Archive for October, 2008

Fan History bot creation announcement: LiveJournal bot

October 29th, 2008

Fan History is happy to announce the launch of a new bot: LiveJournal Bot.

Back in 2007, Fan History faced criticism for not being inclusive enough, for the selection of people with articles about them being too random, for being too focused on fan fiction. In March of 2008, we took the steps to address that criticism by launching FanFictionNetBot, which created articles about FanFiction.Net users. More than 470,000 articles later, we’ve found that the response to this was really positive. For every article deletion request we had, there were at least ten people who edited articles about themselves, and who posted/commented about how it was cool that an article about them was on Fan History.

FanFictionNetBot also helped give us a really good picture of what was happening on FanFiction.Net. Did you know that only about a quarter of accounts created actually had stories posted to them? We were suprised too. Another cool facts we discovered: Harry Potter fan fiction writers on FanFiction.Net average three point three stories per author. (376,000 stories and 112,000 members of the fandom equals 3.3 stories average per author.) We were also were intrigued to discover that the Naruto, Inuyasha, Lord of the Rings, Yu-Gi-Oh, Kingdom Hearts fandoms were the next fandoms up when it came to participation by people in the fan fiction community. We were also intrigued to find that Twilight fandom had so many members; the fandom is quite new when compared to the amount of time that FanFiction.Net has been around.

It was with all this in mind that we created LiveJournal Bot. Prior to the creation of this bot, we had been adding a lot of this information by hand. This process was slow, tedious and wasn’t helping us to get a really good picture of what was happening in fandom and specifically on LiveJournal. It was also frustrating for us when people would talk about the size of fandom on LiveJournal. Obviously not everyone on LiveJournal is a member of fandom. If you’re trying get an accurate count of the number of users on LiveJournal who are members of fandom, well, the process can annoying. We are also intensely curious as to the size of comparative fan bases on LiveJournal. Is the fandom community for Harry Potter on LiveJournal bigger or smaller than the one on FanFiction.Net? Can we get a number which suggests that fandom actually has a bigger presence on LiveJournal than it does on the fan fiction-only FanFiction.Net?

After running this bot, we’ll not only begin to answer those questions, but we’ll also have a much bigger, much better, much more accurate and inclusive fandom directory. We’ll also have a better idea of what is going on in music, sports and actor fandoms that we didn’t have before because FanFiction.Net doesn’t allow fan fiction for those fan communities. We’re really excited about these additions.

Fan History is trying to take privacy concerns seriously. Users who have checked the box on their LiveJournal security settings that minimizes your inclusion in search engines won’t be picked up. The bot is compliant with Live Journal’s policies on search engine inclusion. We’re making a real effort to honor fans’ privacy wishes, so to avoid inclusion in the bot’s search, please make sure you’ve checked the appropriate box in your journal’s security settings. If an article is created about you, Fan History will be happy to delete it if you follow the steps outlined on the article deletion request page.

As we attempt this, Fan History knows that any numbers we generate are going to be problematic. For example, we’re not creating articles about everyone on LiveJournal. We’re only creating articles about people who belong to a list of roughly 1,600 fandom-based LiveJournal communities representing English, Spanish, Russian and Ukranian language communities. This is a pretty good sample but obviously limited as LiveJournal has a huge number of such communities. The numbers won’t be entirely accurate because Fan History is excluding any LiveJournal user who has decided to not allow bots to access their privacy settings. If an article with the same name as a person’s LiveJournal name already exists, the bot won’t create a separate article or edit the existing one. This means some people will be passed over.

These steps mean that many of members of LiveJournal’s fandom base will be excluded and our numbers won’t be 100% accurate. In the case of honoring your privacy though, this is something where we’re more than happy to not have the most accurate numbers ever.

If you have any questions not answered by this post or the LiveJournal bot user page, please feel free to ask them on our blog entry about the bot or by e-mailing support[@]fanhistory[.]com. We’ll be more than happy to answer them.

Fandom as a business

October 27th, 2008

I spend at least two to eight hours a day working on Fan History. On a busy day, I could spend twelve hours day. About a third (1) of that time is spent talking about effective ways to market the site, how to improve the content, policy decisions and revisions that need to be made, how features we implement will be received by certain communities, discussing the risk/reward of these various strategies. My favorite places to have these conversations include twitter where I have access to some great people who follow me who can offer a business and wiki perspective, and via phone, AIM, e-mail or another messenger where I can have one on one conversations with users, with fandom and business people. I also love to have these conversations on my LiveJournal as a result of posting about my insecurities regarding what I’m doing, explaining the process of what I’m doing and soliciting alpha and beta feedback on features and policy we’re launching on a semi-public platform. (2)

I was having one of these conversations (3) recently on LiveJournal about a bot we’re planning on launching soon. One of the issues that came up was that, in making the decision to create this bot and launch this bot, we are going to ruffle some feathers because it goes against the norm in parts of LiveJournal related fandom communities. We decided to go ahead with it anyway because, as a business decision, it made sense. Risk/Reward was weighted. We discussed different, for want of a better term, market segments (groups and cliques? subfandoms? fannish subcultures?) inside of fandom, and their potential reactions to this bot. We also review previous decisions that were comparable, response to that and determined that overall, if we take this step and that step, our response rate should be ninety percent favorable. The ten percent unfavorable are not part of our potential audience, have a negative view of Fan History anyway, were largely informed of the means of protecting themselves in the previous discussions about Fan History. We can afford that as such articles increase our participation on the wiki, help users overcome a barrier for entry by not forcing them to create articles from scratch and get a lot of quantitative and qualitative information which will help us to better understand fandom. That’s how we made our decision. It was a business one.

