Nike McFly Update

One of the most read posts I ever wrote was this one about sneaker fan efforts to get Nike to manufacture the McFly seen in Back to the Future II.

They got their wish. Kind of:

…the guys that run the McFly 2015 Project, a grassroots movement that has been trying to drum up support for Nike to make this shoe aren’t satisfied.

“The Nike Hyperdunks might be inspired by the McFly 2015’s, but the Nike Hyperdunks are not the McFly 2015’s” said Michael Maloof, who with his brother Charles launched a Web site last year in order to push for the futuristic sneakers. “We strongly encourage each and everyone who wants the ‘real’ McFly 2015’s to sign up on the official McFly 2015 project Web site.”

Sure enough, they don’t really look THAT much like the McFlys and, perhaps most importantly, they are not automagically self-lacing.



But it does look like someone at Nike is listening to the fans.

A Good Example of Letting Go

One of the hardest things about coming to terms with online fan bases is being ok with their criticism. I think all of us have a strong desire to only have nice things said about us. Trying to shut down voices that disagree can be a very understandable knee jerk reaction.

So it was interesting this week to see how Barack Obama, or at least his spokesperson, responded to the fact that people are using his own site to protest his turnaround on the FISA legislation by forming a protest group. According to The Wall Street Joural:

Membership in the online group grew tenfold over the weekend and boasted more than 9,000 members by Tuesday. The group’s sudden popularity suggests the vocalness of the grass-roots Internet community and raises questions about how Sen. Obama will handle dissenting voices from within the online movement he has harnessed to great success.

What are the obvious responses? Shut them down. Kick them off the site.

What is the official response?

Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement: “We believe that an open dialogue is an important part of any campaign, and are happy that has become a vehicle for that conversation.”

Whatever you think about FISA or Obama, this is the right way to handle dissent, whether it’s disagreement with your politics, disapproval of your new album, dislike of your team’s recruiting…

From TV Show to TV Brand

Yahoo! and Deep Focus have released the major findings from their survey of 2000 television viewers about how they use the internet to connect with TV shows and with what results. Among the key findings:

– A third of TV viewers go online to engage their favorite shows in addition to watching them on TV.

– Viewers over 35 see the TV show broadcast as “the main event” while those under 35 view it as just one piece of the TV show’s overall “brand” that also includes its online presence.

– 64% of information seeking activity about TV shows occurs BEFORE the show airs. Those who seek info online before a show are more likely to become regular viewers [I note that this is not surprising since these are the people most interested to begin with -- it's hard to argue from this finding that seeking information online causes increased viewing]

– People who seek information about a TV show pre-season “on average convince 5.1 of their friends to watch the show.” The people who are most likely to try to get others to watch a show are also much more likely to engage the show online.

Following up on my post about watching TV sports while logging on, the study also found that:

The most avid TV viewers tend to be into media meshing, with 65% of respondents reporting they search online for information about a TV show while they are watching it and 32% saying they keep a laptop within reach most of the time they are watching TV.

The report focuses on “using online search to find information about TV shows.” It is not clear whether they looked at things like posting to or reading discussion forums as different and interrelated activities. Either way, though, the study shows, yet again, the importance of the internet in facilitating, supporting, and expanding fan engagement. The conclusion they draw is applicable far beyond TV:

Understanding how viewers use online search to find information about TV shows, and how they engage with the content they find, is the first step in developing an online strategy that will transform your TV show into a TV brand.

Guest Post: Knowledge communities: Information, interpretation, and the currency of the era

Ryan M. Milner’s post a couple of weeks ago highlighting some of his findings in the analysis of Bethesda’s  Fallout Forum he did for his MA thesis at the University of Kansas generated a lot of interest on this blog and in the many Fallout forums out there. Today I’m happy to bring you a second post in which he talks about the importance of knowledge in the forum. Take it away, Ryan:

For a specialized community, Fallout fans are surprisingly international. The game series has struck a cord with fans across continents. This gives their interaction a diverse flair that would be impossible without the aid of mediated communication. From all over the world, Fallout fans gather to debate, discuss, and extend the mythos of the series.

Pierre Lévy called these gatherings “knowledge communities,” and they’re a sign of the times. Impromptu clusters of individuals with similar interests defining most of their social capital in terms of information and interpretation. These gatherings cover the internet. Whether they are fansites, industry sites, or gardening and auto repair sites, these communities are filled with voluntary participants who deal overwhelmingly in specialized information. Even forums I’ve read mocking fan interaction uphold the same cardinal value: knowledge.

If you need more proof, I offer fantasy football, the information-based simulation game played across, and by all my most masculine friends. Machismo archetypes you could never get near a session of Dungeons and Dragons will gladly trade emails for weeks about the stats, potential, and ability of a cast of thousands of characters. That is, as long as those characters are Randy Moss and Peyton Manning.

So there’s another counter-intuitive truth of the era. The interaction I found on the Fallout 3 forum was not too drastically different than the interaction I find in my fantasy football league — communities built on information and interpretation. These two categories of knowledge were first proposed by Nancy Baym in 2000. They fit in snug with Lévy’s propositions about knowledge communities and were all over the Fallout 3 forum. Most of the intense debates over the quality of Fallout 3 centered on the offer of information (such as a link to a screenshot or a quote from a producer) and the interpretation of that information. And in cases where there was no credible information to be proposed, speculation was a sufficient replacement. Even in the most heated moments of confrontation, information was a cardinal value. With very few exceptions, all the debates on the Fallout 3 forum were about knowledge.

