Today GateWorld.net celebrates its twentieth birthday. Fully two decades ago the first bits and bytes of this site were uploaded to the Internets, beginning a journey that I and the rest of the team never could have foreseen.
Our little fan site has resulted in innumerable friendships, remarkable opportunities, and I think a rather unique place in the changing landscape of online entertainment and geek fandom. We’ve visited the sets of Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate Universe; interviewed nearly every cast member; and hosted fan dinners and live trivia competitions.
I’ve sat in creator Brad Wright’s office and contemplated the future of the franchise. I’ve talked religion and the Ori with executive producer Robert C. Cooper. I (evidently) had a character named after me. I’ve enjoyed one of those legendary dinners with Joseph Mallozzi and held the original film master of “Children of the Gods” inside the vault at Rainmaker Digital (Thanks, Bruce!), sat behind Michael Shanks at the crew screening of Stargate: Continuum, participated in a Comic-Con panel, and stood on the deck of the Destiny.
But at the top of my personal highlight reel, of course, are the many friendships I have made along the way. David and Chad and Adam. Jenny, Denise, Ibby, Diana, Tame, Lynley, Moriah, Sara, LuAnn, Jen, Lisa, Wendy, Sonia, Nora, Debbie, Angela, Sheona, Kieran, Richard, Paul, Barry, Sam, Taylor, and so many others. Stargate made common ground between us; GateWorld only provided a platform for us all to find one another.
As GateWorld celebrates this landmark I’d like to take a moment of personal privilege to reflect on our past, to talk about what I think the site still has to offer in a very different online ecosystem, and — most especially — to say some words of thanks to the people who made this site thrive for 20 years.
“You shall call me Nao’nak no longer …”
I had been watching Stargate SG-1 on Showtime for more than a year when it happened. I was newly married, and getting my wife up to speed on the SG-1 lore through reruns and Sci-Fi Friday’s newest episode. (We didn’t have streaming video back then, you see … or even Stargate DVDs!)
Twenty years ago today was the premiere of an episode that remains one of my all-time favorites: “Jolinar’s Memories,” the mid-season cliffhanger finale in the show’s third season. This was already an episode that dove deep into the lore: the growing threat of Sokar, Sam Carter using Tok’ra tech to dig into the memories left behind by the Tok’ra symbiote Jolinar, and the return of favorite characters like Martouf and Jacob. The episode expanded the mythology (Ne’tu!), showed each member of the team at their best, and then …
Apophis. Nao’nak is freaking Apophis, risen from the dead!
The episode’s final moment provided the jolt of energy that led to the site’s creation that same night. Here was a sci-fi show that was not only compelling, humorous, and exciting, with a stellar cast of characters, supporting players, and an expanding universe. Stargate was also a show that respected its audience and drew upon its own mythology. Past events were referenced; choices made a year earlier had consequences; and characters grew and learned from their experiences.
I started the site, at first, in an effort to chronicle the show’s mythology and analyze all the interconnecting plot threads. Which Goa’uld had what agenda? Who were the Ancients? How does a Stargate work? What kinds of technology was yet to be discovered? Surely there’s a Web site in there …
BUILDING (REPLICATOR) BLOCKS
The site grew by leaps and bounds over the next few years, expanding to news coverage, interviews and special features, an active forum, a comprehensive image gallery, and more. Later we added the Stargate Omnipedia (before wikis were a thing), streamed trailers and original video features that we produced in-house (before YouTube was much of a thing), and started a weekly podcast.
GateWorld was one of the Internet’s original “fan sites” — fitting, I think, since the Stargate feature film was the first movie ever to have an official Web site (created by Dean Devlin himself in 1994). This was a lifetime ago, in Internet terms. We browsed with Netscape Navigator, chatted on Usenet and Delphi, posted site updates by hand-coding HTML with Notepad and an FTP client. Blogging wasn’t a thing yet, and there were no point-and-click publishing interfaces. More people knew about Geocities than had heard of “Google.”
By 2004 SG-1‘s own cast and crew were reading the site, and the studio invited me to visit the set. This was an epic experience for a 28-year-old guy who had grown up receiving doses of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Battlestar Galactica intravenously. At The Bridge Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia I got to talk to the writers, interview the cast of Stargate Atlantis (ahead of the show’s July premiere), and watch scenes from “Avatar” and “Hide and Seek” being filmed.
