Social Sports Explosion!

Mashable runs through the many new social networking sites suddenly flooding the sports fans scene. Now there’s one for cricket joining several others, most of which have debuted in the last 3-4 months. How much is too much? How do fans decide which to join when there are so many to choose from? Interface? What’s on the front page? My guess: which one their friends use — or which ones the people in the online sports networks they’re already hanging in talk about — will be the biggest influence on which ones people adapt.

I suspect each will develop its own subcultural niches, some will fail, a few will thrive. Last time I wrote about this I said I was sure there was room for two. But surely there isn’t room for 7. It will be interesting to see which ones succeed and what they did that the others didn’t.

Mark Cuban’s take on online fandom

Last summer I saw a talk sponsored by the Aspen Institute on “The Digital Future” with Mark Cuban. For those who don’t know, Cuban made one of his fortunes by selling his media streaming company to Yahoo way back in the 1990s. He’s now the owner of HDNet, the first all-high definition tv network and, more famously, the Dallas Mavericks. He’s also got a number of side projects like his movie theaters, his investigative stock report, and his blog aggregator. It was the first time I’d heard Cuban, and I came away with the impression of a man who’s really smart, knowledgable, and who’s got an integrated vision of how it all fits together.

He’s written on his blog that convergence is over, everything is already digital, and he argues that media content ought to be available in any form the consumers want it. My favorite line of the night was his summary of this position: “bits are bits, I can deliver. I’m agnostic, I don’t care how it gets there.” But, other than the need to provide them with a variety of delivery platforms, there was very little said about media audiences in the talk, and I wondered what Cuban would have to say about the changing role(s) of the media viewers as fans also get more control over bits and bytes and make their own products, connections with one another, and so on.

So I shot him an email and asked, and (with his permission to reprint), here’s what he had to say:

Its nothing new. Its been going on for years. From fan clubs to high school clubs to CompuServe and Prodigy forums and usenet groups and AOL discussion groups and chat rooms to IRC rooms. People contract their sphere of connections to where they can either feel smart/important, feel comfortable as part of a group, or can improve their communications. Today they call that social networking and it happens on discussion forums for sports teams, on myspace, friendster, xanga and many other sites.

Youtube is an old concept. The only difference between what they have been able to do and others is that the copyright police didn’t shut them down. Two years ago they get closed down faster than you can say RIAA.

You are right, there is no question that fandom and online community has increased, but I think it can be traced back to digital content organizations giving social networking a pass rather than shutting them down.

Youtube is a perfect example. All the people putting up their favorite songs on their myspace pages is another. No way the RIAA lets that happen 2/3 years ago. If they did, all the old hosting companies like geocities would have thrived and evolved rather than devolved.

The concept of friends is just a better implementation of website rings. Blogs are just templates for daily entries on websites.

Broadband made it more fun to be online, faster to participate and enabled the faster, smoother use of media/video/audio.

When I bought the mavs I got on discussion groups to answer questions, most are the same today.

When I started my blog, it just made it easier than updating a page on the Mavs website.

Putting up trailers on sites is old news, as is downloading movies. For all the discussion about progress, look back 5 years and ask just how much broadband progress has been made. Broadband has gotten marginally faster, but dramatically cheaper from competition.

I guess what Im saying, its just business as usual. Like the fashion world, pants are pants, shirts are shirts, they just seem cooler when they are first coming out in new styles, but when we look back, we realize it was no big deal.

I appreciate the perspective he brings here, that fandom has been going on for a long time and that its boom right now may be triggered more by changes in the legalistic environment than by real transformations of technological capability or ways that fans engage the media and one another [rumour has it Universal Music Group is going to sue MySpace and YouTube for copyright infringement]. When I look at online fan groups now, I certainly see a lot of the same dynamics and processes I was seeing when I started writing about them in 1991.

At the same time, I’m not sure it’s really “business as usual.” Audiences may have been doing these things all along, but they weren’t getting noticed as they are now, and they weren’t getting addressed and engaged directly by the objects of their fandom in the way they are now. I think those create real changes in the expectations fans develop about the people behind the teams/music/shows/movies/etc that they love, and in how those people need to behave toward fans to make the most of what they’re doing. Technological capabilities and fans’ uses of them may not have changed much, but the social/commercial environment in which these things happen has.

Lonelygirl creaters weren’t trying to trick their fans?

I’m already starting to feel a bit Lonelygirl15ed out, but had to comment on this set of quotes from the filmmakers:

The creators said Tuesday that they never intended to stage a hoax or trick people into believing their characters were real.”We never wanted to lie to people,” Beckett said.

“Our job from the beginning was not to trick people. It was to create a character that was believable,” Flinders said.

The trio began posting individually scripted and filmed episodes online and began incorporating changes based on reactions and suggestions from fans.

The result is part video game, where viewers exercise some measure of control over the characters, and part mystery novel, complete with hidden clues and cliffhanger chapters that left viewers wanting more.

Flinders writes scripts for each episode and the actress playing Bree delivers her lines with a persuasive power that still has some online viewers believing she is genuine, even after her creators posted their online confession several days ago.

