What does the Organization for Transformative Works look like?

November 17th, 2009 by Laura Leave a reply »

The Organization for Transformative Works is a fan advocacy group that runs Fanlore and An Archive of Our Own.  They were created on LiveJournal and most of their early and continued support continues to come from that community.  Much of that has to do with the reasons they were created: The group perceived Fanlib as a threat to fandom as a whole, and had issues with how LiveJournal treated its fans.. 

After having done a bit of an analysis of the Twilight fandom as represented by lion_lamb, I was curious to see how otw_news looked, especially when compared to lion_lamb.  How similar are they in terms of age, length of time on LiveJournal, the number of friends, the number of posts, etc. In the past, the group’s members have talked about doing advocacy on behalf of fandom to change media perceptions of fans.  The goal looked like they wanted to present their demographics as the norm.  That is what I am looking for here.

The Organization for Transformative Works’s founders and supporters were also vocally critical of LiveJournal’s commercial aspects, and discussed the need for a non-profit site that would cater to fan interests while being less susceptible to pressure from advertisers.  The actions by LiveJournal taken during StrikeThrough 2007 were one of the prime examples cited by this group to rationalize this position.  Many people talked about giving up paid accounts, not using Plus accounts, etc.  Given that history, I am curious as to the behaviors of the organization’s supporters in  the almost two and a half years since the groups founding: Are they more likely than Twilight fans to use basic accounts, less likely to give money directly to a company whose ethos runs counter to the group’s founding principles?

The methodology for gathering data for this analysis is the same as the one for for lion_lamb: A sneak peak into the composition of the Twilight fandom.  The community looked at is otw_news.  The data was gathered on November 15, 2009 and pulled from publicly available profile information for people who both watched and belonged to the community.   This means that 1,784 journals are included in the sample.  When looking at this data, you have to remember that not everyone lists factually correct information.  For this data, we assume that the obviously wrong data balances out in the end.  (People list themselves at 100 and people list themselves as 5 years old.)  This is the same methodology used for lion_lamb and we assume the error rate between the two is the same.

One of the first things to look at is age of the membership of otw_news. The chart below includes the total number of people who list themselves as having been born in that year.

OTW ages

The average year of birth is 1975, with a median age of 1979.5 and mode of 1984.  In terms of fandom, this is not a young group: The average member is about 35 years of age.  Even if we assume that the mode year is more representative of the group, that still places age at 25.  If we try to correct this data for error by removing 10 from each extreme of high and low years of birth, our year of birth average only increases to 1976.7, and the median and mode stay the same.  If we remove 10% of the extreme from the sample, or 30 from each side, we get an average year of birth of 1977.3 with median and mode remaining unchanged.

Assuming that our group of 11,000 Twilight fans on lion_lamb are representative of fandom on LiveJournal, the average year of birth is 1985.6, median year of birth is 1987 and the mode year of birth is 1989.    If we try to correct for error and remove the extreme 10% of the sample, fans who are claiming Edward Cullen’s birth year as their own as well as fans who claim an impossibly young age, lion_lamb has an average birth year of  1986.5 with median and mode remaining unchanged.

When we compare the membership of otw_news to fandom, Organization for Transformative Works members and supporters are on average almost ten years older than their counterparts in the rest of fandom.  If we assume that median is more representative, we are still looking at a an eight year difference.  Mode is the only one where they are close, and even that is only by three years.  In the case of fandom as a whole, the average is right out of college.  The after college life experiences are very different in terms of forming our perspectives so these three years are critical and do demographically separate the two groups.

It just cannot be said that the Organization for Transformative Works members and supporters are representative of fandom based on their ages.

The other important demographic issue for LiveJournal based fandom is location.  Some 1,111 members of otw_news list the country they live in.  6,330 members of lion_lamb list the country they live in.   Both have garbage entries for places where people obviously do not live,  places like the Romulan Neutral Zone, the Vatican City, Jesus’s home town or the North Pole.  In both sets, people listed cities or providences instead of countries.  This data was removed.  We are assuming that the members who do not list their home countries are represented proportionally by those that do.

