Cornell College sophomore Derek Brooks has created an unusual but popular website based on his favorite hobby: soaping (an activity that loosely resembles inline skating without the skates). The site is so popular that it even drew the attention of the BBC recently.
Brooks, who has created several websites, learned all about designing websites in a first-year student course at Cornell College called "Computing Practice and Perspective". Taught by Professor Tony deLaubenfels, the course emphasizes student creativity and fun.
"We needed a topic, and so I just used soaping for my topic since I wanted to do something that I was into. As I learned something about webdesign, my page got bigger and bigger until right now it's the top "soap" site in the world. I also have the number one website at Cornell, "Brooks said.
What is it that attracts people to his site? Brooks believes that it's the interactive nature of his site. Visitors to the site can chat with each other about the latest trends in "soap shoes" or new moves; contribute photos or videotape clips of themselves performing a soap maneuver, submit articles, fill out surveys, or leave comments.
Brooks works part-time for Soap Shoes, one of the leading soap shoe distributors world-wide. He holds soap demonstrations on portable rails that he can slide and "grind" on. He also provides information on the latest shoes and previews upcoming styles for next year, conducts surveys, posts photos, and edits the video clips that come in.
"I feature a new picture on my site everyday and they'll send me a picture of themselves soaping through email." Brooks said. "It's something that they kind of compete for. They're proud once they get their feature picture on the website."
The site is updated once or twice a day and requires a fair amount of attention so it can remain current. Brooks said that he enjoys doing this kind of work, and just makes time for it.
His efforts are paying off. Both his "soap site" (brooksfsw.com) and his Cornell web page (cornell-iowa.edu/~d-brooks) are very popular websites.
The BBC contacted Brooks after they came accross his site while doing a search on freestyle walking (a sport that is not exactly the same as soaping, but quite similar). Brooks' site ranked as the top "soap" site, so a BBC reporter interviewed him for BBC 5-Live to learn more about the sport (visitors to his site can actually listen to the interview).
This is one things that deLaubenfels likes most about teaching the course: students keep working on their websites outside the classroom, and in some cases for years at a time.
"Just yesterday another student from the same class of a year and a half ago, mentioned that she'd gotten email from someone in Bora Bora about one of the presentations she made in the class that ended up on her webpage," said deLaubenfels. They said, "Oh I love your webpage," which features television shows from the 1980s.
Students are also encouraged to develop portfolios during their first year, and add to it as often as they like. Later a portfolio developed over the length of a college career can be shown to prospective employers.
Meanwhile, what will web wizard Brooks be up to next? He's looking forward to working with a friend on something completely different -- a clothing company site. They plan to sell clothes online to the under 21 set.