Archive for the ‘relationships in fandom’ category

Who Can Save Mediaminer.org From A Slow Death?

January 26th, 2010

For several years, I have been a member of Mediaminer.org. The site is a place for users to share their fanfiction and fanart, as well as connect. The site has not changed much design-wise. Some of the backend is broken as the database often fails to connect to user profiles.

And, the moderators seem non-existent. How do I know? I tried contacting them over a false incident of plagiarism that they failed to look into. In fact, the only response was being informed of the incident in a very unprofessional manner. This site has a lot of users that have signed up, but looking at the Mediaminer’s statistics through Alexa, this site is going toward a slow death. Even on Alexa, the site’s description is “Xxx Movies.” That is a serious factor that the site is crying for serious attention to be updated.

The Mediaminer forum is a serious reflection of this slowly dying site as the forums once thrived with thousands of new threads a day and now dwindling to at least a dozen.

Mediaminer is actually a potential hub for great fanfiction. The amount on anime fanfiction is great, almost third to Fanfiction.net, and Adultfanfiction.net.

The problem is that there are a lot of factors against them:
- Lack of moderator presence (including looking into serious accusations before making rash decisions)
- Lack of community
- Needing a major upgrade to fix the bugs, glitches, and database errors.
- More efficient and user-friendly design, including a far better front page than gobs of bordered tables and text
- Focus on encouraging the community to interact

However, the scariest factor is knowing the site of its size is just not properly moderated. If Mediaminer wants to encourage people to actually purchase space or attract more advertisers, they may want to pay more attention to the site.

The outing of Astolat and Fan History

December 31st, 2009

This post is written in response to some comments posted on this blog entry.  I’ve been repeatedly accused of outing Astolat.  I’ve largely been silent on it because it really serves no purpose to confront people about their view on the events.  It tends to piss people off and just drag up a whole bunch of garbage and nastiness in fandom that I’d and others would prefer to avoid.

Prior to the connection of Astolat and cathexys and and their real names on Fan History, both had made the connection themselves.  They did this on their FLists on LiveJournal.  They shared it with friends and acquaintances on other services.  Neither took active steps to really hide the connections and both were viewed as open fandom secrets that everyone knew.  The information frequently appeared on lol_meme, to the point where the mods on lol_meme stopped removing it.  At the time, Fan History’s admins edited articles and made the connections with out thinking, because everyone knew and the information was easily accessible.  Neither of these women were particularly “in the closet” with their identities.  When we were informed otherwise, I asked members of our staff about it.  One of them, who is no longer on staff, made the final call to put it back in and asked me to make the edit as they viewed as common knowledge.  I did, and I’ve never named that person or blamed them because ultimately, the buck stops with me and I didn’t want to subject a person I considered a good friend to the type of wank storm that I was being subjected to.

That these women were “in the closet” in regards to their identities is one of the biggest problems I have with the attacks on myself and Fan History.  Neither were and neither continue to be.  If you want to be “in the closet” and keep your fandom identity separated from your “real life” identity and name, you do it all the time.  You don’t decide that it is okay to be out with this person over here and not that person over there.  And by this person, I mean this group of two or three thousand and not that group of ten.    You don’t make information public and then claim that only this group over here can use that information when it suits them.  Still, that’s what both Astolat and cathexys chose to do.  They were out with their real names when it suited them and not when they weren’t.

We couldn’t have outed either of them.

Would our admin staff make the same decisions again regarding connecting people’s names like that?  No.  Never.

Have we changed our policies to prevent this from happening again?  Yes. YesAbsolutely.  And we enforce it and err on the side of caution.  We have a wonderful admin who has the primary job of enforcing these policies and she does an excellent job.  Connections between real names and fan names must be cited if they are being used on the wiki.  If others do make those connections in a way that we feel is malicious, they get banned.  In fact, edits that connect real life names with fannish ones are routinely altered, no matter who the editor is. We handle these issues quickly when they develop.  We make it our mission to create policies that bend over backwards to be fair to the whole of the fan community, from LiveJournal to DeviantART to FanFiction.Net to Rescue Rangers message boards to Yahoo!Groups.

And that’s better than can be said of the wiki created by the organization Astolat started. They originally said that there would be  no real names would be allowed unless a person consented and that no one would be allowed to connect real names to fan names.  My real name and pen name were connected in a bandom related article.  At first, they removed my real name from the article when I requested it. Later, they added it back without telling me.  (The article about me is one of the most edited on Fanlore.)  That’s fine because it isn’t like I haven’t made the connection myself.  Later, I asked for my real name to be removed from their wiki.  I was told if I took steps to remove the connection, it would be done.  These steps were taken: Removing my last name from all my accounts, and removing links to profiles where I could not remove my last name.  They determined that it sucks to be me because they were not going to do it, despite my compliance with their demands.  When people affiliated with the organization attacked me and Fan History for not allowing fans to control their identities and using real names without permission? And then do the same thing that they accused me of doing just so they can write about me?  That’s just hypocrisy at its finest and fandom politics at their worst.
Edited to add: Not mentioned in the original edit but worth adding: In trying to get my real name removed from Fanlore after it had been inserted again with out my knowledge after having been told it would be removed, I tried to reach out to Astolat and cathexys.  I asked them, as members of the Organization for Transformative Works who had concerns about outing against their will, to help get my name removed from Fanlore. Neither responded to repeated e-mails. I had e-mailed coffeeandink, who was in a similar situation at the time, and asked for her help as she had friends inside the organization.  She replied to tell me that there was nothing she could do to help me.

In LiveJournal media fandom, we are taught…

November 2nd, 2009

… admit no mistake, do not make yourself vulnerable to others, always be on the offensive, don’t admit to character flaws or weakness. We are taught that if you do, you will suffer the consequences for years. We are taught, through example, that if you admit mistakes and are vulnerable, others will exploit these weakness for their own fannish benefit.

I’m writing this entry mostly in response to a series of tweets by Ben Parr, a writer for Mashable. Our perspectives differ because of our place online and our own experiences. I’d love to believe “@BenParr @purplepopple My philosophy has always been “let the haters come,” because I believe in what I do and prove it with my actions.” I believe in what I’m doing. I believe in it a lot. I’m committed to what I’m doing and am always looking for ways to improve. I just do not like to publicly own my faults because I just have moments when I can’t because I’ve seen what fandom haters are capable of. I don’t just don’t have the energy to deal with the ramifications of the shit that could come down the pike if some hater took issue with me.

Check out some of the shit that Cassandra Clare, Supernatural fans, Smallville fans, Blake’s 7 fans, X-Files fans and science fiction fans are capable of. Contacting employers, contacting family, threatening to kill people and talking about how they deserve to be sexually assaulted, cracking passwords, contacting webhosts to report them for alleged Terms of Service Violations, contacting a show’s producers and actors to blast them for another set of fans’s actions. Most of the most egregious behavior doesn’t get documented out of fear of both sides going after the document-er for getting the story wrong.

I want to characterize these actions as fail fandom but it isn’t. Fail fandom is generally about some one taking offensive at something some one did or said or implied. Sure, yeah, the subtext of fail fandom is often about a power play in fandom but at the onset, it generally doesn’t look that way.

A lot of this is really banal stuff. Do you ship Clark/Chloe? Well fuck you. I hate your ship with a fiery passion. You’re in my space. Let me find some ways to cause you pain. Hey! You wrote Supernatural incest fic? I hate that crap! I know what to do! You made the mistake of linking your real name and your fannish name so I’ll contact your family and let them know what you are up to online! Oh hey! You challenged my status in the Harry Potter fandom and I need my status to be higher so I can be closer to JK Rowling. Let me teach you a lesson, because I know you work in school, by letting them know what sort of material you read. It doesn’t matter that I read it too because I don’t work with kids. You like Doggett from X-Files? That’s unforgivable because MSR is the only good thing from X-Files and because you’re too stupid to get that, I’ll just do a DDoS on your network connection. I want the freedom to write sexually graphic rape because of artistic freedom. You don’t like that and hey you’re a rape victim? Awesome! Because you know how you tried to repress my artistic expression? I’m going to intentionally trigger you! Those examples are all variations of real incidents.

And then we come back to the first part of this post: Media fandom on LiveJournal (and its clones like Dreamwidth Studios)teaches us not to be vulnerable, to self criticize, to admit to our weaknesses. In some places, in some communities, you want to admit and own your weakness, your vulnerabilities and where you can improve. I’ve found that in the wiki community outside Wikipedia, this generally is the norm. On Twitter and in social media communities filled with social media professionals, it is also good to be able articulate those. Fandom differs to a degree though. In a wiki, we should all be working towards a greater good. In social media, you want to be honest with your clients, to be continually learning and you’re aware of the professional repercussions for being an asshole, and a moron that engages in personal attacks on people outside of the scope of the content. Fandom doesn’t have those considerations of greater good or professional gain.