The Organization for Transformative Works members and supporters represent 41 countries. 63% of the membership are from the United States, 11% are from the United Kingdom, 7% are from Canada, 6% from Australia, 4% from Germany and other countries all have less than 1%.   The top five countries population wise represent 91% of the organization’s total population.  The other 39 countries represent 9% of the organization’s total population.

lion_lamb represents 112 countries.  54% of their membership is from the United States, 6% from Canada, 5% from the United Kingdom, 5% from Australia, 3% from Germany, 2% from the Philippines, 2% from France, 2% from Italy, 2% from Mexico.    The top five countries represent 73% of the community’s total population.  The other countries represent 27%.

OTW ages

The Organization for Transformative Works over represents for Americans, with about 10% more Americans the lion_lamb.  The Organization for Transformative Works members and their supports also over represent for Brits, Canadians, Australians, Germans.  They under represent for the Philippines, France, and Mexico.  The top five countries by membership over represent by about 20%.  It cannot be said that the national representation of the Organization of Transformative Works is representative of the fan community on LiveJournal.

There are some other issues regarding how representative patterns for the Organization for Transformative Works are when compared to the whole of fandom on LiveJournal with lion_lamb being defined as fandom.

For year of registration, lion_lamb had  the median and mode of 2008 for registering. The average registration year is 2007.07 in comparison. Members of this community are updating, with a last update year average of 2008.66, mode of 2009 and median of 2009.  Compare this to otw_news, where the average registration year was 2004, with the median also being 2004 and the mode being 2003.  Members and supporters of the Organization for Transformative Works became members of LiveJournal much earlier.  Three years is a lifetime on the Internet.  This is another example of otw_news follows not being representative of fandom on LiveJournal.

otw_news members have posted an average of 858.6 times, with a mode of 492 and a mode of 1.  Compare that with lion_lamb members who have posted an average of 132.25 times, a median of 11 times and a mode of 1 time.   Again, the Organization for Transformative Works members and supporters are not representative of fandom on LiveJournal.

These patterns hold true for other variables such as number of friends where otw_news members have almost 50 more on average and almost 95 in terms of median.  It holds true for tags, memories, and virtual gifts.  In all cases, members of otws_news have much higher averages than their fandom counterparts.

All of this reaffirms the same idea: Members and supporters of the Organization for Transformative Works do not represent fandom in that they are demographically distinct from fandom on LiveJournal.  otw_news members also differ from their fandom counterparts in that they do not use LiveJournal the same way: They use LiveJournal much more actively in their personal space than the rest of fandom.

That concluded, the next issue is LiveJournal account status.  The issue of paying LiveJournal was a big one.  Around the time that Strikethrough happened, LiveJournal offered permanent accounts for sale. Some people affiliated with the later founding of an organization like OTW  advocated that people unfriend those who bought permanent accounts.  Other people openly talked about allowing their paid account status to expire as a method of expressing unhappiness with the site.  Two and a half years later, what is the status of members and supports of the Organization for Transformative Works in terms of paying for LiveJournal?

OTW account type

otw_news members  pay or have paid for their accounts. 36% have Paid Accounts.  Many (15%) have permanent accounts, where they paid at least $150 for this status.  A smaller percentage (18%) have plus accounts, which offer additional features in exchange for viewing additional ads. 

lion_lamb account type

When compared to lion_lamb, otw_news members way over-represent in paid accounts and permanent accounts. Despite the issues of Strikethough, not all of which have been resolved, people affiliated with the Organization for Transformative Works are much more willing to pay for LiveJournal than their fandom counterparts.  Still, there is some obvious shift from the group, where people are willing to sacrifice functionality in order to view fewer ads and thus potentially give LiveJournal less income; there is an 18% difference in basic accounts from otw_news to lion_lamb.

Are the buying habits of a cross-fandom section, and their choices to expose themselves to additional ads, consistent with the attitude expressed by members and supporters during the time they lambasted LiveJournal’s beholdenment to advertisers?  It is hard to make a conclusive judgment based on the data we have available. 

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  • Taking any specific topic's fandom group as representative of "all of fandom" seems a little silly; even if you could define that group, it would be spread amongst a wide variety of ages - as your own analysis of OTW shows - because even if fans are of a certain age, different fandoms started at different times.

