Celebrity stalking for fun and profit

File under Fun But Creepy Panopticon Effects:

I know we all try to be sophisticated and cool and pretend we are not impressed by mere celebrities when they stroll by us as we go about our daily business, but truth be told, you get just a little giddy, don’t you? Even if you’re not a fan?

I was shopping on Christmas eve and saw both Jerry Seinfeld and Mariah Carey (no, no, not together). Unlike all my friends, I only know the topics of a few episodes of Seinfeld and, unlike most of America, I don’t pay much attention to the trials and tribulations of Mariah Carey (though I worked in a record store when her debut record came out and remember the splash she made very well). But damned if I didn’t mention having seen them to everyone I talked to for weeks and if I wasn’t somehow strangely proud to have seen two such A-list celebrities.

So along comes a website to let people share these brushes with greatness. Oh how happy for those lucky fans. Except, wait a minute, don’t fans sometimes do stuff like, you know, murder their idols? Is letting everyone know where they are each and every day really such a good idea? George Clooney doesn’t think so and has issued this exhortation to fans:

There is a simple way to render these guys useless. Flood their Web site with bogus sightings. Get your clients to get 10 friends to text in fake sightings of any number of stars. A couple hundred conflicting sightings and this Web site is worthless. No need to try to create new laws to restrict free speech. Just make them useless. That’s the fun of it. And then sit back and enjoy the ride. Thanks, George.

Well, apparently his fans listened, except for one little thing, they only seem to have sent in fake George sightings (which are very funny to read through). The site is making the most of it, not just by collecting and displaying these, but by selling a limited edition “George Clooney Stalked Me” t-shirt.

Does this site go too far? Probably, but I can certainly understand the desire for a site where people can say “omigod I just saw [celebrity name here] and he looked totally hot!” or “I saw so and so at the ATM machine and she has really skinny legs!”

Either way, I think Clooney’s got the right strategy for fighting back, leave the courts out of it and turn their own tools against them.

Many thanks to Brenna for the tip.

Engage in Fandom, Win Valuable Points!

If I were a sports fan not yet there I’d be heading over to check out still-in-beta site FanIQ.com, a which bills itself as “sports talk with a score:”

The Web site, less than a year old, tracks predictions made by media experts and allows fans to create accounts and make predictions. The results of a fan’s predictions are tallied and each user’s score is posted to display their prowess or lack of. (TheState.com)

The site was started by Ty Shay, who used to be the chief marketing officer for hotwire.com, and who offers this origin tale:

Ty was frustrated that there wasn’t an easy way to track the sports predictions he constantly made with his brother. After talking with other fans, he soon realized that accountability for sports predictions was a far bigger problem which included paid “sports experts” and message boards. The FanIQ community is the result of these insights.

This seems like a really clever way to give fans a combination of a game to play, a way to build greater social status/credibility/social capital that takes advantage of their favorite hobby, and a platform for hanging out and socializing with other fans. I like that it is set up to allow users to engage the site in ways that vary in how structured and how social they are. Fans can focus only on their own scores vs the experts, play against one another individually or in leagues, talk in forums, and more. It’s also interesting to strategically pit ‘average fans’ against the mainstream sports media. How long will it be before some of the people who emerge as especially good prognosticators on this site find themselves becoming “paid sports experts?” The site is free and has no advertising, so it’ll be interesting to watch how it fares in the long run. If anyone reading this is spending time on fanIQ please leave a comment with your take on the site.

If sports aren’t your thing but celebrities are, try this alternative, Fafarazzi. As they describe it on the site:

Fafarazzi.com is a Fantasy Celebrity League. Instead of points being scored for homeruns and touchdowns they’re scored for divorces and catfights!

Me, I’m just not competitive enough to do fandom for points.

Fan sites in trouble with the law

Two stories this week about fan sites being sued. The first seems fairly clear cut. Fans who have been running an ABBA site in Australia for several years are being sued for selling ABBA bootlegs through their fan site. The argument of the guys running the site has its merits from a fan’s point of view:

Mr Read and Mr Whittingham deny Abbamail.com distributes “pirated” music. There has been no suggestion that Abbamail has sold pirated versions of “official” commercial recordings.

