Friday the 13th, Part 2

Yesterday I posted the first half of an interview with Brenna O’Brien, half of the webmaster team behind Friday the 13th’s unofficial fan site. Here is part 2!

What are the biggest challenges of running the site?

The biggest challenge at first was dealing with the enormous growth in activity. We started out with a small webspace, but it was soon clear that we were overloaded with traffic. Over the years we’ve kept having to transfer to more bandwith and more space, and the price has gone up and up. We have been against using ads on our site for unrelated items, but we decided we could have a couple banners for specifically Friday the 13th-related merchandise. The commission we get now from those items balances out the cost of running the site, so that is no longer the biggest problem. It’s the price you have to pay for being a popular site!

In relation to the forum, the biggest challenge is maintaining the integrity of the community and keeping an eye on all the discussions that go on every single day. It used to be just us two, but we have added many moderators to help with the day-to-day running of the message board. You need to have people that you can trust to make the same decisions you would, and who won’t abuse their power. It is a delicate balance, but one of the things the members say they appreciate the most is that respect is maintained and that the forum hasn’t degenerated into name-calling and flaming because of the moderators. We like to think of it like a coffee shop with lots of conversation going on, and if someone walks in and starts yelling slurs and obscenities then they are going to be shown the door.

From your perspective, what are the most interesting things going on in your site?

I think the most interesting thing that has happened because of the site is the bonds people have made outside the online world. We have had two Friday the 13th Camps, where people came from all over North America and Europe to meet for a week and pretend to be in summer camp again. There are many friendships and connections that people have that started with the shared interest of horror movies, but has gone way beyond that. One of our friends we met through the forum was even a groomsman in our wedding! I think that’s what I’ve appreciated the most about the forum – making friends that you can count on and trust.

Do you think there’s anything distinctive about horror film fandom that’s different from other kinds of fandom?

Well I don’t really have much experience with other fandom groups, but something I’ve noticed about horror fans is that they seem to have an outsider perspective, both positive and negative. Many have felt isolated and rejected in high school because they like blood and guts, and they feel like they can identify both with the killer and the victim. In particular with Friday the 13th, the killer is Jason Voorhees, a deformed boy who grew up alone in the woods. For most of the teenage boys on our site, they’ve felt like that at least once or twice. Like many other fans, they collect toys, posters, and movies, and being a horror fan is part of what defines them as an individual. I would like to emphasize that like most fans, they know the difference between fantasy and reality, and there’s no danger of violence crossing over into their real lives.

What advice would you offer other people interested in building fan sites like yours?

I think that you need to make your online environment as comfortable as you would want a real life environment. There are so many social cues that we can’t see when we are on the Internet, so you need people to maintain those norms and keep the community running smoothly. Problems start happening when people say things to other people that they wouldn’t say to their face, and the owners need to keep reminding everyone that there are real people on the other side of the screen. It’s very easy for flame wars to escalate and for a forum to descend into chaos, so maintain the type of respect and integrity in your online space that you would want in your own life.

Friday the 13th FanSite

Brenna O’Brien is a super-smart and interesting Ph.D. student in Education here at KU who, along with her husband, Blake Washer, has been running the unofficial Friday the 13th fan site for the last 8 years. Like the R.E.M. fan site Murmurs, whose site master I interviewed here, this site has become THE defacto spot to go for Friday the 13th fandom. Today I’m happy to present part I of an interview I did with her about running the site:

Can you tell me a bit about the Friday the 13th fan site? How and when did it get started? How many people use it? What are the main things people are doing there?

We took over in 1998, because the former owner was ready to move on to something else, and he liked the design of a smaller fansite that we had made called Crystal Lake. It was originally just a place to have information for fans of this horror movie series but I felt there should be more of an interactive environment. In 1999 we added our first message board space, which had a simple, one-page threaded discussion where anyone passing through could respond. A small core of dedicated users became visiting frequently, and it evolved naturally into a larger forum. I don’t think that you can force a community to form, but if you provide a safe and respectful environment for discussion then people will be more likely to participate.