That sparked further conversation which asked the question: Should fandom be treated as a business? Should business models be used as ways to assist in the decision making process as it pertains to sites, projects and people where the decision is based on a fandom?

There is a good argument for most fans that the answer should be no. Fandom is a hobby. Fans engage other fans and the source material for pleasure. The goals of most fans don’t necessitate a business approach.

But for certain subsets of people involved in fandom, fandom is a business and decisions need to be made based on that model. These people include fans who invest a fair amount of time and money on their sites, convention dealers, convention organizers, fans who have incorporated or report earnings from fandom on their taxes, anyone running a fansite with over 50,000 unique visitors a month, fan artists who sell their work, costumers, startups operating in fanspaces, freelance writers who also are fans, professional bloggers covering entertainment and fandom issues, professional writers and the list goes on and on. There are just a huge number of people who need to treat fandom as a business. These are people who cannot afford make decisions based on their perceptions of how “fandom” will respond, what fannish norms are and act as if they are operating on the same level as the casual fans who have much less of an investment legally and financially in fandom.

Why can’t they afford to do that? Because for a lot of fans who are in fandom for pure enjoyment, they have a general goal of not making waves, of finding ways to participate that don’t create additional strife for themselves, where they can express their love of canon, of finding a ways to enjoy the source more, of connecting with like minded people. Those are great goals for fandom. But if you’re on that other level, your goals are different. They include such things as covering the cost of materials, hosting, travel expenses. They include trying to make money, to profit off or maximize your profit. The goal might include trying to increase traffic, increase media exposure, increase interest in your project. The goal might be to create the biggest information resource, to create the best information resource, to use that information to get a job. These aren’t necessarily compatible goals.

If you’re a fan, you might shut your mouth and avoid controversy at all costs. If you don’t, your enjoyment of fandom might decrease. If you’ve got a financial or business stake in fandom, you might not have that luxury. You might need to wade in to that controversy or find a way to use it to your benefit. It can increase your traffic and your visibility which can help your bottom line. (4) By alienating a certain group, you might gain acceptance by a larger group who will enjoy what you’re doing who might not otherwise have been exposed to you had they not heard about it from the people who disliked the business. From a risk/reward perspective, it makes sense.

If you’re a fan, the rules might be that you might be constrained by personal relationships. You don’t want to offend your friends, alienate people who could help you be happy in fandom. These rules on a micro level mean you can’t say and do certain things. If you’re a business, the rules are different as you’re generally operating on and being judged on a macro level. On the micro level of fans, it is generally viewed as unacceptable to copy some one’s work and to archive it on your personal web space. On a business level, this behavior is generally much more acceptable and tolerated. Google makes copies and derivative copies of most people’s content. Fans don’t react negatively because this is being done by a corporation and the overall good is viewed as worth the loss of control of their content means that they can have copies of their work available should something happen to their own copy. It also makes their and other people’s content much more readily acceptable. The business aspect depersonalizes this and makes it acceptable. Thus, if you’re a fan with a financial stake in fandom, you need to depersonalize these activities and treat your fansite and activities like a business because of the dual standards in fandom. By acting like and treating your fansite like a business, your activities are judged by a different set of standards which more generally are friendly towards probable business models. If you treat it like fandom, you can’t get away with that.

If you are an artist who makes their living off of fan art, it behooves you to treat fandom like a business. Some parts of fandom have real problems with fans profiting off their fan created works. If you immerse yourself in that culture, you are going to have a problem of trying to make money off a community that is intrinsically hostile to what you’re doing. How can you then make a living off your art? If you’re treating fandom your fan art like a business, you find conventions that allow you to sell or auction your work. You find auction sites that allow you to sell this type of content. You create a site which talks about your art experience, has a gallery of some of your work, talks about your inspiration, might have a blog and talks about where you can buy your art. You create art that you think you can sell. You do this by researching what fan art does sell, finding out what fandoms are popular, possibly doing a few free pieces for big name fans so that you can help build an audience, leaving comments in reply to people discussing your work and avoiding places that are hostile to this business plan. You’re open and honest about what you’re doing. You learn enough of the legal defenses so that if some one calls your art illegal that will lead to a crack down on fans who aren’t trying to make money off their work, you can defend yourself. You can still act like a fan and if your art becomes established enough for its quality, you can play the fandom game more on a personal level with out it hurting your bottom line as your audience will be more focused on the product than you as a person. If you do the opposite, if you play fandom games first and then try to become a professional fan artist, people are going to have to get over all your fandom baggage as part of the purchasing decision process… which means tat when you play in fandom, you’ve got to weigh how you behave in that context of losing potential sales. What is the risk/reward for making fandom wank? Make Failure to these tasks will hurt your bottom line.

