Seperis (seperis) wrote,
Seperis
seperis

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livejournals and mailing lists, take one

I--had some time to kill this afternoon. Don't laugh too hard. I will be the first to admit that most of this is speculative.

For the purposes of this entry, blog, diaryland, deadjournal, blurty, etc are going to be mishmashed or discarded. I participate most actively in LJ, so my focus has to be there to be accurate. Observations are specific to me and I'm perfectly willing to admit my view is biased toward the SV fandom and to the fact that it's my main source of fandom participation at the moment.

Background:

My perceptions are formed since the my most active participation *in* the LJ community began in September/October of 2002. Before that, my main focus was in diaryland, where I still have my diary, though currently inactive, though really, after this week? May need to rethink that. My less active participation but active observation occurred around April/May of 2002, though I'd commented here and there before, and I started reading there with basingstoke, liviapenn, and 3jane after joining the SV fandom in November 2001, around the same time I opened my diaryland account.

So, that's my background. Right, not terribly enlightening, but to clarify where I'm standing.



Those who have been online a while remember when usenet was the focus of fannish activities. As a Trek fannish writer, I started on the private mailing list ParisTorres, moving into the newsgroup alt.startrek.creative and alt.startrek.creative.erotica.moderated (and its mirror, ASCEML, the egroup list version). This was only about four years ago this July, keep in mind. My second fandom, movieverse, was list-based only.

Usenet was kind of like the ultimate unmoderated wilderness, as I've heard others call it and I've--observed similarities. No moderator, kind of the ultimate in egalitarianism, or, if you're cynical, anarchy at its purest, especially outside the .moderated groups. The term usenet bullies come to mind--domination achieved by sheer force, etc. Victoria P could probably explain this better, since she was ON usenet and in a better variety of groups than I was. ASC had that problem less--too many egos to allow domination by any one, but I played enough on other usenet groups to know that's not always the case. *grins* Writers are like that.

The shift to mailing lists, I understand from talking to people, came for a lot of reasons, but among the attractions was the email in the inbox aspect, the privacy aspect (though I'm unclear on that), the specialization within a given fandom (all ParisTorres! All the time! All ChakotayParis! All ClarkLex! You get the idea.), and the fact that the anarchy was replaced with some kind of authority, from the mildest, where the moderator was about as useful as straw in the breeze, to the ones that make you wonder if they took classes in Fascism 101: How to Use Jackboots on People's Necks to the Greatest Effect. The moderator can and could stop flamewars, OT threads, etc in their tracks, big plus. Limited control--with a good moderator, ideally, the list was a haven of good fiction/discussion/etc, trolls banished, OT threads destroyed, wine flowed like water down the streets and we all ate bread and honey from heaven. But drawbacks. This could lead, of course, to other forms of random fandom government, including the ever popular I Am Moderator And Your God So Worship Me Now, Fannish Swine. There's an essay about that. *g* If you have it? Find it. Seriously, I laughed myself sick.

The domination of the mailing list in fandom gave inordinate power to the moderator/listowner of a list--they could, can, and did delete entire lists without so much as a by your leave to the other members. No, I'm not bitter about that happening in one of my fandoms, why do you ask? That couldn't happen on usenet. Mailing lists condensed power into the hands of the few by their ownership of a popular list. This of course, might or might not have led to the proliferation of lists beyond simple specialization and into plain--to steal a term from Te--Balkinization of fandom. And there's a sort of democracy to it. You don't like the LionelMartha list you're on? Moderator this year's answer to Mussolini? Start your own list. In theory, it could work. In actual fact, huge numbers of lists with four to ten members, inactive as hell. Setting up your own government is a lot trickier than you think.

Okay, raise your hands--who guessed I'm a political science major? Yep.

This is REALLY simplified, so I'm leaving out tons of stuff. To get a really good image of how this worked, Buffy fandom would probably be a prime example, and possibly to a lesser extent, the X-Files fandom, which I'm less familiar with. And I know someone's covered the entirety of the Buffy fandom explosion, so that essay is out there if someone can find it..

Anyway. Moving on.

The rise of blogs, diary, and LJ in terms of fannish activity were about equal at some point, or so I assume--at least, when I got my diary up and running, LJ was yet to be a major influence in fandom. For SV, ClarkLex mailing list was still The Place To Be.

LJ has been coming into its own as the new hub of fannish discussion for a long time--I'm thinking, now that I'm paying serious attention, that it started more with the fannish fic snippets, not discussion--I'm thinking of Livia Penn, Thamiris and Basingstoke here, since they were my first reads in LJ, later adding LaT and others. However, discussion was there, eventually shifting into non-fanfic and into episode, though I cannot honestly say these two things didn't happen simutaneously. And yes, I'm sure someone was doing fannish/episode discussion in LJ back before the rise of mailing lists, but work with me here, I'm talking trends.

I'm not sure of the progression except as it relates personally--I think I was fannishly discussing in my diary as early as 2001, but at that time, the diary/blog/LJ thing wasn't a huge deal, so I doubt anyone was paying attention to me. I will say I was hitting LJ regularly as of May above and beyond the people I knew there, mentioned above. A definite source of all things meta as early as January, if my backtracking is correct, but evenly distributed still among LJ, blog, and diaryland, among other online journaling things. Thamiris has been doing this forever, or so I'm conditioned to think by now--Te was doing it in her blog at strangeplaces. Some people have been doing this far, far longer in other places, but I'm sticking to what I know, so all inaccuracies are the result of my focus.