Fandom has other considerations because, for most of us, fandom is a hobby. People have goals for fandom: Having fun, getting feedback on their stories, enjoying the porn, being fawned over for their most awesome fanvids and fanart, writing extensive meta analysis because they love to do that, to fantasize about Eli Roth getting off on your nudie pics, trying to get a professional publishing career, using their fanac as a vehicle to meet actors and producers, trying to influence the writers and directors and actors to write the book or show like they want it to be written. Some of these inherently set fans into conflict with each other. If you are in a fandom to get close to the powers that be, well only so many people can. If you are in a fandom because of a character, actor or ship, there is only so much time that those can be given; people with different preferences are going to be in conflict as they try to persuade producers to focus on their desires. For fan fiction writers and readers and vid watchers, there is only so much time in a day, only so much feedback that can be given; conflict happens in the struggle to maximize the feedback and to support our favorite artists. The greater good in fandom only seems to happen when there is something that threatens the institution around which the fandom is based like a show ending.

Because of fandom existing as a state of conflict, because LiveJournal fandom is dominated by women, people bring in the personal and unrelated. The attacker looks for vulnerabilities. They look for places where they can exploit your weakness in order to push you out of fandom, to get you to stop being in conflict with them and to further their own agenda.

That’s my takeaway from fandom. Those are the lessons I have learned. So while I think it is good to be able to articulate your weakness in social media, as a journalist, as a historian, as an entrepreneur, I have trouble with that because I cannot unlearn overnight what I spent over ten years learning and having reinforced on a daily basis. (Thanks White Collar fandom and Smallville fandom for this week’s lesson.)

A funny thing happened on the way to my birthday…

May 18th, 2009

…ten years ago today.

I went to see The Phantom Menace.

(OK, technically it was a midnight showing on May 19, the official release date, but you get the idea.)

I hadn’t been planning on going. At least not to a midnight show. While I was a Star Wars fan like any child of the 80s, I’m very allergic to hype, and the massive frenzy around the release of the new film had pretty much left me feeling “meh”. I’d see it when I could, but I wasn’t going to stand in line for hours or days to do so.

But it was my birthday, and I was kind of…depressed. 27 and with nothing planned, no one to spend the day with, grad school was sucking the life out of me and I seem to recall even the weather was shitty. I was running some errands and walked by the old, decrepit-but-beloved Sam Eric theater on Chestnut Street around 3-4pm that afternoon. The marquee proclaimed a midnight showing of the film that night.

“Gotta be sold out, but what the hell,” I thought, and being curious I checked if they had any tickets available. Surprisingly, they did – and no line waiting was necessary.

Score!

I went back home, nursed my morose mood for a few more hours, then went to check out the movie.

Thus began one crazy, crazy chapter in my life.

Now, I’d been involved in “fandom” for a long time by this point (music, tv, what-have-you), but not any kind of fandom in the mega-spotlight. Obscure and weird loves have always been my game, things like The A-Team. Even when I got into big fandoms like Xena, it was on the strange side of the spectrum (Joxer fandom, to be precise. Joxer slash fandom to be even more so. Oh the shame…) Small fandoms. Quiet fandoms. Manageable fandoms.

Then I saw that scene. The one near the end. Qui-Gon’s death scene. Up until that point I’d been happily reveling in just the pretty special effects and grimacing through the typical Star Wars stiff acting and cringe-worthy dialog.

But then Qui-Gon touched Obi-Wan’s face and died and ugh there was my tragic, epic love story for the ages. As Keelywolfe put it so eloquently,

“A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away, George Lucas created Star Wars. And he looked at it and saw that it was good. And all was right in the world. But then, we saw that Obi-Wan doth look upon Qui-Gon with lust, and that Mr. Lucas was not likely to include that in the next movie, so we said screw it and wrote it ourselves, even though we do not make any money off of this. And all was right with the world.”

obihatesani12

I immediately rushed home and posted on, of all places joxerotica, virtually screaming “OMGWTFDIDYOUGUYSSEETHATISTHERESLASHYETOMGOMG!!!!” And a few others there went “OMGOMGOMG!!!!” too, and the very next day, I did a very silly thing.

I created Master and Apprentice over on dear old yahoogroups. And I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Foolish me, I thought it would be a lot like running Joxerotica, or my A-Team groups–some work but nothing too daunting. People started joining up quickly but I figured it was just an initial frenzy after the movie’s release. I set up a little archive on my simplenet web account, manually adding stories as they were posted. It was maybe a couple a day at first. Fun, short stuff–angst pieces and missing scenes, short AU’s to “fix” Qui-Gon’s death, that sort of thing. I had a co-mod from Joxerotica helping me out at first as we set up the archive/list’s basic rules. But then it started growing. And growing. And growing, until it became within a month or two The Fandom That Ate Cincinatti. Slashfen were flocking in from everywhere: Sentinel fandom, Highlander fandom, X-Files fandom. People were even bitching how Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan was “stealing” all the good writers from other fandoms!

It should be noted, too, that there was no small amount of concern about “The Wrath of Lucas” when I started the list and archive. While it may seem laughable today, at the time many fen still remembered his previous actions and stance against those who wrote and published adult–nevermind slash–fiction in the Star Wars universe. And also, there were other fen who would react strongly against those who would do so against George’s wishes, as I would learn firsthand from some of the people I would meet in this fandom such as Bev Lorenstein, who would become one of my dearest friends, and who told me what she went through in publishing Organia in 1982. That said, in my years of involvement in Star Wars fandom, I never received a cease and desist letter from Lucasfilms or had any other contact from them. So perhaps the worries were all for naught…

In any event, by the end of the summer of ’99 I was growing concerned that my little archive just wasn’t going to cut it as a few stories a day were turning into dozens. It was reaching a critical point and I was getting worried about the stability of my archive situation, and my friend Erik came up with a solution.

He could put me up on his own webserver. Register a domain for me–sockiipress.org–and then set up a database program which, although stories would still need to be manually submitted, would make creating story index pages automated, along with allowing for search functions and other cool stuff. sockiipress.org was registered on September 30, 1999 and the archive moved there, which would be its home for the next three years or so, before the archive moved to its own URL, masterapprentice.org, some time after I had left the fandom for good.

But before I get to that part of the story…

Being involved in this fandom from its point of creation through the height of the frenzy was, as I said earlier, a crazy experience. I’d never been involved in such an active fandom before. Never found myself in the Big Name Fan spotlight (though I was no real writer of note in the fandom, just archivist, occasional artist, and “ringleader”, in effect). Was it exciting? Sure! I loved waking up every morning to a emailbox full of new stories. And there was some wonderful fiction being written by some amazing authors. Was the attention thrilling as well? Admittedly, yeah, it was. I went from being the girl into very weird things at conventions like MediaWest and Eclecticon, largely lurking on the sidelines and being ignored, to getting a round of applause at ConneXions in 2000 for the work I’d done on the mailing list and archive. It was an ego boost for certain–but then it also gave me a taste of big fandoms’ ugly side as well, and how fandom can turn on you on the drop of a dime.

First there were scuffles on allowable content. The first one came up over the topic of Chan fic. I lost my co-moderator to the mailing list over this debate and the compromise position on the subject I favored. Real person fic also was broached and lead to some heated arguments until it was banned from archiving. The fandom went through typical growing pains as different subjects and content was being explored, but then our archive was having growing pains, too. Erik’s server was not all that stable, leading to sporadic downtime and a lot of headaches on his end. He put up with a lot helping me out with the site, for someone who wasn’t even in the fandom. At one point, in 2000, he thought it would be a nice idea to burn CD copies of the archive to make available to users through the mailing list. It was welcomed as a good “backup” to the unstable site, and he charged a nominal fee to cover his materials and time — I think it was $7 or so. No one raised a single complaint the first time around with this, and I think he mailed off something like 100-200 copies of the disk.

In 2001, the server difficulties were getting worse. Erik was getting frustrated, and I, myself, was getting a little worn out from listmom and archiving duties. While at this point we had a group of 5-6 assistant archivists, it was still demanding a lot of my time, and my interest in the Qui/Obi was…drifting. By that point I had been distracted by some other Bright Shiny Fandoms — Brimstone in particular. Erik decided to do a second run of the archive disks, at $10, because he was about ready to give up trying to work out a solution for our hosting woes.

That’s when things got ugly. One morning I woke up to several outraged emails from authors who had long been absent from the fandom, demanding that their stories be removed from the archive, not included on the CD, “or else”. Later that day I found out Erik and I were being subjected to ugly accusations of profiting off people’s work, that outrageous things were being said about us all over fandom chat channels (one reason I still avoid “chat” to this day). We defended ourselves and actions while of course agreeing to remove any stories that people did not want included, but were then told, point blank, to “Fuck off” from the community and archive we’d spent all those hours, days, months, years into maintaining.

And we were both only too glad to oblige at that point.

Thankfully, two Loris were ready to help us out. “Lori” took over maintaining the archive and list. “Lorrie” offered us hosting on her own server (for both the archive and sockiipress overall). Eventually I moved to my own hosting service entirely, cutting off completely from my connections to Q/O fandom.

Except, happily enough, ties to some of the wonderful friends I made there, despite all the angst and wank and aggravation. Many of them I am still in touch with today in other fandom communities, fabulous people I will forever thank my involvement in Star Wars fandom for bringing into my life. I learned a lot from my time in the fandom, good and bad, and I definitely would not take those years back for anything. That said, I’m also quite content to be back to lurking around in small and obscure fandoms these days. The pickings might be slim, but the pleasure is rarely overwhelmed by the aggravation.

So happy anniversary, master-apprentice! Our love may have been brief and heated, but when it was good, it was oh, so good…

If you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t go where the spoilers might be!

