At the age of 13, during a family holiday in France, a fellow kid mentioned how he had used Adobe Photoshop to create all sorts of graphics, including a website. I was intrigued and immediately installed a somewhat legal copy of Photoshop 7 when I returned home. Upon opening the program, I was overwhelmed by the many options it provided. There were countless filters, color adjustments, layouts, typographical options, and more. In turned out many of these options were not necessary to create basic designs, which by the way is a lesson that can be applied to most software.
I built websites for myself, my Unreal Tournament Clan, game trailers, and finally one for providing free fonts (of which many were copies of Dafont, another font website at that time). This last one, lettertype.tk (translated "fonts.tk"), actually had some potential to be successful when looking back on it, mainly due to its popular domain name. The .TK extension was free to register and allowed me to point it behind the scenes to any other website. I chose my free Geocities website, resulting in a website that looked decent at the time, combined with a very good domain name and free hosting. Even by today's standards, this was a sweet deal for a kid who did not have much money or experience with buying actual domain names and setting up hosting. My website was online for several years before being taken down, but I was glad to have had the experience of building my own website and the freedom it provided me.
Around 2005, when I was still in my teens, PHP was already around, but so was Macromedia Flash. I soon realized the potential Flash had in terms of creativity and embraced this new technology to build my next websites. Although it was mostly just snippets or elements of Flash used around my website, like headers, banners, buttons, and animations, I was inspired by the possibilities. My absolute heroes were the folks at 2Advanced, a design studio that had by far the most gorgeous-looking Flash websites. There were many others I followed at the time, but 2Advanced stood out the most.
So I decided to combine the power of PHP with my passion for creating websites by developing a new website that would allow people to send e-mails from and to whichever e-mail address they wanted. I named it Bluemail. The idea behind this was to give people the freedom to send e-mails without having to log in to their e-mail provider, which, most of the time, was their Hotmail account. The blue in Bluemail represented the freedom this provided.
However, as I delved deeper into the development of Bluemail, I soon discovered that this same freedom could potentially provide scammers with a way to send fake e-mails on behalf of someone else. This made me question the rightful existence of my website. Not sure what to do with it, I eventually announced that the website was no longer taking submissions due to the fear of abuse.
However, I did not let this discourage me. Instead, I saw this as an opportunity to explore other avenues of web development. The domain name, which I had bought during a sale for only 1 euro, turned out to be one that someone else wanted to own as well. I ended up selling the domain name for around 200 euros, which I found to be quite a profit. The thrill of having sold my first website, even if it was just the domain name, was a testament to how doing what you love can be rewarding.
I continued to work with PHP more and more and just two years later, the iPhone made its appearance, making Flash obsolete for unfair reasons, if you ask me. However, I did not let this stop me. Instead, I turned my attention to CSS 3 and HTML 5, which had just come out, and started exploring the possibilities there.
Soon enough, I learned to use PHP with a MySQL database and created a social network that allowed my fellow students to create profiles that listed their skills and experience. This platform allowed them to make new connections with others who had similar interests and skills. It was essentially a combination of LinkedIn, Facebook, and Dribbble. I was very proud to call this my first real social network, and I named it Cyaround.com, short for "see you around." I used this phrase a lot back then, so it stood to reason to use it for my website.
From that point on, I continued to make PHP applications using all the resources at my disposal. I created a web application that allowed users to enter their favorite topics and have the app curate news articles based on those interests, by leveraging the API (if you could call it that) of a popular Dutch news website. I called this app "Het Nieuws.nu" (translated "The News") and it turned out to be a small but effective app that I ended up using quite often, although I was probably the only one.
After that, I created a platform that allowed users to add products and services to have them reviewed by others in the form of pros and cons. I named this app "Voor-/Nadeel" (translated "Pro/Con"). This resulted in a green-red pie chart, consisting of the positive and negative share of any given product or service. Essentially this provided users with a quick way to see the quality of a subject just by looking at this simple graph. The interesting thing was that each pro and con could be voted up or down, making it more balanced and democratic as a result. It turned out that quite a lot of people were interested in this idea, but at some point, it just no longer attracted any new users and I decided to close down the website, unfortunately. However, my skills and experience with a website like as complex as this one did lead to a number of other business opportunities around that same time.
In 2012, while working part-time as a "webmaster" for a high-tech company that specialized in robotics, I redesigned their website as part of my thesis. The company and I had noticed how their website was filled with jargon and complex imagery that made it difficult for the average person to understand. So, I decided to investigate how I could simplify the website's formatting, design, and writing guidelines to make their content more accessible.
After graduating, I started my own company and shortly after was approached by a research group from Delft University of Technology to build their new website similar to the one I had designed before. Drawing inspiration from my previous work, I designed a website that was even better. This caught the attention of other research groups, who soon began asking for similar websites.
Several projects later, rather than reinventing the wheel every time, I decided to create a base template that could be used for any research website. I sold this design to several research groups as a license, but then had an even bigger idea. Why not create a generalized design theme powered by WordPress and distribute it through a centralized network, allowing any research group to create their own website in minutes, instead of going through the process of an entire design project.
I named this platform The Laboratory Network, or LabNet for short. To my pleasant surprise, users were able to use the design I had provided independently, and only a few people ever asked for my help. It was honestly the greatest implicit compliment I had ever received. It has been five years since I launched LabNet, and the service is still around today. Although I only have to check in from time to time to offer help, I am proud to have created a tool that has helped so many people create beautiful and functional websites easier and faster than before.
In the meantime, I haven't been sitting still, and I'm already thinking about a new application that could streamline the content management process even further (but more on that in a later blog post). Meanwhile I've been collaborating with a real estate firm to modernize their current intranet solutions and build related web services to meet their needs. Overall, this has been a great experience, and I'm committed to continuing to deliver new solutions in the future.
And that's where I'm sitting today. I'm now 32 years old, and I'm very proud to have witnessed the web mature along with me personally. It's been quite a ride so far, and I hope to keep pursuing my own personal goals for the foreseeable future. I'll definitely keep this blog updated with new things happening around me.
So, if you've made it to the end, well done! I'm truly honored you've taken the time to read this background piece about me, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it and looking back at some nostalgic moments of my life.