Make Your Own Lost Pantry

A nice example of fans appropriating pop culture on the net: Over on the blog Insanely Great News, Lost fans have created PDF labels that replicate the food containers from the show and put them up to share with other Lost fans. As they say, while preparing for a Lost party:

… we realized that normal food wasn’t gonna cut it tonight. We wanted to eat like Hurley and drink like Desmond, and thus was born the Lost Label Project – an effort to make our pantry look way more like this.


And because the best part of making something cool is sharing it, we created a downloadable Label-Maker kit. Just grab this PDF, print it out, tape it to some beer bottles, and drink to your hearts content. Change the words and turn everything you own into a Dharma ration!

The comments expressing gratitude, telling how they used the labels, and critiquing their choice of barcode, are a succinct demonstration of how fans use pop culture materials to serve one another and as material for play.

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A Brief Interlude of Fandom

Today I ran across a quote someone was using in her Last.fm ‘about me’ profile from Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs:

Songs are what I listen to, almost to the exclusion of everything else. I don’t listen to classical music or jazz very often, and when people ask me what music I like, I find it very difficult to reply, because they usually want names of people, and I can only give them song titles. And mostly all I have to say about these songs is that I love them, and want to sing along to them, and force other people to listen to them, and get cross when these other people don’t like them as much as I do…

… which really struck me because right now I am in the midst of a mad passionate sonic love affair with the eclectic collection of songs that is Radiola by The Fine Arts Showcase (aka Gustaf Kjellvander) and I just want to force you all to listen to those songs until you feel what I feel when you hear them. I will refer you to their Malmö, Sweden-based record label’s page for them, where you can stream their songs in glorious Last.fm stereo streams and admire the newly unveiled web design work of Slivka while you’re at it.

In an effort to have some content other than personifying this blog’s topic by using the internet to gush effusively about how you All Need To Hear This Record Now, I will point out my irritation that their own website is totally lame — it has very little information or content, calls a “guestbook” a “forum” and, worst of all, refers you to a MySpace page, where there’s more content and a b-side can be streamed (ok, but why not let us stream it on your own site?). At least the official site gives his email address (would he write back?). I understand the need to have a MySpace presence, but it shouldn’t be any musician’s primary internet presence. The site under your own domain name should have at least as much to offer. Gustaf, I’m yours, don’t send me to MySpace.

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Virb’s Slick First Impression

In my ongoing quest to explore music social networking sites, I spent some time over the weekend playing with Virb, which is yet another forthcoming MySpace killer social network that’s right now in an invitation-only beta. It’s somewhat music focussed — musicians and labels can create accounts and upload their music, it has a download plugin that logs iTunes listens and calculates top song, artist, album charts and can show real time listens. It has no streaming music except what bands upload, which leaves them wanting in comparison to sites like Last.fm, MOG, and iLike. It’s Virbtunes plugin only tracks iTunes listens, not those using any other players or mp3 players which is also a major shortcoming, but it is blissfully invisible.

But Virb’s not meant to be a full service music site (the same company’s site PureVolume strives for that) and it does way better than any of the music sites I’ve seen at integrating blogging, video posting and picture posting. It also has a module-based design that they make very easy to customize — you can turn modules on and off, choose what their titles are, move them around, and mess with the color scheme to your heart’s content and still have a hard time making it ugly. It’s a nice format for a flexible range of self presentations, you can really choose what to emphasize about yourself. If you’re css-literate, you can muck with your code, and there are some really nice looking pages on there (and some that are, shall we say, less successful in their creative expression). Textonic has a good overview with screen shots. Mashable’s take:

Virb is what MySpace would be like if it actually worked: a nice design, simple and intuitive navigation and just as much (perhaps even more) customization – not only can you edit all your profile’s colors and fonts in the basic view, but advanced users can edit the css and html, as well as building custom modules (basically snippets of html that make it easier to organize the various items on your page). There’s photo sharing too, of course, plus video-sharing, tagging, groups, comments, messaging and all the other standard features. Coming from the makers of PureVolume, there’s also a strong musical element: a download called Virbtunes works like MOG or Last.fm, tracking the music you listen to in iTunes and making recommendations. And just like on MySpace, bands also have special pages from which you can grab tracks to populate a player on your own profile.