April 14th, 2009

I love E. She is one of my favorite people in the wiki world. I can lean on her when I need support and need advice. I can get her advice when I need a sounding board on wiki policy. I also know that when she and I are in a chatroom together on Sunday night when Celebrity Apprentice is on? I need to ignore the room because I could be spoiled. She loves the show. She chats about it. I don’t like spoilers and I’m not about to rain on E’s right to squee in a room that allows it by telling her to shut it. It just feels like it would be really, really rude and selfish of me.

I also dislike being spoiled for Amazing Race, Survivor, Dancing with the Stars and Hell’s Kitchen. I know that if I want to be spoiled, I need to avoid places like Twitter when the show is airing. I need to not read my BuddyTV e-mails that do recaps. When they are promoing on The Today Show, I need to turn off the television. If The View is live the day after, I need to be really careful or make sure I watch before hand as some hosts talk about what happened the night before. I can’t read things like friendsfriends on LiveJournal. The potential for spoilers are everywhere and I need to make sure I catch my show as quickly as possible and be diligent in my effort to avoid spoilers.

If I fail, if I get spoiled, unless I’m in a place that expressly prohibits spoilers and some ass hole posts them anyway, I’m responsible. I put myself in a situation where I could be spoiled. I went some place where I knew there was a potential for getting spoiled and that happened. I’m to blame. There is no one else to blame but me. Me me me me. That’s me. Who is responsible if I go some place where there might be spoilers and I get spoiled? Me!

If you don’t want to be exposed to spoilers, don’t go where there might be spoilers. If you get exposed to them because you didn’t take proper precautions, blame yourself. Don’t blame others for your negligence. Don’t set a mob after the person who spoiled you because you weren’t responsible.  Don’t wreck some one else’s fandom life because you intentionally exposed yourself to spoilers. Don’t be a total ass hole and not take responsibility for your own actions. How hard of a concept is this to understand that I have to explain it?

Now, I’m off to finish watching The Biggest Loser so I can read my BuddyTV e-mails tomorrow with out getting spoiled.

Getting readership in a small fandom

February 3rd, 2009

This post is loosely a follow-up to Laura’s post from yesterday on Fan fiction, social media & chasing the numbers with quality content (Hint: Doesn’t matter). If your main goal in writing fan-fiction is getting feedback and readership, Laura’s article offers some blunt but honest advice: go for the big fandoms and ‘ships. The hard truth of the matter is you’re never going to get the readership for say, a Philadelphia Eagles, Police, or Ocean’s 11 story the way you would writing Twilight, Harry Potter, or Naruto. It doesn’t matter if you write the most brilliant piece of fan-fiction ever; the audience just isn’t going to be there for it. So rule #1 of being an obscure fandom author is to accept this fact: you have to write more for yourself than for any potential audience, because otherwise you’re setting yourself up pretty quickly for disappointment and discouragement. You’re not going to get 1,000+ comments on your story; likely you’re not going to get 100; if you’re really lucky you may get 10 or 20 at best.

That said, there are some specific ways to help get readership for your obscure fandom stories, and this article is designed to highlight some of them.

1. Gain a following in a mainstream fandom first. You can use some of the advice in the last blog to help gather a following of readers and on-line friends who are interested in your work in larger fandoms. Many readers will follow authors they especially like into unfamiliar fandoms, or at least give them a try if they post a new, obscure fandom story to their LiveJournal, personal mailing list, or fic archive. It’s not a guaranty and a “fan” from a big fandom might not read more than one or two of your new fandom stories, but at least you’ve got that shot if you’ve already got an audience familiar with your work.

2. Promote your small fandom! Get information about it out there on the net that you can point curious readers towards. For instance, develop a good page about the fandom at Fan History. Make sure someone who might be curious to read your fiction can find out more information about the source material, either before to get the context of the work or afterward if they find themselves interested in learning more.

3. Join and participate in suitable multi-fandom communities Find mailing lists, archives, livejournal communities that are appropriate for your small fandom. For instance, writing a small rockband fandom? Join RockFic (wiki). Writing American football slash? Join nfl_rps. But don’t just join the communities – become an active member there. Feedback other writers’ work so they become familiar with you. Participate in the community by sharing links, photographs, taking part in meta. This is similar to the advice already given in the previous blog, but can be vital if you want to then share your obscure fandom work with a community and have people give it a chance, when you don’t already have a popular pairing or ship working in your favor. I’ve seen excellent authors post obscure fandom stories at, say, RockFic and get no or little feedback because they posted without interacting at all with the community there, just “dumped” their stories in the archive and ran.

4. Find people interested in your fandom through multi-fandom challenges and communities. Drabble communities are great for this, like slashthedrabble. Readers are often more willing to give a short drabble a try in an unfamiliar fandom. You might also find someone who goes “Oh my gosh, I never thought someone else was interested in Wheel of Fortune fan-fic!” who will then be an eager reader for your other, longer work.

5. Write crossovers with a popular fandom. The Brimstone story to get the most feedback during Yuletide this year? Was a crossover with Supernatural. By bringing in a familiar universe and characters, you may get new people to get a “taste” for your obscure fandom and want to know more about it.

6. Promote and link! It’s important for people to be able to find your obscure fandom stories, especially if you are not or can’t post then in a large multi-fandom archive like FanFiction.Net (wiki). Remember that one of the first things many potentially interested readers are likely to do is run a google search for fiction in that fandom – so will your stories come up? Fan History has excellent google placement for many fandoms, so you can use that to your advatage by both building up the page for your fandom there (with links to where to find fiction – including yours!) as well as creating an entry there for your story (such as the one I built here for my story Earthbound). Statistics have shown me consistent traffic from FH to my stories when I’ve done this.

Of course, some people sometimes have reasons to not want their stories to have high google visibility (or any google visibility at all). This can especially be an issue for some RPF writers who, say, don’t want general fans of the Philadelphia Eagles stumbling onto their Donovan McNabb/Brian Dawkins slash fic (which, by the way, if any such fiction actually exists could someone please send me a link?!). This is again a risk/reward trade-off you have to decide upon as an obscure fandom author: is preserving your anonymity and keeping your fanfiction away from those who might not understand or appreciate it more or less important than building readership? Only you can decide this matter for yourself (and as always, if privacy is a big concern for you in your involvement in fandom, be sure to understand the matter fully. Our Help page on privacy gives much information for all to consider on the matter.)

7. Recruit readers from the general fandom. This method can work if your fandom has a large fanbase which is not at all involved in activities such as writing and reading fan-fiction, but it should be undertaken with care. For instance, The Police? Big fandom. Tiny fandom for fiction. However, in hanging out on general interest boards for the band, getting to know fans in person and making jokes/perhaps commenting on “slashy” behavior as observed (even by those who don’t know what slash is), I have slowly introduced a number of people to fan-fiction about the band once determining that they would a) not be offended by it and b) might be genuinely interested in reading it. This is much like the old mentoring techniques which were commonplace in fandoms such as Star Trek in the ’70s and ’80s. Mentoring is certainly not dead, and can in fact be a vital step in building up “sub-fandoms” for things like fan-fiction and other fanworks within already large “mainstream” fandoms.

Lastly:
8. In an obscure fandom, quality does matter – to an extent. I’ve saved this point for last, not because it is the least important, but because, without having put some effort into the previous points, it’s not going to matter very much at all. But yes, one of the things you have to attempt to do, in building a readership for an obscure fandom, is pull readers into a story when they might not already be familiar with the source material – at least not intimately so. Once you’ve done what you need to do to help people find your story and want to give it a chance, you have to give them reason to stick around. That’s much easier in a large fandom where already devoted followers of a canon may want to read anything with their favorite characters or ‘ships, no matter what the quality. In a smaller fandom, far fewer people are going to be that devoted so you need to put more effort into your work to keep readers interested. That means, obscure fandom writers, make sure your writing is properly formatted and easy to read; pay attention to basic grammar (get a beta, because hey! That’s at least one person who is going to read your story!); put effort into developing your characters so that they become “real” to the readers, who may not already have a full picture of them in their minds.

And if you get some good feedback on your obscure fandom stories, be sure to thank those who comment to you and listen to what they have to say: what did they like about it? What are they interested in reading more about? What might they have thought you could have done better? You want to develop a good relationship with your readers, who might only be 2 or 3 in number at first, but if you keep at it those numbers may slowly increase. They might not ever reach the hundreds like they would for a large fandom, but you can have a rewarding experience writing in a small fandom. It just can take a little extra hard work and patience.

A lament for Fandom on MSN Groups

December 8th, 2008

I’ve been blogging about the pending demise of MSN Groups, and some about the replacements – most specifically Multiply and Windows Live Groups. Multiply because it is the chosen replacement for MSN Groups, and Windows Live Groups since it is Microsoft’s own answer to MSN groups.

So far nothing has come close to the versatility and ease of use that MSN Groups has had.

Nothing.

No other service allowed for custom webpages, for custom logos and buttons and separated messageboards. Nothing was as easy to use as MSN Groups. Just fill out the forms and bingo! You’re good to go. The webpage interface wasn’t exactly WYSIWYG, but it was close and allowed for far more colors than Windows Live Groups allows for (in fact, WLG doesn’t give you background colors for your discussion pages, which is the only place you can use HTML. Pretty much the same for Multiply.) You could easily hide pages, rearrange pages, add new albums, use the pictures from those albums in other spots… the learning curve was as shallow or steep as you wanted it to be. It accommodated both the novice webmaster and the more experienced. It was a great starting place for fandom groups; and a lot of fandoms were represented there.

