I get my kicks on Route 36… and 18

The easiest way to get from east Kansas to central Colorado is to hop on I-70 and just drive. It’s also so boring it makes your heart sink down to your toes, out the floor of the car, and wind up as roadkill somewhere around Colby KS (perhaps at the Colby Oasis where one can find huge fake palm trees and a Starbucks). So coming home this time we took the backroads. Takes longer, but way funkier. And along the way, we saw lots of signs of highway fandom — messages in our guidebook that if we went north a few miles then west another mile we could see the sign for the Old Old Highway 81, for instance. Those old roads are a funny mix of rural tranquility and sad decay, but they sure have their fans. So I’ve been looking for road fandom sites.

Most are either informational sites or travelogues rather than interactive discussion spaces, which seems a bit of a shame since it makes it hard for the buffs to cohere. It seems like the east has the best sites:

New York City Roads

Scenic Highways of New England

Philly Roads

But I found some nice midwestern ones too:

The Indiana chapter of the Lincoln Highway Association

And, hooray, Highway 36 across Colorado and Kansas, which really does look like these pictures.

And some nice art photography sites based on lost highways:

Ghost Highways and Stations

Edgar Praus’s photoblog

Route 18 in Kansas doesn’t seem to get a lot of web-loving, though, so here’s a contribution or two:

Zurich, Kansas:

Zurich, Kansas

Paradise, Kansas:

Welcome to Paradise

Cornfield in the middle of nowhere, Kansas:

Dragon on the Plains

If you know of any outstanding highway fandom sites, send them my way!

Fans vs Pranksters

I’m sure you’ve all been breathlessly following the Spice Girls reunion news (to say nothing of the nonstop drama of Posh and that husband of hers moving to LA), but maybe you missed this little blip:

The five-member skank-power band has asked fans to vote online to decide which city will be added to their 14-date world tour and promised they would play wherever got the most nominations; however, they probably weren’t banking on the fact that a huge number of Spice Girl haters would get in on the fun, nominating them to invade the war-torn city in Iraq.

To their credit, they say Baghdad is in the running and if it’s a top vote getter, they’ll go there. Of course, they may have to play acoustically given the electricity issues there, and I’m not sure it’s right to inflict them on a country already so devastated, but on the other hand, setting cattiness aside, the good people of Baghdad deserve some fun, years and years of fun, and if this happens and brings them a little bit of it, then the pranksters will have done more good than they meant to.

It does raise the issue of how to manage online voting in ways that get fans involved without feeding the antifans. There’ve been a lot of efforts to solicit fan input on everything from where to play, to which songs to play, to which songs to be on records, and, oh yeah, which character to kick off the TV show. The things that seem to work best at excluding antifans involve small barriers to participation – a $1 annual fee or registration. But those things exclude fans too.

Speaking of which has everyone been following the DailyKos (free to post) vs Bill O’Reilly ($5 to post) drama? I will steer clear but if you care at all about the tensions between the top down right wing media and political machine vs the bottom up online leftie grassroots, it’s a doozie.

Update: No Iraq for the Spice Girls, Toronto got more votes. Or so they say. Interestingly, this article attributes the Iraq votes to a fan-movement in Iraq rather than to antifans.

I still exist!

It’s been a little quiet here these last several days as I’ve been winding my way back home from Colorado. But I’ll be back soon! Don’t go anywhere! Well, ok, click over to a more interesting website for now. Or go weed the garden. But come back later cuz as soon as I come out of my ‘rats! there are no mountains here’ funk I’ll be posting away again :)

‘Competitive Fandom’

ScienceDaily recently published an interesting article about the work of a pair of UW-Madison researchers on fantasy sports leagues:

Fantasy baseball is the ultimate model for a game type Erica Halverson, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and part of the GLS program, calls “competitive fandom,” a rapidly growing area of interactive participation for people who are passionate experts in a given subject or field. “You name it and there’s a fantasy version of it,” she says.