    Most organizations are run by those older, richer and more active than those which they serve. Furry conventions cater to fans from about 16 and up, but they're actually run by those in their late twenties, thirties or fourties who have spent days, weeks or months planning their involvement in the event, largely because these people have the skills and experience necessary to be successful in those positions. There are exceptions, but that's what they are.

    Permanent accounts were once sold for $100. Ahh, inflation . . .

  • The thing with fandom is there is so much fragmentation, with so many different demographic groups that I don't think anyone can really be representative. The organization at the focus of this little analysis have implied that they are and that they are representing all fandom interests. (Except when they aren't and there isn't always a cohesive message amongst its supports as to what they are doing.)

    This group's demographic distinction and inability to recognize that and try to step out beyond their own interests to represent fandom are summed up pretty well by Farla on her critique of an Archive of Our Own, where she says:


    The system also chokes and dies on distinguishing between minor characters, original characters, "main" characters without canon personality, and most gen fic. Ie, anything that doesn't come up when you're writing Supernatural incest. It's not that I don't think writing smut for various Tv shows isn't a valid use of your time, it's just I'd like some way to indicate "the various canon cast show up in a general sort of way" without it looking like an orgy is taking place and cluttering up the results for everyone looking for character-centric fic for particular characters. (Oh, and they have no straight original character designation - it's "original female character" and "original male character". Presumably so people can better avoid the former.)

    The trick is when you're trying to represent a broader group and you don't have adequate representation from points of view that you represent is to do the research, be aware of them, recruit people to do that... and fail. If they weren't doing the whole "We represent all of fandom" and were instead doing "We're representing the interests of the meta community on LiveJournal," this wouldn't be an issue.

  • I have no doubt that Twilight fans are diverse and from many countries and that it's a large fandom. But, that doesn't make all the people who like Twilight are actually in fandom as such. Twilight is a trend for this generation of young people. Track those twilight fans over time and see how many remain in fandom and how many just happened to like Twilight and later say "I don't like that sci fi fantasy crap". Those that remain into fandom as they get to the "ooooooooooooooold" age of 25 or perhaps even the "elderly" age of 35 are the ones in that group that are actually fans. The rest are just young people into young people trends.

    There is always some fantastical book or movie or trend that affects a given generation, but the percentage of those folks who actually remain in fandom or even care about the issues of fandom is rather minute.

    Also, people don't dislike Twilight because it's for young people. They dislike it for content, such as glorifying stalkers as "romantic", and having men bond sexually with infants, and also some of the offensive and archaic stuff surrounding sex and virginity. Also, perhaps the vapid dialogue and the stupid heroine. There are plenty of books for young people that don't contain any of these things (even if they are also flawed in certain ways). Like, say, Harry Potter.

    But you know, what do I know, I am elderly, because I can pay my own bills and have a job.

  • Lydia

    "Assuming that our group of 11,000 Twilight fans on lion_lamb are representative of fandom on LiveJournal"

    I'm hearing Jamie Hyneman's voice in my head right now, saying, "Well, *there's* your problem."

  • lion_lamb is not representative of fandom on LJ. Metafandom might be a better bet.

  • I took the data from 40,000 members of Twilight communities and still did not derive an average age even close to 35. 40,000 members of the Twilight fandom still average a year of birth at 1985. The median and mode don't change.

    And no, metafandom is not representative. The community is too small, the actions taken by the admins content wise have specifically worked towards an audience that is friendly towards an otw_news audience. (Deliberate exclusion of points of view that contradict their own, not allowing a broader focus in terms of what is being covered, etc.) If you have reason to believe that metafandom is representative of fandom as a whole, please share. I'd love to understand your rational for thinking they are.

    I don't think a rational person is going to say, "Yes, 35 year old women are the norm for fandom." The trend in fandom is for people to get into fandom during high school and college. After they finish college, they tend to gravitate away from fandom.