What will happen to those many fandom groups? Well, some of them will be lost forever come February because their owners just sort of abandoned them to the spammers before this point. There’s at least one Thunderbirds group I know of that falls into this category. It has a lot of interesting fanfic on it, but the owner has grown beyond it and has left it for the “lonely singles” spammers to keep it active (otherwise, it would have been deleted years ago). Some groups will migrate to Multiply, some to Geocities, some to Windows Live Groups… they’ll be scattered all over, and harder to find. The close-knit communities that had developed over the years will be broken up, never to truly be reclaimed again. A lot of interesting and unique fandom creations will disappear forever. I’ve already had that happen once to me; the thought of it happening again makes me sick.

Is there a perfect solution to this forced diaspora? Not really. If you want to have the same flexibility as MSN Groups has, you’ve got to create your own website, and very likely, you’ll have to pay for it. And if you want to continue having a free site, you’ll have to pay in other ways, with intrusive ads or with a loss of those features you’ve become accustomed to.  (Yes, MSN Groups has ads, but because of their placement, they are ignorable.)

As a side issue, I’ve been poking around the Windows Live team blogs for the past few days, and I noticed that they’re not asking for feedback on WLG. Everything else, yes. Windows Live Groups, no. I think they know what kind of response they’d get there: a very angry one from a large group of disgruntled MSN Group owners.

So, we’re losing a piece of fandom property. What’s to go next?

ETA: I’m also aware that AOL is/was dumping their Groups. So there are more fandom communities disappearing. Let’s hope that Yahoo doesn’t join the pack.

Police-fandom after the reunion tour.

November 25th, 2008

With the release earlier this month of “Certifiable”, the official tour documentary and concert video, it fully feels that this most recent chapter in the history and fandom of The Police has come to a conclusion. Between February of 2007 and August of 2008, the band enjoyed a resurgence in popularity with many fans both new and old coming together at concerts, gatherings, and on the internet. Many of these fans had either not been involved in organized fandom activities before, or came back to it after a long absence, perhaps having only been active in the band’s offline fandom through the original fanclub Outlandos.

So it is interesting to me to look at what’s been going on in the fandom in the months that have followed: which messageboards and communities are still active and thriving? Which communities have grown quiet? What new communities are being formed?

The “new” official fanclub launched in February 2007, ThePolice.com (wiki), is still active, but primarily in promoting “Certifiable” and a few other projects coming up related to the band members. The messageboard, however, has grown much quieter since the end of the tour, and it is uncertain what the site’s future will be come next year when membership renewals will be up again. Will there still be a fanclub after next February, or will it be reabsorbed back into Sting’s official fanclub? Only time will tell, and given ThePolice.com was one of the primary sites used by those who claimed to be new to organized fandom, one wonders how many will look for new homes for certain or will disappear again from active fandom entirely.

policefans.org (wiki), which was largely created as a fan-driven response to the corporate-sponsored official site, has seen a definite pick-up in contributions to the PoliceWiki, but the messageboard activity has been very low and primarily focused on concert-trading and off-topic chat.

Speaking of off-topic chatter, that appears to be what the bulk of fans are engaging in after many established either (or both) Facebook and LiveJournal accounts to stay in touch. Because of the friendships formed during the year and a half of the tour, many fans have found these blogging and social networking sites provide a good avenue for staying in contact beyond fannish activities and concert get-togethers.

The forums on Stewart Copeland’s Official Site(wiki) have remained quite active since the end of the tour, even if at reduced posting levels (although many long-time members of the site felt the board had become too active during the peak of tour activity and are glad to see it return to a more manageable posting volume per day). The current active members include those who have been members of the site for years as well as those who were new to it during the tour.

The Police section of the StingUS (wiki) forums has fallen very quiet, but the Sting section has picked up activity now that Sting has resumed solo projects. As many members of that forum had expressed preference for Sting-solo over Sting with The Police, this trend makes sense, and the site should continue to remain a fairly vibrant community for Sting-related discussion along with the official website Sting.com.

What all of this means for the production of creative fanworks in the fandom remains to be seen. A fan-produced documentary of the tour and the fandom is set to be screened early in 2009, and a fanzine collecting stories from the tour is also set to be produced around the same time period. There has been no noticeable increase in activity as far as the production of fan-fiction and fan-art in this fandom, even as there has been more discussion of slash and subtext between the band members in such new communities as hungry_4_you (wiki).

It will be interesting to re-examine the fandom in another year’s time, and see where activity has continued, grown weaker, or perhaps even grown stronger as all the band members return to their solo activities.

Twitter, fandom and me

November 25th, 2008

Before I begin this, I need to define what I mean by fandom because fandom and entertainment fans (consumers of popular culture) can often look alike but they frequently don’t act the same.

Fandom, Members of fandom:

  • Group that shares a common interest in a media product such as Harry Potter, Twilight, Star Wars, Pokemon, Starcraft, etc.
  • Are actively engaged with the product and other fans by having discussions, creating and commenting on other people’s fan fiction (art, vids, icons, costumes, etc.), attending/organizing conventions, organizing campaigns to save/improve the media product, etc.
  • Form relationships based on shared interest where the relationships with other fans are central to their activities.

Entertainment fans, consumers of popular culture:

  • Do not have a group identity as fans of a show.
  • Are passively engaged with the product by having conversations, commenting on blogs, blogging about the show, consuming the product.
  • Relationships are not at the heart of and purpose of their interactions with others who share their enjoyment of a media product.

Put simpler: Fandom is about relationships.  Entertainment fans, not so much.

Which brings me to Twitter and my sometimes confusing relationship with it as a fan.  And after a number of conversations with other fans, this is a problem that a number of other fandom people on the outside looking in suffer with.  What use is twitter for fans?  What use is Twitter for me as a fan?

I come from fandom out of mailing lists and LiveJournal where relationships are key.  If there is an author I love, I would try to form a relationship of sorts with them.  I might ask to be there beta reader.  I might e-mail or IM them with questions about their stories or what else they are working on.  If they were writing to slowly, I might leave lots and lots of feedback or beg them to WR1T3 M0R3!  I might friend them on LiveJournal to keep up with what is going on with them.  If I get to have a relationship with them, then my enjoyment of the thing for which we share an interest is enhanced.  I have another person to squee with over new episodes, and insure that stories I love will be continued, have some one to unite with against other people in the community I don’t like.  I might also have some one who could attend a convention with me or share a hotel at a convention with me which could make attending that convention cheaper.  I’ve got a friend.  Well.  Sort of.  Once our interests change or if I do something which upsets the person’s ability to enjoy the community or the material, I don’t have a friend any more.  But while we’re both in that relationship, we’re great and we communicate a lot.

If I want to get “ahead” in fandom, if I want to have greater influence, I form relationships with people who are in the position to help me.  I can make friends with fan fiction archivists, with authors who have huge amounts of readers, with content producers, etc.  And if I want to be able to leverage these relationships for my own benefit, I’ve got to actively work on maintain those relationships in order to maintain my status because they key to staying on top, well, the phrase is “What have you done for me lately?”

So along comes Twitter.   Twitter is great.  Twitter is love.  For the social media lover in me, I can’t get enough of Twitter.  It means I can follow people I met at BarCamps, keep up with what is going on in the wiki community, possibly get some traffic for the site I run, can network with people who might have leads for work for me, can interact with news organizations in a way that I haven’t before.

Except, well, for all the great things Twitter does for that, it doesn’t do much for me as a member of fandom.  Fandom is all about relationships remember.  It is one thing to follow a person and comment, but that’s not enough in fandom.  You need to have more focus and extended conversations.  The Twitter format just doesn’t allow for that.  It is too short to adequately share love of the source with or to hold conversations with others.  If you do try to have extended conversations on Twitter, if you’re not providing value to others who follow you, you could lose followers.  Ick.

One of my friends has other issues which put her off Twitter as a member of fandom. Twitter is very immediate.  You can’t hold conversations over an extended period of time because the format doesn’t lend itself to that.  If I am out on Thursday and miss the new episode of CSI and my friend watched it, we can catch up on AIM or blog about it a couple of days later, when we have the time.  Twitter doesn’t allow that.  And when your relationship is dependent on that shared material, the inability to slow the flow of conversation on your own terms?  It can be bad news.

Another friend has issues with some of the comments on Twitter being so banal and unrelated to why they care about the person.  They don’t care that you just woke up, that you’re eating breakfast, that you landed at Heathrow, etc.  They don’t care that you are having a conversation with SEO with some one on Twitter that teaches you a lot. (I get this a lot from my fandom friends on Twitter.  Especially when I start having conversations with people they don’t follow.  They’ve considered unfollowing me because I do that so often.)  What are they getting out of their relationship with me when I do that?

Another issue that comes up is content.  Why follow me on Twitter for news about what I am doing fannishly when you can keep up with that on Fan History’s blog, my LiveJournal or on Fan History’s InsaneJournal asylum?  The information is better, more detailed and easier to follow.  It is easier to keep up to date because the content is much more focused.  The blog is going to be about fandom.  The posts will be once a day.  You’re not going to have to filter around my other random content.  If content is king, then Twitter, unless carefully focused, mostly includes links and doesn’t involve loads of engagement that is off putting, then well, Twitter fails.  Content on Twitter isn’t king when it comes to relationship maintenance.