If you’re a fan who is spending upwards of a thousand dollars a year on your fansite, in creating art, in making costumes, organizing a convention, publishing fanzines, you have the added issue that you will probably have to treat fandom as a business unless you have some other means of income or are independently wealthy. From my point of view, Fan History costs me a fair amount of money to maintain. I have web hosting costs. I have development costs. I have advertising costs. I have legal and incorporation fees. I have taxes. I have networking costs. I’m fortunate in that my job provides me just enough money to cover these costs and my basic living costs that I can afford to spend all this time on Fan History. I’m also lucky because my job is fandom related to the extent that many of the things I do professional connect back to what I do for Fan History as a business. Because I love what I do, I am willing to make the sacrifices I need to in order to see things through. If I didn’t have my job, I would likely be unable to maintain Fan History. Many others who treat fandom as a business have similar issues. Fandom is their job. It is their career. For people in those positions, it is difficult to treat fandom as a hobby, as a source of personal enjoyment. When making decisions, we’re talking about people who aren’t making decisions about what makes them happy but about their personal livelihood. If you have a problem with a person in fandom, good advice might be to retreat and avoid them. If you’re in fandom as a business and you have a problem with a person in fandom, a business decision might be made differently. Why? If you were giving advice to some one about a co-worker or boss who were annoying, always putting you down, who were slandering you, whose activities at work were threatening your ability to do your job, you probably wouldn’t tell them to just ignore their boss and do whatever they feel like because doing so could result in them getting fired. Fandom as a business livelihood is the same. You make decisions differently.

The reality of making decisions in fandom based on business models can feel really cynical if you’re a fan who bases your decisions based on what heightens your fannish enjoyment. If you’re making business decisions in fandom, the whole process can be really frustrating as your actions might not be judged as business decisions but rather as actions in fandom evaluated from the perspective of what facilitates an individual in fandom’s personal goals. How do you handle these two things perspectives existing together? I don’t know… but the easiest way to start is to remember both perspectives exist and for fans to work with people who are changing their perspective.

1. About 1/10 of my time is being involved with Fan History and FanworksFinder as a user. The remaining time is spent implementing various policy decisions, tutoring people how to do them, doing work for pay that relates back to the activities I do on Fan History, publicizing the site, dealing with admin issues, searching for money or trying to keep abreast with fandom news.

2. If you’re interested in what I and what Fan History LLC are doing, then feel free to follow me on twitter or friend me on LiveJournal.

3. This is a locked conversation on LiveJournal. In order to view it, I need to have friended you in order to view it.

4. Which isn’t to say that this is just the purview of people with business interests in fandom. Plenty of fans enjoy controversy and plenty of fans have a stake in creating controversy in order to further their own standing in the community. The purpose in doing those activities is just different and should be acknowledged as such. FanLib benefited from controversy because it increased their potential audience. Some fans benefited from creating the controversy because it helped solidify group cohesion and reasserted their status as important people in the fan community.

RecentChangesCamp 2009

October 27th, 2008

Fan History is going to RecentChangesCamp again this year. If you love wikis, I can’t say enough good things about this gathering and you should go! The 2009 gathering is being held in Portland, Oregon from February 20 to February 22. (If you’re possibly coming from out of town, let me know and we can see about sharing a hotel room.)

If you’re not familiar with RecentChangesCamp, it is a wiki conference that uses the open space model in terms of organizing the conference, determining the programming tracks, etc. It means that everyone who attends has an investment in it and if there is a wiki related issue that you have a pressing need to discuss with people, you can most definitely do it here.

At last year’s RCC, there were people from WikiHow, Wikia, AboutUs, WikiTravel, Fan History, Wikipedia, academic institutions who used wikis, WikInvest, Vinismo, SocialText, a debate wiki, and more. I learned a lot from the people who attended.

This year, I’d really, really love to see more fandom wiki people show up. There are some unique issues that fandom people can have to deal with that would be great to discuss with other fandom people. How do you handle mentioning members of fandom? What are the copyright issues that fans should be aware of? What corporations should fans be careful of in terms of intellectual property when creating their wiki? How do you develop an audience for your fandom specific wiki? Who can you talk with about wikis to get guidance when things don’t look good? How good of a model is Wikipedia for fandom? Is wiki code too big of a barrier to entry to get large scale participation among the general fandom population? How can you avoid wank on your wiki? What are fun things you’ve learned about fandom as a result of working on your wiki? Can you play an active role in your wiki or is there too much fandom liability for the creator to be the major editor of it? How can wikis be used in the fan communities and on existing fan sites? Yes, a lot of these questions apply to the wiki community as a whole but fandom politics can give some of these issues interesting twists.

