MIT C3on Most Popular Fan Communities

Over at the excellent MIT Convergence Culture Consortium blog, Sam Ford reports on trying to assess which ‘fan communities’ get the most hits. He notes:

Are all gathering places of fans to be called communities? It’s interesting to see what sites officially label themselves as a home for the fan community. Some are officially run sites for music performers, while other are fan tributes to them. Seeing which sites seem to be the top hits for a “fan community” search is quite illuminating. As my list has shown, not knowing the exact formula for how Google and Yahoo! comes up with what’s at the top of each search, is that certain groups appear to be awfully consistent as the most sought destinations for people looking to find a “fan community.” Instead of a generic definition page or something surrounding a television show–with the exception of the Firefly fans–it appears music dominates online usage of the term “fan community” within the media industry.

I find this particularly interesting given the discussion on here a while back about the use of the term “fandom.” I get the sense that Sam shares my own broad take on the term, given entries about fans of the US Postal Service, Pringles Potato Chips, and other sites pretty far from some of the fanfic communities’ more narrow take on the term. Though I might be wrong about that. (Sam?)

But I am not all that surprised to see music dominating the usage of the term (nor do I share the surprise at Franz Ferdinand topping the chart — having been squeezed shoulder to shoulder with masses of incredibly enthusiastic FF fans at a show not too long ago — a really wonderful fun show at that). Why not? Because unlike other forms of fandom, music fandom has been an organizing principle of social life for many people for a long time, from way before the internet. It’s been the case at least since the 1960s, and maybe since the 1950s, and maybe even before that, that you could make some reasoned guesses about whether music was important to a person, and, if so, what kind based purely on how someone dressed. Punk rock took this to an extreme as the goth rockers do now, but it’s not unique to them. I’ve long said that you can tell almost everything you need to know about a person by looking from the knees down, and musical taste is something not all that hard to glean from the cut of pant legs and shoe choice. When I was in high school and college (pre-net), my social groups were based entirely on musical preferences. Now there were plenty of people for whom musical choice didn’t play that role, but for people who were into music, it was, as it still is, germane to who we hung out with.

In contrast, I don’t think other forms of fandom have been incorporated so fully into our visual identity or our social groups. We may watch the shows our friends watch, maybe even read the books they do, but do people who are into TV shows choose their friends based on the tv shows they prefer? I’m sure some do, but I’m guessing that for people really into music, that is a bigger influence on friend choice than tv is for people into tv.

Sam also raises the question of the use of the term “community.” I love my friend Marc Smith‘s take on this — “community is a great term for marketing but a lousy term for thinking.” My research suggests that whether they are to be called communities or not depends more on who’s doing the labeling than on individual experiences of the spaces. In any one group there are members who experience it as community and others who don’t, and it’s not linked clearly to participation rate — highly active participants may reject that label while lurkers may think it fits quite well.

Britney’s #1 Fan Site to Close

Lured out of my vacation slumber by breaking Britney Spears news! (sarcasm not dulled by the holidays)

According to the Online Wire, Britney Spears’s “#1 Fan Site” is shutting down on account of not being “able to find credible material”

…With the internet exhausted with brutal photos, news exclusives and millions of blogs on Spears one can’t blame webmaster Ruben Garay.

In an exclusive interview with ABC Radio News, Garay says he has ”exhausted his attempts” to make Spears “show appreciation for the millions of fans who have been waiting for her comeback after all these years.”

Her buddy Paris Hilton says it just ain’t so. Me, I just can’t believe that ten years later, we’re still paying attention to Britney.

Wishing you all peace and love in 2007.

IKEA Fan Sites

A couple of years ago, the fabulous Nina Wakeford gave a keynote address at the Association of Internet Researchers. She began by musing on what kind of named chair she would like to have were she to have one. I can’t do her performance justice, but she said she’d decided she’d like to be “an IKEA chair” — offering simple brightly colored theories that you could take home but which never fit together quite as well as they did at the store.

Love it or hate it, IKEA’s got allure, and like Trader Joe’s, it’s also got some serious fandom going on around it. See for example this site which violates every design principle for which IKEA is known (but which sure shows the love!). Or this one for fans of the stores in Ohio.

