MIT C3on Most Popular Fan Communities

Over at the excellent MIT Convergence Culture Consortium blog, Sam Ford reports on trying to assess which ‘fan communities’ get the most hits. He notes:

Are all gathering places of fans to be called communities? It’s interesting to see what sites officially label themselves as a home for the fan community. Some are officially run sites for music performers, while other are fan tributes to them. Seeing which sites seem to be the top hits for a “fan community” search is quite illuminating. As my list has shown, not knowing the exact formula for how Google and Yahoo! comes up with what’s at the top of each search, is that certain groups appear to be awfully consistent as the most sought destinations for people looking to find a “fan community.” Instead of a generic definition page or something surrounding a television show–with the exception of the Firefly fans–it appears music dominates online usage of the term “fan community” within the media industry.

I find this particularly interesting given the discussion on here a while back about the use of the term “fandom.” I get the sense that Sam shares my own broad take on the term, given entries about fans of the US Postal Service, Pringles Potato Chips, and other sites pretty far from some of the fanfic communities’ more narrow take on the term. Though I might be wrong about that. (Sam?)

But I am not all that surprised to see music dominating the usage of the term (nor do I share the surprise at Franz Ferdinand topping the chart — having been squeezed shoulder to shoulder with masses of incredibly enthusiastic FF fans at a show not too long ago — a really wonderful fun show at that). Why not? Because unlike other forms of fandom, music fandom has been an organizing principle of social life for many people for a long time, from way before the internet. It’s been the case at least since the 1960s, and maybe since the 1950s, and maybe even before that, that you could make some reasoned guesses about whether music was important to a person, and, if so, what kind based purely on how someone dressed. Punk rock took this to an extreme as the goth rockers do now, but it’s not unique to them. I’ve long said that you can tell almost everything you need to know about a person by looking from the knees down, and musical taste is something not all that hard to glean from the cut of pant legs and shoe choice. When I was in high school and college (pre-net), my social groups were based entirely on musical preferences. Now there were plenty of people for whom musical choice didn’t play that role, but for people who were into music, it was, as it still is, germane to who we hung out with.

In contrast, I don’t think other forms of fandom have been incorporated so fully into our visual identity or our social groups. We may watch the shows our friends watch, maybe even read the books they do, but do people who are into TV shows choose their friends based on the tv shows they prefer? I’m sure some do, but I’m guessing that for people really into music, that is a bigger influence on friend choice than tv is for people into tv.

Sam also raises the question of the use of the term “community.” I love my friend Marc Smith‘s take on this — “community is a great term for marketing but a lousy term for thinking.” My research suggests that whether they are to be called communities or not depends more on who’s doing the labeling than on individual experiences of the spaces. In any one group there are members who experience it as community and others who don’t, and it’s not linked clearly to participation rate — highly active participants may reject that label while lurkers may think it fits quite well.

Apple iPhone

…because I am not immune to object lust (said she of the $20 pay-as-you-go mobile phone)

Signing up for 3 music networking sites

My mission for this year, foolish though I may be to take it on, is to explore as many of the music-based social networking sites as I can. I’ve been using for just over a year now and am relatively if not completely happy with it. Up until summer, they didn’t seem to have much competition at all, but now there are competitors cropping up like weeds in my Kansas garden (which would be the reason I gave up on growing vegetables and resorted to large semi-invasive perennial flowers).

As of now, I’ve signed up with three other services: iLike, Reverbnation, and MOG. Actually, come to think of it, I signed up with Pandora a while ago and now that it’s gone more social I’ll have to pop back in. So today I bring you first impressions:

iLike: Very sleek simple interface. I downloaded its “bundle” and it sucked up my complete iTunes listening history in no time. The result was an instant chart that was pretty interesting to compare to my chart since it had a few more years of data in it. It also came up with some relatively instant “people with similar taste” for me, which was nice. They weren’t great matches, but my taste is a weird enough amalgamation of things that I don’t expect great matches. I was more than a little turned off to find a provocative babe in my inbox welcoming me to the site since the staff blog pictures suggested an all-male staff. Going for the hormonal male crowd, I guess, which I am not. It’s got very cool YouTube integration, and nicely highlights where you can stream songs or sections of them. But it’s also somehow flat. It didn’t make me want to explore, it was just kind of there. And the iTunes sidebar you have to have in order for it to know what you’re playing felt invasive after a little while. It didn’t stay shut but reopened itself every time I reopened the iTunes window (even if I hadn’t quit iTunes) so I uninstalled it, which made the site considerably less useful.