Even more memorable that sunny April day was the great David Hewlett (“Rodney McKay”), who turned up in the lunch tent and chatted me up about Web development and coding. (I resisted the urge to tell him to “go suck a lemon.” Guy is too nice.)
I’d go back each spring for the next five years — truly a highlight of my career. We interviewed Joe Flanigan inside the Puddle Jumper; geeked out with Mitch Pileggi about becoming a starship captain; and loitered around the Atlantis set with a childhood icon, The Wonder Years and Star Trek: Voyager actor Robert Picardo.
So much has changed in the online world since October 1999. Other fan sites in our space have disappeared or gone dormant. Of course that’s no surprise: sprawling, content-heavy sites like these take a lot of work (and money) to maintain and keep online. And I admit that my passion for this work has flagged more than once (especially when there was no show to talk about).
Now we live in an era where it is incredibly easy to create a Web site, to post reviews or make videos, and to communicate directly with a show’s cast and crew. Ten years ago social media changed our landscape radically, as fans gravitated away from show-specific discussion forums — and creators no longer depended upon sites like ours to reach their viewers directly. We’ve had to adjust, and find new ways to serve the fans and the shows.
As superfans of the Stargate franchise we’ve tried to cover every show, every episode, every character, every news item as thoroughly as we can, in as many forms of media as we can. Of course that takes daily work — sweat and elbow grease, in addition to an abundance of time. For much of the past two decades, after I clocked off from work or came home from grad school, there was GateWorld. After I graded a stack of papers and then tucked my children into bed … it was GateWorld.
On the couch in the evening, a stray hour on Saturday afternoon. Tend the fire.
There has always been something to do — and always large and medium-sized projects left undone.
I’ve flown across the continent for the site, travelling to conventions not just to have fun but to cover them for people stuck at home. Friends who hung out and got to know one another at GateWorld Forum now met face-to-face for the con experience. And the annual GateWorld Dinner (Thanks, David!) let GateWorlders mingle with Stargate actors and crew while taking in donations for the B.C. Children’s Hospital and other charities.
Both the big adventures and the daily grind are fun for me … most of the time. But then 20 years is a long run, and the site has had its darker moments as well. Most people just don’t know about them.
GateWorld very nearly shut down on three separate occasions. Those are three very different stories I have never told publicly, and only a small handful of people know any one of them.
One was financial. Sites like this can easily outgrow their hosting providers when they really take off, and suddenly require more money to keep online than the ads are capable of generating. Early on GateWorld was very nearly strangled to death by its own traffic volume. (Please, support independent Web sites and content creators in the same way you patronize local small businesses.)
One was personal — a moment of heartache that I must leave vague. Needless to say, because the site is a hobby, it will only exist for as long as it is still fun. And for a short time, it wasn’t. I seriously considered yanking the plug and walking away.
The third occasion was legal. How can a site like GateWorld even be allowed to exist at all? A fan site dedicated to one and only one franchise lives entirely by the benevolence of the studio that actually owns the intellectual property. And a bit of miscommunication once threatened to end this endeavor entirely. Fortunately our track-record of credibility and professionalism in representing the Stargate brand prevailed in this instance.
Somehow, we’re still here.
IF YOU IMMEDIATELY KNOW THE CANDLELIGHT IS FIRE …
I bring all this up only to say that reaching 20 years is something of a minor miracle. Just the right factors had to come together, with the right people at the right time, to make a little fan site bring people together and last. And enough people have to stay invested in it over the long haul.
This just doesn’t happen in very many places (bear witness to the fact that most of the online entertainment outlets you read today are owned by corporations with stock holders and paid employees). The “fan site” doesn’t hold the place on the Internet that it once had.
This magical conflux happened here because of Stargate, and the quality of the people who fall in love with this show.
To me the history of this little fan site says a lot about MGM and the way it does business. The studio has proved to be an amazingly supportive group of folks to work with. MGM has not only tolerated but even valued a fan site — as well as the importance of it remaining independent. To be honest we’ve stepped in it once or twice (or three … or four times …). We’ve put our proverbial foot in our mouths, and we have frustrated folks we call friends.
And yet the site still remains an independent voice, made daily by fans and for fans, free from studio pressure to present a certain opinion, put on a happy face, or disperse the latest marketing message. (I know some readers find that hard to believe, given our historically sunny disposition with regard to the franchise, but it’s true. My background is in journalism, which left me with a healthy distaste for marketing spin.) We do things our way, and as long as it’s up to me we always will.
