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.

Comments (1) to “MIT C3on Most Popular Fan Communities”

  1. Nancy, very interesting comments in response. And you are exactly right regarding my take on “fandom.” There has been a lot of interesting research from C3-related faculty like Rob Kozinets on brand communities, and I think fandom extends far beyond the narrow confines that original research relegated it to.

    Thanks to the quote from Marc Smith. What I think is interesting is the language people use to describe themselves. Why do some people incorporate community, while others incorporate fandom?

    I think the major difference in a music fandom and a televison fandom is that music seems to be a type of media that maps over one’s own lives and social connections, while television properties create a fictional world that becomes the center of the discussion. In that way, it is the textual immersiveness of television fandom that changes the relationship with the media property.