“I’m sure that’s the view of most record companies, but the problem is that the kind of stuff that we’re selling is the stuff that they’ve refused to sell,” Mr Read said.

“Over the last 10-15 years Universal have just released the same kind of crap over and over and over again – Greatest Hits, Forever Gold, the Definitive Collection.”

Mr Read said Abbamail was trying to make available rare material that “hardcore” fans would willingly buy from Universal, if it was offered for sale.

They also claim on their site that their products are purchased by fans who have bought the official releases, that the site encourages rather than harming the sales of those releases, and that Universal Music itself has acknowledged their contribution to Abba’s enduring popularity. Ok. I can go along with all of that, but I have to go with the industry here:

“…these guys, no matter how fanatical they are about ABBA and the fan club, which I completely appreciate and understand, it still does not mean you can be selling pirate CDs or DVDs, in this case for commercial gain.”

On the other hand, I’d probably have a little trouble making this concession myself:

MIPI would consider the matter closed once all the bootleg recordings were removed, but only if Mr Read handed over his personal collection – which he has refused to do.

Meanwhile, in Ireland a webboard is being sued because of alleged defamatory statements made by its users:

MCD, Ireland’s biggest concert promoter, has discovered that controlling the internet is a lot harder than controlling live music events — and that’s tough enough. Just weeks after it tackled a website for publishing a comment criticising its Oxegen festival, another has been set up that will provide disgruntled fans with a dedicated forum for their grievances.MCD is taking legal action against the site boards.ie for allegedly hosting a defamatory statement about Oxegen. The discussion forum was targeted by the Denis Desmond-owned music promotions company, after festival goers used it to complain about tent-burning and fighting at the festival in Kildare last month.

The article points out that:

Irish law covering defamation on the internet has not been tested in the courts. It is unclear if website owners can be held responsible for comments posted on their site by others. A source in MCD said it believed websites should be held as responsible as a newspaper.

If we’re gonna get all lawsuit happy, maybe the people running the James Bond franchise should think about suing this evil operation run by James Bond fans:

New James Bond reads Internet, discovers fans ‘hate me’
Associated Press

NEW YORK — Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, wants critics to give him a chance.

“If I went onto the Internet and started looking at what some people were saying about me — which, sadly, I have done — it would drive me insane,” the British actor says in an interview in Entertainment Weekly magazine, on newsstands Friday.

“They hate me. They don’t think I’m right for the role. It’s as simple as that. They’re passionate about it, which I understand, but I do wish they’d reserve judgment.”

A group of James Bond fans have launched a Web site, www.craignotbond.com, to protest Craig replacing Pierce Brosnan in the 007 film franchise, and to boycott Casino Royale, slated for release Nov. 17.

I just don’t get the part about loving Pierce Brosnan in that role. But then, I liked Roger Moore as Bond so who am I to judge?

UPDATE: So much for irony, www.craignotbond.com no longer seems to exist. If anyone knows the backstory on that one, please tell.

Interview with a fan site webmaster

Around this time last year, I fell in love with a Norwegian rock band called Madrugada. Catch was, none of their records has been released in the US, they never tour here, and the only people I know who listen to them learned about them from me. What’s a newly-minted fan trying to piece together a prolific career she’s only just learned about to do?

Fortunately, I found madrugada.de. a fan site created and run by Reidar Eik, a Norwegian who lives in Berlin. The site is an amazing repository of detailed information and has a small but engaged group of dedicated and generous fans engaged in ongoing discussion on its forums.

It’s also an example of a fan page that has gained semi-official status. Madrugada have a link to the forum from their official page (though marked as an external site) and they keep Reidar informed. This seems particularly important in their online presence since, by their own admission, their own website is rarely updated (as I write, its new update is an apology for its infrequent updates). I spoke with Reidar about creating and running the site and how he sees the function of a fan page compared to that of an official site.

When did you start Madrugada.de?

