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The problems of writing personal histories in a wiki…

April 21st, 2009

On Thursday morning, a friend of Fan History’s and one of our admins pointed me at another post about the issues with FanLore.  We were really interested in this post because it dealt with similar yet different issues than the ones brought up by nextian.  Like that post, we’ve gone through and commented in terms of how we’ve handled similar criticism, how we handle situations like the one mentioned in terms of FanLore, what advice we have, etc.  We haven’t addressed the whole post and the comments because of length.  (And because we got a bit distracted by other things going on.)  We hope to get back to it.

A lot of non-fic fandom is languishing at Fanlore. Gamer fandom, in particular, I notice, ‘cos I’ve been part of that for (eeep!) more than thirty years.

This is a similar problem that Fan History has faced.  And it isn’t just non-fic fandoms.  It is fandoms where there is a community outside of and removed from the fan fiction community.  This was an area we were criticized for about two years.  We were too fan fiction-centric.  We weren’t multifannish enough.  We didn’t encourage the telling of fandom history outside of the fan fiction community.  And those criticisms were entirely valid back then. But now?  We’ve got a whole lot of fan fiction content but we’re a lot less fan fiction-centric in terms of our article scope.  Removing that has been a goal of ours and on our to-do list for a long time. It’s there as a reminder that when we see a timeline for a fandom that says “this fan fiction community,” we change it to “this fan community” or “this fandom.”  We’ve made this a priority.

That doesn’t even begin to get into the issue of media fandom vs. anime and manga fandom vs. actor fandom vs. music fandoms vs. video game fandoms.  In this respect, I think Fan History was fortunate because we had anime and video game fandoms represented early thanks to Jae, one of our earliest contributors.  She had a lot of experience in the Digimon and Final Fantasy communities, and created a number of articles about them.  We are also fortunate to a degree as my own interests were pretty pan-fannish.  I had connections to the anime and  music fandoms because of my relationships with the folks at RockFic, the guy who runs FanWorks.Org, and the people who run MediaMiner.Org.

FanLore isn’t as fortunate in that regards.  Their traditions, their interests have always been focused on media fandom and science fiction.  They don’t really have one or two core people who come from fannish experiences outside their own who, organizationally, are equal to other members of that community.  It is easy to have that problem because you tend to go with what you know, hang out with like-minded people, and stay in your comfort zone.

If you want those other fan communities represented, you have give those fans an investment in it.  You bypass the traditional rules.  You find a BNF in one of those fandoms, offer them admin status, and encourage them to promote the project in their own community.  We did this with the Kim Possible fandom.  We made one their own a fandom administrator, talked to the guy on a regular basis and encouraged him to reach out to his community.  And, to a certain degree, it worked.  If we hadn’t done that outeach, we would not have seen the edits to the Kim Possible section that we have had.  None of our core contributors have ever really been in the Harry Potter or Rescue Rangers fandoms to any large degree.  We reached out on mailing lists, LiveJournal groups, fansites, and fan fiction archives.  We asked for their help.  These folks responded.  Why?  We built a framework which made it easy to contribute.  In most cases, we left them alone to make edits as they needed to so long as they didn’t violate the rules.  They responded more when those articles became useful for them in terms of regularly visiting and linking because people couldn’t get that content elsewhere.

But I’m not sure what to do with the wiki. It’s… big. And mostly empty, in the areas of fandom that are most dear to me. And I’m not a historian; I don’t remember the details, the names & dates, of the fannish events & memes that I grew to love; I remember vague overview of concepts, and a few bright points of detail, which make for lousy wiki entries. I would like to start entries and allow others to fix them, but the few I tried that with, haven’t worked. I don’t think there’s anyone active at Fanlore who comes from “my branch(es)” of fandom.

The thing is, you don’t NEED to be a historian to be able to write the history of a fan community.  You don’t need all the dates.   You can write a good history based on general feel.  People can come in later and improve it with citations.  Just describe what you see going on with your gut feeling and explain that as well as you can.  Describe the community and how it operates.  Heck, a lot of this is not citable; how can you cite things like trends in, say, the LiveJournal community?  There is no way to cite, without doing a lot of research and without having access to primary source documents.

