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ColourLovers. com brings fame to Lake Oswego man
Darius Monsef IV's site is up for a Webby award again
Thursday, April 24, 2008
This is a story about Darius the Great, the ancient Persian king, and his namesake: Darius Monsef IV, a prodigal son who returned home to Portland as a world citizen and the toast of the Internet universe.
Darius the Great was one of Persia's supreme builders, erecting Persepolis, the capital of Persia, 2,500 years ago.
Darius Monsef builds Web sites devoted to love.
Darius the Great expanded the Persian empire into the Indian subcontinent.
Darius Monsef dabbled in real estate in Arizona.
Darius the Great was an administrative genius, organizing a 20-province realm marked by justice and religious tolerance.
Darius Monsef created a way for tens of thousands of people worldwide to love one another.
Monsef, a 26-year-old Lake Oswego dreamer and college dropout, has conquered the world in ways the Persian king couldn't have imagined.
Monsef's 3-year-old Web site, ColourLovers. com, has brought more than 85,000 people together to find, rate, review -- "and love," Monsef adds -- colors. They have posted more than 1 million uniquely named colors (trouble breathing, wine on her lips), as well as nearly 350,000 color palettes and more than 80,000 color patterns. They've left more than half a million comments -- "love notes" -- for one another.
Visitors to the site include not only professionals such as graphic designers, fashion designers, interior designers and painters, but also hobbyists such as scrapbookers, quilters and homeowners looking for ideas. They can browse thousands of unique color combinations and patterns created by people who know color best.
Monsef built the site as a antidote to a boring color-theory class, replacing the yada-yada with lively debate modeled on the people-rating site HOTorNOT.com
Now, ColourLovers. com is one of five nominees for a Webby award in the community Web site category. It's the site's second consecutive nomination for what's called Oscar of the Internet. (See box for how to vote.)
Darius the Great was a reformer, fixing a broken legal system.
Monsef not only captured a community of color lovers, but he also simultaneously found a calling in traveling to disaster-flattened regions from Thailand to Mississippi to the Philippines to Ecuador, organizing volunteers for rebuilding efforts.
"It has become increasingly important in my life to be a global citizen," he reported on his ColourLovers. com blog just before Christmas 2006 from the Philippines, which was digging out from the destruction of Typhoon Durian.
"As a westerner," he wrote, "we are born and raised with such a US-Centric view of the world."
Break for tsunami
The son of an Iranian father and an American mother, Monsef was committed to hands-on global relief work after he and businessman David Campbell co-founded Hands On Disaster Response, an international disaster-response organization.
Monsef met Campbell in Thailand, where both had gone to work in the aftermath of the 2004 Sumatran tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people.
The tsunami hit 12 days after Monsef posted his first update of ColourLovers. com. Monsef dropped the Web work temporarily and found himself shoulder-to- the-wheel with Campbell, a longtime computer-industry executive and, at the time, a Tektronix board member.
Campbell says he volunteered because he felt an Internet connection could give the outside world a window into the recovery efforts and enable the region to send requests for supplies, volunteers and donations.
"I had a belief that the Internet could make a difference immediately, " says Campbell, who's just back from Bangladesh, where a cyclone killed more than 3,500 late last year.
When Campbell came to Portland in 2005 for a Tektronix board meeting, he and Monsef decided to create a permanent not-for-profit organization based on their experience. Campbell seeded it with his own money, and Monsef took over operations just as Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. Hands On managed 1,500 trained and untrained volunteers in Mississippi during the next five months.
Although Monsef spent last Christmas in Ecuador after an earthquake, he has scaled back his disaster-relief work as ColourLovers. com continues to grow. The site makes no profit, but Monsef draws a small salary from Hands On.
Readers spread love
The reasons for the site's popularity are many, users say. They love the community as a sounding board. They love others' work for inspiration. They love the site for research and trends. They love that it feeds their color addictions.
They love it for its love.
"Every time you log on, there's a little note from someone somewhere across the globe telling you how fabulous your palette is," says James Sitzer, 33, a Portland designer and painter.
Like many ColourLovers. com members, Portlander Sarah Doody, who works as a marketing and creative strategist for a New York firm, likes the ability to interact with other "lovers."
"Sometimes I catch myself or my colleagues getting so immersed in a project that we need some fresh eyes to help steer us in the right direction," Doody said in an e-mail. "ColourLovers provides just that. I can post a swatch or palette, and within minutes, I can have feedback from thousands of people who actually care about color."
Portland painter Cynthia Mosser uses the site to play, among other things.
"I use ColourLovers as a form of 'colortainment, ' " says Mosser, 38, a foundation instructor at the Art Institute of Portland. "I create my own palettes and turn them into patterns for fun. I also look for color choices other members create."
Color as therapy
Some users, such as Seattlite Rachel Bachman, use ColourLovers. com to feed their color obsession. How?
"One big way is to unwind and wake up," says Bachman, 42, a freelance animator, multimedia designer and art director. "It is often the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do in the evening."
Although Monsef loves color, he also views the site as a way for people to share passions and counteract the Web's anonymous hate-mongering tendencies.
He's not ruling out future ventures that have nothing to do with color or even Web sites. He'd love to be a fashion editor, for example.
Darius the Great's successors included Darius II and Darius III.
Monsef says he adopted the "IV" that follows his name in recognition of his place as the fourth child in his family. But it also signifies his ambition. So does changing Anthony, his middle name, to Alexander in honor of Alexander the Great, who vanquished Darius III in 333 B.C.
"I've found a home for now in the creative Web world," Monsef says. "But I want to make sure I keep looking."
Steve Woodward: 503-294-5134; stevewoodward@ news.oregonian. com