Cathie Walker: "Queen of the Internet"
week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with the
multi-talented and award winning technologist, Internet entrepreneur, writer,
creative director, producer, marketing/promotion authority, and humourist,
is the founder and owner of SillyGirl Productions (www.sillygirl.com) which is involved in
web site design, creative direction, marketing, and promotion services, and she
is founder of SillyBuddies.com, an
interactive humour community. Together with being a member of the International
Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, Cathie is an online entertainment
producer for Intermix Media, Inc. L.A. and has just begun teaching
part-time at the college level.
celebrated work has been referenced innumerable times including by:
Entertainment Weekly, National Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, ZDNet, New
York Times, CNN, Fast Company, MacHome, Seattle Times, Victoria Times Colonist,
The Oregonian, The Guardian (UK), …
Cathie’s many career highlights, some of the most notable include:
- Named “Queen of the Internet” by the New York
- Winner, DEVA Award 2003, awarded by DigitalEve
Victoria for dedication to the advancement of women in the fields of New Media
and Information Technology
- Founded Amused.com
in 1995, which became an immensely popular entertainment destination; finally
sold to NY-based Uproar, Inc.
in “Thriving in 24/7: Six Strategies for Taming the New World of Work”, by
- Invited speaker, Netpreneur Conference,
Denver, 2001 - Online Community
- Listed in “50 International Names to Know”,
Online Journalism Review
- Webby Awards nominating judge, humour division
Cathie, you have a remarkable background as an Internet pioneer and innovator.
With your tight schedule, we appreciate the time you are taking to do this
interview. Thank you!
A: My pleasure!
worked as a secretary at the University of Victoria for 20 years. Having a penchant
for the Internet, technology, and humour, you started Amused.com, a portal or
“center for the easily amused”, in 1995. You sold Amused to Uproar.com out of
New York in 1997. So, you stay on, receive a chauffeured limo every time you go
to HQ in NYC and receive offers from Yahoo and Lycos. Comment on those times
and how you managed it all. From that incredible journey, describe your top
five challenges and how you resolved them?
A: Comment: I
the Centre for the Easily Amused in
July of 1995. After seeing Mosaic,
the original Web browser in action, I was dying to get involved in the Internet
somehow, and so I purchased the one book on HTML that I could find, (Laura
Lemay’s Teach Yourself HTML in 7 days),
and started in the middle (following directions is not my style).
set myself up with a challenge to create something that would be useful rather
than the boring, 'This is me, this is my dog' personal pages that seemed to be
the norm. As there was not a central resource page to highlight other
high-quality humor and entertainment sites, that became my goal. When I completed the site, I submitted it to
Yahoo, Lycos, Netscape and a few of
the other search engines that existed at the time. The C*E*A, as I nicknamed
it, was featured by Netscape's 'What's New' in its first 2 weeks, boosting the
site's traffic so much that my ISP had to upgrade their servers.
years after that I was working on the site for five hours a day on top of a day
job and was getting burned out. For
somebody running a humour site I was pretty cranky sometimes. It was a dream come true to sell my creation,
quit my job, and get paid to do what I loved. While the sale of the site was nice, I would have sold it for $10 –
changing my life was much more valuable to me. While my original goal was to create a central resource directory for
humor and entertainment sites, the site gradually evolved into a popular online
community with original material. It was really a whirlwind, and I
felt like Cinderella a lot of the time. Here I was self-taught, giving advice in
New York to 25-year-old start-up CEOs
fresh out of business school. One thing
that they all said was that I “got it” from the user’s perspective, and
intuitively knew how to build online communities and create site
stickiness. It was a total lifestyle
change, and it was wonderful to be acknowledged for what came so easily to me.
1) Leaving 20 years of seniority & benefits
for the internet, which in 1997 seemed insane to a lot of people. Just to be on the safe side, I took a year’s
leave of absence, but after 3 days of working at home in my pajamas I knew I
could never go back.
2) Building and managing an international team
who had never met each other (or me!) in person. I created my own management style, giving
everybody a lot of creative freedom.
3) Maintaining balance in my life. When you love what you work at it’s hard to
take time off, especially when working from home. I’m getting better at that, but it’s still a
4) Keeping abreast of trends and
technology. I’ve finally accepted that I
don’t have to know everything, and that I should stick to what I’m best at.
5) Saying no. From featuring up-and-coming artists on Amused to giving free business
advice, I’ve always considered myself a champion of other artists. I love to help others, and it kills me to say
no, that I really need some down-time.
upon your work with SillyGirl Productions and Intermix Media; if you were to
mentor others for success, what experiences would you share with them?
