What makes a good web2 site?

Over at the blog A VC, Fred Wilson offers some thoughts he’s been having about how to create a great Web service based on Flickr. I won’t comment on all of it, but there were 3 points he made that I really liked:

2) Every web service needs to have a profile for every user

3) Users should be encouraged to comment on other user’s posts

8) Engagement metrics like comments, favorites, views, can and should be used to drive discovery (the most interesting algorithm)

Some of these, especially #8, are things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Too often I think websites are set up in ways that priviledge mystery algorithms or the developers’ interests over highlighting what people are into on the site. Obviously there are a number of high profile exceptions, but I like the emphasis here on creating community both through encouraging people to build individualized identities and relationships and also via algorithms smart enough to figure out where the hubs of community are happening and bring them to the attention of other users.

Connection to fandom? One thing that happens when a site does this is that individual users become hubs of fandom — they become people who have fans themselves, which makes the site sticky sticky sticky for developers, and they become taste leaders who can channel other people’s energies toward enjoying things they might not have otherwise found.

Fans reissuing old LPs

Audiophiles often complain that CD reissues of old records sound terrible. Take, for instance, what this fan says about the quality and ethics of re-releases by the legendary psychedelic band 13th Floor Elevators, fronted by the late Roky Erickson:

“What’s been done to the ‘Elevators music when it was reissued on CD is a crime. The master tapes are long lost so “they” took any old album and ripped it to CD and did a crappy job. This CD became the future “master” for all subsequent reissues and there have been a lot. Like, if another company wants to reissue they license the music and then just go buy a CD to copy. It’s crap. The sound is thin and bad. The band gets paid nothing.

The solution? Let the fans do the reissuing:

The Roky CD Club has released the first volume of Attack of the LPs by the 13th Floor Elevators. This is the band’s first album, the Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, backed by the “Live” album. What makes these different from all the other reissues are two things: 1) they are distributed FREE to the fans 2) the signal was ripped direct from original International Artists LP pressings. The Roky CD Club is a group of Internet-based fans (loosely affiliated with the Texas Psych Google group) who collect, catalog, restore, preserve and share ultra-rare American garage-psych music. They have been active for almost ten years producing upwards of fifty volumes of material with the emphasis being on Texas Psychedelic.

But wait, you cry, isn’t this illegal?

Isn’t the Roky CD Club worried about running afoul of the Roky Erickson Trust? “No really” says a fan; “the Roky CD Club originally began operations with the blessing and help of the Roky Erickson Trust. For many years we collected a donation for discs traded that was sent to the Trust to be distributed to Roky Erickson as needed. It was only when “‘certain other'” people took over the Trust a few years ago that our long relationship with the Roky Erickson Trust soured. They have since proven that they are incompetent by surrounding Roky with his enemies and butchering the music. We call the gang running things now the “‘Roky Robber’s Roost'”. No, the helm has passed to us to “‘save'” this music and deliver it to the fans. We will not fail in that quest. Besides, we already tried working with the new “‘Head'” of the Roky Erickson Trust. After a series of increasingly bizarre and obtuse communications from him we just cut him loose. They put out stuff like: Don’t Knock The Rok and this is just like dragging the name through the dirt. It is apparent to the fans that it is 100% up to them to save this music.”

Sounds kinda like “yeah, it’s illegal but we don’t care!”

I know nothing about the Roky Erickson trust, I have some covers of his songs by others (a hilarious version of “I Walked With A Zombie” by R.E.M., for instance) but never paid that much attention to him or his trust. What’s interesting here is the notion that the fans are the guardians of tradition, the ones on a sacred quest to preserve what they love for posterity when those who could and should have been in charge of this mission have failed. Listen to that language: crime, enemies, butchering, gang, robbers vs. save, quest. Legal or not, it’s true that often the fans are the only ones who care enough to do it right. So whatever’s up with the Roky Erickson Trust, they’re probably right to leave it alone.

Registering Fan Sites?

Via Techdirt comes word that Dragonball is requesting, demanding, insisting that all fans who want to start a fan site register it first with them.

First I think “ha ha ho ho he he.” Then I think “are they going to run around suing those who don’t? what a pain for the fans and what a way to make them hate them, but probably an effective way to chill their fan activity.” And ultimately I agree completely with the Techdirt take:

In this case, it seems like the company is trying to find a balance between protecting its own trademark and allowing fans to continue, but at some point people need to realize that any attempt at controlling word of mouth efforts pretty much destroys the whole point of any word of mouth promotion.

It’s not viral, bottom-up, grassroots, or quite as much fun if it’s on a short corporate leash. Anyway, a google search turns up 1,450,000 hits for “Dragonball fan site” so the genie’s probably out of the bottle on that one…

Race relations and internet fandom

The New York Times has an interesting article today about being a black fan of indie rock (they do have the cultural memory to point out that the whole darn genre of rock was invented by black people), that includes this interesting paragraph:

The Internet has made it easier for black fans to find one another, some are adopting rock clothing styles, and a handful of bands with black members have growing followings in colleges and on the alternative or indie radio station circuit. It is not the first time there has been a black presence in modern rock. But some fans and musicians say they feel that a multiethnic rock scene is gathering momentum.

One of the early utopian dreams was that the internet would erase race. That certainly hasn’t happened. To the contrary, most racial representation and discussion on the internet is disturbingly stereotypical and racist, and a compelling argument can be made that on the whole, the net is either a space where people assume everyone is white unless they’re in explicitly non-white spaces, or where racism is magnified. Or both.

It would be great if one consequence of fans using the net to connect with one another were that we ended up with more conversation and recognition of commonality across racial lines. A white student of mine told a story about going to meet a friend she had made through a fan board and when she got there discovering that her friend was black. Race was a non-issue in their friendship before they met, and remained one afterwards. That’s how it all ought to be.

Fan made movie trailers

Here is a cute little introductory piece in the Arizona Republic about fan-made trailers for imaginary movies. It’s got 2 things worth noting. One is Fox Atomic’s wise embracing of the phenomenon:

At Fox Atomic’s Web site, foxatomic.com, the Blender offers the raw materials so that people can upload and make their own mashups to share from movies in the library of Fox, Fox Searchlight and Fox Atomic.

“We want to be the anti-studio,” said Jake Zim, vice president of online at Fox Atomic. “Instead of fighting it, we want to embrace it, where we get a message out for our product. We recognize the value in engaging our audience in our content.”

The article recognizes that this is a way to get fans engaged and offer free publicity for studios. They also recognize that many of these pieces are so good they could be (and sometimes are) done by professionals. Yet they insist on referring to them as “time-wasters”:

Thanks to the popularity of Internet videos like those found on YouTube, movie-trailer remixes, also called mashups, are among the top time-wasters among Web surfers.

Why is this a waste of time? Is it a time waster if I go to a movie theater? Is it a time waster if I watch a tv show? Is it a time waster if I read a book? Or is it only wasting time if my entertainment is fan-generated?

Or are they saying it’s a waste of time when fans MAKE this stuff? In which case I have even bigger problems with the term.

Fans are providing a poorly understood but essential role in making and viewing these things. They are affecting the shape of the entertainment industry, the economy of that industry — and with it the economy as a whole, they are reshaping social relationships to one another, they are creating and validating new forms of art and media production. They are doing so many important things that are lost when they are dismissed as “time wasters.”