Currently there are 8,211 registered members, with about 2,200 who have been active within the past two weeks. That number fluctuates and is definitely higher around Halloween and Friday the 13th, and the site and forum reaches peak activity when a new movie in the series is released, most recently in 2003 with Freddy vs. Jason. The majority of people that first come to the forum want to talk about the characters in the movie, discuss plot elements, show pictures of their fan creations (art, costumes, stories, movies), and make suggestions for new ideas for the series. But once all those threads have been talked about, the regular users find time to open up about other aspects of their lives. There are sections for politics, music, games, books, sports, and an area called The Campfire where people can talk about personal issues and get advice. With most of our users being teenage boys, there are always questions to be answered!

Judging from the numbers of people and threads on your forum, your site seems to be the definitive fan site for these films. How do you think it got that status?

The main reason we decided to start a Friday the 13th site was because we liked horror movies, and there were already sites for other series like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, but there wasn’t one for Jason Voorhees. We wanted to fill a hole on the Internet, and so we worked to make it truly comprehensive and be a totally inclusive fan site. Both of us were self-taught on HTML, and so creating a professional design that was easy to navigate definitely earned us the respect from fans. One thing that we have always prided ourselves on is only reporting official news about the movies, and not posting rumors. Fans know that if it comes from our site, then it’s real news. And I must say, the domain name is the key – When people type “Friday the 13th” into google it is the #1 result, and that keeps a steady stream of new fans visiting.

At one point the site might have become the official site. What happened there?

I believe it was in 2001, before the release of the 10th movie, Jason X, that we were approached by Sean Cunningham’s then-company Crystal Lake Entertainment. Cunningham owned the rights to the character ‘Jason Voorhees’, but other companies owned the franchise and movie rights. We had a good e-mail relationship with Crystal Lake Entertainment, and they would give us quotes and news from their perspective, and we became “official” underneath them. Luckily, they didn’t try to take over or tell us what to do with the site, so it was more about getting information from the source. After Jason X, Cunningham’s production company kind of disappeared, along with our e-mail contact. We never approached New Line Cinema to become official under them, because we felt that it would become less of a fan site and more of a publicity stage for them. We’ve been happy to remain the unofficial fan site because then we have exclusive control over what goes on the website, without publicists and lawyers getting involved.

What is your sense of the relationship between the fans on the site and the producers of the films?

I don’t think that New Line Cinema or other involved production companies would ever acknowledge that they read the forum, but how could they not? When they are trying to find out their test audience for a new horror movie, in particularly a Friday the 13th movie, where else are they going to find such a super concentrated collection of fans? As far as ideas for stories and characters, I think they rely on their writers and other professionals, but when they are trying to gauge the mood of the fans and see the level of hype, the forum is definitely the place to go. Over the years, several of the writers have posted and have taken questions from the fans, which has been great on both sides. The writers get fan appreciation, and the fans get to ask about those tiny details in the films that they love to talk about.

I’ll be posting the second half tomorrow.

If you run a fan site and want to be interviewed, I’m always eager to talk to people about running fan sites, so please drop me a line.

Update: If you’re one of the steady stream of users coming by to read this, please leave a comment and let us hear your thoughts on the forum and on the questions I’ve posed here!

A chat with Ethan Kaplan of and Warner Bros. Records

The band that had the biggest impact on me was R.E.M. They released their first record my first year of college and I don’t think it’s overstatement to say they changed my life. I’ve written about that here. By 1996 when Ethan Kaplan, then a 16-year-old, started the fan site, I had been living R.E.M. fandom about as fully as anyone could for 13 years — I’d bought every record the day it came out (even buying imports first if they came out a few days sooner), I’d seen them dozens of times, I’d gotten to know some of them, I’d made lots of friends through our shared love of the band, and when the net came into my life circa 1990, finding other R.E.M. fans online was one of the first things I did. I am still on a small mailing list with many of those same people. I didn’t really feel like I needed an R.E.M. fan site after all this, but others sure did, and Ethan built them what is to my mind the exemplar of a perfect fan site. Go there any day and you will find hundreds of fans talking about everything and anything R.E.M., sharing pictures, trading recordings of unreleased material and live concerts via the site’s torrent tracker, planning get-togethers, you name it. At one time there were people trying to get enough people together to rent a bus so they could all follow R.E.M. en masse as they did a summer European tour.