If you’re thinking of attending, yay! Please let me know. Maybe we can create a mailing list for fandom wiki people in the run up to RCC, get together before the RCC for lunch or something else to help really start developing fandom oriented wiki networking so that we can begin to get a good support group in place.

Twitter privacy

October 24th, 2008

Fandom can have some real issues with privacy.  And parts of fandom are really making a move towards twitter as a way of connecting with other fans, getting news, etc.  If you’ve locked your entries so that only friends can see your twitter updates, ValleyWag is running a story you need to know about: Your locked posts are visible to all who view the xml feed for that. It just reiterates the one truism on-line that you should always remember: Never put anything on-line that you don’t want the world to know because your information can become public.

Looking for a new home.

October 23rd, 2008

MSN Groups made the February closing official, with announcements at the top of every MSN Group, and created a page for helping Groups ease over to Multiply. The migration utility is now available, and a lot of Group owners have questions.

Ever since I heard about the closing, I’ve been looking for a new home for my two Thunderbirds groups. Several people have been giving me suggestions, and I’ve checked into a couple of them. But today, I looked into the official destination. I joined Multiply. Joining gave me a personal page, and with that, I created a sort of personal group.

There seems to be a way to change backgrounds and colors – kind of like LJ, in a way. I can put pictures into the Welcome section, and have separate albums for the various pictures. Found out, however, that though there will be photo albums transferred, the actual photos won’t be. They’ll have to be uploaded from my computer – Multiply doesn’t have an uploader function that will work with MSN (yet). In the case of one of my Groups, and its background site, I’ll have to download the pictures to my computer and upload to either the site itself, or to photobucket. Some of my graphics are at photobucket already, but a lot aren’t. And to add them to the pages, you have to use HTML. Not a problem for me, but for my assistant managers? Might be.

From the comments at the Multiply Migration help site, the messageboards are a mess when they import over. I’m half tempted to import one of my sites anyway and see how much of a mess it is, then decide whether or not to keep it.

I’m still of the opinion that starting from scratch at a new site of my own will be better. But I promised I’d wait to see what Windows Live Groups has to offer. And I’ll keep poking around at Multiply – I do want to give it a fair shake.

At least I’m not at AOL…

AOL’s personal web pages are going, going and almost gone!

October 22nd, 2008

I mentioned in another post that AOL was killing its message boards by the end of the year.  News is coming out that AOL is killing its personal web pages for members as of October 31, 2008.  This isn’t just sad because another long time fandom home bites the dust but because we’re going to lose resources and fan fiction that we won’t have access to again.  For me, this includes stories I love like the works of Tenderware, a Janeway/7 writer who was active in the early 2000s.

Ouch.  Also.  Ouch.  If you know of fan fiction that is disappearing as a result of AOL’s decision, please please please submit the new location and list the story on FanworksFinder.  That way, people can find stories they love again.  If you are some one who has their work located on AOL’s member space and you need a new home for your work, let me know!  I’ll help you find a new home for your site on any of the free sites, can offer hosting with Fan History, suggest some low cost web hosts, etc.

AOL message boards are closing and taking a bit of fandom history with them

October 18th, 2008

AOL’s message boards have played an important role in the growth of on-line fandom.  They were often the first experience many had with on-line fandom because of AOL’s reach, its market saturation and because AOL had content locked behind its service that you needed to subscribe to in order to gain access to.  While some parts of fandom might have come of age on-line with Usenet, through services like Prodigy and GEnie and university provided Interner access, many more did it through AOL.

AOL stopped being the subscriber of choice by the early 2000s and official boards began to die as fewer and fewer people participated on them.  Eventually, the boards were moved from AOL’s locked behind ISP software to the web.   People continued to use them less.  And now, it looks like AOL is officially killing their boards.  It brings an official end to that part of fandom’s history.  It is pretty sad in its own way.

Hi, I’m Rhonda and I’m a FanFic Writer

October 17th, 2008

Yes, I’m Rhonda, and I’m a FanFic Writer. It’s been almost 6 years since my last FanFic piece.

Even though I turned ProFic in 2003 when I sold my first story to YardDog Press, I’m still a fan girl. It’s something I deal with every day. My background is TV genfic fandoms, that’s my basis of reference. Just to be clear.

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a panel at FenCon called “FanFic to ProFic to Profit” and though only one of us on the panel sees much in the way of “profit”, the point was a positive one. From a writer/creator POV, what’s the positive outcome of FanFic? It’s a very important learning tool. I consider FanFic to be akin to Basic Training for writers who look to move forward with their work.

There are many elements to a good story:

  • plot
  • characterization
  • setting
  • dialog
  • emotional tension
  • story structure

Put all together, these elements can be difficult for even an experienced ProFic writer. For a new writer… learning and incorporating them all at once may be completely overwhelming. This is where FanFic comes into play. It takes some of the pressure off the new writer by providing a setting and most of the characters. It allows the writer to focus on structure, plot, and a few “new” characters. It’s a way to ease into the pool, as it were. Once these elements are, ideally, learned, the writer can then branch out to creating their own worlds and more characters.

