owlmoose: (marvel - jessica jones fractured)
KJ ([personal profile] owlmoose) wrote2017-06-29 12:41 pm
Entry tags:

Fandom, capitalism, and owning the servers

On the occasion of Tumblr potentially being at risk because of Verizon's recent purchase of Yahoo, this article talks about the problem of Internet culture websites and their inability to turn a profit. Although the focus isn't on fandom, I feel like it's an encapsulation of everything I've been saying for years about the difficulties inherent in building fannish communities on sites owned by for-profit companies.

I recommend reading the article, even if it does lean a little too heavily on "Tumblr users are mostly excitable teenagers" when the site's own demographic data shows that this isn't true -- in 2015, over 40% of the site's users were 18-34, and only 15% were 13-17 (the same percentage as 55+). It brought me to a lot of thoughts about fandom, and how it operates today, and how it's splintered. Tumblr is still active, but it's not the hub it used to be. LiveJournal is all but dead (I assume coincidentally, today's episode of the Reply All podcast is about the Russian government's concerted, and essentially successful, attempt to kill LJ). Facebook thrives, but it's a terrible place to do fandom, and for once fandom seems to agree. Dreamwidth is seeing a bit of a resurgence, but I doubt it will ever become a thriving community the way that LJ used to be, and the same is true of AO3. The Imzy experiment has come to an end. A lot of the action has moved into walled gardens like Discord and Slack (I myself spend more time on a private Slack than anywhere else on the Internet by a large margin right now), which is understandable from the point of view of wanting to avoid random drama and trolls, but the isolation makes it so much harder to discover new communities and meet people. (Also, I kind of hate the Discord interface; Slack at least is much cleaner.)

I don't have any specific recommendations or conclusions to share right now. But this issue isn't going away any time soon, and if Tumblr closes, the issue may be forced sooner rather than later. Where do we go from here? Is there even anywhere left? Can fandom take the reigns and build a community platform for itself, along the lines of AO3? Or will we end up depending on the goodwill of fandom-friendly for-profits, like Dreamwidth and Pinboard? Time will tell.
princessofgeeks: (Default)

[personal profile] princessofgeeks 2017-06-29 09:10 pm (UTC)(link)
I hope people will turn to Dreamwidth; it has all the benefits LJ used to have. And one of the founders is herself a fan. So I don't see its goodwill eroding at all.

I have been very happy here and never embraced Tumblr, but fandom is so different now! People seem to use Tumblr for discussion and pix and AO3 for fic, and splitting those functions has had a big impact. I also think Twitter has had a huge impact because people get the quick comments and interaction there; it has that amazing exciting immediacy.

ETA: I think Dreamwidth could become much more popular if they had the resources to provide a great smartphone interface. But I do not have the knowledge to understand/explain why that seems so far off for them. I guess it's really hard to do well.
Edited 2017-06-29 21:11 (UTC)
selenay: (Default)

[personal profile] selenay 2017-06-30 01:43 pm (UTC)(link)
Totally agree on Twitter and DW. Twitter is where I do most of my fandom interaction now because it's so quick and easy, and the immediacy is great, although it's not good for long, nuanced discussions.

If DW had a smartphone app, I do think the usage would be way higher. Loading up the site on a browser on a teeny tiny screen--or even on a tablet screen--isn't a great experience, so I only tend to DW when I have my big computer on. And that's only a couple of times a week, because most of my other stuff can be done on a phone or tablet.
princessofgeeks: (Default)

[personal profile] princessofgeeks 2017-06-30 02:35 pm (UTC)(link)
I think the move to smartphones for 90 percent of internet use has had a huge impact on fandom. Even more than the splintering of platforms.
selenay: (Default)

[personal profile] selenay 2017-06-30 03:10 pm (UTC)(link)
I agree. Fandom has switched to using apps that work easily with smartphones, so anything that doesn't play nicely with them is a bit useless to us now. Sites like DW or mailing lists aren't smartphone-friendly, to say the least.

It's driven a lot of the recent platform migrations which have lead to platform splintering, which has driven fandom splintering into silos. And most of those apps aren't designed for fandom, so we're finding ways to use them but it's not easy to connect with each other on them, because the kind of comms we always used to form simply don't work on most apps. Once you've found a way into the new types of community, it gets easier to connect to new people, but there's a barrier there that didn't exist back in the LJ/mailing list days.

