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DeviantArt Community Worries that New Corporate Overlords Will Ruin Everything

The internet’s clearinghouse for budding artists is under new ownership, but not all of its members are sold on the idea.

by Roisin Kiberd
Feb 24 2017, 6:15pm

If DeviantArt was owned by another company what would be the best company?

The question was posed over a decade ago on the DeviantArt forum. Answers ranged from the absurd (WAL*MART) to the dystopian (Skynet Systems) to the now tragically dated (MySpace).

The company that would go on to acquire DeviantArt was founded that same year, 2006. Yesterday, the social network for artists was acquired, for an impressive $36 million, by Wix, a DIY website design and hosting company based in Tel Aviv.

Reaction from the DeviantArt community has been mixed, to say the least. There's anti-Wix special edition copypasta. There are calls for an emergency protective satanic ritual ( never change, please, Deviant Artists...). Some users are already looking for alternatives, vacating the site for art networks Behance, Artstation and Pixiv, as well as plain old Instagram and Tumblr.

They remember the site as a friendly, non-judgmental place, indelibly linked with the 2000s "indie" boom when personal blogs, Etsy shops, Flickr and MySpace all loomed large.

In journal posts, users talk about storing their art elsewhere in case Wix starts using their work for commercial gain, or in case DeviantArt disappears from the web entirely. Others suggest placing large watermarks on everything, in case, suddenly, "ALL YOUR ART BELONG TO US" (that "us" being Wix).

But others are apathetic. Some are even thrilled. There's a consensus that change is good, and that, for DeviantArt, staying the same was never an option.

Outside DeviantArt, too, responses have been varied. A thread on Hacker News has commenters reminiscing about how DeviantArt introduced them to web design, sharing links to their embarrassing teenage portfolios, with one user even talking about how they met their wife there. They remember the site as a friendly, non-judgmental place, indelibly linked with the 2000s "indie" boom when personal blogs, Etsy shops, Flickr and MySpace all loomed large.

The response on Twitter has been decidedly tepid, with one one user noting: "Seeing all the old crowd barely mourn the sale of deviantArt just proves what a mess it had become." On Reddit users are shocked that it didn't go for more money, while others are using the occasion to complain about the influx of furries. Meanwhile on Tumblr there are only a few reactions: one expressing confidence in Wix, and one saying that, for DeviantArt, the end is very likely nigh.

Back on DeviantArt itself, in a blog post titled "With a Kindred Spirit," the company framed the acquisition as a "partnership" with Wix, and confronted head-on "the elephant in the room": DeviantArt's lack of funding. Though updated occasionally over its seventeen years online, the site has remained understaffed and largely, startlingly, the same. Exposure through Wix to a wider community, and to a bigger market (DeviantArt allows users to sell art prints, gifts and commissions), could be good for users, provided they retain rights over their work.

But will they? Many DeviantArt users are concerned with a specific sentence in a TechCrunch story about the acquisition:

Wix will open up DeviantArt's repository of art and creative community to the Wix platform, giving Wix's users access to that work to use in their own site building.

Perhaps they're worrying unnecessarily. DeviantArt staff have clarified, both in response to the Wix purchase, and in the past, that they do not sell users' works, and that the point of the company's Submission Policy is only to allow it to display work submitted to DeviantArt on the site itself. DeviantArt's vice president of marketing has personally reassured users that their art remains their own, and that they might provide opportunities for users to licence their work—but only if they want to—through Wix in future.

In 2012 Wix launched an adjacent app market, allowing developers to sell their applications to Wix site owners, with 30 percent of the revenue going to Wix and 70 percent to the creator. Earlier this year Wix also purchased Flok, a customer relationship management company, to add to its offerings. It seems likely DeviantArt will also integrate with Wix as a whole. This doesn't automatically mean Wix taking advantage of DeviantArt's users, though how it will recoup its $36 million remains to be explained.

DeviantArt endured for the better part of two decades by catering to a range of creative niches. But even among DeviantArt's most loyal users, there's a feeling that the site abandoned them some time ago, perhaps due to a lack of resources. New ownership, then, might give the site a new lease of life. Users are already fantasizing about the changes that might be made, like improving personal profile pages and the speed at which the website loads.

For now, the deviance remains.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Nir Zohar, Wix's President and Chief Operating Officer, said that it was DeviantArt's community that attracted him to the site: " Their brand is extremely strong. We have 100 million users but we don't have the same kind of community…"

The question remains: Is Wix prepared for everything that comes with that community? DeviantArt, as its name would imply, is home to bizarre, subversive, occasionally downright unsettling works. "Safe-for-work" pieces featured on the homepage sit side-by-side with heavily-sexualized Minecraft fan art, celebrity "vore" porn, and a veritable herd of fascist bronies. Will Wix address the site's seedier side? Will it– could it–sanitize DeviantArt?

Still, for now, the deviance remains. A search for "Sonic" on DeviantArt gives 1,873,375 results. "Sonic porn," naturally, has 3,374 results. And should you decide to try "Sonic pregnant," your options number 2,098. In the words of one forum user: " Maybe Wix is just into that sort of thing... Not that there's anything wrong with that. "