Like the Madrugada board I wrote about here, Murmurs has also enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with R.E.M., with the band supporting Ethan’s work, letting the exchange of non-released material go on through the site, and generally making themselves available. Ethan has never just set up a forum and let it go, instead he’s used some computer science expertise to design new creative ways to connect fans via the site (for instance, he developed a way to display which other fans online were ‘nearest’ to you). He’s also an example of how following your passion and doing it well can land you a pretty awesome job — hot off earning an MFA with a thesis about rock concerts, he’s now the Senior Director of Technology for Warner Brothers Records where he works with R.E.M. and a hundred other bands. Here’s what he had to say about Murmurs and his role at WB:

Murmurs recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. For people who aren’t familiar with the site, can you give a brief snapshot overview — how many fans have registered? What are the main things they do there? How much traffic is there?

Murmurs right now has over 24,000 members, about 2 to 3 thousand of which are “active” participants. We get between 2 to 5 thousand people coming to the site daily. The main things people do is read news, participate on the discussion board and participate on our Torrent tracker. is an example of a site that’s the de facto official site in that fans may check remhq, but they all hang out at Murmurs. What do you think it was about Murmurs that made it so successful?

I think its a few things. One: REM is a band that was based on a home-grown, grass-roots fanbase. Even with the band as huge as they are, they are still very accessible, friendly and down-to-earth. Their willingness to accept Murmurs for what it is, and not try to commercialize it stands apart from a lot of bands. As well, REM’s use of the web on continued their down-to-earth ethos, which also helped. I think Murmurs is successful because myself and the staff are committed to making it a fun place to be.

You’ve got a great title at WB, and I’m wondering what a Senior Director of Technology at Warner Bros Records does. What kind of projects do you work on?

Basically I am the tech guy for the entire company. In my job, I manage the entire web infrastructure for all our sites, as well as new tech initiatives, web services, technology development and a lot of R&D. Its basically what I did on Murmurs for a lot of other bands.

As someone who’s simultaneously running a fan-driven fan site and working for a major record label, what do you see as the main ways in which the interests of fans and those of labels diverge and intersect?

It used to be that fans and the label were very distinct entities that were separated by access to means of media representation. That no longer applies, as the means of communication for both fans and the artists/label is digital data. Because of that, labels have had to adapt on how we deal with fans. In the end, we’re both on the same side: the side of the artist. The label promotes, distributes and develops artists while the fans support them from underneath. I like that at WBR we’re very actively engaged with fans.

What do you think are the best ways for record labels to take advantage of the internet in building relationships with their artists’ fans?

Trust the fans to bring what they do to the table, and provide them with tools, media and good information to develop their fandom in positive ways. The thing about us is that every one of us is a die-hard fan of something at this company.

What advice would you offer other people trying to build fan sites that work?

Focus on making a place that feels like home, and that feels safe. Too often fanaticism is viewed as a negative thing, and I think a good fan-site should promote safety and a “home” feel more than anything. You can get news elsewhere. Rumors only last you for so long. A real sense of community is timeless.

You can read Ethan’s blog here.

And if you’re in the mood for some R.E.M., the stellar retrospective of their pre-Warner Brothers work, I Feel Fine, is out now.

Mark Cuban’s take on online fandom

Last summer I saw a talk sponsored by the Aspen Institute on “The Digital Future” with Mark Cuban. For those who don’t know, Cuban made one of his fortunes by selling his media streaming company to Yahoo way back in the 1990s. He’s now the owner of HDNet, the first all-high definition tv network and, more famously, the Dallas Mavericks. He’s also got a number of side projects like his movie theaters, his investigative stock report, and his blog aggregator. It was the first time I’d heard Cuban, and I came away with the impression of a man who’s really smart, knowledgable, and who’s got an integrated vision of how it all fits together.