So relationships that are dependent on Twitter end up feeling shallow, where they feel hard to leverage for your relationships to faciliate your enjoyment of canon and accomplish your goals in fandom.  Things feel even more confusing when Twitter appears to require a large follow list to be viewed as important on or influential on Twitter (and in fandom).  How can you have relationships with people that are meaningful, that give you something back, when you can’t actively engage people because the “content” disappears so quickly and could easily be missed?  In terms of my fandom relationships, I find I can’t maintain them like I can in other places.  I end up having to play catch up with Twitter by reading their Tweets when daily summaries are posted to their LiveJournals.

In the end, what this means for me is I, and a number of my fannish acquaintances, haven’t figured out how to use Twitter for our fannish enjoyment. Yes, I know how to use it to promote my projects. Yes, I love it for networking professionally. I understand how to use it to monitor reputations and get celebrity and entertainment news. I’ve found some great Chicago related social media events. Fandom though… still a problem and I can’t see it changing.

Talking about my friend and encouraging her to use social media

November 19th, 2008

I love to chat with Angelia Sparrow (wiki). She’s a professional author who writes male/male romance novels and short stories. Her genre isn’t something I would read but our conversations teach me a lot about the publishing industry and the writing process.

Because I’m a friend (and occasionally a pushy and selfish one at that), I want to help her do well. The best way that I know how I can help her to succeed is to suggest ways to harness social media. She doesn’t always follow my advice because she’s got a family, another job, is trying to write and doesn’t necessarily have the time nor skills to play the social media game effectively in order to do it successfully. She’s also writing for a niche audience that isn’t ever likely to make it possible for her to become the next megahit author. (If she does, I’d be the first to congratulate her.)

But even with out that, there are a few small things you can do which don’t require much time and effort that can help increase your visibility and she’s done some of them. First, she has a website. It is angelsparrow.com. The site has contests involving her work. These help increase her audience of people who might want free stuff and rewards her fans. She also has a blog which she updates pretty regularly. It includes announcements, reviews, etc. It also has rss feeds. (Hard to believe but some blogs don’t have rss feeds even now.) This means that her new posts show up on rss search engines, on Google’s blog search and Google will regularly check her blog for updates.

She’s also engaged in social media elsewhere, including on LiveJournal, a blogging community which has a large and active fan fiction community. She’s been there forever. This presence means that she can leverage her fan fiction audience for her non-fan fiction writing. The audience she built through years and years of involvement can be used to help her sell books and her short stories. LiveJournal (wiki) loves to celebrate its fan writers gone professional. Or even its professional authors who just happen to use the service. Plugging your work, asking for help or advice for your work, all of these fit into the culture of LiveJournal’s communities. No one is going to question her doing that. In fact, they are more likely to celebrate it.

I’m totally in love with twitter so I’ve spent a lot of time badgering my friends to use the service, even as I tell them it isn’t for everyone. Thus, last night I was happy to find out that Angelia Sparrow is on twitter. If you’re a professional author (or even a fan fiction author), twitter can be a great way to connect with your audience, to maintain relationships, to reward fans, to let them know what is going on. Her twitter follow list is small and she could probably do with having a few more replies at people she follows so she utilizes twitter for its strengths more… but that she’s on there? Great. It is another way to connect with her fans. Still, if you’re not looking to spend much time on twitter, what she’s doing is probably the right way to go about it until she has a better reason and more time to engage.

Another thing she’s doing right (but could probably do better at) is she has a FaceBook page, is planning to create (or has created) a fan page for her work and created an event on FaceBook for her book release. These don’t require much time and effort to maintain if you’re talking about only a small potential pool of interested people. FaceBook has a lot of people on it and you can connect with your personal network of alumni, professional acquaintances, former classmates, friends and fans. Those people are just there. The site might not be intended as a way to create or utilize your fan base but FaceBook gives you the tools to do just that. So use them to do that and connect. And Angelia Sparrow does.

The one thing that I like when I give advice to Angelia Sparrow is that for her, she’s selling a product: A book or a short story in an anthology. This means that she doesn’t necessarily have to obsess over where her traffic is, how many visitors she gets a day, taking traffic from FaceBook or Twitter and trying to convert those visitors into visitors to her site. And then having to make that sell in terms of clicking on ads or buying services on her site. Analytics aren’t the be all and end all. The end game is using the right social media strategy to help her writing and sell her books. (Which can be bought from a couple of places like her publisher or Amazon.)

She does what she needs to do. She engages in a way that allows her to make good use of her limited time in her busy life. She connects to her core audience. So while she isn’t a major player in social media, isn’t cutting edge with how to utilize social media to generate sales, she’s still taking the right steps, steps that anyone who is in a similar position should be taking. I don’t think she probably is aware that she’s doing that because I think she’s just doing what feels right for her. Awesome.

The uneasy mix of fandom and politics

October 16th, 2008

There’s an old saying that two things should never be discussed at the dinner table: religion and politics. I’d extend that to state that these two topics should, most all of the time, be kept off of the fannish table. There’s a reason many fandom messageboards and communities discourage these topics being discussed, unless in a specifically-designated off-topic or debate area. And with the political season heating up in the United States as the presidential election is almost upon us, politics and fandom is an issue in the forefront of my mind these days, and I’ve observed the conflicts heating up by the day.

On its surface, fandom (and let’s specify media/science fiction/arts-related fandom for the moment; sports and other areas of fandom may break down differently) may seem and may, to a large extent, be a home and rather a safe space for all, no matter what your political affiliation, personal beliefs, or moral convictions. Fandom has often been seen as embracing different lifestyles and activities to a much larger extent than the “mundane” world does; a certain element of counter-culture can long be linked to certain authors, artists and media and their associated fandoms and followers.

And yet, that environment of openness may not be as all-welcoming and all-encompassing as we might hope, and there’s something about the election season which seems to make this more evident than ever. In the past, when many fans only associated on messageboards, conventions, or other more restricted venues solely focused on specific fandoms, these differences in personal opinions and beliefs might not have been such an issue as they rarely were open subjects for discussion. But this is the era of blogging and livejournal, where the personal and the fannish have begun to blur to almost indistinguishable areas of one and the same. We may follow a fan-fiction author to her livejournal to read her latest stories, but in the meantime we discover entries where we find out about her daily activities, her personal life, and yes, her political convictions. And what we might find there might be surprising to us–sometimes even distasteful to us personally–if we assumed we knew where she would stand based on her involvement in fandom in general, or her writings and the characters she portrays.

Thus begins some of the problems that can occur when fandom and politics—or any other heated issue and fandom—mix. I observed it during the last major election season in 2004 and can see it happening again in 2008: arguments and disagreements between fannish friends over their politics and candidate support; namecalling and urges to “defriend” anyone who does not share a particular political belief. In 2004, the livejournal community wizardsforbush (wiki) caused quite a stir within Harry Potter fandom, with some big name fans calling for others to defriend anyone who associated themselves with the community, or with Republicans in general. Indeed, for those Americans in fandom who follow a different political leaning than liberal-democratic, fandom can become a rather unfriendly place for the months leading up to the actual election, as the common assumption seems to become “you’re either with us politically, or you’re not one of us at all.”

So what is the answer? Clearly, politics, like the genie, can’t be put back in the proverbial bottle. And that people are as passionate about elections as they are is a good thing and should be encouraged wholly, along with spending the time to truly read candidates’ platforms and proposals, read and follow the links shared within the blogosphere that might expose them to new opinions and different outlooks, and encourage everyone to think carefully about who they cast their vote for. But still, just like at the traditional dinner table, fans should perhaps realize that there’s a time and a place for all such discussions, and decide whether fannish friendships are worth losing over idealogical differences, especially when a particular venue (such as a journal, blog, or messageboard) has not been specifically set aside for political discussion. And if a friend in fandom has specifically made his or her beliefs clear, along with her desire not to engage in debate within the safe space of her journal, those wishes should be respected instead of challenged for no reason other than to try to push a particular political agenda when the end result may be the opposite of what you’d hoped for.

Baseball season is over…

October 7th, 2008

Okay. Baseball season isn’t officially over. There are still a few games left to play with two division championships and the World Series still to go. If you’re a Chicago fan though, the season might as well be over.

The season has been an exciting one. I’ve really loved it and from April until yesterday, it was probably the most important fandom in my life. I obsessed over it. How are the Chicago Cubs doing today? Did we win? Did we lose? Can I name the players? For the first time since I was 21, I saw a game. For the first time since I was 12, I saw more than one game. I saw seven: Two Cubs games at home, two Cubs vs. Sox games at the Cell, the last White Sox game of the regular season, the one game play off game and a White Sox American League Division Series game. To top that off, also saw a Chicago Cubs minor league game played at Wrigley Field. My team, the Chicago Cubs, did really well. The other team that as a Chicago baseball fan I cheer for also did well. … Until they both got knocked out of the playoffs. Ouch.