There’s already Fantasy Congress, where players earn points for how many bills their team of legislators introduce and pass; Fantasy Survivor, a companion to the hit TV reality show; and Hollywood Stock Exchange, where fans trade “securities” to predict how well a movie will do at the box office or how an individual actor’s career will fare.

But sports reign supreme in this genre and fantasy baseball does it best, Erica Halverson says. And the game – where players have access to huge amounts of data and the ability to manipulate those numbers with relative ease – shows some parallels with other fields, such as the stock market.

[...]

It’s an area ripe for study. Sixteen million adults played fantasy sports in 2006, spending an average of just under $500 a year and generating an economic impact of more than $1 billion a year, according to the Fantasy Sports Industry Trade Association. The majority of those first began playing the game offline and spend about three hours per week managing their teams, according to the trade group.

“Not only is it something we love, but this is a huge market of gaming that’s going on where people are spending thousands and thousands of hours playing,” Erica Halverson says. “As a research group, we’re fundamentally interested in what people learn from gaming and what gaming has to offer education. This is sort of a subset of gaming that’s a new avenue to explore.”

For more on the topic, see this article in the LA Times (which conveniently quotes me).

Usher Takes Well-Deserved Heat

One of the parts of online fandom that’s sometimes hard for stars to deal with is that sometimes your fans don’t love all your decisions. That’s apparently been the case with Usher fans who, as I understand it, aren’t thrilled with his choice of fiancée. Ok. Whatever. But here’s where it gets interesting.

There’s a fansite called UsherForever. Just stop and think about that title for a second. UsherForever. Could be a group for people who had been ushers at some theatre sometime? “Usher” is not just a name, it’s a word. But anyway. So this fan site’s been going strong for a while, its clearly a slick labor of love by an Usher fan. But when she dared criticize, Usher and the lawyers moved in:

Imagine if someone was happy to work, without reward, building a massive shrine to you and your work. You might be happy to think of all this promotion going on, not costing you a cent.But what if that person then disagreed with you – perhaps pointing out that you were making a bit of a fool of yourself?

It would probably be wise to take advice like that as well-meaning, even if you chose to ignore it.

Not so Usher: After fansite Usherforever.com called his open letter to bloggers “petty”, Usher then got pettier, sending a legal demand that the site’s URL be transfered over to his record label.

Even guilty-pleasure site TMZ.com took a break from Lindsey, Britney, and Paris to write a post headlined “Usher F**ks With The Wrong Fan” :

Erika Jackson, webmaster of usherforever.com, tells TMZ that she’s been hit with a full-scale legal blitz from a tag-team of both Usher’s personal lawyer and his label’s lawyers, and claims that the trouble started earlier this year when she refused to turn her site — the self-proclaimed “biggest Usher site” on the Internet — into a sanitized official site. (The legal threats were first reported by the New York Daily News.)

The comments on TMZ are well worth a quick browse and it’s not pretty for Usher. Some excerpts:

Usher is going to lose his fan base if he doesn’t stop this foolishness. So what if people don’t like your fiance!!! The sun’s not going to stop rising and shining because people don’t like Tameka; your world isn’t going to come to an end!!! Geez!!!

He’s going to lose many of his fans over this. What he is doing is career suicide.

…ha ha! usher’s an idiot! nice going, mr. invincible! way to bite the hand that’s feeding you!. know what? there are already too many fish in the pond, too many ushers waiting in line to take your job. bye bye!…

Now there are a few who say that Jackson is using his name to make money (she has ads on the site) and he’s got the legal right to the domain, but I’m looking forward to seeing this play out in court, if it ever really gets there. She is providing something he’s not — a place for his fans to congregate. His music may be copyrighted, but I don’t think that being his fan is something he can copyright. (I’m curious if any lawyers reading think there’s a shred of legal turf for him to stand on, my guess is NO).

In either case, if you want a sanitized site, make your own. Fans get to say what fans want to say. Ha ha.