I'm still discovering new fandoms because of fannish connections and hearing about fic, but not in the way I used to, and it's much harder to have the long discussion that happened on LJ.

Smartphone apps aren't built for long involved discussions. They're better at pithy exchanges. It's changed the way we interact.
princessofgeeks: (Default)

[personal profile] princessofgeeks 2017-06-30 08:33 pm (UTC)(link)

I am a fandom fossil and still prefer to do nearly everything on a laptop, and I loathe Twitter, so I have been quite content. But for newer users who do the internet and everything else on their phones -- so different now.
selenay: (Default)

[personal profile] selenay 2017-07-07 12:48 pm (UTC)(link)
I work in IT and I only have a desktop at home right now. After an entire day of sitting at my PC at work, the last thing I want to do is log into another PC for the evening! So I do as much as possible on phone and tablet. That makes me more likely to use platforms like Twitter than DW, because it's so much easier to do for me.

New users have never been in the mode of using desktops for everything, so it makes sense that they're using everything differently. Fandom has always moved around when a platform is no longer work for for most users.
princessofgeeks: (Default)

[personal profile] princessofgeeks 2017-07-07 02:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, all that makes perfect sense. I got into fandom just as a lot of people were going from mailing lists to LJ, and it was during the heyday of personal websites for fanfiction, and the heyday of fandom-specific archives.

LJ brought the archive function and the communication function onto one platform.

Now it's split up again.

Plus the change of technology from computer to phone or tablet has been HUGE, as you say.

I do hope DW finds some way to do a good phone interface. Because they are really going to limit their growth in the future if they don't. But it's apparently a very big and very difficult job.
selenay: (Default)

[personal profile] selenay 2017-07-10 06:21 pm (UTC)(link)
I sense not having a phone interface is going to be the thing that stops mass-fandom-adoption for DW, sadly. I understand how hard it is to do--I'm in IT! I get this stuff!--but it's still a big issue for them and their hopes for growth, I suspect.
princessofgeeks: (Default)

[personal profile] princessofgeeks 2017-07-07 02:13 pm (UTC)(link)
That's fascinating that everyone seems to have embraced Tumblr for fandom even though its smartphone interface is lousy. I guess its other great features, like the ease of posting images and the reblogging thing, has made up for that.

Or maybe people augment communication there with Twitter.
schneefink: River walking among trees, from "Safe" (Default)

[personal profile] schneefink 2017-07-01 09:19 am (UTC)(link)
Internet infrastructure is a fascinating topic, but also one that always makes me vaguely anxious. Being in an online fandom community has become so important to me that the thought of not being able to fit into the spaces it moves to, or not being comfortable with the way of communication there, is not a happy one. (I'm sure I could adapt if I had to, at least somewhat, but still.)
irreversibly: (FF4 Reflections)

[personal profile] irreversibly 2017-07-01 09:21 am (UTC)(link)
As much as I would love for Dreamwidth to really take off, I don't think that's very realistic in this day and age. The interface is positively antiquated, and has none of the new ease-of-posting prompts all the new services have. After using actual modern services, it's like..."omg, it takes me to a new page to post instead of just quickly pulling up a posting window, this is a Serious Thing, I need to come up with Serious Stuff to write" and then spending ages trying to think of something appropriate. This even despite being there in LJ's heyday, I can only imagine the effect it has on younger people who are exposed to such a thing for quite possibly the first time.

That said, the lack of a true fandom central is very disturbing. Like you said, there's really no proper alternative anywhere after tumblr's inevitable downfall, whenever that comes.
franzeska: (Default)

[personal profile] franzeska 2017-07-03 06:52 am (UTC)(link)
I think, for me, the real question is how much I value all the non-text things I've gotten used to. DW would have been a dream 10 years ago. Would I be happy with it or something like it now? I'm not sure. I think the real reason we're not seeing better attempts at replacing Tumblr with something more useful for fandom is that we've gotten used to endless gifsets and Youtube-quality video streaming, and the most easily-achievable DIY projects would be very text-centric and 90s-feeling. This is on top of the phone app issue other people mentioned. If someone did make a good fandom home for vidding, I think it would lure people, but there's nothing that has native hosting with HD streaming, a lack of auto-detect software flagging things, a way to appropriately backdate or organize by fandom/ship/whatever, and LJ-style privacy controls combined with a way to socialize.

I don't mind the separation of fic and socializing: that's what it was like before LJ got big anyway.