What we hope will happen is that by someone putting what they feel in there, what they intrinsically understand as a community history or how the community functions, someone else will be inspired by seeing that to do the additional research.  Or that someone else will disagree with that and edit it to include their own perspective, and the two different perspectives that can’t really be sourced can be merged.  Or that someone will know some good citations to support what is written.

The models for doing this have to be different because you aren’t writing a traditional history.  This is not the same as writing a history of the US Civil War.  Much of this involves writing ethnographic-style history.  The methodologies are different than other forms of documenting history.  The practices are different.  Both types of history are different from writing meta.

This all has an impact on how people contribute.  Administrators need to keep that in mind. The admin team needs to understand the fundamental methodologies involved in writing history.  At Fan History, our admins have spent a lot of time getting a crash course on exactly this.   There have been discussions on our mailing list about the methodologies of writing women’s histories, and how historians use oral histories in their research.  We’ve talked about multiple perspectives and issues of bias in the telling of fandom history.  We’ve discussed research done in fandom by academics like Henry Jenkins and Camille Bacon-Smith, identified areas of bias and how we can learn from that.  We’ve discussed primary sources, secondary sources, historian bias, reporter bias, the role of collaboration in history writing, quantitative versus qualitative approaches and merging the two approaches to get a cohesive history.  The more familiar the admin staff is with these issues, the better they are at analyzing, guiding and teaching others in terms of writing those histories in fandoms where those admins are not involved.

Knowing all this methodology also helps admins because they can learn when to leave alone historical information where someone doesn’t know the exact dates and might be a little off but are well-intentioned, and when they should step in to correct things that are obviously wrong or intentionally inflammatory.  For example, they can learn to correct when some one thinks they recall something about LiveJournal before LiveJournal actually existed or says something like: “There was never a good mpreg story published in the CSI fandom”.  The grounding in methodology helps to identify when you don’t need sources and when you do.

We’ve done an excellent job in  a few sections without many sources. does that; no citations but tells history with charity work, with fan fiction archives like FanLib, and with how the LiveJournal community works.  We’ve also done a fairly good job with that on the mpreg article. talks about how mpreg is received in particular fan communities.  No citations.  Are we going to remove them?  No.  If there are issues, we can use the talk page to discuss that.  If people have problems with that, they can toss in {{fact}} or {{POV}}.

And if you still have issues where you can’t integrate that information, you do outreach.

I’m a sci-fi fan; I love reading, not watching, my sci-fi input. I love conventions, even though I’ve gone to very very few in the last decade. (So all of my con-based fanlore is decades old. Sigh.) And I want to fill in the blanks for the fandoms I love, but I can’t even get a grip on where and how to start.

I can totally understand that.   When I started writing the history of fandom, I had similar problems…  though more so the case of I had a lot of historical information that I could cite but all that information was really absent context. I didn’t know how to integrate it in to a historical context where these bits and pieces made sense.  I had lists of Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Star Trek, and Starsky and Hutch fanzines from the 1980s, but no information about how of those zines were received by the readers, what were common tropes, who was writing them, or who the audience was.  How the heck do you put that information into an article about the fandom those zines come from and have it fit in any sort of meaningful way?  A lot of the culture probably changed when things went online.  There might not have been a continuity in that culture when it went online, so totally different cultural practices were created.   And sometimes, you really are left wondering who will care about that Blake’s 7 femslash zine that was written in 1992 other than someone into trivia.  Also, a lot of this might be duplicate historical research that someone already put out in a fanzine list done in 1995 and if only you had access… It is just a mess.

But at least that information is easy to cite or know.  It might be hard to get a grip on when you’re trying to put it into a big picture and you don’t have a starting place.  The personal, well, I can totally understand that in a different context.   I don’t know when some things happened.  I know I was on staff at FanFiction.Net.  I know I wrote the site’s first Terms of Service.  I know I got into a big fight with Steven Savage over policies.  I don’t know the exact dates.  I don’t have copies of the original text.  I know I founded the b5teens.  I know I got into a giant kerfluffle with some people on another mailing list when I was 16.  Many of the others involved in the group with me back then have left fandom.  I don’t know the dates. I don’t have the texts.  I’m sure as heck hoping that the fan fiction I wrote has disappeared.  Even assuming I knew some of that information, it was still weird to find a starting point.  What seems really big and important to you when you’re in the thick of it is difficult to put into any sort of proper historical context.

