The Lost Librarians of National Defense?

Information Week has an interesting article up about Lost fandom. It talks about Second Life recreations of Lost spaces, ABC’s official sites, and Lostpedia, the wikipedia for Lost fans:

The Lostpedia statistics page shows that the site has grown to nearly 33,000 pages. The site has received 141 million page views. It has 26,000 registered users, of whom 10 have sysop rights, for increased authority to edit and manage the site.

I talk a bit about fan-authored wikipedia entries and archives in my work about Swedish indie music fandom, but generally this is a neglected area of fandom research. Although, as some apparently realize, it’s a phenomenon with implications that stretch far beyond entertainment:

[Lostpedia founder] Croy said the site has brought him professional benefit in that it’s connected him with many interesting people. The Palo Alto Research Center (formerly Xerox (NYSE: XRX) PARC) contacted him about two years ago to study Lostpedia. “Basically, they wanted to study the way that a group of users collects intelligence, brings it back to a central place, and processes that intelligence, categorizes it and analyzes it and decides what’s good and bad.” PARC looks at each new episode as a big new batch of intelligence dumped on the Lostpedia community. “They want to see how they can apply that to the national defense projects they’re working on,” Croy said.

Fans have at least as much history as anyone — and probably more history than most — at using the internet in innovative ways to collect, label, store and make accessible enormous repositories of information. I’ve spoken recently with music librarians interested in using fan-generated genre tags (like on Last.fm) to assist them in categorizing their library’s music catalogs. Fandoms offer fantastic case studies in the practice of information science. I’d love to see more about this.

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Online Music Fan Community Powerpoint

At by:Larm a number of people asked me to share the powerpoints of my talk. In it I argue that the internet has transformed fandom because it expands fans’ reach, transcends distance, supports archiving, provides group infrastructure, enables new forms of communication and lessens social distance. As a result, bands, fans and labels need to work out less hierarchical relationships in which fans are seen as equals who, when treated with trust and respect, will delight in spreading one’s gospel to more of the many corners of the internet than any one person can visit. I make the case through lots of examples drawn primarily from Scandinavian music fans, bands and labels.

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One friend warned me to “never give away your powerpoints” but I’ve decided if I’m going to preach the ethos of free, I’d best be enacting it as well. I had a look-see at some of the slide sharing applications and none seems to be able to show the notes section as well as the slides and since that’s where most of the content in my talk was hiding, I opted for saving the Powerpoint notes page as a PDF file instead. You will have to imagine the sparkling live delivery filled with explanatory ad libs and examples missing in this version.

I hope you find it useful and all feedback is always appreciated.


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Fan-Driven Reunion

I am just back from the Norwegian music festival by:Larm where I had such a good time I am now running on super-powered joy (which is good cuz heaven knows I’m not running on sleep!). There’s much to report from the event, but let me share quickly one of the best online fan stories I heard from Anders Odden who played guitar with the reunited “extreme goth” metal band Celtic Frost.

Apparently the band, which is considered pretty legendary in death metal circles, had broken up before the web took off. When the web got big, some fans bought the domain name CelticFrost.com and created a fan site. Apparently when the band members saw how much loving was still out there for them on this site, it inspired them to reunite. The site is now the official band site.

Among the other things fans do on there is post pictures of their Celtic Frost tattoos. I couldn’t find the page that has them (if you know it please leave the link in comments), but he told me there are something like 100 photos and that the band actually now has to think about how good a tattoo their images would make when choosing them. The cover of their last album featured a graphic of the singer’s face fragmented and one week after its release they met a fan whose arm was tattooed with that image.

He also said that although they are known for being extremely mysterious, they also spend as long as it takes after each show to sign every CD a fan wants signed, sometimes as long as 3 or 4 hours of signing.

Note the contrast between their encouraging fans to post pix of their tattoos and Prince trying to shut his fans down for doing so.

If you read Norwegian, there are write-ups of my talk here and here.  I have no idea what they say, but get the impression that the first is pretty much a summary and the latter adds some interesting examples. If any of you do understand them, please let me know the gist of them.

For those interested in by:Larm’s music, my write up of the bands I saw is here.

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Can you be too engaged with your fandom?