Being a baseball fan in Chicago can be challenging because you can never escape the Cubs vs. White Sox rivalry. This year, I tried to put all that aside and cheer, cheer, cheer for the White Sox. (So that they could end up playing the Chicago Cubs in the World Series in the post season and losing to the Cubs. Because I’m special like that.) To the extent that I really, really, really wanted that outcome, I went to the last regular season game and that one game play off game to watch in person to make sure that happened. It was a great experience. White Sox fans are great. US Cellular Field is not a bad experience, unless you’re sitting in the upper deck and have a fear of heights. The drunken fan contingent was about equal to that of the Cubs so I don’t get why White Sox fans bash on Cubs fans for being a bunch of boozers. US Cellular Field though isn’t a place to go if you’re a Chicago fan who leans towards the Cubs. There were fans who would happily wear their anti-Cubs shirts, who’d yell at people that “This isn’t Wrigley!” and bash on the Cubs when the White Sox did poorly. It means that if you’re a Chicago fan leaning Cubs, you’ve got to keep your mouth shut in a lot of instances at the Cell and when there are White Sox fans nearby. Such a challenge! Really. I mean it. Loyalty to your team can run really deep and with very little social stigma for obsessing over sports, it is easy to start babbling about the greatness of your team with the person next to you on the train.

But baseball season is over. The Cubs and Sox are both out of it. My hopes of a crosstown classic are officially dashed. My tolerance for Cubs bashing has ended. The little adventure into looking like a White Sox fan (gotta dress in all Black for Black Out games) is done. I have a few months off and then back to cheering like mad for the Cubs, annoying my friends with Cubs talk and going to a few more games. But for now, a much needed break.

Click here for pictures from the White Sox September 30 game versus the Minnesota Twins.

Blog entry by Laura.

CSI fandom, canon and me

August 26th, 2008

I love CSI and I love the fandom.  There are some truly fantastic people involved in the fan community.  The show itself rocks hardcore.  Because of the quality of the source material, the fans have a lot to work with.  It is one of the reasons I love the show and its fandom.

Totally excited about the new season premiere.  I’ve watched the trailer about 10 times on YouTube and courtesy of TiVo catching the trailer on an episode of Big Brother.  Sara’s back! It might only be for an episode (actually two if the spoilers for the season are right) but Sara has been my reason to watch the show almost from the start.  It gives the show some continuity plot wise.  It makes the show more believable.  And with the potential for some Grissom/Sara moments…  YEAH!  I’m hoping that my favorite fan fiction writers will be inspired to write and write more and give me post episode wonderfulness.

Because there hasn’t been much wonderfulness.  I was chatting with one of my best fandom friends who writes work I absolutely adore.  Both of us are big Sara Sidle fans.  She’s also a big Gil Grissom fan.  The departure of Jorja Fox, the lack of her appearing on the show consistently because of that departure, the lack of Jora Fox being on television on a weekly basis the news that William Petersen is leaving the show, the rumors that Gil Grissom might pick up with another woman, Gary Dourdan leaving, Warrick Brown dying, new characters coming in, Ronie Lake not appearing much after being brought in, other cast change rumors, Catherine/Warrick not having been dealt with much before he died, these all add up together to make it hard to find inspiration to create fanworks based on CSI.  Canon is bound to have so many changes and things are so unresolved now in a way that is uncomfortable.  …   Uncomfortable rather than exciting.  Babylon 5′s plot which could involve people dying or disappearing or totally changing was exciting.  You wanted to see these changes.  CSI is not.  It is episodic television to a degree.  It isn’t arc driven.  It is, at times, character driven.  The changes going on thus aren’t pleasurable and something that makes me want to watch.  So yeah.  Not inspired.  I’m likely to watch but not with the same committment.  (And thanks to the power of TiVo, if I miss an episode, no big deal.  If some one says it is exciting, I can go back and watch it later.)  I just… wish it wasn’t this way because I love my Grissom/Sara fan fiction.  I love my community.  I love my canon.   Others seem to be drifting or less interested. If I lose that,  if others are less involved, I’ll be adrift with out a fandom and that will add to my fandom sadness.

While on the topic of CSI, I bought the CSI video game for my wii.  I figured it would be a nice extension of my love of CSI and help rekindle my interest.  The cast was on the cover. It was a wii game and wii seems much more exciting than the PC version.  The game sadly makes no use of the niftiness of the wii.  For Sara Sidle, the voice isn’t that of Jorja Fox.  Woe. :(   Not an awesome game and doesn’t look like it will accomplish my goal in having bought it.  Wish I had read the reviews before I purchased.

Cliques, fandom and getting readers for your fan fiction

July 13th, 2008

Fandoms have cliques and social groups. Sometimes, if a fandom or group is small enough, these groups can co-exist. If it is large enough, well, those groups can afford to ignore each other or pick on each other. If they chose to, they can even peacefully co-exist. And that last one, they do a lot because why seek trouble? And why not get something that the other group is produces that you enjoy?

If you’ve been involved in a fandom for a while, these social structures, these cliques and groups are really obvious. If you’re justing getting into a fandom, these structures are not so obvious. The lack of knowledge can really be a detriment to your fannish well being if you’re not careful.

Good recent example: A new to my fandom fan fiction author posted a story to one of the more popular fan fiction communities. I’d never heard of the author before. The author had no one as a beta reader who I knew and none of the authors from my corner of fandom had commented to give feedback on the story. The story, well, it was so so. Personally, I found the plot lacking and the characterization awful. I left feedback to let the author know. (Which can be taboo. The general pattern is to shut up and say nothing. Let the author figure out through silence that the community doesn’t like her.) The author, not knowing me from adam because feedback was anon, gave me a flip response. And she never did get the readers she needs to help make sure she’ll get more feedback later to leave a comment. Next chapter? Zero comments. Not a surprise.

That author didn’t get in the right clique by making friends with existing authors by leaving feedback, didn’t get the right people to beta read her story and then was flippant to members of different groups who did read her story. Lack of knowledge regarding those social groups in this fandom, understanding them and not playing the game hurt her ability to interact in the community.

If you’re an author, especially a new author, start out by giving feedback. Get a beta reader. Get a beta reader who is an author you enjoy reading. Doing that does not mean you are not a good writer. It means that you’ve got an implied endorsement from some one who can help you get readers. (It is basic marketing.) This way, you’ll have better knowledge of how the community functions so you can get position yourself to get readers when you do publish.

Power in fandom

July 9th, 2008

I had a conversation yesterday with some one doing something similar to what I’m doing. One of the things we talked about was the new power structures. He talked about it in the context of business and I talked about it in the context of fandom as it pertains to fan fiction communities.  For this post, I’m defining power as the ability to influence  beyond your  personal sphere and the subcommunities which members of fan fiction fandom belong to.

My perspective on this in fan fiction fandom is skewed based on my involvement… but the way I see it is that older power structures, in the pre-Internet days, were based on two variables: Access to TPTB and Capability of getting things done coupled with information brokering. If you had one or the other, you had some power in fandom and you had standing in fandom. By the time that authors were creating mailing lists for their readers to follow them and LiveJournal (and blogging) became popular in parts of fandom, the power structure was perceived as changing. For the first time, it really looked like content creators were in charge and they were using this ability to leverage their position in fandom relative to the creators. A number of fan fiction writers got behind and pushed several projects to the forefront. This was the case for Fiction Alley, a Harry Potter fan fiction site. Writers leveraged their popularity in order to help get book deals.

But the power structure, briefly in the hands of fan fiction writers changed again. Or rather, it became apparent that when fan fiction writers had the chance to leverage their position, they didn’t do it and their lack of action made the fact that doers were really the more powerful force more apparent. The fan fiction community seemed to have turned back in on itself, sought recognition and power from with in the existing community rather than courting outsiders. They didn’t effectively engage and demand changes from the people who control the services they used that were inside fandom, nor outside fandom. Parts of the fan fiction community had the same problems with engaging information brokers: They didn’t or didn’t do so effectively.

To be fair, there is nothing wrong with having failed to engage. People have different priorities and different needs. They get different things out of fandom and there are vested interests, legitimate ones, in keeping fan fiction out of the spotlight. If you engage, if you lobby, if you demand, you risk attention which can run counter to your needs and concerns.
Fandom outside of the fan fiction community seemed to get the concept

Now, the fan fiction community appears to be back the spot where it was pre-Internet. The power is in the hands of doers who are capable of acting as information brokers or those who have access (or ARE) the powers that be. These are the folks most likely to engage outside of the circle of fandom where they are and have the most influence and the most power in fandom. Those who fail to do that, those who chose to engage only in a small narrow community, aren’t going to be perceived as powerful in fandom by other fans with whom they interact or those who are in the power to know. The information brokers, the doers aren’t as visible and don’t necessarily need to be because they can instead me known for their product instead. And the product will be seen and is seen as the new power structure in fandom.

Thus end my incoherent thoughts on fandom and power.

MediaWest con report: Pre-planning, Thursday, Friday

May 30th, 2008

In April, my primary activity involving Fan History was in promoting the wiki on-line. The results? Fan History‘s traffic was up 254% on the year.

And then May. For Fan History, May was a jammed pack month. Trying to continue to promote Fan History on-line. Switching over from VPS to a dedicated server. Big daily increase in traffic. Administrator turnover. RecentChangesCamp. ACEN 2008. MediaWest 2008. Following up on all three, all of which were different types. Camp. As a press attendee. As a dealer. For most of the month, I didn’t know if I was coming or going.

