🔒 How do fans build online infrastructure?
Why fans are so powerful and what this has to do with the Alt Right
Happy Friday folks.
Here’s your weekly thought-digest.
Why are fans so powerful?
In his book The Virtual Community, Howard Rheingold describes the chokehold fans had on an early online community called the WELL. According to Rheingold, the WELL experienced two distinct growth spurts. When Deadheads joined, and when the journalists joined.
Rheingold describes the influence of Deadheads on the WELL like this:
“Deadheads can spot each other on the road via the semiotics of window decals and bumper stickers, or on the streets via tie-dyed uniforms, but Deadheads didn’t have a place. […]
Deadheads were by far the single largest source of income for the enterprise. […] [They] would invest in the technology and the hours needed to learn the WELL’s software, solely in order to trade audiotapes or argue about the meaning of lyrics […]”
When Deadheads weren’t talking about topics germane to The Grateful Dead, they had a strong influence on the culture of the WELL at large.
Why are fans so powerful, especially in the context of online spaces?
Because of this prolific activity.
They both build infrastructure and are power users, what happens in fandom infects everything else. Fans don’t only interact with platforms with more fervor, they also will do almost anything, for free, in the service of having a space for their fan object. They catalogue, they build wikis, they share new layouts. If their passionate behavior isn’t mimetic, then their attitudes and beliefs are. They end up infused in whatever space they occupy, in large part because of how much time they spend there.
It’s important to note that this behavior is essential to a digital space’s survival, too, so platforms have a real investment in attracting and keeping fans, in whatever form they take.
One of the indicators of whether an online space will survive is reciprocity. That is, are people speaking frequently? The more reciprocity there is, the more people are willing to interact with one another, the more they are posting and posting often, the more likely it is your community will have longevity. (It also helps foster trust.)
And fans, active as they are, that drive reciprocity. As Howard Rheingold put it, they have “ratchet jaws.”
Talking about Deadheads again, he says, “The Deadheads came online and instinctively knew how to use the system to create a community around themselves. […] Not long thereafter we saw the concept of the online superstar taken to new heights […] Suddenly our future looked assured…”
But as stated above, Rheingold mentions that the WELL had not one, but two growth spurts.
When the Deadheads came, and when journalists came.