How can you make your own history as unbiased as possible?  People do a lot of stupid things -myself included - and really, who wants to deliberately make themselves look bad?   After dealing with that, how do you cite information when the source is yourself?  Or when you’re documenting history that includes your own involvement?  What event do you start with?  Do you start on the stuff you’re most passionate about, or the place where you can most easily slot your history in? Do you write the history where you can most easily put information into context, or the history where you can best cite your sources?

And you know, there are no easy answers to where to start when you’re talking about random bits of fandom historical knowledge or your own history. The best suggestion, in personal terms, is to think of your own goals for involvement for writing a history.  Is there a particular fandom where you have a lot of experience and knowledge but no one has really written up a history yet?  Is there an event that you think matters where you feel like you have a unique perspective?  Has someone written information that can provide a framework for your own history?

Those might be a places to start if you’re stumped. Try to write biographies or histories of the key players that you know.  Timeline specific events in the context of the convention, mailing list, fanzine, IRC chat room, fanclub, social network or kerfluffle.  Create an outline. This information doesn’t need to be ready for “prime time.”  You’re not writing an academic text.  You’re providing information from within the fan community to help members of the fan community and those on the outside better understand it.  Tenure isn’t at risk.  (Though if you’re writing biased material with the intent of making yourself and your friends look better, your reputation in the fan community might be at risk.)   In the early stages, the information that you’re writing or collecting doesn’t even necessarily need to go on the main article about a fandom.  You can keep it on subpages until you understand all the moving pieces and how they fit into the larger fandom picture.  Then, later, you can integrate it into the main article or just create a “see also” in the main article.

If that doesn’t work for you, there are other places to start.  Find the talk page for an article relevant to the history you want to tell.  Introduce yourself on the talk page, talk about your experiences, cite sources where some of that information can be verified and ask the contributors to the article to integrate that information into the article.  Follow up when people ask questions or explanations.   Using talk pages this way can be helpful in terms of learning the feel of a wiki community and how people expect you to contribute.  They can also help you find someone who is more comfortable in terms of finding a starting place, who can help you focus what you want to do.  Starting on talking pages can also be similar to drafting on subpages like I mentioned above: there is less pressure because things aren’t on the main article and you don’t need to make a judgement call on the merits of what you’re contributing.  Others can do that by chosing to integrate your knowledge and experience into the article.

Keyword peaks for fandoms and fansites on Fan History in 2008

December 31st, 2008

The following are when interest, based on keyword (not keyphrase), spiked in 2008 on Fan History according to Google Analytics…

January 5

January 11

January 13

January 14

January 27

February 22

February 27

March 2

March 8

March 13

March 18

April 17

April 29

May 22

May 27

June 10

June 13

July 6

July 20

July 24

July 29

August 3

August 11

August 12

August 13

August 21

August 22

August 23

September 12

September 27

September 29

October 6

October 15

October 16

October 17

October 20

October 21

October 31

November 6

November 9

November 9

November 11

November 22

November 23

November 28

December 1

December 6

December 9

December 11

December 28

December 29

Did Twilight get a post movie fan fiction total bounce?

November 25th, 2008

I have a love affair with numbers and what they say about fandom. I was thus curious if the release of the Twilight movie meant an uptick in the number of stories published. I checked the data (November 19, data not gathered. November 20 data derived by dividing total by two) and it looks like it may have.

Twilight story totals in days after the movie's release

The daily average is about 123. 185 stories is a new record for the fandom. The fandom also consistently outpaced Naruto and Harry Potter which the fandom hadn’t done done for that length of time previously. It will be interesting to see if this increase in total stories posted levels off or if the numbers drop back down to pre-movie levels in another week or two.

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