He’s written on his blog that convergence is over, everything is already digital, and he argues that media content ought to be available in any form the consumers want it. My favorite line of the night was his summary of this position: “bits are bits, I can deliver. I’m agnostic, I don’t care how it gets there.” But, other than the need to provide them with a variety of delivery platforms, there was very little said about media audiences in the talk, and I wondered what Cuban would have to say about the changing role(s) of the media viewers as fans also get more control over bits and bytes and make their own products, connections with one another, and so on.

So I shot him an email and asked, and (with his permission to reprint), here’s what he had to say:

Its nothing new. Its been going on for years. From fan clubs to high school clubs to CompuServe and Prodigy forums and usenet groups and AOL discussion groups and chat rooms to IRC rooms. People contract their sphere of connections to where they can either feel smart/important, feel comfortable as part of a group, or can improve their communications. Today they call that social networking and it happens on discussion forums for sports teams, on myspace, friendster, xanga and many other sites.

Youtube is an old concept. The only difference between what they have been able to do and others is that the copyright police didn’t shut them down. Two years ago they get closed down faster than you can say RIAA.

You are right, there is no question that fandom and online community has increased, but I think it can be traced back to digital content organizations giving social networking a pass rather than shutting them down.

Youtube is a perfect example. All the people putting up their favorite songs on their myspace pages is another. No way the RIAA lets that happen 2/3 years ago. If they did, all the old hosting companies like geocities would have thrived and evolved rather than devolved.

The concept of friends is just a better implementation of website rings. Blogs are just templates for daily entries on websites.

Broadband made it more fun to be online, faster to participate and enabled the faster, smoother use of media/video/audio.

When I bought the mavs I got on discussion groups to answer questions, most are the same today.

When I started my blog, it just made it easier than updating a page on the Mavs website.

Putting up trailers on sites is old news, as is downloading movies. For all the discussion about progress, look back 5 years and ask just how much broadband progress has been made. Broadband has gotten marginally faster, but dramatically cheaper from competition.

I guess what Im saying, its just business as usual. Like the fashion world, pants are pants, shirts are shirts, they just seem cooler when they are first coming out in new styles, but when we look back, we realize it was no big deal.

I appreciate the perspective he brings here, that fandom has been going on for a long time and that its boom right now may be triggered more by changes in the legalistic environment than by real transformations of technological capability or ways that fans engage the media and one another [rumour has it Universal Music Group is going to sue MySpace and YouTube for copyright infringement]. When I look at online fan groups now, I certainly see a lot of the same dynamics and processes I was seeing when I started writing about them in 1991.

At the same time, I’m not sure it’s really “business as usual.” Audiences may have been doing these things all along, but they weren’t getting noticed as they are now, and they weren’t getting addressed and engaged directly by the objects of their fandom in the way they are now. I think those create real changes in the expectations fans develop about the people behind the teams/music/shows/movies/etc that they love, and in how those people need to behave toward fans to make the most of what they’re doing. Technological capabilities and fans’ uses of them may not have changed much, but the social/commercial environment in which these things happen has.

An interview with an MP3 blogger

Unbeknownst to most of the world, Sweden has the world’s third largest record market, sliding in just behind the US and the UK. Sweden also has one of the world’s most fertile music scenes, giving rise to thousands of bands playing every genre there is: death metal, hardcore punk, mainstream arena rock and dance music, indie pop, prog, folk, electronica, jazz, twee. They have hip hop and Americana. I kid you not. Sweden even has its own (overrated) YouTube phenomenon: I’m From Barcelona got an absurd number of hits for the so-dry-it-makes-my-lips-chap video (at least I hope it’s dry — see the YouTube comments for other interpretations) for “We’re from Barcelona.” Videos of festival goers spontaneously breaking into the song’s chorus and covers of the song done by robots have surfaced on the web recently as well.