MediaWest was the third of three events I had for the month and the one I was most nervous about attending. I’m a fandom history geek. The more I learn, the more I know nothing. I knew just enough about Fan History, well, to make me really nervous. The FanQs trace their roots back to friction with science fiction fandom awards. MediaWest as a touchstone to off-line fandom in the past and the present. Paula Smith, who named Mary Sue and did a whole bunch of other things for fandom, would likely be there. This convention was full of people who I knew of, had heard of and respected for their place in fandom history.

Did I mention I was all flaked out about attending this convention? I just want to be sure that my audience knows that. I pestered a number of fandom acquaintances about the whole thing. What was it like? Would people know who I was? Did the convention have an audience that would be open to Fan History? How should I handle it if I ran across people I wanked/fought with before? Would I be on my own or would I have friends there? Could I survive the politics of fandom? The answers I got from my acquaintances were at times highly contradictory. Nervous. Nervous.

My prep work for Fan History and myself, pestering my friends aside, included printing up stickers. I already had handouts from ACEN 2008. Sidewinder had printed everything else up. I just had to pack my clothes, rent the car, make sure I had a hotel room. I think, if you’re a dealer, you should do more. But I’m me and May was stressful.

I left Illinois around noon, arrived in Lansing after an uneventful four hour drive. I got in, called my room mate who told me to check in, and then called Sidewinder, to find out when she would arrive in. I had four hours to kill so I called Kay. I talked to Kay, offered to pick up her and her friends from Tim Hortons so they wouldn’t have to walk. Then I killed time with them at Tim Hortons and their hotel room. That involved some interesting conversations. FanLib is still very much a sore point with some people. Legal issues involving fandom are very interesting. My dad’s cookies are mighty tasty. Sara Sidle on CSI may or may not be hot but don’t mess with another fan’s OTP. … Especially when said fan is a Harry Potter fan. Also, yeah, it frequently comes down to who we find physically attractive. When Sidewinder got in, Kay showed me the Dealer’s Room and I sort of helped Sidewinder unpack and foisted wine and cookies off on her. I also set up my table with all the YAY! flyers and hand outs Sidewinder had printed. Then I went out with Sidewinder and Dave, her Doctor boyfriend guy, and ate a nice local bar where we had appetizers, alcohol and pub grub. My pub grub included pizza. (And said pizza later became Sidewinder’s breakfast.) When I got back, I spent a long time chatting with my room mate about a great many things, including how we met in fandom.

Woke up early Friday. Got myself some donuts and hot chocolate from Tim Hortons. Pretty tasty. Real donuts. Not southern style krispy kreme ick. Went back to the hotel. Uploaded some pictures I took the day before. Killed time. Then moseyed over to dealer’s room with my laptop to kill time. I talked to a lot of really nice people. I made Nicole talk to a lot of really nice people. I learned more about the Blake’s 7 fandom than I knew before. Conversations began to blend. I offered to drive get food. I went to Wendys. I bought food. And then I got back and lost my keys. This involved much drama. I had to report my keys lost. I had to ask con security and the hotel to keep an eye on them. I stressed and flaked myself out. I have to applaud everyone involved at the convention and hotel for being very helpful and kind. (I didn’t find my keys until Sunday afternoon. Much drama involved with that. And I was extremely embarrassed at where they did turn up.) I didn’t do any panels because I was manning Fan History‘s dealer’s table. Lots of plugging that Fan History was working on becoming a fandom directory, that anyone could edit it, that we have no notability requirement, that having some friction in who is telling the history can be good for the history and cited the Rescue Rangers article as a good example of this. Friday night, went out can’t remember where. Had appetizers maybe and ribs and chicken and a Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Sat around Sidewinder’s hotel room/dealing out of her room room and talked fandom shit for a bit. Then went back to my hotel room and repeated with my roommate and her friend. Went to sleep really late.

RecentChangesCamp 2008

May 13th, 2008

From May 9 to May 11, I attended RecentChangesCamp 2008 in Palo Alto, California. It was a camp, conference, gathering of people who are involved in some ways with wikis. People who showed up included representatives from of Wikipedia including their CTO and a few people really involved with the organization, people affiliated with Wikia on the technical, business and community end, representatives from wikifarms including WikiSpaces, a few academics interested in the collaborative possibilities for using wikis in an educational setting, a number of people involved in all levels of WikiHow, representatives from AboutUS, people who had taken their wikis into the commercial realm, and people who run smaller wikis that are in various stages of content and audience development.

I attended this event with pretty much zero expectations regarding it. I learned about it because one of the things that we’ve been talking about behind the scenes on Fan History is how there is a wiki community out there. We’ve had discussions regarding how to plug in to it, what it could do for us and our place in it. We also knew that Fan History is at a stage where we’re almost ready to take things to the next level. It is just something scary to contemplate. None of the people most heavily involved with Fan History had done something similar and none were particularly plugged in to the bigger wiki family. There seem to be local groups around in some places which have meet up that sort of deal with these issues but non were particularly local to me. So having heard about RecentChangesCamp 2008, it seemed to be a really good event to attend to help me learn about various issues, do the networking that we know needs to be done and then take that information back to Fan History, to share with our administrators and users. Still, it felt like a crap shoot. That’s a lot of money to go when you have no clue if it will help you meet your goals for attending. But things came together and I attended. And it was worth every penny and anxiety about attending.

RecentChangesCamp 2008 was run using OpenSpace. A description of OpenSpace is: “In Open Space meetings, events and organizations, participants create and manage their own agenda of parallel working sessions around a central theme of strategic importance, such as: What is the strategy, group, organization or community that all stakeholders can support and work together to create?” I didn’t really know this before I got there and my first thought was “How is this going to work?” but work it did. There was a really diverse group of people there, with various needs and various interests who created their own panels. They included a panel on who edits Wikipedia, a panel about encouraging people to become more involved with wiki editing, a panel on the future of Wikipedia, a panel on how to use wikis in education, discussions on which wiki platform worked best, and some more technical discussions.

For my part, I facilitated two discussions: A panel on wikis and fandom and a panel on marketing your wiki. The fandom one was interesting. It turned in to not what I necessarily thought it would be. At times, it was more of a general overview of what is fandom, how does fandom identify, who is watching fandom than it dealt with some of the very real policy issues that Fan History has to deal with: Fandom privacy concerns, use of real names, identity issues, behavioral patterns in fandom that at times run counter to the expected norms for wiki behavioral norms. Some of those were covered in brief. We also discussed funny things in fandom, some of the bad things fandom does, etc. I also tried to make clear that while there are bad things fans do, there are plenty of good things. The bad are just easier to mention, funnier to talk about and are easier in terms of creating discussion. I did feel reassured by the end of the panel that Fan History is doing many things right in terms of how we’ve transitioned in our policies to be less about my personal project and more of a project for the whole fannish community. It is awesome when your peers, in this case people in the wiki community who have been there and done that, reaffirm your actions or give you advice on how to improve in areas where you need help.

The other panel I facilitated was about marketing your wiki. The first half of this panel was mostly a conversation between myself and Evan who ran WikiTravel and runs vinismo. He also helps out with kei.ki. We discussed various strategies for marketing wikis. Both of us were pretty much on the same page regarding how to do that. Our marketing strategies were pretty similar. Contact bloggers. Use tools like digg to improve your search engine optimization. Know your community. Network and network. Use various tools to help with search engine optimization. Find content for your wiki that makes you unique. Give people a reason to invest in your project. Get the right people involved. Use controversy to your advantage. When Evan left, the discussion continued with two or three other people where the conversation tended to be a bit more context specific to specific needs. There was one guy who wanted to make that panel but couldn’t and we couldn’t really reconnect before the end of the camp in order talk about the subject more so we met for breakfast in the Mission district the next day to discuss it.

I also attended a panel on community building, and a discussion on using wikis for data gathering and how to include that, how to make sure the data is good, etc. I also took part in a discussion on using wikis educationally and some of the issues connected with that. One thing that came up was the question of training: Do you need to train people to gain online and information literacy? Or is it something that needs to be absorbed and shared through a broader culture?

Outside of the panels, a lot of what I did was networking. It was one of the major reasons I went. For anyone thinking of going to this camp in the future or thinking of attending a similar event for this reason, it really is worth it. It might be worth checking out who is going to help determine if the people you want to and need to network will be there. I knew that Wikia looked like it had people who would be there, Wikimedia foundation had people who would be there, a few academics who were doing work related to my MSEd, people who participated in smaller wikis who I could discuss specific smaller wiki issues with would be there. And really, fantastic. I got the chance to chat with a lot of those folks. They were really helpful. It reinforced one of the themes of the camp of the wiki ohana. This is a community of helpful people who definitely have a sense of community that extends beyond their individual projects. (And that extends beyond just wikis to include giving people rides to places like Oakland.)

I also had a lot of fun. There were interesting side discussions for those of us being butterflies. One involved what a Amish wiki would look like and what the principles of an Amish wiki would be. It wasn’t very serious but it was seriously entertaining. There was another conversation about fandom wank and the Open Source Boob Project. The who participated in it added to the entertainment level.

Fan History comes away my having attended this having gained a few things:
1. Fan History is ready to be part of a wider wiki community.
2. We’ve got contacts who can help us in the future.
3. We have leads on how to grow the wiki in order to be more successful.
4. We gained information that can be shared with others who help out with Fan History.

