Twitter Fans Unite!

The ever-articulate and insightful Fred Stutzman has written a nice definitive Twitter guide that may be useful to those of you not sure what the buzz is about or looking for a way to explain your new addiction to others. I had written a few weeks ago about Twitter’s potential application as a way for celebrities and artists to connect with fans. That seems a little slow on the uptake, though there are (a very few) famous twitterers to be found. In the meantime, though, not content to wait for a celebrity to create fandom around, Twitter lovers have gone and created Twitter fandom, the first real result of which is probably the Twitter Fan Wiki, which I found via Fred’s article.

The Twitter fans say:

Since the Twitter folks hadn’t put up a wiki yet, it seemed like a good idea to get one going out of the community.

Lately there’s been a bunch of scripts and other cool ideas pushed forward and it’s finally time that we had a place to bring them all together.

Twitter doesn’t do much for me, but this fan wiki is a lot of fun anyway. I got a particular kick out of the “fakers” link, which lists all the technologists (e.g. Steve Jobs), politicians (Bill Clinton), celebrities (Paris, Nicole, Britney,…), and, other categories of individuals who appear to be on Twitter but who aren’t who they claim to be. The list includes a lot of “fictional characters” which goes to show, as ever, that fan-identification will rear its head wherever fans can read heads. Though I’m a little bummed if it’s true that Santa Clause’s twitter posts aren’t really Santa’s. What’ll I tell the kids?

This fan wiki is more useful than the Flickr fan photo group I wrote about here, but it shows the same basic phenomenon where there’s a web2 app that (some) people get so excited about they start acting more like fans than users. Movie stars, rock bands, tv shows, web 2 apps… wait, who let that last one on the list of valid objects of fandom?

I am sure there were some who were really into earlier internet applications, and certainly Apple has had tons of adoration that can only be described as fandom from its early days and now more than ever with iPod and forthcoming iPhones, but I just can’t think of a real (pre-Web 2) parallel to people using a particular internet service they love creating fandom around it. Was there Usenet fandom? AOL fandom? Sure people used those things, and still do, all the time, but did they inspire fan sites and enthusiastic displays of devotion as Twitter, Flickr,, Pandora, and many other “web 2″ sites do? Anyone have any good precedents?

A Whole New Way for Fans to See

I spent the last several days at a Cornell/Microsoft Research Symposium about online community. Many of the people who presented are doing fascinating research on *massive* scales (scales like: ALL the metadata from YahooGroups, or Usenet, or Everquest…). and finding all kinds of patterns that characterize and predict behavior in online groups. There were several talks about network patterns in wikipedia.

I enjoyed and learned a lot from all the presentations, but the one that really caught my fancy was Fernanda Viégas’s presentation of the site Many Eyes. Fernanda is part of a visualization design research team at IBM. This site allows anyone to input their own data in a simple columns and rows spreadsheet format (they suggest some data sources if you want to play with data but don’t have your own), and then generate all kinds of amazingly rich interactive (java-based) visualizations from it at the press of the button. You can also upload free text and get an instant tag cloud. Other people can then see, comment on, and blog about the visualization.

One of her key points is that visual representations can give us an immediate understanding (picture’s worth 1000 words and all that — and this site shows us that a multi-layered interactive picture is worth 1,000,000). Not surprisingly, among the first fans who seem to be appropriating it are sports stats people. For instance, “sportsbetting” has recently uploaded a data base from of basketball player’s points–per-game for the 2006-2007 NBA Season. It’s a bar chart and as you scroll over each line it shows you who that line represents and his individual ppg.

Harry Potter also showed up early, when the Top Fifty Most Popular Books on LibraryThing data clearly showed Harry’s popularity with great big circles:

most read books

The coolest part, from my perspective and apparently Fernanda’s as well, was that people immediately jumped on it and personalized it by interacting with the chart to highlight the books they had read, taking a screen shot, and then posting it in the comments:

personal visualizations

My thoughts went immediately to thinking how cool it would be to have band’s career concert chronologies up there so fans could do the same with the shows they’d been to. Suppose for example that one could see a tag cloud of all the songs Bob Dylan performed live (see here for previous blog on this), sized by how often the song was played. Suppose you could browse R.E.M. tours by town. Suppose you could do line graphs of the rise and fall of individual songs across Madrugada’s performing history.

I can’t think of a fandom that wouldn’t be able to find some really interesting and fun applications of this technology. For some (sports fans) it’ll be easier than others since so much of that information is already in statistical form. But if there’s one thing that’s true of fandom, it’s that there’s usually someone up to most tasks, so here’s a call to all the people maintaining, contributing to, and using those fan archives — think about how you could get your info uploaded here!

If you’re so bored that you think looking at conference pictures might be fun, you can find Marc “co-sponsor” Smith’s photostream on Flickr.

More interesting might be the tag chart of the symposium abstracts that Fernanda did (within about 5 minutes of my saying “wouldn’t it be cool to…”).


