By Alex Rendon
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South Floridians have a natural facility for many things: elevating flip-flops into fashion items, marketing sunshine to French Canadian tourists, subsisting on chicken wings and light beer. One area we haven't mastered, though, is this crazy Internet thing. Somehow, South Florida flush with an emerging cultural identity, numerous media outlets, and eager Generation Nexters has hardly registered pit-stop status on the info superhighway.
That's not to say we don't surf the web as readily as we surf the break at Charley's Crab. But locals are certainly more inclined to do one than the other, and for that reason, our homegrown web presence has never seen its day in the sun.
Thanks to a few young, enterprising netheads, that situation is changing.
First thing any hip, outgoing tourist type does when she hits town is go online to find out what's happening. Google "South Florida nightlife" and the first couple of results aren't terrible, but they're tacky-looking sites hobbled by poor navigation, broken links, and incomplete information. "South Florida music" yields similarly disappointing results, overgeneralized, underedgy portals rather than all-in-one destinations. Where's a go-getter to go to find out who's playing acoustic rock in West Palm tonight? Who's spinning drum 'n' bass in Delray? Where's the best Thursday-night dance party in Broward?
The best bet on the net, for starters, at least, has long been the Honey Comb(www.thehoneycomb.com). Launched by Steve Rullman in 1999, the site is the original South Florida entertainment destination. Still mostly self-funded, it's been going strong for seven years thanks to Rullman's dedication to providing as much quality information on as many quality happenings as possible. It's not perfect, but there's a good reason Rullman hasn't gotten the site to where he wants it: "Because it's a pain in the ass and it takes a lot of time and you don't really see a lot of rewards," he says. "I've seen a lot of sites like mine come and go over the years, but for whatever reason, people don't stick with it. A lot of people that start these sites are younger, so they probably get real jobs."
One newcomer is 24-year-old Matt Reininger, founder of Miami Music Guide (www.miamimusicguide.com), which just launched in March. Fresh out of Emery University in Atlanta, the Miami native saw a void in his hometown's entertainment scene and decided to fill it. "People have been thanking me, saying we've needed something like this down here forever, that all they can rely on to find out what's happening is fliers pasted to their cars," Reininger says. "Or MySpace, a totally unorganized way to find out what's going on."
As Reininger admits, the idea isn't new, but it is obvious. "No one has done that here? Come on!" he recalls thinking before launching the site. "It was a shock to me. I was like, 'I wanna get MiamiMusicGuide.com,' and it was there. I was like, this is a sign that it has to be done." What he's done, along with programmer Robert Dyson, is create a slick-looking, smooth-functioning, all-in-one online resource for music events in Miami and Miami Beach. "I'm limiting myself geographicaly because I know those areas well and I know the people in them," he says. "There's tons of stuff happening in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale too much to cover right now, so I'm just focusing on Miami for my own sanity."
Like Rullman, Reininger is working out of pocket, with plans to bring in advertising revenue. "I just gave up my job as a teacher to do this full time," he says. "Eventually, I'm hoping that we'll have enough advertisers interested that I'll be able to keep as motivated and current as I am now once I have money coming in." And like the Honey Comb, Miami Music Guide is more about advancing the scene than making a quick buck. "My motto is 'Evolution really is revolution,'" Reininger says. "The betterment of South Florida is really important to me."
Boca-based entrepreneur Jay Flanzbaum is looking out for the betterment of the music industry as a whole. The 30-something New England transplant has been involved in both the biz side and the creative side, drumming in a funk-rock band in college and running a small, national booking agency for several years after graduation. When he moved to Florida in 2004, it was to fully immerse himself in Online Gigs (www.onlinegigs.com), the web application he launched in 2001 to automate the booking process for touring bands.
Now in its fourth version, Online Gigs is a powerful, streamlined site, and Flanzbaum has his pitch down pat: "Online Gigs starts with a directory of all the venues, colleges, festivals, and media contacts in the country. It's also a contact manager and organizer that automates the booking process. So a registered user a booking agent, a manager, a record company, a band can literally click one button that will take care of all the administrative end of things: contracts, updating websites, itineraries, directions, press releases, band reminders."
It's more industry-specific than other locally produced websites and therefore has the potential to revolutionize. The extensive contacts Flanzbaum made through years as a road warrior muso and independent booking agent give him a personal edge and insight into the booking process that's evidenced on his site. "For a while there, Online Gigs was hemorrhaging money," he says. "Now I've got 400 members nationally, booking well over 300 gigs a month. I wouldn't say it's taking off; it's bringing in dollars, but I spend all those dollars. I don't leave the house I work 12 hours a day every single day. But it's paying off enough that in a couple of years, if I keep doing what I'm doing and after I get all the bugs and kinks worked out, I'll do OK."
There's South Florida's web issues in a nutshell: working out the bugs and kinks. Thanks to these guys, it's looking like we'll do OK.
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