Other elements to good writing FanFic should provide for new writers is professional structure:

  • Following guidelines – both for story and format. The writer needs to learn what the group, fandom, etc is looking for in basic terms and provide it.
  • Following the Rules – you have to know what the “rules” are before you can break them. This applies to basic English: spelling, grammar, proofreading, etc. If you make your fandom crazy with your typos, “Text-speak”, whatever – it’s a safe bet no professional editor will touch you.
  • Etiquette – there’s an etiquette to the publishing world. It applies to FanFic. It’s based on the Golden Rule. Don’t take rejection/feedback personally. Don’t start flame wars. Don’t stalk people for their opinion – because then you become the “Don’t Try This At Home” stories at conventions. People – especially writers, editors, and publishers – talk. Unless it’s good, you don’t want your name coming up.
  • Experience the Food Chain – FanFic does actually provide experience in dealing with the “Food Chain” and prepares you for ProFic’s “Food Chain”. Just as there are Big Name Authors in ProFic and new authors have to fight and claw their way up the ladder, so goes FanFic. There are Big Name Fans who get a lot of attention and younger (sometimes as good) authors who have to work hard to get their work read. It’s a Fact of Life writers learn to deal with.

Which brings up feedback. Feedback is one of the reasons I moved away from FanFic and some fandoms. I got tired of people wondering where the “good stuff” was and why no one was doing “X” or “Y” when I’d just done that particular story – but if anyone saw it they didn’t speak up or spread it around. Follow the adage: “If you like what you see, tell your friends. If you don’t like what you see, tell ME.” But I would say, if you like something, SHOUT IT OUT – to your friends, to the author, to anyone who’ll listen. Tired of crap in the writing world? Start promoting the “good stuff”. As with any other part of life, only the complaints get heard. That’s hard on the industry and the writer.

Do you know what the #1 reason is for writers to stop writing? The “sound of crickets”. The phenomenon of of throwing a party and no one came. I don’t know how many of my stories seemed to go into a black hole and never come out. When no one seems to care if someone keeps writing, many times the writer stops writing – either in that fandom or forever.

For the record, that’s not why I stopped writing FanFic. I went ProFic to maybe make money with my writing. Would I write FanFic again? You bet. There are a couple of things that’re gaining my attenton, and I would so love to break into Media Tie-In. What could be better than PAID, APPROVED FanFic geared for a national audience? That would be cool.

So, I’m Rhonda. I’m a FanFic writer, and I’m going to pop in from time to time to write about writing and conventions and whatever happens. I love Questions from the Audience. If there’s something you want to know about, let me know.

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.

MSN Groups

October 15th, 2008

I’ve got a number of fandom friends who use MSN Groups for their fandom home. This includes NSync, Thunderbirds, So You Think You Can Dance and Naruto fans. It also includes friends who run fan fiction, role playing and canon discussion groups on MSN Groups. If that’s you, then heads up! Your group is likely to have some changes coming soon as Microsoft is turning its existing groups Multiply before they launch their own new Live groups platform.

No clue how many members of fandom are going to be affected by this change. The last time I took a look at some groups there was about a year ago and that was the role playing community. I think 25,000 fans is probably a conservative underestimate. So if you know any fans who have groups hosted on MSN, give them a heads up to the ownership change that is coming.

Update: Tikatu, a Fan History admin, has posted about this topic on her LiveJournal.

Posessing pornographic Japanese manga? Go to jail!

October 14th, 2008

The full story is told by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in a press release published by Comic Book Resources. The long and short of it:

Mr. Handley’s case began in May 2006 when he received an express mail package from Japan that contained seven Japanese comic books. That package was intercepted by the Postal Inspector, who applied for a search warrant after determining that the package contained cartoon images of objectionable content.

And for that, he might go to jail for 20 years. I applaud Random House and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for taking an important and necessary stand on this because the potential consequences for it are scary for fandom, large parts of which exist in a text and art based medium.

Here we go again: Copyright law! Yay!

October 14th, 2008

Fandom has copyright issues.  And then it has copyright issues.  Some of the stuff that fans do falls into a legal gray zone.  It could be or it might not be legal.  And really, we don’t want to know because most fans can’t afford the money and the time to fight such a battle.  We just want to be left alone. We’ll keep our suspect copyright material and issues to ourselves if you make things affordable, portable and offer us a platform where we can engage in our activities in a way that makes us happy. For the most part, this system works.

Except when it looks like it doesn’t and the law will come down on us. How do you help the economy? You make copyright violations a criminal offense and give the courts the right to seize property associated with copyright infringement. This doesn’t work well for fandom at all.

How much of an impact will this have on fandom? Probably not much. I don’t think the average fan will think their is much of a consequence to them. I don’t think that they believe that studios will come after them, that sports teams will come after them, that recording companies will come after them. Non-American fans probably won’t care because not their jurisdiction. But if you’re an American fan (or company) who runs a fansite with potentially infringing material, while you might not be worried, I would be because this isn’t just a fine but potential jail time.

Seriously, copyright law in the US needs a major overhaul to protect consumers who aren’t hurting a company’s bottom line with their activities and to encourage business to deal realistically (and creatively) with a changing climate for business plans.

