owlmoose: (Default)
KJ ([personal profile] owlmoose) wrote2007-05-31 07:01 pm
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Internet go 'splody: FanLib and Strikethrough 2007

Two companies. Two perceived threats to fandom. Two solid weeks of wank (albiet much more constructive wank than we usually see when things get intense) with more almost certainly to come, although the worst seems to have died down. So now what?

Some would say that, ultimately, Strikethrough 2007 was a greater threat to not just fandom but free expression on the Internet than FanLib ever was, and I would tend to agree with this. But I'm content to continue using and supporting LiveJournal, while planning to stay as far away from FanLib as humanly possible.

The difference, for me, is in the reactions of the different companies when things started to get hot. Witness this comment by FanLib CEO Chris Williams, which he cut-and-pasted on several journals and communities that were critical of his site. It goes beyond unprofessional into the kind of poorly-written whining that you might expect from a teenage fanbrat, The next closest thing to an official statement directed at fandom we've seen from the company is Williams' content-free interview with fandom academic Henry Jenkins (which I discussed a little bit here).

Compare all this to the apology from Six Apart CEO Barak Berkowitz. There are a number of reasons to be concerned about the apology -- for one thing, I still don't see any sort of clear policy regarding the purpose of interests and what may and may not be listed, and I'd to see such a policy written into the Terms of Service post-haste -- and I am also somewhat bothered that Berkowitz talked to the media before making any sort of official statement to the community. But I found it encouraging, as well. First, the notion that any company would step forward and say "yeah, we screwed that up real good" is kind of novel these days. Berkowitz doesn't try to blame the users or the group that allegedly made the complaints or anyone but his company. A company makes a mistake and then steps up and takes responsibility? I find that rather refreshing. Second, they fixed the mistake in a (relatively) timely fashion. They told us what they were going to do, and then they did it. The company has acknowledged that fandom is a significant portion of their user base, they admitted that they handled it badly, and they are working on making amends. Do they have a long way to go before they earn our trust back? Sure. Do I think it's a hopeless cause? Not by a long shot.

And then I look at FanLib, which has barely owned up to their mistakes in communication and seems completely dismissive of the concerns of what is supposed to be their user base. So who do you trust?

If the answer is, ultimately, neither, I can understand that, and even agree to a certain extent.

This whole issue of online communication via companies that view us as both customers and content providers is a thorny one, and I foresee more problems like this in the future, rather than fewer. As long as the platform for online community is provided by corporations (for-profit or otherwise) that have to worry about liability and financial survival, these kinds of dust-ups will occur. So how can companies best handle them? What do we, as citizens of the Internet who depend on these companies for our community fix, want to see from them, within the bounds of what's likely and what's possible?