I remember a time, Fannish Dino that I am, when the old admin at ff.n allowed R rated stories, all the cool websites were on Fortunecity or Geocities, no one had heard of this Harry Potter guy, and the mailing list was the only way to get fans with similar tastes and interests gathered in one place.
I had a walkman, then a discman, and I carried a wallet of CDs in my backpack. My cell phone screen was green and black, and my camera needed film.
Yahoo didn’t even own the Mailing List site then – Webrings, wasn’t it? Or something similar. Something forgotten.
The best way to find fanfiction for the community you liked was to Yahoo! a few keywords, find a decent fanfic writer`s personal website, and scroll through her “suggested links” or go browse the webrings she was a member of. Places like ff.n and mediaminer, were very young, and twistingthehellmouth, fanfictionalley, gateworld, and wraithbait didn’t even exist.
I don’t even recall if the Stargate movie had been released yet. I’m thinking not.
The best way to find art was to again Yahoo! for a few key words, this time including “fanart” or “gallery” to the search and browse through webpages.
There was no image searching. There was no “similar links” option.
It was like sifting through a rummage sale. You had to go through pages and pages of junk to get to personal websites with fanfic archives or galleries, or character shrines. There were very few websites created by the producers of movies or television shows just for the canon. Nobody made websites for the movies that were being released to advertise them.
There was no Google. No YouTube. No MySpace. No MSN messenger.
And certainly no LiveJournal.
My very first website was on FortuneCity. My first webmail address was @dbzmail.com. My first blog was on Pitas. (It’s still there, languishing, if you can find it…) I had an ICQ account and damn if that wasn’t the coolest thing ever – talking to people from all over the world in real time. I hung out in “rooms” on Bravenet. My first experience with an online community was the Lucard Mailing List, a group for folks who liked the television series “Dracula: The Series”, staring Geordie Johnson, Bernard Behrens, and Gerriant Wyn Davies (before he was Nick Knight).
Side note – Behrens went on to play Det. Knight`s financial advisor, and Johnson played both `Jerry Tate`, the Jerry Springer knock-off, and the voice of “Dragon”, who was running around crispifying homeless people with a blowtorch.
I met many wonderful people on that mailing list, and it’s sister list Drac Fic. I am still in touch with three of them today, almost twelve years later, and this Christmas I`ll be meeting one of them face to face for the first time.
Now, over a decade later, my website is on Angelfire (because I’m cheap, dammit), I have a hotmail address (but only because I`m too lazy to change it for a gmail one), I have an LJ account, I belong to three LJ Comms, and I use MSN Messenger Live Beta. I browse YouTube for music vids and outtakes, and I have archives on four different fanfic pages. I live in Japan, and my friends live in Canada, and we can talk face to face with Skype and a webcam any time we’re both awake at the same time.
I make a different LJ Icon for every mood I’m in and I post entirely in emoticons if I feel like it.
The evolution of communities, of software and hardware to accommodate the demands of the consumer/communities is of course an unsurprising one. Things will continue to improve, get better, faster, easier to work.
What HAS surprised me, however, is the death of the mailing list.
To me, this is still a very convenient way to gather people together, to swap fanwork and stories, make plans, and chat.
Okay, so of the 14 (egads!) mailing lists I belong to, all but five of them have quieted into a silence permeated by the odd blip every year or so. Of those remaining four, one is for the Writer`s Circle I head out here in Japan, and another is for my own fic announcements. One is for Swordbearer, an AU I created based on Highlander in the hope that people would write a community of stories based in it.
(I’ve had two so far… ;_; )
The last two are listmommed by Scribe, a fanfic writer I enjoy, and are populated with many talkative people.
The other lists were for fandoms that have since stopped producing new episodes/books. I figured, and as probably happened, people matured, moved on, found different fandoms to obsess and create in, and started a new phase of their life. I remained joined to the lists because sometimes it’s fun to go back and re-read your old messages, experience old conversations.
Sometimes, fandoms just … stop producing. There’s nothing left to read, nothing left to write, no one to talk with. Forever Knight, Highlander, Lois & Clark… eventually, they slip into quiet retirement.
I never really thought much about the silence on my mailing lists until a friend, who has become re-obsessed with Dracula: The Series, told me that she’s started an LJ Comm. “Why?” I asked. “There’s the mailing list still. Just wake it up.”
“Mailing Lists are obsolete,” she said.
I blinked. Was I so much of a fandom dinosaur that I hadn’t noticed?
“Mailing Lists aren’t really real time,” she said. “You have to wait for the mail to be delivered. They’re not interactive – you can’t comment on just one particular post. You can’t put up clips or vids, song samples or pics. They’re just mail. You can’t link to something offsite, and you can’t go back and edit. They’re clunky. No one joins them because no one even browses through them any more.”
That I had noticed. When was the last time any list I’m on got a new member? I couldn’t recall. There was no new blood on my lists.
Fandoms don’t die, not really. They just get quiet. And if no one is active, they slip out of memory. The Mailing Lists that are quiet are so because the people who WOULD produce – the new fans, the hard core dinos, the life-timers, have moved out of the Mailing Lists and into LJ Comms.
No wonder no one was writing for my Highlander AU.
That thought led to another – though my website just finished going through a gorgeous overhaul, almost no one had been back to visit it. I had no guestbook entries, no comments in the forum. I found that odd, seeing as before I shut the site down for the facelift it had been fairly popular.
Why no more guestbook entries?
That answer became obvious – guestbooks and personal forums have also become obsolete. Why sign a guestbook when an author posts a chapter directly onto LJ and you can comment right there? I had moved my fic updates off the site and onto my LJ when I shut it down, and nobody had bothered to make the migration back to my site because it was no longer the convenient option.
Thus, websites have also become obsolete.
What are websites now, but places to back track to catch up on fic or art? Fanwork is all posted in an artists/writer`s blog as it comes out. By friending someone, the updates are immediate and apparent on your flist as soon as they’re up. No rummaging through archives.
So what is the website, now, but a glorified safe?
All that’s there is the old stuff, placed into neat folders to people wishing to go back to re-read or re-view, or catch up, can find it all in one neat package.
Or it was. With the advent of the “tags” system at LJ, there’s no need to archive posts and stories on a separate site any more. With the addition of the LJ Scrapbook, one could host all their fanart in a single, fairly generously sized gallery. And with YouTube (and it’s growing knockoffs) and embedded coding, no one has to DL a fanvid directly from an FTP server or a filesharing site anymore.
Websites are very close to being obsolete, as well.
LJ has gone from a mildly funky, small blogging site, hardly noticeable among all the many others, to the Hydra Queen of the web.
An LJ is a blog, a personal website, a fanfic archive, an art gallery, and soon, I suspect, a vid-hosting site. LJ mail has begun to spread in popularity. All anyone ever needs any more is an LJ.
I can imagine, fifteen years from now (thirty if I have any say in it), dandling my nieces and nephews on my knee and saying, “I remember, when I was your age, I had a website, a hotmail account, a blog, and a photo archiving site. And WinZip to get fanvids. And four separate media players on my desktop.”
They’ll all make faces and say, “Aunty Vega, that’s so silly! Why would you have all that? How did you remember all those passwords? Didn’t you have a Live Journal?”
“There were no live journals when I was your age,” I’ll say.
They`ll all gasp and murmur, then run to their fathers to tell them that Aunty Vega was making up stories again, and there was never a time before Live Journals, or the internet, or, or… you know, cars.
Vive la évolution.
Now if only someone could make my mp3 player take calls, text message, and become a high quality camera. Oh, right, I live in Japan. Be right back, I`m going to go buy the new DoCoMo handset...