A: I think it’s important that you know your audience and ask for
feedback (and act on it) whenever possible. When running
Centre for the Easily Amused I read every piece of fan mail, and actively
listened to the site's visitors so they actually helped shape its future. I was also a partner in ForkInTheHead, a site
that allowed users to send feedback to the creators of flawed sites, while
providing resources on how to improve them. I’m also a firm believer in following your passion and that you have to
really love what you’re doing.
do you see your operations evolving in the medium and long term? Say five and
ten years into the future? What processes will you use?
A: To be honest, I have no idea. My life and the internet have changed so much
over the past 10 years that I couldn’t even begin to guess what things will be
like a year from now. For instance, I
have recently begun teaching writing for the web and something I call ‘the
psychology of the user experience’ at the college level. I really love teaching, so this is another
career path I’m exploring. I still
haven’t figured out what I’m going to be when I grow up.
Levien, co-author of the keystone/business ecosystem model talks about sharing
value for the benefit of all [Ed note: interview in Feb 2005]. Others [such as
your friend Sheri] have described you in this way. How and why do you express
this in your interpersonal and business dealings?
A: When I was commuting to New York it was assumed that all
Canadians were like me … I was definitely in the minority. It’s just part of my nature to want to help
others and work as a team. I figure
everybody benefits in the end, and I am a big believer in karma points.
are involved in more than 10 advisory boards, panels, committees, and community
groups. Select two at random for commentary
(why, value, how).
I’m proud of founding Cybersuds, a new media networking group. I was feeling isolated working from home in
1999 and sought out other local professionals in the same position. This casual group has grown to almost 200
members and resulted in several creative and business partnerships.
DigitalEve is an international organization for women in the field of new media
and IT. I’m on the steering committee of
the local chapter, as education liaison and contributor to the national site. I think it’s important for women especially
to network with others in their field.
ten attributes contribute to Internet business success? Why?
Knowing your audience.
being afraid to change direction at the drop of a hat.
being in it just for the money.
Knowing your audience.
taking it too seriously. If you don’t
like what you’re doing, then do it differently!
leadership and a solid goal/vision.
Asking for feedback, and acting on it.
Having your personality shine through.
did I mention knowing your audience?
are involved in the CIPS-DigitalEve initiative that involves speaking to girls
about careers in technology. Can you detail this program and relate one story
from a past engagement?
go-gURL:// (formerly "IT's Not What You Think") program was created
in 2003 in reaction to the decreasing number of females enrolling in
post-secondary studies in the area of technology. Statistics showed that female
students had little interest in pursuing a career in IT due to some inaccurate
stereotypes including "a career in IT meant sitting behind a desk all day
programming". To dispel the stereotypes and to help increase enrollment,
it was decided that female high-school students needed to hear about
opportunities in the IT area from women who were already in IT careers. I’m one of the volunteer speakers. We speak to middle school students, usually
grade 9, where the girls are choosing their future courses. This casual format allows 3 speakers to share
their personal stories on how their career path came to involve IT, and details
various IT jobs that the girls may not know about. UVic’s Coordinator for Women in Computer
Science has taken an active role in this program, so information about
university-level education is also covered.
recently spoke at an alternative school, where the girls were very responsive. They definitely had the idea that jobs in IT
were boring, or that you needed a university degree; something they felt was
out of their reach. In the hour that we
spent with them the girls asked thought-provoking questions and were very
interested in exploring new options. I
figure if I can save one girl from working at Blockbuster for the rest of her
life I’ve done my duty!
is where we turn it around. Pick five topic areas of your choosing and provide
1: What would people be surprised to
know about you?
pop culture and have almost 200 Pez dispensers on shelves in my home office.
2: Mac or Windows?
3: What do you do to relax?
sitting in coffee shops making sarcastic comments with friends, and have a new
puppy who has taken over my life. I’m
also taking poi spinning classes with a goal of performing with fire.
4: Where would you rather be right
beach in Varadero. I was just there in
February and can’t wait to go back.
5: Where can we find your personal
head, because I haven’t found the time yet to create one!
are also the Queen of Humour. Please share with us your top three stories.
not one to tell jokes, but I do love to pass on silly web sites…
1) I am
a long-time Wing fan. How can I not love
somebody who is a worse singer than I am? Scroll down and click on
"Dancing Queen" … a sign of the Apocolypse.
Hamsters in Hats. I hope they lock me up if I ever do this:
Engrish. Engrish can be simply defined as the humorous English mistakes that
appear in Japanese advertising and product design.
Cathie, you have an amazing history of successes. We thank you for sharing your
deep insights, experiences, and accumulated wisdom with our audience.
you for asking, and for coming up with such great questions.