From Barbaro Fandom to Political Activism

You may have heard about the online websites that sprang up around beloved racehorse Barbaro. Delaware Online recently posted a profile of Alex Brown, the man charged with providing continuous online updates about Barbaro’s condition:

Since May 2006, Brown also has overseen the popular Tim Woolley Web site, It was started to keep fans updated on the progress of Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro after he shattered his leg in the Preakness. Barbaro’s fight for life ended last month when he was euthanized at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa.

One might wonder what happens to a community born of a shared concern after the object of that concern is gone. The answer so far seems to be that it goes on:

“After Barbaro was hurt, I was on the Web site five hours a day,” Brown said. “We created the Web site for you, the public. We did updates, even blogged about things that might be happening. When Barbaro first passed, the traffic went up considerably. It’s gone down a good bit, but we still average about 8,000 to 9,000 hits a day.”

What keeps it going? As this article spins it anyway, it’s shared commitment to the shared political cause of eliminating horse slaughter in the US:

Brown said the Web site remains popular because of a recently formed group of people around the country known as “Fans of Barbaro.” They continue to spread the word about the slaughter of horses in the United States and the anti-slaughter bill currently before Congress. Human consumption of horsemeat is rare among U.S. residents, but is an accepted practice in some countries.

“The fans of Barbaro are growing and growing,” Brown said. “We are hosting this group on our Web site. These people have become active on a variety of horse issues. They encourage each other to lobby their representatives and senators on the anti-horse slaughter bill. Just this week, they raised $3,500 in 24 hours on the Web site to save six horses and a mule.”

Fandom launches shared practices that go way beyond fandom. This is a good example of an online community spurring offline civic engagement and, I would bet, spurring new opportunities for offline interaction with one another and with new people as well. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many people still think of online community in opposition to offline community and worry that people who spend time doing things like hanging out in a website for a horse who has passed are passing up some kind of rich meaningful face-to-face interaction that they would be having if they logged off. John Robinson and colleauges have studied how people spend their time for several decades. The only really big differences they find between people who spend time on the internet and people who don’t is that net users sleep a lot less.

Update note: This post is generating a lot of traffic from — Welcome! This blog (Online Fandom) watches trends in how fans, industries, artists, and sometimes horses, are relating to one another in new ways using the internet.  Click on the header up there to browse around and explore some other interesting fan phenomena.

NASCAR gets a Social Network Site

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is spearheading the launch of Infield Parking, a social networking site for NASCAR fans. The cool thing about this one seems to be that they’ve got several drivers lined up to participate in advance of its launch:

Infield Parking is launching in concert with the start of the racing season. Nine drivers will be launching Infield Parking web pages this weekend in addition to Earnhardt Jr. They are Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Elliott Sadler, Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin and Shane Huffman. Many other NASCAR drivers will be launching pages of their own in the coming weeks.

They’re calling personal profiles “parking spaces” which I have to admit is kind of cute. Says Earndhardt:

“Infield Parking offers fans a cool new way to interact with drivers and the opportunity to connect with other fans around the world,” said Earnhardt Jr., president of Infield Parking. “During the season fans get to watch us race and see us at the track, but Infield Parking will give them a more personal level of access to the drivers and other fans through photos, blogs and video clips. “We came up with the idea for Infield Parking last year and it’s pretty cool to see everything come together as we launch it nationally. With today’s launch, I can’t wait to see the fan response.”

Plus the site’s got a nice looking front page and right there Dale asks for “your help” in providing feedback to make the site the best it can be.

They built a NASCAR track not too far from where I live a few years ago and man, if you ever want to see fandom at its most passionate, check out that scene. For one, what was rural farmland is now a shopping mecca and it is not overstating to say that this track (and the Cabelas and Nebraska Furniture Mart that followed) have transformed the wealth of Wyandotte County, Kansas. For two — and this is the part that gets me all wowwed even though it’s not my scene — drive by on any race weekend and there’s an instant town that’s gone up of RVs belonging to fans who seem to be doing a Grateful Dead like instant community construction project wherever NASCAR may go. It’s clearly a lifestyle as much as a hobby for an awful lot of people, so I suspect this site is going to work out well for them.