    And the data supports just such a conclusion. Community after community that does not have an audience of academics or academically minded fans who are into community activism and textual analysis as their primary one.

    dracotrilogy, a community on LiveJournal for fans of Cassandra Claire, has an average year of birth of 1975. ashley_t_fans, dedicated to Ashley Tinsdale, has an average year of birth of 1987. dramonione, dracotrilogy, draco_and_ginny, dhr_101, deleterius, daily_snitch, da_family, silver_sporks, caput_draconis are all Harry Potter communities. When they are combined together, we still get a year of birth of 1982, which is 7 years younger than OTW_news members.

    I wouldn't characterize Mad Men as representative of fandom... (they simply lack the same number of fans to represent a big enough proportion of the fan community) but even they are younger with if you assume coloringmadmen reflects their fan base: The average year of birth is 1980.

    We can be generous and go with the idea that fanficrants is representative as a meta type community to establish norms as they represent a wide cross section of fan communities on LiveJournal. There the average year of birth is 1983, median year of birth is 1986 and the mode year of birth is 1988. That puts the community much closer to lion_lamb.

    We can chuck LiveJournal for a second and go with Facebook. How many people from the United States are 35 and list fan fiction as an interest? 20. How many people who are 18 and list fan fiction as an interest? 40. If we go from 13 to 18, we get 240 Americans on Facebook listing fan fiction as an interest. If we go from 33 to 38, we get 140 people. I suspect if we averaged those ages out on Facebook, we still would not see a year of birth/age that puts fan fiction people in their mid 30s. That pool isn't representative either.

    If you have any more questions about community age, please let me know. I would love to begin to get a picture of the demographic characteristics of the average fan are.

  • Penny

    How many 13 to 18 year olds have jobs, spouses, and other real-world responsibilities that would frown on "fanfiction" as a listed hobby? Compare that with the older age groups. People use Facebook for many different things, and most of them tend to mix work with family and friends. So it's no wonder there aren't more older people who list fic as a hobby. That's a seriously strange set of parameters you're using to try and force your point that the OTW and AO3 folks are WAY older than the rest of fandom.

    There have been many, many studies done, in many, many fandoms to try and get a sense of age groups on LJ based fandom. And for every fandom it differs. Just as the source material for those fandoms tend to target different age groups. SGA is going to have a much older demographic, both in viewers and in fannish followers, than something like Twilight because of the different ways they are each marketed. Why you're using a fandom that's aimed at YOUNG GIRLS to try and "prove" your point about how oooooold OTW members are is beyond me. Comparing ANYTHING to Twilight fandom is going to give you very skewed numbers.

    FTR I'm not a member or watcher of OTW, I don't use AO3, I'm not even a fic writer or vidder. Just a pan-fandom lurker who reads and occasionally metas. I just don't see the point of this "study" of yours. Dubious results at best. This screams of grudgery, TBH. Not sure if you have some kind of history with someone at OTW, but that's my read on this entry.

  • I believe the point that is missed that Laura was trying to convey was that the young pop culture of today is not being covered by people who are relevant.

    Example: I cannot say at my age why teens apparently do not use twitter because... I am not a teen and have not been for over 10 years. Same issue for Twilight. I am a Anne Rice fan who detests that Meyer made her vampires pansies and removed a lot of the romanticism that even psych/sang vampires of today's underground would yack. Vampires sparkle? Leave the sparkling to the fairies or at least write them to be tougher than the fae in Karen Monning's books.

    I asked Laura to try other fandoms like Star Trek and older fandoms in which older crowds work better. I find in my experience as a leader within the InuYasha fandom that people older than myself regard the fandom like its a soap opera (ready to go batshit at any moment and argue like hell in the InuYasha Fan Guild over ridiculous topics) while the younger crowd walks in with fresh eyes and some end up leaving. There was a small skit in Robot Chicken over this, using the InuYasha fandom as an example. I would like to see younger folks get interested. Though I am not sure having a 13-17 year old writing news for a fandom unless they were mature (there are some cases of this), I highly encourage.

    By the way, de-lurking yourself is to comment not lurking and makes you an active participant of any fandom.

  • LP

    "Not sure if you have some kind of history with someone at OTW, but that's my read on this entry."

    She's a history major.

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