As most of the beta testers have pointed out, it’s pretty impressive. There’s certainly some ill-will towards MySpace in the design and developer communities, and there’s already a buzz generating around the product that’s similar to the niche brand-power of 37Signals. There’s clearly no chance that the majority of MySpacers will switch, but the real question is whether Virb can roll out in time before the users go elsewhere.

I started a group (“Scandinavia!”), which attracted 2 members from Iceland who I didn’t know plus Avi (who invited me) joined it. I found one person I know offline on there and one I used to know. My initial sense is that unless you were invited into or used your invitations to import a social network you already built elsewhere, there is not enough going on there to make it super sticky yet, so I agree with Mashable that the roll out time is a key issue.

It gets me thinking about all kind of questions:

What is the upper limit in how many online social network sites a person can actively maintain a presence? You can craft an identity and refer people to other places on multiple social network sites, but there’s a cap on how many you can really spend time engaging.

Given that, and given that there are now hundreds if not thousands of social network sites to choose from, what makes people choose to invest in the sites that they do?

Is there a balance of specialized and niche sites in the portfolio of one’s online self?

What are the different strategies people use in choosing these sites to craft just the right multifaceted identity?

How and to what extent do those strategies and self presentations incorporate and rely on our fandom for music, for specific bands, for sports, tv, movies, sneakers, wine… ?

And what about the grownups?

Any thoughts on this from personal experience, things you’ve read, conversations you’ve had, studies you’ve done, etc welcomed. I’ve come to learn lately that there are more interesting people lurking on this blog than I knew, so tell us what you think.

Also, I have some Virb invitations left if you want to explore.

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From Barbaro Fandom to Political Activism

You may have heard about the online websites that sprang up around beloved racehorse Barbaro. Delaware Online recently posted a profile of Alex Brown, the man charged with providing continuous online updates about Barbaro’s condition:

Since May 2006, Brown also has overseen the popular Tim Woolley Web site, www.Timwoolleyracing.com. It was started to keep fans updated on the progress of Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro after he shattered his leg in the Preakness. Barbaro’s fight for life ended last month when he was euthanized at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa.

One might wonder what happens to a community born of a shared concern after the object of that concern is gone. The answer so far seems to be that it goes on:

“After Barbaro was hurt, I was on the Web site five hours a day,” Brown said. “We created the Web site for you, the public. We did updates, even blogged about things that might be happening. When Barbaro first passed, the traffic went up considerably. It’s gone down a good bit, but we still average about 8,000 to 9,000 hits a day.”

What keeps it going? As this article spins it anyway, it’s shared commitment to the shared political cause of eliminating horse slaughter in the US:

Brown said the Web site remains popular because of a recently formed group of people around the country known as “Fans of Barbaro.” They continue to spread the word about the slaughter of horses in the United States and the anti-slaughter bill currently before Congress. Human consumption of horsemeat is rare among U.S. residents, but is an accepted practice in some countries.

“The fans of Barbaro are growing and growing,” Brown said. “We are hosting this group on our Web site. These people have become active on a variety of horse issues. They encourage each other to lobby their representatives and senators on the anti-horse slaughter bill. Just this week, they raised $3,500 in 24 hours on the Web site to save six horses and a mule.”

Fandom launches shared practices that go way beyond fandom. This is a good example of an online community spurring offline civic engagement and, I would bet, spurring new opportunities for offline interaction with one another and with new people as well. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many people still think of online community in opposition to offline community and worry that people who spend time doing things like hanging out in a website for a horse who has passed are passing up some kind of rich meaningful face-to-face interaction that they would be having if they logged off. John Robinson and colleauges have studied how people spend their time for several decades. The only really big differences they find between people who spend time on the internet and people who don’t is that net users sleep a lot less.

Update note: This post is generating a lot of traffic from TimWooleyRacing.com — Welcome! This blog (Online Fandom) watches trends in how fans, industries, artists, and sometimes horses, are relating to one another in new ways using the internet.  Click on the header up there to browse around and explore some other interesting fan phenomena.

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More on Feevy

I’ve been affectionately challenged to put the feevy feed on the front page and see what happens and, in the spirit of yesterday’s post about Rick Rubin’s exhortations to keep an open mind, I’ve put them up on the sidebar. I know they don’t line up quite right, my sidebar is a wee bit too skinny for them, but other than that, play along and give some feedback — cool? gets you reading stuff you didn’t plan to? distracting? makes the site way more social? jeez Nancy, who let all those other authors in? What do you think?

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