How TONMO came to be - Part 1 of 2
by, Nov 28, '10 at 1:46pm (7292 Views)
When a Web community has lived as long as we have (TONMO was founded in May 2000), it has a story to tell. Actually, we have a few stories to tell, but I will start here with the story of how TONMO came to be. I get a lot of questions about this, and the Site FAQ just doesn't tell the full story.
Somewhere in the mid-90’s, just a couple years after I graduated from college and early in my career in online services, I decided I wanted to read a book. I wanted to study something that I was interested in, but didn’t know what to choose… but I did have a lead. My wife and I honeymooned in Maui, and during our stay I picked out a book on humpback whales to bring home. I read it and re-read it, and for a couple of years I had a lot of conversations with my wife and friends about the wonders of the ocean, and amazing humpback behaviors.
So, sticking with the theme, I decided to get a copy of Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis. I still heartily recommend it. The chapters on octopuses and squid capture the mystique and splendor of these amazing creatures and their habitat. After reading that book, my imagination was all the more sparked about the wonders of the ocean and the creatures within it – and to think of their intelligence!
Meanwhile, I was continuing my career in online services. I was a Bulletin Board Leader for Prodigy Services in the early-to-mid 90’s, and learned a lot about fostering online discussions for people with common interests. As the Board Leader, I would manage a staff of Moderators and Special Contributors to add value to the community. The boards I ran included Genealogy, Trading Cards, and Science & Environment. In this role I was the public “face” of the community, and would moderate discussions and ensure our boards were lively and remained on-topic. (Eventually I went on to join iVillage.com managing their own interactive services, and today work for Comcast.)
Being in the online services industry and having experience managing communities, it was well within my interests to study the technology and platforms that delivered those capabilities. I had a few Web pages (my first was a page on an Ohio State server about quitting smoking – this was probably 1993 or 1994, right around the time Web browsers were just coming of age), and so I developed a hobby of playing with HTML and publishing content on the Web.
After hosting many Web pages on various topics on various servers, in 1998 I finally secured my own domain: www.tonmo.com – where “tonmo” is a portmanteau (huh?) of my name, Tony Morelli, and had been my “cyber name” (username across many sites) for quite some time. I sub-titled it “The Leading Provider of Wasted Time Online” and would update it every few days with a blurb, or a Web cam pic. It was pretty Facebooky and blog-like, but at the time we mostly referred to them as online journals. I’d write a short entry for what I had for dinner the night before, or a movie I just watched, and some pithy, witty comment to go along with it. A couple of entries even dealt with my interest in sea creatures and squid.
Within my career, by this time I was studying search engine optimization and the power they held in attracting “eyeballs” to your content – and the fact that you could sell ads against those eyeballs. It turned out that people were starting to make quite a lot of money building Websites.
While my mom thought my Website was great, I was beginning to realize it wasn’t very marketable (I suppose that would have been a good time to think about starting a Facebook-like service that would connect people together privately, but here we are). I wanted to keep the TONMO.com domain, but what to do with it? I needed a subject, something to market, so that I could try to do well in search engine placement, and serve the interests of many, not just the people who know me and might be slightly curious about my journaling.
So, I figured I needed to turn TONMO into a meaningful acronym that would cover a "marketable" topic -- that is, marketable in the sense of uniting people in a common interest that could be discussed and explored online. I probably brainstormed for about a week - one idea that I’ll always remember and almost stuck was “The Ontology News Magazine Online”. I thought I’d study the topic and build a site around it. I went as far as to create one HTML page to set the framework for this site, but thankfully it ended there.
It was probably that same day where I talked with my wife Tania, and explained that I wasn’t sure that ontology was the right topic for me to build a site around. I had resolved that it should be "The Something News Magazine Online", and I needed a word that starts with "O". I remember I was sitting in my computer chair, and she was standing next to me – “hmm – how about octopus? You like octopus.” Indeed, I was constantly bending her ear about the things I learned in Monsters of the Sea. Not sure why I didn’t think of it, but I do credit Tania. I even had a conversation with her about my frustration of not being able to find any news story online about a recent stranded giant squid in New Zealand. In retrospect, it’s funny to reflect on how hard I was trying to come up with a winning idea when that very idea was sitting on my shoulders and punching me on the head.
In part 2, I’ll cover the beginnings of TONMO as a cephalopod interest site, and the role that Dr. James Wood played in the inception of TONMO.