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Lego Enthusiasts Are Building Connections Online, Brick by Brick

Internet Guide

January 18, 2001|STEVE CARNEY | stevecarney@journalist.com

Lego enthusiasts say you can build almost anything with the beloved plastic bricks. And one Boston couple has proved just that over the last four years--they've built a worldwide community.

With their Web site, at http://www.lugnet.com (an abbreviation of Lego Users Group Network), Todd Lehman and Suzanne Rich have created the Internet's home base for Lego enthusiasts around the globe. The site features Lego news, chat rooms, links to aficionados' personal sites, photos of members' creations and even inventories of Lego pieces, listing all the various sets in which each is available.

"We figured somebody would inevitably do this. All these people are smart people and incredibly dedicated," said Rich, 30. "It was pretty obvious the amount of enthusiasm people have."

About 1,000 people visit the site every couple of days. About 600 from around the world have registered as members, and tens of thousands more are regular visitors, Rich said.

"It's great. It's satisfying. This is really what we hoped it would be," said Rich, who used to work for Lego as a freelancer making conceptual drawings in the company's Boston office. But the site isn't affiliated with the company--it is strictly by and for devotees of the bricks.

"We sort of like being unofficial. It makes the fans more comfortable. They can say what they want," Rich said. "It's sort of like the underground.

"A common thread is people tend to be interested in technical things and creative things," such as engineers or graphic designers who use computers. For example, Lehman, 33, is a computer programmer who now works at Boston University.

The site announces its broad appeal: "You are not alone! LUGNET is home to thousands of Lego fans of all ages. We are a community which never sleeps--and has been called 'the friendliest place on the Internet.' "

"It's really encouraging to see people out there doing the same thing," Rich said. "It's like having a peer group. If I was only building Lego in isolation, I don't think I would be doing it with the same kind of passion."

The appeal stems from the simplicity of the pieces and the complexity and variety of things that they can be used to create. Far advanced from the static square blocks and flat panels of decades ago, Lego now features programmable bricks that can be plugged into computers, and one set includes a digital video camera, Rich said.

"It's a beautiful system. It's intricate," she said of Lego. "In those ways it's not really a toy, it's a medium. It can be pretty addictive."

Lehman coded the LUGNET site in HTML himself, and Rich said she spends an average of 20 hours a week answering e-mail and adding content.

"We talked about making a site that would bring everybody's individual Lego sites together, and we could pool information," Rich said. "We really wanted it to be a network of user groups, so there are smaller communities within the community."

Those communities range from the Dutch user group (De Bouwsteen, which translates as "the Building Brick") to the Dixie user group (based in Georgia, its home page features the group's mascot, Bubba, a Lego figure in overalls exclaiming, "Hi, y'all"), and many more around the globe.

The site also features a massive ongoing project--a database of the thousands of types of Lego sets the company has ever sold.

"We get information from people all over the world. It's really a community project. And I've heard that people at the company, at Lego, do use it because I don't think they have anything like that," Rich said.

In addition, LUGNET links to a site of the week. "We never thought there would be another Lego site each week that would be worth highlighting, but there's been no shortage," Rich said. "It's amazing."

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Steve Carney is a freelance journalist.

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