What does it take for a store to get a fan phenomenon going on around it? Both Trader Joes and IKEA seem to have a distinctive ethos — a value system that they are consistent in pursuing. For Trader Joes it’s cheap, healthy, food from a variety of cultures. For IKEA it’s cheap, bright, simple, and cheerful aesthetics. Both of those are qualities that people can think “I’m the kind of person who likes…” These stores know what they do and they do it consistently. They’ve got their own style, and they’re easy to identify with.

Robert Jordan’s exemplary fan community writes about blog-reading fans of the terminally-ill author Robert Jordan. Jordan has been writing about his illness on his blog, and his fans have apparently gone above and beyond in supporting him:

Robert Jordan, author of the best-selling Wheel of Time series, has fans. And if you want to understand them, take a look at his blog. Since last spring, when he announced he had a rare blood disease called amyloidosis, Jordan, 58, has been chronicling his life-and-death struggle online. Whenever he’s well enough to write, he thanks the fans who sent care packages, and those who donated to the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn., where he is being treated. Then there’s this: “For Jaime Platt and her sister, your offer touches me deeply. They were able to harvest enough of my own bone marrow stem cells that I don’t need marrow donation from elsewhere, but thank you very much. That was a kind and generous offer.”

His fans aren’t just offering body parts to him, they’re also connecting with each other:

In the Internet age, fans can engage with a book long after they’ve finished it. They go online, meet other fans and participate in role-playing games. There’s even a Web site profiling couples who have met and married because of the series. (One happy couple, Amber and Markku of Espoo, Finland, met in a “clan” devoted to the Wheel of Time board game.) Rabid Jordan fans know all about Harriet, his wife and editor, and they even sent her care packages when they learned he was ill.

I am sure much of this comes from the connection fans feel with his books and with him. But looking at his blog, it’s also clear that he’s set it up to foster a sense of community. The front page is a blog, but the header reads “Dragonmount, A Wheel of Time Community” and in addition to the blog is a prominent link to a forum where there’s loads of discussion going on. There is a gallery for fan art. This is an author who has given fans an officially-sanctioned space to connect with one another around his work, to be creative with his work, and added on maintaining regular and meaningful direct connection with them as well. It’s a good model.

When users are abusers

Running a fan board is a tremendous act of love and a helluva lot of effort. In the best cases, the site masters are adored and appreciated by the people who use the boards. In the worst cases, stuff like this happens:

THE SaintsForever website has shut down its popular message boards after the man who runs it was subjected to “a never ending stream of abuse.”

Over the last eight years Keith Legg has seen SaintsForever become one of the most popular forums on the internet for Saints fans to discuss everything from tactics and signings to the price of pies in the concourses at St Mary’s.

In a statement posted on the site to explain the closure of the forums, Legg said: “Unfortunately, this site has become more of a burden than a pleasure.

Here’s an excerpt from his statement:

Unfortunately, this site has become more of a burden than a pleasure to me and I have to constantly deal with issues created by a minority of people who have it in for the site, or me in particular.

I fully appreciate this is allowing the minority to spoil it for the majority and for a long time now, I’ve resisted my gut feeling to shut the site for the very reason that I “didn’t want to let the bastards win”. I have met many great people via this site and had some superb support over the years, which has made this decision all the harder.

But when I receive a never ending stream of abusive emails, threats, lies spread about my private and professional life, damage to my property, abusive phonecalls, anonymous letters to my employer and hacking attempts to the site and my emails… it really is not worth it when it effects me and most importantly, my family.

Of course, all the above is done by gutless anonymous cowards with little grasp on living in the real world and being able to act like normal human beings. Unfortunately the internet is a haven for these type of saddos and I can only see it getting worse.

I don’t know the backstory here, but it’s easy to imagine it happening in any fan site. I wish I had a magic solution to this kind of garbage. In this case, the board’s admin team decided to step in and pick up where Legg left off, but not without disruption:

As already stated, the Admin Team have been busy setting up a brand-new message board.

We are starting from scratch, so everyone will need to re-register – but, once you’ve created an account, you should be able to post straight away.

As it’s a brand-new board, on a new host, there is always the possibility of teething problems – if this happens, please accept our apologies and bear with us as we sort it out.

I guess it serves as a reminder of the fragility of fan communities.