If you’re in fandom and you’re helping with a wiki, I can’t urge you enough to be bold and try to participate in the wiki community on a wider level.

Identity, fandom, fansites and success

April 24th, 2008

Back in the day in fandom, say 10 years ago, fans were forced to stay together out of necessity.  If you wanted access to information, there were very few places to get it.  Information was just very centralized.  People who entered that at the right time succeeded.   Some of those centralized resources are still around.  Think FanFiction.Net.

But then along came services like egroups, onelist, GeoCities and Tripod. Suddenly, fandom information was really decentralized.  Fans could create small websites for extremely niche audience.   If you were an author, that might just be your own stories.    By posting them to your own private mailing list, by posting them to your own little website, you could have a lot more control.  Power in fandom decentralized.  And it became easier to have a much more specific fandom identity and not lack for new content.

But that model appears to have gone out the window with the advent of Web 2.0.   Good fansites are increasingly hard to find because the maintainers either lose interest, can’t keep up with new fandom content, or a good fansite needs to be almost commercial in order to attract traffic and interest.  (Try to find a good Office fansite.  I dare you.)   And fandom sites have to cater to a really broad audience: Regular entertainment fans who aren’t fandom people (who will watch the latest Robin Sparkles video and squee over Britney Spears showing up on the How I Met Your Mother but won’t do much else) and fandom people.  The fandom people audience gets even more precarious for good fansites because you have multiple identity groups going on at the same time.   And some times these groups share membership.  You’ve got your vidders, fanartists, fan fiction writers.  You’ve got slashers, genfen and het shippers.  You’ve got character driven subcomponents.  It’s a big old mess of different groups with different needs and desires.

If a fansite wants to attract an audience and keep it on their fansite, they need to attract all those various groups that make up your target audience.  And most importantly: Those groups need to maintain their group identity.  Slashers need to be able to continue on with their identity as slashers in regards to  the site they’re on.  If the fansite is open to everyone, then slashers need to co-exist with genfen, vidders, and specific character fans.  If a  fansite requires that users take on the identity of the fansite, the fansite loses.  If there is one mindset, a sort of universal group think going on on forums and in all the posts, the fansite loses.   It becomes so much easier to walk away when they don’t share that identity.  If they walk away, chances are they won’t be back unless they are offered something you can’t get elsewhere.

A good fansite needs moderators, programmers, writers, readers, members who can help foster multiple identities on their site.   Getting those people in place can be a problem but it is one that needs to be worked on early if a fansite or fan project wants to succeed.

Fandom and traffic

April 20th, 2008

I love looking at Fan History’s traffic information.  Where is the traffic coming from?  Which plugs are effective?  Which are less effective?  This, for me, is really important information as the decision was made, mostly for financial reasons, to not advertise.  With Fan History catering to an obscure niche interest, it means getting and sustaining a large sustainable can be difficult.  In two years, some traffic patterns have become rather obvious that those trying to market to fandom or those who seek to create in fandom projects can learn from.

  • Wikipedia: Wikipedia is your friend.  If your site, blog entry, mailing list is on the right Wikipedia page, you can generate a fair number of visits.  It increases your visibility in fandom and to people officially connected to your fandom.
  • LiveJournal: LiveJournal (and to a degree JournalFen’s more popular communities) is your friend.  A good plug on an active community can net you 50 to 500 unique visits.  If the community allows itself to be spidered, if the community has tags, those plugs can keep on giving.  They help with your search engine  visibility.  For professionals in fandom seeking to promote their project, these plugs also demonstrate an awareness of the fandom community which helps establish those projects as legitimate in the eyes of that community.
  • Fansites: Fansites are a great way to get visibility.  Make fansite webmasters your friends.   Ask them to plug your project.  Explain why it would be good for their audience.  Ask them to get involved with your site.  If a popular fansite plugs you on your main page, they can provide a good 50 to 10,000 unique visitors.    If you’ve got a unique product targeted at that community, that much traffic can be fantastic.  (And maintain relationships with those fansite maintainers. The maintainers are power brokers in their corner and can help you figure out where to target the fandom community to help you grow your audience.)  Many fansites also have ways to add your own links.  AnimeNewsNetwork and Anipike are two good anime examples where you can add your own links.  If you can’t get the maintainers to plug on your main page, do it there.
  • Mailing lists: Mailing lists are not dead in fandom.  A frequent characterization of mailing list folks is that they are opposed to web 2.0 and the whole blogging culture.  Not true.  Many of the folks I know on mailing lists just like that culture.  They do use other social networking tools but mailing lists are a communal way of sharing news with out having to know how to operate in fandom cultures they may not be familiar with. It means that mailing lists can be a great source of traffic as you’ve got a community of people who share.  Even better, people will take things that they see on mailing lists and mention them elsewhere as they share what they like elsewhere.  An active fandom mailing list with 250 to 10,000 members might result in 10 to 50 visits but there is chance of a mention elsewhere that can result in more traffic.
  • Digg: Digg is not always a huge traffic generator and isn’t a traditional fandom tool.  (delicious seems to be the social bookmarking tool of choice.)  Unless you’ve already got a huge website going, you’re not likely to end up on the front page with out something happening.  Digg does help with search engine visibility.   If your Digg link submission involves an article on an obscure topic, it can help to really channel people interested in that topic to your site.
  • Social networking sites: Quizilla, MySpace, FaceBook, bebo, orkut are great social networking sites but they don’t generate much traffic, nor do they create much increased visibility.  The fandom community on those networks isn’t really oriented towards fandom.  You can tell you’ve made it though when you start getting mentions on them.  Fan History does a plug on one of those sites, or gets a mention, it will net maybe 5 to 10 unique visitors in the course of a six month period.   These mentions won’t necessarily help with your search engine visibility, nor help your networking opportunities.  Your time is best spent plugging your project elsewhere.
  • Blogs: Bloggers can be your friend and key traffic drivers.  A big, influential blog that mentions you can get you a lot of traffic.  A smaller blog might add to your search engine visibility.  A small, influential blog might help you get the attention of people who can help your project succeed.
  • Controversy: Controversy can sell and help add legitimacy to your project.  Fan History gets fairly decent sized traffic bumps when people have issues with articles, with privacy issues in fandom or with people who help maintain the wiki.  Fandom Wank can be your traffic driving, search engine visibility, viral link creating friend.  Lee Goldberg slamming on you can give you sympathy and legitimacy.   Having slashers and het shippers duke it out on your site insures they stay and means they’ll probably link to their arguments elsewhere to complain about the behavior of those they don’t like. Controversy may also bring media attention and attention from the people affiliated with your fandom.
  • Specialized content: Specialized content generates traffic.  Fan History gets a fair amount of traffic because we cover topics that are not covered as thoroughly elsewhere.  Cassandra Claire is the best example of this on Fan History.  The Draco/Hermione is another good example.  Alias Smith and Jones is a third.  Thoroughly link and promote this specialized content to make it easier to find. Doing that will help generate viral links with out your having to do the work.

Is marketing a fandom project different than marketing a project that is not fandom related?  Probably not.  A lot of this advice would probably work for a site promoting soap or a non-fandom specific web service.  The difference is that fansites don’t necessarily see good marketing advice as applicable to them because fandom is a hobby or an academic exercise; for them, fandom is not a business and should not operate like one.   They should because nothing is sadder than seeing a good project die through lack of interest.

FriendFeed

March 29th, 2008

When the decision was made to try to expand Fan History to represent fandom on a much wider level, I made an effort to try to keep up with more entertainment and social networking industry related news. What media companies do and services that social networking sites offer can have an impact on fandom and communities based around them. I’ve found quite a few really nifty tools including FriendFeed. I pretty much signed up as soon as I heard about it. I love FriendFeed in theory. Many of my fandom acquaintances use a variety of networks to do various fannish things. These include uploading fan art, posting fan fiction, writing meta on various topics, sharing links to various fanworks they’ve found. It just gets mind boggling to keep up with it all. FriendFeed helps to keep up with all that by taking all that information and putting it in one place. Beautiful! It can potentially save a lot of time and make it easier to find relevant discussion, new fan fiction, keep up with fandom and canon news. Who wouldn’t like that?

Except, well, a lot of people don’t like that. I plugged the site on my LiveJournal, nagged a few of my more tech savvy fandom acquaintances, chatted up a few people who might see its inherent advantages, and plugged it in the comments of a fanthropology post. How many people in my fannish sphere have signed up? One. Fandom is confusing. It has a lot of crossover with the personal and the professional. People go to different places to fill different fannish needs. Such a tool doesn’t allow them to remove that which they don’t need. I might love your episode reviews of CSI and read every piece of Grissom/Sara fan fiction you write but that doesn’t mean I want to read your Amazon.Com book reviews, hear about what you’re not fandom related doing right now on Twitter, care about the links you’re posting on your delicious account that relate to cooking, nor have your pro-political candidate of choice diggs appear along side that other content. Linking your whole life up like that might work for people who are related to you, or if you’re narrowly focusing your submissions to all sites along the same lines but in fandom, that rarely is the case. The average fan just isn’t going to provide enough fandom specific content across all these forums to make other fans want to embrace FriendFeed as a fandom tool.

At least, not at this time.

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