Song Blogging

About 2 months ago Matthew Perpetua started a blog called Pop Songs 07 with the goal of writing about every R.E.M. song. He’s not posting the songs, he’s just writing short reviews of them one by one. For those who haven’t been following, that’s a lot of songs covering a lot of time. Thus far he’s done over 40 of them but still has many more to go. I don’t agree with all his analyses, but in a way that’s the point. The fact that he’s doing it, and doing it this way, opens up a new way for fans to discuss the songs, each on their own, and the amount of comments he’s getting from fellow fans offering their own takes on the songs is really interesting.

Yesterday, for instance, he posted about Stand, one of the most successful and reviled of their songs. The 50+ comments demonstrate many of the things music does for fans. It brings up old memories:

“stand” was the first r.e.m. song i can remember hearing. the video was shown on nick rocks. it was a nickelodeon music video show (for kids, obviously–maybe you remember, but it might have been before your time). i think this was in 1988 or so.


When I was 15, Stipe’s long hair and shy smile in this video had me all crushed out. This remains one of my favorite R.E.M. songs, regardless of meaning, connotations, or chart position.

For others, it’s a chance to differentiate themselves from other R.E.M. fans (age has been a huge issue in this fan community as long as I’ve been following it):

Based on the postings so far, I’m a little older than some of you. I’m definitely one of those folks who remember being worried about REM’s move to Warner Brothers. Someone mentioned not being able to get into the IRS years. For me, it’s exactly the opposite: there was such a clear distinction made (by the band) between their IRS and Warner Bros albums, I’ve never been able to fully embrace the later stuff. In many ways, Green was a shock (not in a good way). While much of the album has grown on me, “Stand” just hasn’t.

It also leads to discussion of other topics:

Given the climate change the song is more actual and urgent than ever. I reat that the name Green comes from the german political party “Die Grünen” (german for green), do you know if that is right?


Gabriel, the US has its own Green party. It’s just a word commonly associated with environmentalism, and parties that encourage reform of policies that have a negative impact on the environment.

And of course there is plenty of good natured discussion of whether the song is fun and wonderful or stinks.

Fan forums often have discussions of new records when they come out, and discussions of tours when they happen, but this kind of song-by-song discussion is not something I’ve seen before [if you have other examples, please point them out!] and I think it offers a neat chance for fans to get into depth about what songs mean to them, how they’ve worn over the years, and so on.

When the famous pop in

Bruce Willis popped in incognito to hang out in the site Ain’t It Cool News and chat about Die Hard movies. He had some rather harsh things to say, people started suspecting it was Willis (he did use his real first name, calling himself Walter B), somehow or other Willis ends up outing himself to the people behind Ain’t It Cool News, requesting a new topic:

Around 3:45am last night, Bruce Willis left a message on my cel phone regarding… talkback. As many of you have figured out… yes, Bruce is talking to you. He is Walter B in talkbacks and I’ve given him Black Box Posting powers so you can see that it is, indeed, him. I’ve also seen that he wants a new talkback, and well… what the Bruce wants, the Bruce gets… because if he wants to moonlight as a Talkbacker, that’s pretty goddamn cool!

If you want to see what he had to say, here is the ‘best of.’

Needless to say, people in the forum are tickled beyond belief that he came by to visit with them. Why don’t more famous people do this? It’s so easy. They can do it at home. And it makes their fans so very very happy.

More social networking for wine fans

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Vinorati, a bi-lingual social networking site based in France for wine enthusiasts. Since then, people searching for “wine social network” have been landing on my site consistently, including, it seems Sagi Solomon, who runs another social networking site built around wine called Open Bottles, launched way back in late 2005. As I wrote before, wine seems ideal for social networking — there are zillions of choices no one can taste all of — which makes social knowledge pooling essential — and there are already a lot of social occasions built around wine (wine tasting parties, for instance, or the country of France). Like music, there’s also a professional criticism industry which your average wine drinker may or may not identify with. As Solomon says about his inspiration for starting the site:

When I first got into wine I realized two things – that my primary source of recommendations came from friends, and that the wines my friends recommended were better than the wines recommended by other sources (e.g., Parker or Enthusiast). My friends felt the same way. I created OpenBottles so that my friends and I could share wine recommendations.

From a fandom perspective, wine is also interesting in that it is clearly “high culture” in contrast to all that “low culture” stuff fans do, yet when you look at what wine lovers are doing together on these sites, it doesn’t look all that different from what people into things like low-class rock music do when they get together on the net.

I posted an interview with Vinorati’s co-founder here and here, so when Sagi wrote, I grabbed the chance to ask him about OpenBottles. I started by asking him about user activity on the site:

The community is growing rapidly. Traffic to the site is growing exponentially as thousands of visitors and members visit each month. I have about 50 winery members participating. The database contains information about more than 19,000 wines and 2,100 wineries, which is one of the largest wine databases from what I can tell.

The main thing that members are doing is sharing wine and winery recommendations and managing their wine collections using our cellar feature. Visitors to the site primarily research wine information and reviews.

Here’s the rest of our interview:

One of the things I thought was interesting about OpenBottles is that you are encouraging wineries to create profiles for themselves and their products. What motivated you to invite the wineries into the site? What contribution do you think sites like OpenBottles can offer the relationships between winebuffs and wineries?