A Collaborative Bootleg Database

Dylanbase is an “unofficial Bob Dylan Bootleg Database.” Not unlike a wiki for Dylan fans, there’s a user-constructed database of Dylan’s concert history that can be searched by song, location, and so on. Registered users have their own pages on the site and anyone can add to and edit the database. The site is run by an American in Copenhagen who describes the page’s purpose this way:

The basic idea of the site is to build a structure so that Dylan fans can get a handle on this mountain of information, and create a giant bubbling information center full of setlists, reviews, comments, trading lists, quotes, ticket info, etc. The site is dependent on people logging in and doing just that. In the first two years of the site, people have submitted 11000 track listings, 1400 reviews, and almost 800 albums.. Thanks! As I’ve expanded Dylanbase, I have tried to balance the needs for user privacy with a way to structure the information. So to provide information to the site, you now need to be registered. I know this is kind of annoying, but basically it’s the only way I don’t have to constantly police the content.

Another thing- If you are looking to buy Dylan bootlegs; sorry, I can’t help! Try looking on the newsgroup Rec.Music.Dylan. I am not a bootleg dealer, and won’t be able to point you to one.

You’ll notice that there are no ads or anything on this site. This may change someday, as there are significant costs in hosting the site, and a hefty weekend time investment! If you want to support the site, knicknacks in the mail are very much appreciated! :)

I can’t even imagine how complex it must be to even get Dylan’s history straight if you weren’t there all along, let alone try to sort through the varying versions of Dylan songs to be found out there. This seems like a great resource and a great example of how fans will build collective intelligence resources that go so far beyond what any individual or even small group of fans could do on their own, and how they will do it as labors of love.

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.

In Search of the Holy Grail (of Sneakers)

Last week I got an email from AC (Al Cabino), former writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine and hardcore sneaker fan. He’s spearheading a move to get Nike to make the McFly sneakers worn by Michael J. Fox’s character in Back to the Future 2. He’s put up an online petition, which has garnered over 25,000 signatures, and Robert Ryang, award-winning New York film editor who reedited the Shining into a trailer for a romantic comedy, has made a commercial for the McFly (and the petition) that you can see on YouTube . AC is on a quest to get a million views. With almost 120,000 so far, it might happen.

It’s a great confluence of all the things I write about on here — fan creativity, fan power, fans and brands, wacky combinations of the unexpected. So I grabbed the chance to ask some more about the project:


How did this come about? When did you put up the petition?

I’m an ex-writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine, I visited the Adidas worldwide headquarters in Germany, I contributed to the Adidas Superstar 35 book. I love Nike, Puma, Adidas, classic Reebok, Vans, Converse, New Balance Japanese editions. Since late 2005, I started a quest to get the Nike corporation to manufacture the futuristic sneakers Michael J. Fox wore in Back to the Future Part II.

Is this coming from Back to the Future fandom? Nike fandom? Both? Neither?

Back to the Future fandom, Nike fandom, Michael J. Fox fandom, sneakers fandom.

Why this particular pair of shoes? What’s their special appeal?

Because they are the ‘Holy Grail of movie sneakers’. You’ve got Eddie Murphy’s Adidas in Beverly Hills Cop. You can buy them. You can buy the Nike Cortez that Forrest Gump wore. You can get the Kill Bill Tigers that Uma Thurman wore. You can get Rocky‘s Chuck Taylors when he runs up the stairs. If you look at movie sneakers, the McFlys are the only ones that were created for the film and never worn beyond the silver screen.

There’s a sneaker legend that says in 2015 Nike will come out with them. This I cannot confirm to you, but someone supposedly back in 1989 wrote a letter to Nike, and the answer came from [Nike founder] Phil Knight: “You have to be patient.”

Why Nike?

The futuristic shoes are Nikes. If you watch Back to the Future 2, the scene with the futuristic sneakers is at the beginning of the film, if you watch the scene, you’ll want those sneakers too. Back in 1989, I remember going to many sports stores asking about the futuristic sneakers because I wanted them back then. But the answer I got from everyone was, wait till the year 2015 (the futuristic sneakers are in the scene that takes place in the year 2015). So when it was 2005, which is 10 years before 2015, I decided to start this project to get Nike to make the futuristic sneakers.

Do you have any sense of where your support is coming from?

Friends, sneaker geeks, fashion designers, stylists, magazine editors, writers, artists, futurists, sci-fi aficionados, photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, musicians, DJs, store owners, Nike employees, a Wired Magazine writer, etc.

Any feedback from Nike?

Not yet because we have not gone to their headquarters. The project is gonna get a new look, its own mini website, we’ll spread the word more, then we’ll go to the Nike headquarters. Hopefully, we’ll get a meeting with Phil Knight.

My thanks to AC for bringing this to my attention. And remember, if you’re up to something you think I ought to write about (or just watching from the sidelines), don’t be shy about sending it my way!