FaerieCon 2008 report

October 14th, 2008

A Faerie in Philadelphia

This past weekend I was an exhibitor at the second annual FaerieCon (wiki) at the convention center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The convention has a different feel as compared to the science-fiction & media conventions that many of us in media fandom are used to; the convention is rather more like an indoor Renaissance Fair featuring vendors of truly high quality, beautiful wares, from artwork to jewelry to clothing and costuming supplies. Attendees don wings aplenty and, for a few days at least, summon the faerie world to reveal itself in the middle of this urban city. There is a positive, uplifting atmosphere to the convention again quite unlike those events I normally otherwise attend. A parade of Green Men pass through the convention hall on Saturday morning, singing and greeting all they pass with harvest blessings. Music fills the convention throughout the day from one of the main stages as well as in the evening balls, from the complex rhythmic beats of Trillian Green to the otherworldly sounds of Qntal. Everything and everyone from palm readers to leathersmiths, good faeries to wicked goblins, can be found at FaerieCon, along with many just curious to get a peek into what this other world is all about.

Sponsored by FaerieWorlds, a group which hosts an outdoor festival on the West Coast annually, it has been my viewpoint as an exhibitor that FaerieCon has had a harder time getting quite the same foothold here in Philadelphia. Perhaps this is partly because the cavernous, poorly lit convention center does not lend itself to creating a magical, spiritually uplifting environment. This year’s convention also suffered some setbacks when planned guest of honor, Alan Lee, was unable to attend at the last minute. Brian Froud was also absent due to an illness in the family, and the popular musical act, Qntal, barely made it in time for their scheduled headlining appearance at the Bad Faeries’ Ball Saturday night.

Last year the exhibitors spaces had completely sold out a month before the convention; this year, there were empty exhibit booths which were never sold, despite promises of larger attendance numbers. I was told at one point that the attendance figures were 15,000 for this year, as compared to 8,000 last year, but quite honestly it never felt like there were that many people there (and indeed to me often felt less well-attended than 2007.) Not to cast doubt on the convention organizers but I have to wonder if that 15,000 figure included the very large number of free passes which were given to each exhibitor to distribute to get people in the door – and of those passes which I had handed out before the convention, only 1 or 2 people actually showed up and appeared to have used them.

A Faerie castle in the dark hall of the convention center.

Many of the other exhibitors I spoke to summarized their experience with the show the same way I felt: “I didn’t make a great deal of money – in fact, I lost a great deal of money, but I had a good time.” For some, that will be enough for them to give the show another try next year, in wanting to support it and hope that it will grow and get better in the future. After all, with the financial situation in the United States at the moment, it is easy to understand why many would not feel able to spend money right now, particularly on non-necessary items. But at the same time, it is hard, when you’re at a show to sell merchandise first and have a good time second, to justify the hours spent preparing for and then working an event only to come home with less money in your pocket than you had before.

But such is the life of a convention huckster! Every show is a gamble when it comes down to it; an event can be extremely lucrative one year and the next you might barely cover your expenses if you’re lucky.

What is a good open source solution for creating the next FanFiction.Net?

October 13th, 2008

I don’t know how legit this post here is but it brings up an issue that I think a lot of fans have wondered. How do you create a site like FanFiction.Net with the scalability and the features you want? What script do you chose?

The free choice open source scripts tend to include efiction, MediaWiki and PostNuke. They’re all pretty easy to install. If you chose the right web site host, they can often install these scripts free of charge. And a lot of people who create archives just that way for archive specific fandoms, for ship specific fandoms, to host stories by them and their friends.

But if you’re wanting to create an archive on the scale of FanFiction.Net (or heck, even on the scale of FicWad [wiki] or AdultFanFiction.Net [wiki]), those solutions just are not workable unless  expertise to use effectively, which generally requires knowledge of running  server, database management and basic programming experience. This is a lesson I’ve seen archives learn the hard way. These scripts work wonderfully: For smaller archives that aren’t generating much traffic beyond 2000 uniques a day and don’t have more than 25,000 stories. Once you hit that point, things will stop functioning, the script will just eat a lot of memory which will slow down the site, etc. Unless you have relevant experience with the software, have friends or community members who have the appropriate experience or are willing to shell out the cash to pay a developer to optimize the script or fix errors that occur, you’re out of luck when catastrophe strikes.

Going back to that post: If you’re the author of that post, I would advise against trying to do what you want to do unless you have experience with those solutions, are a programmer or can afford to hire developers to build you the archive that you want. Existing open sources solutions won’t meet your needs if you get 1/50 the traffic of FanFiction.Net because you won’t have the knowledge to tweak the system to meet your needs and fix problems that occur.

(And that doesn’t even get into the issues of what happens once you have the archive software that works for you… such as advertising/promoting the archive, policy issues, etc.  It also doesn’t address the infrastructure issues, your networking solutions and how you’re going to pay a few hundred to few thousand dollars a month for hosting. Those issues are ones that need to be addressed at the same time that you’re building your archive software wise.)