My initial motivator was to get wineries to help me build the database. That focus has changed as the site grew. Early on I developed good relationships with small, emerging wineries. These wineries were producing great wines, but most people never heard of them. I realized that OpenBottles was the perfect place to make the introduction. Wineries get their brands in front of the community, and the community gets to find out about the up-and-coming wineries. Everyone wins! My current focus is on helping wineries convert online traffic into foot traffic to their tasting rooms.

In addition, OpenBottles opens another channel of communication between the wineries and the community. Through this channel, the wineries can communicate information about their new releases, offer discounts, special offers and other benefits that are specifically tailored for the community.

Finally, wineries and wine consumers benefit from the free exchange of information. Wineries learn about the tastes and preferences of their customers through the reviews they leave on OpenBottles. Based on those reviews, wineries can adapt and deliver a better product (and experience) to their customers.

Are there tensions that have arisen around having the wineries and their customer-critics discussing the wines in the same site?

Good question. I have not had any problems in this area. Our community values honest communication and we do not tolerate jerks. Honest, but negative reviews, are welcome and encouraged. Personal opinions rule in our community, and for the most part everyone gets it. I had one incident of a winemaker requesting that I remove a negative comment about his tasting room. I refused, and explained how this feedback is actually useful to him. He got it.

I see a number of parallels between online social groups for wine, and those for music, film, tv shows, and so on. Bringing the wineries and buffs together on OpenBottles, seems to parallel MySpace, but with vintners instead of bands. What are your thoughts about this?

That’s a great observation. I’m a believer in applying lessons learned by other people to save time and money. I try to mimic MySpace where I think it is appropriate. MySpace did a lot of things right, and it also did a lot of things wrong. For one thing, MySpace made the community personal. I think that’s key. One thing MySpace isn’t doing right is that it is losing focus. It started with a music focus, but it is straying from that. I think that’s a mistake. OpenBottles is a wine community, and that is where our focus will remain. I want to make sure that we are always providing our members with relevant, useful and actionable information. I will continue to incorporate features that worked well in other communities to the extent that they add value to our community. I’m always looking for ways to build a stronger, more active community.

Are there any ways in which users have surprised you with the uses they’ve made of the site?

I strongly believe in asking the community for feedback and building features that address the community’s needs. In that regard, the uses the community makes of the site are the uses they requested. For example, the community uses the winery reviews to plan wine tasting trips. That is not something I contemplated originally, but it is such a good use of the data that I plan on introducing some features to make it easier to do this kind of planning. Another example is the community using the information from the site in other settings, such as professional networking events. There has also been talk about using the wine community to build a professional network. I’m looking into how this can be accommodated as well.

What have you found to be the biggest challenges of building a social networking site?

The biggest challenge of building the wine community is getting people to contribute. I’ve found that most wine drinkers expect wine reviews to read a certain way (like Parker’s reviews). They are therefore afraid of sounding inexperienced or of being wrong. This is a huge challenge, and one that will take time to resolve. One of the ways I try to help people get over this fear is to focus the rating and reviewing process on the personal experience rather than the “technical” aspects of wine. No one can argue with my opinion about whether or not I liked the wine or not. Simplifying the rating system has been useful at all. The 100-point scales are difficult to apply practically (what’s the difference between an 88 and a 91?), and they are easy to skew. If you allow people to respond in a non-committed answer (“neutral” or “3 out of 5”), they will, and the data is useless. Our rating system is easy to understand, is based on personal experiences and is easy to standardize. All of these elements encourage members to share.

What advice would you offer others who are interested in creating online social spaces for people to discuss their favorite hobbies?

First and foremost, I would recommend that they have a focus. Lack of focus is death in this space. Second, I would encourage them to always communicate with the community to find out what it’s doing, what it wants, what’s working and what’s not. I interact with my members regularly and I give them many ways to reach me. Finally, I would focus on introducing tools to help people share information quickly and easily. The key is to get useful information disseminated as quickly as possible, and to standardize it for quick consumption. With wine, I created the “Liked By” rating as shorthand for what the community thought about the wine. More detail is easily accessible, if that is what the visitor wants. Finally, I would recommend that anyone starting a community should have passion for the subject. That passion should infect every aspect of the community from features to its members. Passion is what holds the community together.

Potter fan sites go mainstream

Harry Potter fan sites got some wide spread news coverage this weekend in an article that traces the development and breadth of the sites. It (rightly) frames the fan sites as an integral part of the Harry Potter phenomenon, with quotes like this one from a publisher:

“The Potter sites set the standard,” says Anthony Ziccardi, vice president and deputy publisher for rival Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster that releases “Star Trek” paperbacks.

“The thing about the Potter phenomenon is that it has a huge, active fan base, both young and old, with a lot of teenagers. The ’Star Trek’ fan sites are a little bit older – most of the fans are 25 and older. The Potter sites really stand out – they’re like a marketing machine in and of themselves.”

and this one from Warner Brothers:

“When we have brought representatives from some of the key fan sites and showed them the details for the film sets, even if some of them were disappointed that we had left out certain elements from the books, they respected what we were trying to do,” says Diane Nelson, Warner Bros.’ executive vice president for global brand management.”We’re not naive enough to think we’re going to avoid criticism, but bringing the fan sites into the process is what we feel is really important.”

The article also touches on the challenges of running a fan website. Very nice to see an article that recognizes online fans as important participants in the production and promotion processes rather than lifeless losers in parental basements.

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?