I’ve fallen for dozens of Swedish bands in the last few years (almost all of whom sing in English), and seeing as how I live in the middle of the contintental US, it’s all been through the internet. In pursuing Swedish music fandom, I find myself spread across a lot of inter-related sites. One I visit at least once a week is an mp3 blog started in early 2005 called Swedesplease. It’s written by Craig Bonell, who lives about as close to Sweden as I do.

MP3 blogs are increasingly important to the circulation of music. Like many fans of music below the radar, I rely on them, and I’m grateful to those who keep them going. I also see them as a move toward more individualized, less cohesive online fandom. They inherently privilege the voices of those who write the blogs over those of readers who, although they could build their own interactive communities through the comments sections (as happens in many political blogs), rarely do.

Swedesplease offers a great vantage point for exploring these issues. Craig Bonell recently took time out from scouring the internet looking for new music with which to delight his readers (fans?) to speak with me about Swedesplease. Here’s what he had to say:

What motivated you to start Swedesplease? What motivates you to keep doing it?

My regular blog is Songs:Illinois. In the course of writing that blog I would continually stumble upon Swedish acts that were not being covered in the press. So after a discussion with the rock journalist Greg Kot in which I said that so many genres are underserved by mp3 blogs I decided to start Swedesplease. It was easy to start but is hard to keep going.

Do you have any sense of who’s reading your blog? What kind of feedback do you get from them?

I get all kinds of feedback. It’s a little skewed because the people with an incentive to write me are the bands, labels and pr people. So I do get a lot of emails both personal and bulk from that group. I also just get the random Swedish music fan, some in Sweden and some expats living in the States. The other big block of readership are other bloggers. That number could be rather high since there seems to be 10,000 other mp3 blogs.

How do you find all those bands and mp3s to post? What are the sources feeding your own Swedish music fandom?

How I find all the music to feature is top secret although it revolves around checking MySpace, label websites, band websites and recommendations from fans. More so than any other country, Swedish bands are often in other side projects, so a post about say Thomas Denver Johnson could result in three or four related posts as well as related follow-up posts. Bands who claim to be fans of the blog often submit their music. As do fans of particular blogs. In fact some of my most popular posts resulted from fans submitting music (Jose Gonzales live for instance).

How has your blog generally been received by artists in the Swedish scene? Any stories you could tell of interactions with artists?

It has been well received. Bands and labels seem generally thrilled to get the attention. One of my most championed artists has been Hello Saferide. At the very beginning of her “career” she cited me as the start of her music being an internet sensation. She has since received all kinds of praise, critical success and courtship from major labels here in the States. In a bizarre kind of twist she actually interviewed me for her radio show that she does on P3 (Swedish national radio?). So in that case the fandom was reversed.

The most common reaction I get from artists about the blog is when they ask how I find all this great Swedish music and yet they live in the country and are part of the scene and haven’t heard of it before.

What role do you think a blog like yours plays in making the Swedish music scene more accessible outside of Sweden?

I hate to sound conceited but what other way can the Swedish scene be learned about if not on mp3 blogs. I suppose you could somehow subscribe to Swedish music magazines but that’d be hard, you could try to listen to Swedish radio online but I’m not sure if that’s possible or you could try to follow the scene through the mainstream press (but it’d be such a small sliver of coverage). So while I’m biased I think that mp3 blogs focusing on Swedish music are the best way to learn about the Swedish scene.

Like most mp3 blogs, yours seems to have a lot of people using it, yet very few comments and very little discussion amongst the readers. What do you think about that?

Comments on blogs is a big issue. Everyone would like some but in general no one gets any. Aside from Stereogum, Fluxblog and a couple of the other big ones, comments are few and far between and typically they get comments only when they write about Tom Cruise not Thom Yorke! I guess what I’m saying on Swedesplease and Songs:Illinois is not that controversial and thus doesn’t stir up the need to comment. Generally people read about the band and then download the music to listen to later so even if they wanted to comment on the music they haven’t had time to digest it yet. Inevitably I get comments only when I make a factual or grammatical mistake (of which there are many).