Thank you Orion Press editors!

October 8th, 2008

Fan History’s Star Trek fanzine section has gotten a lot of help thanks to Orion Press (wiki article) editors who have made a large number of contributions quantity and quality wise. Seriously, mad love from our admin staff. Randy and his friends have done an excellent job. We just want to acknowledge and thank them for their hard work in making the wiki better and for helping everyone learn more about the Star Trek fanzine scene.

Please stop by and check out their site.

Entry by Laura.

‘Tis the season…

October 8th, 2008

blog post by sidewinder

It seems as though the holiday season comes upon us faster and faster every year, from the decoration displays in shops and malls to the television ads promoting those “early bird” holiday sales. But there’s another sign of the approaching season which begins to appear in fandom as early as September (and in some cases even August), and that’s the start of Secret Santa season. More and more fandoms are offering fic, art, video and all kinds of creative exchanges these days, and many begin as early as possible to ensure that exchanges have enough time to get the word out to potential participants, as well as giving participants enough time to make their gifts the best they can be.

One of the biggest Secret Santa exchanges in fandom is Yuletide, which last year saw over 1,200 participants and produced over 2,000 stories in small and obscure fandoms. Since its beginning year in 2003, “Yuletide” has become more than just an annual exchange, but also one of the largest archives for small fandom works on the internet.

Other exchanges may not be as large, but serve different niches in fandom and delight fans with the gifts they most enjoy. I began xmas_rocks in 2006 as an exchange for bandslash fiction, and it is now in its third year. One of the reasons I began xmas_rocks was, as much fun as Yuletide could be, it usually did not generate much bandfic; crossover pairings could not be requested, and neither could more popular bandoms. It has been very exciting to watch xmas_rocks grow every year and produce an ever-wider variety of stories. Who would’ve thought that the big hit story last year, for instance, would be a King Diamond/Pete Wentz crossover? But that’s the joy of a fannish exchange; you just never know if someone’s going to finally write that story you never thought you’d see…nor enjoy so much!

There are so many exchanges these days that guides to finding them have become critical. Seasonsficcings is a great resource for discovering what exchanges are out there and for those running exchanges to promote them. Don’t see an exchange to fit your wishes and wants? Well, it’s not too late to get one started for the season – but don’t wait too much longer! Though we haven’t even made it to Halloween yet, the year is growing shorter, at least in term of fannish time ’til the holidays…

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.

Eastern Media Con 2: Convention report

October 6th, 2008

by sidewinder

I’m just back from the second Eastern Media Convention, which took place the weekend of October 3-5 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was a terrific convention with a great, positive atmosphere, embracing both gen and slash fans, and fandoms ranging from old favorites (Starsky & Hutch, The Sentinel, The Professionals) to new, hot series (Torchwood, Supernatural, Moonlight). The convention remains small in membership size only (somewhere between 100-150 members, by my count) but with enough heart and enthusiasm for a convention many times its size.

As I was working the dealers’ room, I did not have the opportunity to go to as many panels as I might have liked, but I did moderate or assist in moderating three. The first was a 2-hour Beginner’s Art Workshop, where four of us artists gathered to share tips, tricks, and advice on everything from buying materials to ways to help improve your fanart portraits and make them more realistic. I received a lot of great feedback from people after the fact, and several suggestions that perhaps next year we could do both a beginners and a more advanced art workshop, to continue some of the ideas addressed this year. Other workshops held over the weekend included the use of Photoshop, Vidding, and a Writers’ Workshop, making it a great convention for those interested in improving their skills in their fannish activities.

My notes for my part of the workshop can be downloaded here.

I also hosted a panel entitled Working With Wiki, for those interested in either starting their own fannish wiki or helping out with an existing one. This went really well, even with just a small gathering of 3-4 interested folks. We talked about various issues such as choosing your hosting service, setting up your category structure, the usefulness of templates, working together with other wikis, and also how one can use the wiki architecture to create a fiction archive.

My handout for the wiki panel can be downloaded here.

On Saturday, I hosted a panel on teeny tiny fandoms along with Candy Apple. This was a really raucous panel as everyone has their pet tiny fandoms they wish were bigger, or wish they could find more fiction for. We talked about a lot of different topics, including what are both the pros and cons of being in a small fandom, the differences between “mainstream” fandom and fan-fiction fandom (that is, what to do if you’re part of a larger fandom, say The Police, that only has a small group of people interested in fan-fiction about it — and how sometimes that can lead to conflict and worries). We discussed how crossovers can be used to bring tiny fandoms to a larger audience (which then somewhat diverted into a longer conversation about crossovers in general), about how humor can be a tool to getting tiny fandom fic read, as well as many resources which can be used to find/list/help promote fiction in tiny fandoms.

Some of those resources mentioned included:

  • FanWorksFinder: The fanworks index, where everything from fanart to fic can be added, recced, and individual favorites lists built.
  • Yuletide Treasure: The annual small fandom fic exchange
  • Crack Van: The livejournal community for promoting/reccing fandom fic big and small.
  • Ship_Manifesto: The livejournal community for promoting various ‘ships and fandoms
  • RareSlash: The livejournal community for rare slash pairings
  • Wikipedia
  • And of course, Fan History, where if a page about a fandom isn’t there, it can be added at any time, including links to story archives, fansites, and other information.