An understanding of the Fallout universe was a paramount value on the forum. An understanding of digital-game culture in general wasn’t too far behind. And no matter how one felt about Fallout 3, being able to articulately and rationally discuss nuanced points was the only way to seriously enter into the conversation.

Now this last claim might be surprising to anyone who has visited the Bethesda Fallout 3 forum. At first glance, the site seems to be nothing but a flame war. Who would expect less from a space that sees interaction between Fallout fans, The Elder Scrolls fans, and Bethesda employees? But when arguments are presented, no matter how passionate, information and interpretation are their heart. When those arguments are challenged, they are challenged with conflicting information and interpretation. When flames crop up, they come from disagreements about those two values. And most tellingly, when the community strays from those values, it quickly self-corrects. Flames are tolerated, as long as they are intensely-worded claims based on knowledge. But when they get personal, the community steps in to calm the situation. And while the stringency of the moderators on the forum are a large part of that self-correction, the fans still generally keep the discourse in the realm of information and interpretation. They simply reject claims that do not uphold those values.

I think there’s something Bethesda, and producers of media texts in general, can learn from these observations. The Fallout fanbase (at least the majority of the vocal fanbase) has been wary of Bethesda’s handling of Fallout 3 for a while now. And time and exposure has only resulted in a stalemate, if not worsened relations. Part of me thinks that so many fans made up their mind so long ago that the only thing that would satisfy them was a Fallout 3 that looked just like Fallout 1 & 2, with no updates or changes. But another part of me wonders if the problem isn’t one of information and interpretation. Bethesda to date has released only a small number screenshots and one teaser trailer for a game that comes out in a few months. No beta test. No demo. No real glimpse into the process of creating the game. No invitations for input other than forum space and a character attribute contest where Bethesda picked the winner. All other information has been disseminated through third-party sources such as industry magazines. I think maybe Bethesda is ignoring the cardinal values of the Fallout community.

If fans thrive on knowledge, why not open up a bit? Maybe more disclosure about what Fallout 3 will look like would help. And maybe even more than content, openly discuss ideas. Ask for fan input, and give them detailed feedback about the process as you consider their suggestions and perspectives. I know that’s not the typical PR we see from most media companies, but helping fans feel like collaborators could do wonders. I understand why Bethesda might be skeptical about doing so. They’ve had to be on the defensive with the Fallout fan community since they got the rights to the game. But it seems like this wrong-foot start has been made worse by their guarded tone. When fans interpret this guardedness as disrespect, a vicious cycle ensues. Given how entrenched this pattern is between the two parties, I don’t see how a shift to an open exchange of knowledge could make the situation any worse.

Right now, it seems like Bethesda and many other media companies are operating under a traditional model of audience relations. Strictly controlling what information they put out and what information they receive. This model might be behind the times. I think it’s telling that the Fallout 3 forum has contained forty-some full threads called “Meet the Devs” where fans can ask producers about anything not related to Fallout 3. Compare that with the precious few controlled situations where fans have been allowed to directly interact with developers about the game on their terms. While fans and producers conversing about their favorite era in history or their favorite movie is relationally important, a little more open discussion about the game-development process might just speak to fan values and mitigate some of the tension.

It’s really just a matter of dealing in the currency of the era.

The Biggest Online Fans are Sports Fans

The European Interactive Advertising Association recently released a study showing that sports fans are twice as likely to use the internet while watching TV than are ‘average’ internet users. As the report on this posted at Netimperative explains:

Over a third (36%) of all European internet users currently visit sports websites and these sports site users spend over 13 hours online each week, 10% more time than the average European and an increase of 27% since 2004.

These figures are set to ramp up as we approach a summer full of hot-to-watch events such as Euro 2008 and the Olympics.

Events such as these can act as catalysts for media change as fans adopt new habits and technology in order to follow their favourite sports.

What the article doesn’t address (although the full report may address it) is why sports fans would watch tv while being online simultaneously or what it is that they are doing while online.

Throwing out a little wild speculation, my guess is that watching sports is more tension-creating than just about any other kind of fandom, creating more of a need to connect with other people as you go through it. Surely it’s a fact (though I haven’t seen the data) that sporting events draw more live audience members than other kinds of fan events. I know that during the NCAA tournament, even I, the world’s lamest sports fan, found myself checking twitter continuously for the reactions of other KU fans to some really tense — and then tension relieving — moments.

But maybe it’s also about the statistics and the huge wealth of background knowledge about sports that’s out there which might be relevant at any given moment. “Wait, who’s this guy again? Let me check.”

I know there are some readers who know WAY more about sports than I. Any insights to share?

The study is also an important reminder for fandom scholars of how badly we need to take account of sports. I complain that fan researchers pay too little attention to music (which we do), but given the magnitude of sports fandom and new media, the topic deserves far more focus than it gets.

It also raises questions about the temporal elements of online fandom — what kinds of fandom drive what kinds of internet use? What makes people need to be online at the same time? What makes people log on as soon as it’s over? What makes people check in sometime in the weeks that follow? What has people logging on beforehand?