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!

Universal drops suit against ABBAMAIL

Some of you may recall that the ABBA fan site ABBAMAIL was being sued by Universal Music for selling unauthorized boots through their site. After much rallying from ABBA fans, Universal has decided merely to keep a close eye on their activities rather than going through with a law suit. Read all about it here:

We have received written advice from MIPI that Universal Music do not plan any further action against ABBAMAIL.

Our lawyers rang to advise us that the matter is now closed. Universal Music & MIPI have backed down on their original demands including wanting names, addresses etc. of fans who have purchased goods from ABBAMAIL’s webshop. They have also backed down from their demand to be given 20-30 year old audio and video cassettes from Graeme Read’s personal ABBA collection.

Above is a portion of the letter containing the relevant advice that Universal Music are not taking any further action. Now that we have this in writing and have published it on our website, we can begin to move on from this horrible and unnecessary situation and look towards the future for ABBAMAIL.

Like all letters received from MIPI, the language is tough but this is, in fact, a significant backdown from both Universal Music and MIPI. It only seems to have come about since the protest campaign that flooded Universal & Mono Music with emails from fans around the world angry about the situation. The feature article on the Sydney Morning Herald website, Australia’s most reputable newspaper, also seems to have had an impact.

ABBAMAIL did supply MIPI with raw sales numbers over the last few years and no doubt despite the aggressive wording of their letter, both Universal Music and MIPI realised that they were – after all – dealing with a fan organisation selling to hard core fans – not a major international piracy ring.

As the sitemasters note, however, the threat of suit was not without personal and financial cost to those involved.

I’m glad to see this, but stand by my position that it’s one thing for fans to distribute unreleased stuff amongst themselves for free and quite another to sell it (they have now pulled almost all of the boots they were selling). If you need money to fund your site, ask for donations like does.

Ryan Adams Message Board Shut Down

Pitchfork, ever eager to poke Ryan Adams in the eye with a fork, sets their animosity aside to report on the shutting down of his unaffiliated fan board. Apparently rumour had it that Adams couldn’t handle the negative criticism on the site, but:

Pitchfork contacted David Smith, proprietor of, who set the record straight. “Ryan’s management contacted me Tuesday, asking that the board be temporarily shut down,” he disclosed. “Initially there were reports of censorship or an inability to deal with criticism and negative show reviews. But I’ve since had the opportunity to discuss the issue directly with Ryan…and apparently sensitive information of a personal nature had been exposed on the board which was a threat to the band.

Information is said to have included his hotel room number (shades of anyone?). Meanwhile his fans have relocated elsewhere en masse while Smith figures out how to make it harder to register for the board.

Another fine line.

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.