November 12th 1999. I had seen them live for the first time on November 3rd the same year, and at the time there was only one poorly updated fan page available online, in addition to an official page lacking in content, and I felt that this was a band that could conquer the world and therefore deserved more. So when no one else did anything I figured I had to do it myself. It started out as a very small project where the focus was simply to present news about the band’s few upcoming European dates and how their release outside of Norway was panning out, and to present some rare tracks and live recordings in MP3 format for those who had only heard their popular (only in Norway, though) debut album.

At what point did the band/management find out about it? What were their reactions?

I am not sure when they first found out about the page. […] I did not have any contact with them or their management for the first year or so. For their European tour in the end of 2000 I figured I wanted to travel around and see as many of their shows as possible […] but also realized that this would be pretty expensive for a student. So I sent their management an e-mail asking kindly if it would be possible to get free tickets for a few of these concerts, to which former drummer Jon and Frode [bass player] replied in an e-mail and told me they loved my page and were very proud of what I was doing for them, and that I just had to show up anywhere and there would be a free ticket for me. That e-mail was the first contact I had with any of them, and of course that was a very nice start.

How do you see the role(s) of your site differing from the band’s official site?

I have always tried to be very in-depth when it comes to the information that is available on the fan page. Most of the reason for that is that I have always made the page with myself as the target audience. I want to make a page that I would want to visit, with information that I would want to read. Who the lead singer is currently dating never appealed to me in my adoration of the band, but whether an unreleased b-side was played live at a recent is big news to me. So the fanpage has always been very ‘heavy’ in areas like unreleased songs and concert setlists, but probably lacking in other areas. I realize it is not a ‘complete’ page, but my idea is that anyone can make a webpage and focus it on the parts of their subject that they really care about.

The official page has some of the necessary information a new fan would need to get into the band. It has some audio and video clips, some nice pictures, a very basic discography, and the recent tour dates. It is not a great page by any means, but for me it works as an introduction to the band. They also have a link directly to the discussion forum of my fan page, which is a very nice touch because it enables the fans of the band to get in direct contact with each other just one click away from the band’s official page. So while lacking in content, the official page makes up for it by using the resources the fans pool together.

There was also a time where there were a lot of of news updates on the official page coming directly from the management, and that was really nice. Of course it took the focus away from my page as being ‘the’ place to get the news, but I never really cared about that. I want the news to be available to the fans, that is all.

Do you think Madrugada benefit from the site? How?

I never really thought about this for the first few years. It is just a hobby project of mine, and again, just something I make because I would want to visit a page like that about a band that I like. But last year they thanked me in the liner notes of “The Deep End,” which I was pretty surprised by. The next time I met them I thanked them and told them that I had not expected that and did not think I deserved it, to which they replied “of course you do, for all the work you do for us.” So I suppose they see themselves getting something back from the efforts I put into it, and that is really nice. Maybe what they see is that when someone else does the work, they do not have to bother with it for the official page, hehe.

What are the biggest challenges in running the site?

That it is a band I started liking in early 1999, and I have now updated a page about them on a weekly (or at least monthly) basis for six and a half years straight. It is difficult to keep your interest for any band ‘at a peak’ the whole time, to keep up-to-date with news articles and forum entries and everything, and to sit down and write about them.

I do all the work on the page myself, so if I am slacking off, the page suffers. I still want to make sure that my heart is really in it, so I have tried to maintain that the page is about what I like, because I would rather present a small page that is complete and updated when it comes to the issues regarding the band that I care enough about to still be updating six and a half years later, rather than to present outdated and half-finished sections that I have not bothered updating.

The band is very supportive of what I do, and I get a lot of feedback from fans of the band and the many people who use the discussion forum. So it is a great encouragement to hear directly from the band that I do a good job and that they are proud of what I present, and to see fans gather and get along because I set up and maintain a forum for them to use. It is difficult to grow tired of doing this when there is so much good feedback, and the band is still interesting after all these years.

Having done this for a while as you have, what advice would you offer other people starting up or running fan sites?

Focus on the small bands that really deserve your interest and the time you put into the project. If you go for a band like Radiohead, thousands have already made better pages than yours will ever be, but if you go for the local band who sound like they should be selling millions of copies, you will be the first. They might turn out to be ‘the next big thing’ and it will be great, or they might dissolve into nothing. But hopefully they have tried, and you went along for the ride.