Yesterday I stumbled across this quote from Russell T. Davies, the executive producer of Doctor Who:

Every program on the BBC has a message board on the website. I forbid it to happen on Doctor Who. I’m sorry to say this, all the science fiction producers making stuff in America, they are way too engaged with their fandom. They all need to step back.

It’s taken from an LA Times article which is now hiding behind a firewall, so I don’t know the context.

My initial reaction was [myownknee] “jerk!” but then I thought twice.

I don’t know about the claim that American scifi producers are too involved with their fandoms. Certainly the people who make Lost, Futurama, and I’m sure plenty of other shows are thinking about their fandoms as they work. Frankly, sci fi TV is not my genre and there are so many other fandom scholars who’ve got that area covered that I don’t think all that much about it. [paging you -- what do you think about this quote?]

But I’ve been working on the keynote I’ll be giving in Oslo in a few weeks, and one of the things I’m talking about there is how labels and bands ought to treat their online fandoms. One of the key points I find myself coming back to repeatedly is the importance of letting fandoms have their independence — providing enough information, goodies, and attention to nurture it, but letting it belong always to the fans who create it. When fandom is a subsidiary of the production company it sets everything up for power struggles, for self-censorship, for legal-enforcement dilemmas, for feelings of accountability and betrayal that are beyond the bounds of duty on both sides. Fans need their own spaces to do their own things.

I’ve never thought that official fan sites hold candles to the ones fans build themselves. If I were one of the thirty zillion Dr Who fans traipsing about the internet, it’s hard for me to believe the BBC would really offer the best fan discussion, even if Davies allowed it.

Fandoms can’t operate as though they belong to and are supervised by artists and producers. By the same token, artists can’t operate under continuous supervision (even internally imposed) of the most active fans any more than I, as a teacher, can forget about the students who aren’t as into my classes or the content of what I know and believe needs teaching and just teach what they want to hear to the ones who love me most. I’d be negligent and odds are my classes wouldn’t be as good. The fans who get into fandom may be more important than other fans in terms of the promotion, spearheading, and enthusiasm they provide. They may provide the most trenchant critiques and hence are usually worth listening to. But they are still a small segment of the audience, and producers need to think audience as much as they think fandoms. But even more than that — producers and artists need to operate first and foremost under the guidance and supervision of their own muses. It’s their creative process, just as fandom is ours.

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You Can’t Force Them To Come To You

As you have likely heard, Prince has been ruffling the righteous feathers of many fans lately by seeking the domain names of a number of Prince fan sites. The grounds are ‘intellectual property violations.’ Among the violations are photos of fan tattoos of images to which Prince holds the rights. Nevermind whose body they’re on.  You can follow the struggle from the affected sites’ POV on their site Prince Fans United.

In their year-end Pop review, the Telegraph offers their take on this, and on Prince’s move earlier this year to release his recent album as a free newspaper supplement:

What is being established is a new and more direct relationship between artist and fans, apparently with the intent of cutting out the record-company middleman, but it is not without its own complications. Prince gave his latest album away with a Sunday newspaper, using it effectively as a marketing exercise for his fantastically well received 21-night live run at the O2 Arena .

It was a move that reflects the profitability of the booming live sector and, in many ways, marks a welcome shift towards performance becoming (once again) the principle source of income for working musicians. It is the one musical transaction that still requires all parties to show up in person.

But what Prince giveth with one hand, he taketh away with the other, launching lawsuits against internet sites (including dedicated fan sites) for unauthorised use of his image. Suing your own fans is not usually considered good for business, but Prince may get away with it on account of his legendary eccentricity.

Prince’s unstated aim, in forcing YouTube (among others) to remove all footage of his performances, is not so much to control his image as to compel fans to come to him (and his own internet portals) for all Prince-related material.

If compelling your fans to come to you rather than building sites of their own isn’t control, what is? He may well “get away with it” but it would take some pretty hard evidence to convince me that he did not do damage to himself compared to where he would have been if he respected the fans’ dedication and let them do their thing.

To expect all the fans to come to you for all their needs is to misunderstand the internet, fandom, and what it means to have “a new and more direct relationship between artists and fans.” You don’t make new friends by insisting they always come to your house and do what you want to do. Sometimes you have to go to their houses and do what they want to do.

Fans like official sites. Fans also like — and many downright need — to build their own spaces where they create the culture.

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