MOG: Apparently this site has lots of buzz for being so social and, along with Reverbnation, it just won Mashable’s people’s choice award for music social networking site ( won the editors’ choice). I signed up about 10 hours ago and I hate it already. Why? Because I downloaded its “Mog-o-matic” plug-in that is supposed to tell it what I’ve got in my music library and TEN HOURS LATER it is still crunching away and is NOT YET HALF WAY THROUGH. I have 7500 songs in there. It’s big, but it’s not absurd. It seems to be checking each and every song against Gracenote. WHY? I’m too annoyed by this to comment on any of the other features right now (later, fear not). Plus it is slowing down my computer dramatically.

Reverbnation: I love the concept of this site with its focus on linking bands to fans in useful ways and giving money to artists. But you can only mark yourself as loving bands that have created their own presence there. Given that all the bands I love are long-since broken up or not on the site, this is rather a large barrier to entry. I can imagine that in the days of my total immersion in local music scenes and regional bands on national tours, it would have been a necessity, and I can see why the people who are loving it are loving it.

A potentially-relevant disclaimer is that I am working with, though providing PR and remaining mum about their competitors’ strengths are not among my duties. iLike seems to be a pretty straightforward competitor, MOG seems to be going for similar stuff, but highlighting finding new people via music rather than’s focus on finding new music via people. Reverbnation is doing its own thing, and seems least like a direct competitor of the three.

If you’re using any of these services, I’d love to hear your impressions.

Hitchhiking the Ze Frank way

The Register-Guard reports on an innovative twist on the ways online fan communities provide social support for one another. One of the Ze Frank fans in his online community needed a ride cross country. Now:

Instead of holding up a cardboard sign along some busy freeway, Vaughn is getting rides from fellow members of an online community centered on a vlog (video Web log) known as “The Show with Ze Frank“. He’s known as “RunningFool” or “HumanBaton,” the names given him on the Web pages that track his progress.

It started as a lark, a simple Internet request for a ride to Southern California for winter break. But it morphed, as things have a tendency to do on the Web, into something much different: a cross-country challenge in which fans of “The Show,” inexplicably known as Sports Racers and partial to rubber duckies, offer to pick him up at one location and drop him off at another, where he is picked up by the next volunteer link in the coast-to-coast chain.

Ze Frank, as I’ve written before, has a real knack for generating user participation, so I’m not surprised to see this emerge amongst his fans. Cool stuff.

Online music fans dig more music

A just released study by the Digital Media Association finds that “digital music consumers” report that they are more into music than they were before they started using the internet as a source of new tunes. I was interested to read that they not only find new artists (to be expected) but they also get into new genres. When I was working in a record store in the late 80s/early 90s, people were defined by The Genre they listened to. Grandmas would come in just before Christmas asking what “all the kids were listening to” so they could buy a gift for their grandsons (rarely granddaughters) and we’d be able to say “well, what kind of haircut does he have?” and make reasoned guesses from there. But then there was a lot of noise about the kids genre hopping, not binding themselves to any particular kind of sound. If the internet is spreading taste across genres even more, that’s an intruiging development. The survey also finds that online music consumers also drop 2-3 times the annual dollars on buying music that offline heavy consumers do.

Furthermore, using the net to listen to music:

has increased music fans’ overall music discussion with friends and co-workers, with more than 35 percent now talking about music more. And, more than 75 percent of online music consumers report they have recommended a particular service to a friend or co-worker.

So the internet is not just changing online listening habits and spending habits, it’s changing conversational habits. I love it!

This resonates completely with my own experience. After LIVING BREATHING music for so many years, after I stopped working at the record store, finished the PhD, became a prof, had kids, etc etc, music started slipping away. I just didn’t spend the time listening to it, and I just didn’t find as much new stuff that interested me. When I got my first iPod for Christmas, 2002, and digitized my CD collection, I found that just having it on my computer meant that I listened more since that was where my body was. Then I found that having the shuffle function meant that I HEARD my music for the first time in years. So much of it I’d listened to so many times that it went straight to subconscience when I listened, but with shuffle, each song’s juxtaposition with unexpected other songs made it new again. I started hearing things I’d never heard in songs I’d heard hundreds of times before. Then I started finding recommendations and buying records through Parasol Records. And then I got into, which re-energized my sense of self as a music fan and made me even more of a listener and music talker-abouter.

This is one slice of a big picture of what the internet does to fandom — give people a way to explore, to consume, to get creative (not discussed in this study), and to talk with one another and their engagement as fans is magnified. The more we can do with our fandom, the more we will.