Sunday, March 12, 2006

From one hilltop to the world: the Phoons phenomenon

Am I amazed at the worldwide reach of phooning? Of course!

Consider the simple beginning of phooning. When I was 19 in 1980 and phooned for a photo while atop a glacier, I was definitely not thinking, "Hey, maybe I can someday get other people to do this, too!" No, I was merely being silly for a handful of family photos. I looked forward to Mom developing the photos after the summer trip so I could laugh at myself when we went through all of the photos. I had no intention of continuing to do that pose after the trip.

In contrast, consider where phooning is now. Complete strangers from around the world repeat my actions from childhood: they stand in a particular pose and take a photo, knowing that they are doing a pose called a Phoon and hoping that their photo will become part of the art piece known as People of different countries and languages use "phoon" on their web sites and blogs. People phoon for photos that they never send in to (even though they are brilliant photos and I wish they would!). See for yourself: on Google, search for "phoons" or "phooning" or "phooned"; try adding "blog" to a search to see how many people talk about it. And search for "phoon" or "phoons".

Am I amazed? Absolutely! How lucky and delighted I am that people go to amazing places around the world and take photos and send them to me for me and others to enjoy! Okay, occasionally, it is clear that someone just hopes to see himself on; he sends an uninteresting closeup of himself phooning in a room. But the majority of submissions now show that phooners are serious about this art. They "get it": they work hard to find interesting new locations and to do the pose right. They praise the best works of others, sometimes with a tone of competition. (Until this blog, you probably wouldn't have known that because I don't discuss it on the site and have not implemented a rating system--a topic worth its own blog entry.)

So how did I get from a phoon on a glacier to a web site devoted to thousands of Phoon photos from people around the world that may have nothing more in common that an interest in surprising each other with their new Phoons in new places?

In 1999, I was on an overnight business trip. I wandered around an upscale mall in Newport Beach, California. My silly poses from my summer trip nearly 20 years earlier came to mind, and I thought it would be fun to do that pose again. And that is when I took the Bloomingdale's photo that got me phooning again. Part of my motivation was this fairly new thing called the internet. I had been creating web pages for a few years and it sounded like a fun idea to scan those old photos from 1980 and put them on the internet with my new 1999 photo and then try to talk others into taking their own Phoon photos and sending them to me.

My goal at the beginning was not quality: it was quantity. My marketing effort consisted of spamming family and friends and of posting invitations on photography, humor and travel discussion boards, doing what I could to present this bizarre world of phooning as if it were something worth checking out.

Hey, thanks to Google for snatching up the old discussion groups! They still have a record of some of those early marketing activities.

From the alt.humor board:
From: jdemail

Date: Thurs, Jun 8 2000 12:00 am

In 1980, a friend and I named a particular pose the "Phoon" (essentially looks like a running person frozen in time). That summer, I snuck the Phoon into various family vacation photos. Since then, I've talked others into doing that pose for photos. Now I've got 76 pictures FROM AROUND THE WORLD.

See for yourself (don't's all clean):


And note how the marketing worked: someone out there was looking for the site and someone else knew where to find it.

From the board:

From: Mitch Goodman
Date: Tues, Jun 5 2001 12:43 pm

I saw a site mentioned here a while back.

It showed people on one leg getting ready to run away.

I was called phoosh, or whoosh or something like that.

Anyone know the address??


From: Will Kitajo
Date: Tues, Jun 5 2001 11:41 pm

Phoons. I couldn't find it in my bookmarks, but a quick Google search turned it up: . Looks like he's registered the name and will be moving his site over shortly.

Will K.

You can see that I originally did not have a "" site. At the beginning, I simply had an obscure subdirectory that increasingly consumed the 10 MB of web space that came with Dad's (no longer existing) web account:

The biggest boost early on was definitely from Yahoo. I had submitted my website for inclusion in their Humor category. To my delight, the editors added it within a few weeks and even honored it with a Pick of the Week nomination and icon. (It is still there in the "short list" today. Pretty cool!) Picks of the Week were included in online newsletters that Yahoo emailed to subscribers around the world, instantly bringing a new worldwide audience to, especially since some of the recipients were other online services who passed on "new sites of interest" to their customers. I was increasingly receiving photos from around the world from people whom I had never met.

What an amazing thing to observe. The internet makes all the difference, bringing together people who share an interest in the simple fun of contributing and making others smile through a silly pose inserted in their photo, thus tying all photos together. All that started with a photo of a somewhat rebellious youngster atop a glacier in 1980 and my interest in 1999 in getting other people to likewise join in the rebellion. "Finally, a good reason to overcome your fears and appear in your travel photos again!"

It wasn't until 2003 that I made a key shift in my strategy: my goal was no longer quantity but quality, marking the next growth phase for And that is most definitely worth a blog entry of its own.


At 9:36 PM, March 12, 2006, Blogger Doris said...

There, you finally admitted your rebellion. You'll feel better now.
I do. Love, Mom

At 4:56 PM, April 08, 2006, Blogger Cheryl said...

Doris & John,
The more I read your blogs, the more I realize how lucky I was to "find" you one warm summer evening almost a year ago.

Thanks for adding humor and friendship to my life!

P.S. Loved the Doris in the green mesh "cap" story.


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