MOG, the music social networking site, also makes a point of foregrounding the pages of the musicians who are on there. MySpace has, of course, been working this angle since its inception. If the celebs are really in there nteracting and making things available that fans can’t get elsewhere, then being there becomes a must for the die-hard fan. Add on to that the kind of passionate fan community where fans have already built deep networks of personal connections over the phenomenon, and unless someone blows it, it oughta be gold. Coming Soon

Not content with a mere Super Bowl victory, those Indianapolis Colts are now out to conquer the world of social networking! They are planning to launch “” (hmmm, wonder what inspired that name?) which they describe as:

a free, on-line community built by Colts fans, for Colts fans. The system will be free for registered users. Members will be able to create personal profiles, arrange their own pages, and connect with other fans anywhere, anytime, inside the Colts Fan Network.

Although they say this, they also say that the site is owned by the Colts and there’s a humongo AT&T logo on the page with this announcement so one does wonder what will happen should those fans start getting more critical than the club is comfortable with. What happens if, oh, say Baltimore decides to woo them to their city and the fans all turn?

Along with the presumably massive amounts of sports talk, and the social network site-standards of blogging, email, and groups, they also say the site will have reviews: allows you to read reviews on many products created by fellow Colts Fans like you! Browse through automobile reviews, fashion reviews, food reviews, entertainment reviews, and more. Want to review a product? The tools are all there for you to express your opinions on goods and services.

Now that promise strikes me as odd. With so many review sites out there already, what is the special expertise or shared world view that a Colts fan has that your average epinions or cnet reader doesn’t?

They also discuss that they already have a fan forum and the hoped-for implications of this network on that forum:

Our fan forum (at is already a vibrant, ongoing conversation among avid Colts fans. When the fan network launches, the forum will expand to include more topics, more people, and more interaction than ever before.

Usually you get social networks where there weren’t forums, or the forums arise out of and within the social networks, so I’m curious to see what really happens to the forums once a network launches and how the two spaces will be integrated. How do you get a bunch of people to invest in building a social network AND bring more people topics and interaction to the old space? (win the Super Bowl?)

Mavericks launch fan wiki

Earlier this week, Mark Cuban, ever up to something, launched a wiki for his basketball team, the Dallas Mavericks. From the announcement:

The Dallas Mavericks have launched, a new moderated, informational website that is the first of its kind in professional sports. The site will be a collaboration between the Mavs and their fans, with the goal being to document every game the Mavs have played.“This site will provide fans a great way to share their Mavs experiences with us and other fans,” said Mavs owner Mark Cuban. “It will also give new fans a chance to catch up on the history of the Mavs.”

As a new Madrugada fan, it was extremely fun and interesting and informative for me to be able to go through the history of set lists for almost every concert that die-hard fans had compiled at their fan site, and I can imagine what an appealing thing this could be for fans of a sports team (despite the really ugly interface on this one). I’m curious how accurate the entries about older games will be, and whether people will end up in big old arguments over what really happened or what its significance was. But hey, that’s what being a fan is all about, and if it gets too out of hand, I guess that’s what moderation is all about, so cheers to Cuban for giving them yet another platform through which to do it. This could be a big and good trend.

The power of fans according to Disney

Online TV fans often question whether anyone behind the screen is paying attention to them. Toward that end, this report on Disney Company CEO Robert Iger’s keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show has a couple of interesting tidibits. First, we know that sports pages are the killer apps for network websites, but it’s still pretty amazing to hear Iger’s stats:

He said, sports fans spend an average of two hours each day on ESPN’s website, researching their teams. Disney owns ESPN. Shows offered on the company’s website have been played or download 120 million times over the past year and Disney was the first to offer its movie catalogue to viewers over Apple’s iTunes music service.

Appearing with him was Evangeline Lilly from Lost since, as he put it, “there is no show that demonstrates the importance of the Internet, than Lost”

“ABC created this worldwide phenomena called Lost,” he said. “It has become the most successful multi-platform show ever. has been overrun with fans coming to watch podcasts, discuss the show or view full length episodes.”

I especially liked Lilly’s comment about why “it’s particularly challenging to work on a show that has such a loyal online following”:

“The fans have a lot more control over the show than we do as actors,” she told the attendees at the conference. “We are really at the mercy of the fans. Producers go online to look at what is being said and they react to that.”

Of course, what’s often left out of these discussions is that fans never seem to speak with a single voice (Agnes Nixon, one of the best and most revered soap opera writers of all time, once noted that they know they’ve got it right when fan letters were evenly split between loving and hating what they were doing). Still, it’s unusual to see it recognized that to a great extent celebrities serve at the pleasure of the fans, and that the internet only enhances this power dynamic.