So I live in gratitude every day. GateWorld enters its third decade optimistic — about the community we serve, about the next generation of Stargate fans, and about making new opportunities for you to get involved and join our merry little family. And yes, optimistic about Stargate’s return to the small screen.
Or the big screen. Or both.
(… And make a video game, for cryin’ out loud!)
Before they play me off this stage, I’d like to say thank you to just a handful of people who helped GateWorld make it to 20, and who have made the site what it is. I wish I could properly thank every person by name, but the band is starting to play …
David Read came along as a youngling eager to deploy his enthusiasm and hone his skills. He was my partner on the site for at least a decade, during Stargate’s heyday. Between interviews and podcasts, videos and Omnipedia entries, his fingerprints are all over the site — even though he has since “graduated.” David is a real success story, the kind of thing you hope is possible in fandom: he grew into a professional here, and launched himself into a Stargate career. From Stargate Worlds to the Propworx auctions, now to working with MGM at Stargate Command, David has become a sort of ambassador for Stargate everywhere he goes. (But you knew him here first!)
Remember when I said that GateWorld nearly went offline in the early years because we couldn’t afford a server? Greg Macsok kept GateWorld alive. He’s an Australian Stargate fan who had a hosting company and a vision for the future, and he worked tirelessly to keep us online, secure, and up-to-date (and on a budget) for more than 15 years. You only see the front-end of the site; Greg runs the back-end.
Simply put: No Greg, no GateWorld. Hug your sysop.
Chad Colvin worked as an assistant editor and convention correspondent for many years, before moving on to actually represent many sci-fi actors in their convention appearances as an agent. I’m so proud of the nerd I met in an elevator in Chicago 15 years ago. Today the editor’s job is filled by Adam Barnard, who has also taken over David’s duties as co-host of the GateWorld Podcast. Adam is the next generation: he was literally a little kid when GateWorld was born, and today he’s bringing a fresh energy that proves to me just how much life is left in this fandom.
All the mods. Our forum launched circa 2001-ish (I think?), and with 57,000 members and more than 10 million posts it has required a small fleet of volunteer moderators to enforce the rules, help out members on the back end, and keep things running efficiently. Many of our friends in the forum have since moved on; several have since come back. And a core group of GateWorlders still post every week.
Our staff page lists all of our moderators, but I’m especially grateful to Denise (Skydiver) and Baggie (Bagpuss). This is probably the most thankless, daily grind of a volunteer job on a fan site, and they have managed the forum for years with tireless patience and good humor.
It’s hard to believe that Stargate Productions closed up shop at The Bridge Studios now some eight years ago. I still picture those offices and sound stages full and bustling with activity. But thank you to Brad and Rob, to Joe and Paul, Martin and Carl and Peter and Damian and Alan and Will and the other Martin, Ivon and BamBam, Mark, Bruce, Brigitte and Carol, and the actors for welcoming us into your workplace and treating us like family.
GateWorld has stood through multiple iterations of the official Stargate site, and in two decades we have seen many employees inside MGM come and go. But Jenny Stiven and Kieran Dickson have been real friends, who are as big of Stargate fans as the rest of us. They’ve managed to do what might be impossible someplace else: to embrace and support a fan site while also respecting (even at times internally insisting upon) its independence.
Many, many more people make GateWorld the community-driven site that it is. Writers like Callie and Sharon and Livi, and Gilles our visual artist. Morjana, we miss you! And today we’re welcoming new and wonderfully gifted contributors like Jacqueline, Sara, and Rachel.
Maybe you will be next?
DIAL IT UP
That’s the vision I want to cast for GateWorld’s third decade. I want this to be the era when we went from being a big site run by a handful of people to a community cultivated by Stargate fans everywhere. I want you not only to get news and other content from GateWorld, but to feel like you are a part of it. Let me know if you want to get involved, and use your passion and your talents to make something special.
Thank you. Thank you for visiting the site, setting a bookmark, posting a comment, joining the forum, listening to the podcast, following GateWorld on YouTube or Twitter or Facebook, passing along a news item, sending in a question for an actor interview, or saying hello at a convention.
Stargate brought us all together; but you made GateWorld a community.