Excuse me, guys, but when you have profiles posted on social networking sites and someone sending emails to the New York Times and signing them “Bree” when you know darn well the person you’re sending them to is questioning Bree’s existence, you are trying to trick people. There’s nothing wrong with fiction, and it’s great if they’ve got more viewers now that we know it’s fiction, but when you try to make a character so real that people believe she exists, you’re trying to trick them, don’t pretend otherwise.

I like the idea of a video series that encourages fan involvement, think it’s a great use of YouTube and MySpace, and am somewhat relieved to hear that this turns out to be indie guys and not, oh, Disney, but I just don’t like deception. Maybe I’m funny that way.

Does online fandom cause child pornography?

This is a weird and ugly case reported in the LA Times where an underaged extra recruited through MySpace is suing Warner Music Group, Atlantic Records, and others for allegedly getting her drunk and coercing her into performing pornographic acts for a music video:

The Internet has transformed how bands interact with their fans. But that can lead to troublesome consequences.A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleges that Warner Music Group, Atlantic Records and other music industry organizations helped coerce a 16-year-old girl into making pornographic rock videos when a band advertised for extras on MySpace, News Corp.’s teen-oriented social networking site.

The companies and musicians’ representatives deny they did anything wrong. But they acknowledge that difficult situations may arise as they reach out to young fans.

But it is just such situations, the girl’s attorney said, that demand heightened caution by the music business.

“For years, the industry has been talking about how online sales and online promotion creates unique opportunities to reach out to fans,” said the attorney, Douglas Silverstein. “Well, that also creates a unique burden” to protect minors from online exploitation, he added.

The suit, filed Thursday, alleges that popular rock group Buckcherry, which is known for its sexually suggestive lyrics and members’ tattooed torsos, asked fans to show up at Hollywood’s Key Club in October.

The plaintiff, a minor identified as Jane Doe who was living in Southern California, was allegedly given alcohol to drink and filmed exposing her breasts, kissing another female and writhing against a pole while Buckcherry performed a song with an unprintable title.

According to the lawsuit, the music video was posted on the band’s website and distributed widely online, as was a “behind the scenes” program that referred to the girl’s first name, featured more nudity and had band members saying, “It’s like watching seven hours of porn.”

The behavior here is terrible, but blaming the internet or the music industry is quite a stretch. I say hold the people who gave her alcohol, filmed her, and posted the film responsible. They’re the bad guys, not the companies (unless the band’s website were run by the label, which Buckcherry’s does not seem to be). I don’t think the communicative potential of the internet creates a “unique burden” any more than in-store appearances, concert halls, backstages, tour buses, bars, and hotel rooms do.

I had a discussion with someone in the music business a few months ago where he argued that labels must be hypervigilant (i.e. limit fan involvement) with sites for bands that appeal to underage girls because they are used by predators. No question that’s a bad thing, and I don’t want to discourage anyone from taking reasonable precautions to prevent it. But I wanted to know whether the labels also felt it was their responsibility to go to these artists’ concerts or ensure there was adequate security present to protect the girls who saw them live.

It concerns me because the rhetoric of protecting children, especially girls, and especially girls who might (horror!) be sexual, has been used as an argument for shutting things down at least since the advent of the telephone. Just look at Deletion of Online Predator’s Act which seeks to ban the use of social networking sites in federally funded places like libraries and schools. The need to protect kids as best we can is real, but focussing on the technology allows us to ignore the really scary truth that almost all cases of bad sexual things that happen to kids have nothing to do with technology and everything to do with the home, the neighborhood, and the family. We have to be careful not to keep everyone, including those kids, from participating in culture more fully because we have fears about what might happen to a very few.

Fans as music-sellers on MySpace

You’ve likely heard the news that MySpace is going to enable selling music. Particularly interesting is that they are letting the fans sell the bands’ tunes through their own profiles:

A handful of bands have been testing the MySpace online music feature for several weeks. One is The Format, an indie rock band from Phoenix, Ariz., that boasts more than 99,000 “friends” on their MySpace page.

Terry McBride, chief executive of Canadian label Nettwerk Records, which manages the band and handles their marketing and promotion, said having fans help sell the band’s music is the wave of the future.

We have a strong belief the next major retailer in music is the consumer themselves,” McBride said. “This is a step in the right direction.”

I guess it’s not that different from being an Amazon affiliate, except it looks to me like the fans aren’t getting any of the take for sales made through their profiles. Anyone know for sure?

I wondered before about where the line is between empowering and exploiting fans, also in the context of the Murdoch empire, and this is another example. Yeah, I would love to be personally responsible for selling records by my favorite artists (I confess that I’ve been known to count how many copies of records I know were bought because of my recommendations). On the other hand, if I had a thriving little media sales empire taking place through a web profile I expended considerable energy on maintaining and keeping filled with current and compelling content, I think I’d feel a wee bit resentful if I weren’t seeing any of that income. Of course, I’d want a cut of MySpace’s profit, not the band’s.