By September of this year, the shift of fandom into LJ seemed to have become ingrained--I'm guessing the summer hiatus with its superproductivity helped, since dammit, SV was on *speed* for about three months or so in fannish output. More people moved permanently into LJ out of other areas--blogs, diaryland, etc, centralizing a lot of fans in one particular area.

LJ has some spectacular advantages, being a very, very weird hybrid of the personal journal, usenet, and mailinglists--the power structure per Livejournal belongs solely to the owner. The Owner is God. They can write what they want, kill comments, encourage comments, kill threads, and make all worship them, and all without leaving their LJ! Whoo-hoo! Comments can be delivered to your inbox, you are moderator of your world. The freedom of usenet, the power of a mailing list moderator, with the journaling aspects thrown in for good measure. Plus, the friends list. All your reading on one convenient page.

Manna and honey, people. Right from the sky.

However, fans are social creatures--hence the entirety of fandom existing. We don't work well alone. To run our LJ properly, we need an audience--or we want one--or guess what, we get one whether or not the first two are true. Welcome to the web. Being fans, we go looking for our own kind and read. Now we hit the drawbacks.

Usenet was anarchy. LJ comes far closer to resembling usenet in the social aspects than the mailing list structure. The LJ-community structures I'll leave out of this one--those come far closer to being basic non-email mailing lists in some ways.

The individual LJ user rules their own LJ but also contends with God knows how many other fans with their own kingdom of LJness. If you're cynical, you might say we're all competeing for attention. But I'm not that cynical today. There's no outer moderator to say don't do that, can't do that, be nice, you moron, and stay the hell on topic. Trolls are making a comeback with random anonymous and not-so anonymous LJ hit and runs or even long term LJ miniwars. Balkinization, right, but also the rise of more powerful/louder/frequent posters/etc LJers who can and do seem to have a stronger voice in the LJ fannish world. And get people who listen to them. And I am a proud minion of some of those louder voices, let me point this out right now, so it's not like I'm trampling on the concept or anything, but then again? I'm totally the kind of girl who needs someone to stalk. *wave to Te and Koi*

You're seeing the circle we just made, right? We're second generation usenet in some ways.

LJ's also contends with the problems of fragmentation of fandom--while mailing lists united discussion into one convenient place, LJ fragments it outside those few Very Loud Voices and whatever happens to be on your friendslist. I looked at my links for entries for the Fever Episode recaps. I read above fifty, and linked only ten, which were the only ones I could FIND at the time I was doing the entry. That is off my friendslist ONLY. That doesn't include the multitudes I don't read because I don't have the time. This doesn't include the ones I overlooked. Seriously, think about this one. SV fandom is a tiny, miniscule part of the LJ world, but in our corner? There's a LOT of us.

So. We're usenet with privatization of our kingdoms. Trolls are back. We have the added value of fragmentation of fandom discussion. Flame wars are making a serious bid for attention in some circles. Cross-LJ flamewars haven't become popular, but I'm waiting to see one.

And LJ has a memory as good as usenet. Better, sometimes, even with friendslocking, filters, etc, because really. You didn't really think those things worked flawlessly, did you? Eventually, it gets hard to see your fuck-ups in usenet given enough time. But LJ? Oh no. Someone WILL bring them up at some point in the future. Erase them from your LJ and pray if you want, but trust me, someone DID see it, someone WAS reading it, and someone out there will remember it. Someone commented and they have the entire thing saved on their hard drive just for the moment you forgot all about it. *grins* Someone out there will link to it to mock it. So maybe just like usenet.

Fragmentation comes in useful there, though. Unless we get a centralized place to broadcast our fuck-ups for an audience. No, wait. There's one of those already. Huh.

I have left so much out that this doesn't even cover the basics, but I have this hope someone who's been around fandom longer than I have, or notices more than I do (that would be anyone) will get the idea to attack this with actual cold facts and experience. I thought of surveying, but frankly, I can't even think of the right questions to ask to get the right answers, because I'm not sure of the right answers. As a purely social experiment, it's almost incomparable for someone who likes studying web based society.

But. Here's a thought, purely speculative and not backed by anything but me thinking about all of it.

LJ is forcing higher participation by those who might not participate normally in fannish activities.

I can't prove that. Lurkers have been around forever. LJ has them. But at least, from what I've seen, the proportion of lurkers are LESS than one finds on the average mailing list. What's the stats on participation on a mailing list? Anyone? I'd put it at twenty percent when you get past the five hundred mark, but honest to God, my numbers are working off of just watching and other people's comments. And domination by less than five percent, if that. Livia could probably tell us what it is on ClarkLex. LJ land simply isn't set up to do that. It encourages getting your own kingdom and yelling your opinons. The mailing list makes you send your opinion to one thousand or so different users. Usenet, public forum. LJ can keep the fantasy this is just for you.

To comment in some LJ's, you have to have an Lj username. To get to some fics, you need to be friended. Etc etc etc. Does that encourage? Hell yes. Not across the board, no, and not everyone, but I'm wondering now how many people who were professional lurkers have moved into LJ because of that kingdom thing. Those who would have been watchers in usenet and mailing lists finding their voice here.

I wonder how the hell that's something that could be found out, too.

Anyway. Feel free to correct me wherever I'm wrong--seriously, this is basically just thinking out loud and the inaccuracies are probably legion if not downright silly. But you know. My kingdom. I can. *grins*
Tags: livejournal, meta: fandom
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