I did not make it to the vid show Friday night, but it ran nearly four hours long, I’m told, which first a gen half and then a slash half. The vid show was well-received from the comments I heard, with a wide range of hot new and older fandoms represented, as listed above. The Saturday night “Cope Fandana” was a fun event full of games, humor, and lots (and lots!) of cake, pies, and other sweet goodies. The art show was varied in content from your expected character portraits, photo manipulations, slash art, and also a nice sampling of fantasy and animal art. Dealers reported mixed sales, as might be expected given the economic situation in the United States. I found my sales were quite good, and by Sunday I even had a book full of orders to complete before the holidays! There were a few dealers who did not show up (or left early) but the room still represented a wide array of great merchandise including jewelry, woodwork, leather, celebrity photos and of course, lots of fanzines. Anyone looking for gifts of either a fannish or “mundane” nature could have certainly made out very well at the con.

Throughout the weekend, I found the hotel facilities excellent and the staff excellent. The food was much improved over last year and they were very accommodating to the needs of a fancon – that is, responding to breakfast buffet requests, setting up evening food buffets for those without the time to wait for table service, having bellmen ready and quick to assist in dealers’ move-in and move-out. I even had some of my best sales for the weekend of my jewelry from the hotel staff! While some of the mundane hotel guests might have wondered what was going on, the set-up of the hotel made it easy for most events to be held “away” from the mundanes, making it more comfortable for both fans and regular traveling guests alike.

Sunday after pack-up, I sat in on the Dead Dog Panel which included the usual mix of praise and quibbles, though the overwhelming response was quite positive. Given that EMC is only two years old, I believe the con comm has done a tremendous job already and can only hope that finances make it possible for the convention to continue into 2009 — and beyond. Of course, getting new fen to travel to conventions seems to have become a harder and harder task these days, given so many fen stick with the internet to interact and don’t see the “point” in spending money to see other fen in person. However, there’s just something about the chance to connect to friends in person you may only see once or twice a year; to have those discussions with a room full of people in “real time” instead of through comment threads and email; to be able to hold a piece of fan art in your hands or laugh at your fellow fans’ wonderful creations during “Crazy Hat Night” — or maybe discover a new fandom at a pimping panel or *cough* when your roommate sits you down to watch an episode or two.

I know I’ll be back at EMC next year, as long as it has a next year, and I hope to see more other fans there as well!

Fan History referrer patterns

October 2nd, 2008

I spend a lot of time looking at Google Analytics as we’re trying to figure out how to promote the wiki, what works and what doesn’t work, where problems are likely to occur, areas that we need to watch, etc. We’re also working on trying to improve our traffic. Fan History’s goal for the past six months has been to get over 1000 visitors a day. The following is the average number of daily visitors to Fan History in September as a  result of the specific referrer:

Average             Source
852              Google
144             Yahoo
54              LiveJournal
16              NarutoFic.Org
14              Wikipedia
11             Ask
8             AnimeNewsNetwork
8             Wikia
7             AOL
6             FanFiction.Net
4             MSN
3             FanPop
3             DeviantArt
2             TVTropes
2             EncyclopediaDramatica
2             Altavista
1             FaceBook

What that basically means is that, Fan History can count on averaging 1,138 unique visitors a day based on the average amount of traffic we get from the sources. Assuming that we’ll continue to get them (none of the links on FanPop, ANN, Wikia, TVTropes, LiveJournal are deleted), then all we have to do is beat those averages, hope others (like you!) plug Fan History or promote the wiki ourselves to meet the traffic goal of 1,000 unique visitors a day. The next step is to average over 1,500 unique visitors a day based on existing traffic patterns. We’re really close but until that number gets to be over 1,300, it isn’t something that can very well be counted on.

Google and Yahoo are at the heart of our traffic and we’re rather pleased with that. It has taken a lot of work: Article linking, content building, article titles and our site name appearing in the page title.  A lot of what I read about in SEO tends to focus on content building or improving your back end to optimize it for a search engine.  The other view is to do article linking and article linking.  As we’ve focused on both, it has worked out well really well.

If you’re running your own fansite, our suggestion, based on what we’ve learned, is to spread yourself out some and focus on all aspects: Link building, quality content creation, back end SEO optimization.

Fan History at Eastern Media Convention

October 2nd, 2008

Fan History admin sidewinder will be in attendance at Eastern Media Con this weekend in Newark, New Jersey and will be hosting a panel on “Building a fannish wiki”. A full convention report should follow. It will be interesting to see what fans in attendance are excited about as the new television season has swung into gear, and as we’ve just gotten through a summer movie season which has seen several big genre hits such as Iron Man and The Dark Knight and other ones coming soon such as the Twilight movie. And how has the current financial situation in the United States, and the upcoming election, affected convention-attending fandom? Should be a very good convention.

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