excellent and beyond stellar videos for us, made graphics that are still used today, and even went above and beyond to craft articles that showed off things other people could not. The site loses part of what it is if you remove Chase from the equation. To this day, I do not think Culture Milk would have been what it was without his efforts and the sacrifices he made.

Then was Brittany. Brittany Stevens. Talk about an amazing person – honestly. Brittany has always been the most kind, passionate, caring, and wholesome person I’ve ever met online. She saw Culture Milk, saw what we had planned to do, and wanted to help. She offered, for free, her copyediting skills to the site. Whenever an article was finished, she’d take it, make it beautiful, and send us on our way. She was hilarious on Twitter too. All of us lived on Twitter during those days. Well, that and AIM. AIM was a thing back then. Brittany is essentially what took Culture Milk from being “oh you drew a tree, maybe?” to “oh wow, look at this photograph of a tree.” I suck at analogies, but I think you get it. Brittany is super important.

Behind it All

Behind the scenes, relationships were falling apart, albeit slowly, but surely. A “rival but not really” site sprouted up, Blue Sun, that saw a bunch of writers, primarily from the UK, talking about video games. I don’t know the relationship of the writers that were at the site, but I know their owner and I did not see eye-to-eye on essentially anything. The site had incredibly elegant and nice graphics being made and had an honest and amazing dark theme going on. It played a contrast to the light and minimal aspects of Culture Milk’s design – I envied it. I genuinely wanted it to fail, but never said anything about those desires since I knew they were bred out of arrogance, greed, and poor intent. I even said the opposite on occasion. It wasn’t that deep. But at the time, it was that deep…for me.

Eventually, since our community of tech heads was so small, I became decent friends with the designer and webowner of the site, Colby Ludwig. To make a long story short, the site ended up not posting anything for awhile, I asked Colby why, he told me and he eventually passed ownership of the site, its domain and all, over to me. I now owned Culture Milk and what I had mentally considered its rival. I even planned to launch a brand new site with an entire gaming focus, but that never came to fruition. With Jake having designed all of Culture Milk and us not being on speaking terms, that is essentially where Blue Sun’s revival ended – with an idea and a lack of a way to bring it to light. Hell, if you look now, you can see the exact same splash page we had created for it. Splash pages – what a sign fo the times.

I did nothing with Blue Sun, but I still felt a sense of vindication through the eyes of ill intent. I wanted to own it just so that I could say I had it now. That the people who had said offhanded things about Culture Milk (and that we had said in return) were now owned by me. I had shifted the narrative from me seeking some weird internet-circle-domination to being a great owner who could bring the people what they wanted. It was around here that I realized almost all of it was reliant on the back’s of other people. It was also here that my ego got ahead of me and I considered myself a damn near clone of Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs didn’t design things. He didn’t do any development. It was all Jony ive or Steve Wozniack, but he was the face of Apple. He got the credit. He was the visionary and I considered myself the exact same thing. I really thought I was making ideas happen and being a great innovator that ran unparalleled to anyone else. I thought I was Steve Jobs when I was really just DJ Khaled.

A lot of these friendships that were had here and mentioned above ended up falling out. Surprisingly, Chase and I didn’t have a “falling out” as much as our group chat (Rickie, Chase, and myself) just kinda died out. Jake and I hit brick walls often, and often publicly, until one day one of us had blocked the other. Haven’t talked much to each other since that day. Colby was the butt of a lot of “jokes” that I’d make on Twitter. A lot of them were mean spirited and often meant to be the type of jokes you hear and laugh *at* someone over. It wasn’t cool of me, and I don’t like that I was that person. It sounds cliche, but whatever. Cliches are cliches for a reason. Everyone else, more or less, remained by my side through it all. They either weren’t that close or I valued their friendship for genuine reasons. Nate would often be the one to either disagree or get me riled up over things, but he kept a calm head at all times. He’s the same guy tot his day. He may disagree, but he understands that getting upset on the internet isn’t worth all the turmoil and stress people put in. Which is partially why I think we worked well as leaders for Culture Milk as a yin and yang or good cop bad cop type duo. This part is just to sum up that I thank all these people for everything they’ve done for me and they don’t and didn’t deserve any of the shit I threw at them.

In the End

At the end of Culture Milk’s lifespan, I made some last-ditch efforts to save it. One of those included getting honestly the best copyeditor you’ll ever met in your life, Brittany Stevens, and a personal friend of mine, Gianna Gargiulo together to start a Book Club. It’d be delivered as a podcast, it would have about an hour’s worth of us talking about the book, and it would just be conversational as opposed to review-like. I thought it’d be a nice, easy break from the standard apps, tech, movies etc. I thought it worked out well. It just kind of fizzled once our schedules didn’t line up one time. It was fun, though. Fun while it was here.

In the end, I realized Culture Milk was not something that I saw as successful. It wasn’t something that should bestow my name. I looked through the posts and I saw a plethora of articles written by me, but everything about them relied on other people. I needed Jake to have the website. I needed Brittany to have excellent copy being pushed. I needed Rickie to have that idea. I needed Nate to be the heavy when we had to let people go. I needed Klein to step in and design some graphics for our articles. I needed so much from so many people, but in the end, it’s literally just me standing there writing an article on my own site. I thought I was hot, I thought I was doing what needed to happen, and I thought I really had the mindset of a visionary, not a manipulative freeloader. But alas.

I think of Culture Milk as one of my proudest moments, but underneath it, I’m disappointed with how I behaved. I’m revolted by it. I’m upset that I couldn’t carry through for anyone on much. I’m miffed that I didn’t truly sit down and have plans that worked out, things that made sense, and then bring them to life. I just kinda fumbled the entire time I worked on it and somehow I made it work. Everyone else deserves the credit. You look at the site now, read the articles, and see the images attached to them, you may think it’s a sign of a forgotten age, or just overall amateur – and it was – but it was great. It was great to have so many ideas flowing cohesively, working together, and building something. It just wasn’t great knowing that everything was made with a hint of crass and a dash of immaturity with a pinch of arrogance. All of this simply to say that when you build something, do it with integrity. Build things with your own goals set in mind, respect the people around you, and build them up. Don’t bother tearing anyone down. Don’t bet your relationships with people on how many random internet strangers will fave your tweet. Don’t let your ego and pride separate you from what you’re building and creating. Culture Milk is great. I love it. I love the people that contributed to it. I would do anything for anyone of them even if we haven’t talked in eons. But with all of it, I accept its flaws that rest below the surface. Conversely, despite is all, it is where I eventually found my own voice and used it to signal boost myself in a world where people with my interests are routinely muffled.