Bragging Break

I don’t often get to do this, so I want to brag on three of my graduate students who successfully defended wonderful new media theses this week:

Andrew Ledbetter defended his Ph.D. thesis in which he developed a scale to assess people’s attitudes toward using the internet as an interpersonal medium and compared the roles of face-to-face and online communication in relational (friendship) maintenance. A lot of complicated findings, but one important takeaway is that the internet is clearly not a substitute for face-to-face communication, and its use in relational maintenance did not damage (or help) relational strength (at least not with U.S. college students). Andrew is joining the faculty at Ohio University next fall, lucky them.

Kiley Larson defended her M.A. thesis. She interviewed rural Kansas in order to better understand how they understand and talk about the internet, particularly in terms of its social utility. Again, many interesting findings. Perhaps the most striking is that the women are the ones who know how to use it and to whom the men all defer when they need something from the internet. Also interesting was their strong stigmatization of the internet as an appropriate means of conducting local communication or seeking new relationships — this is a theme we see in lots of populations, but she’s got a compelling argument that it may be enhanced in the rural context.

Sun Kyong (Sunny) Lee defended her M.A. thesis which compared American and Korean college students’ mobile phone usage pattens and their motivations for using them. She found many similarities in use and motivations, some differences in usage that could be explained by looking at the contexts of these students’ lives (live on campus or at home?) or the payment plans available to them . But she also found some different motivational structures, which suggest that there are cultural influences or, perhaps, that the Koreans are in a more advanced stage of technological adaption than the Americans.

Anyhow, all three students were so great to work with, I learned so much from them, and all three theses are fascinating and well done. Plus Andrew and Kiley got honors! So it’s been a great week for Advisor Nancy.

Potter fan sites go mainstream

Harry Potter fan sites got some wide spread news coverage this weekend in an article that traces the development and breadth of the sites. It (rightly) frames the fan sites as an integral part of the Harry Potter phenomenon, with quotes like this one from a publisher:

“The Potter sites set the standard,” says Anthony Ziccardi, vice president and deputy publisher for rival Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster that releases “Star Trek” paperbacks.

“The thing about the Potter phenomenon is that it has a huge, active fan base, both young and old, with a lot of teenagers. The ’Star Trek’ fan sites are a little bit older – most of the fans are 25 and older. The Potter sites really stand out – they’re like a marketing machine in and of themselves.”

and this one from Warner Brothers:

“When we have brought representatives from some of the key fan sites and showed them the details for the film sets, even if some of them were disappointed that we had left out certain elements from the books, they respected what we were trying to do,” says Diane Nelson, Warner Bros.’ executive vice president for global brand management.”We’re not naive enough to think we’re going to avoid criticism, but bringing the fan sites into the process is what we feel is really important.”

The article also touches on the challenges of running a fan website. Very nice to see an article that recognizes online fans as important participants in the production and promotion processes rather than lifeless losers in parental basements.

On Apple Fans and Fri13

Over at Geek Studies, Jason Tocci picks up on the earlier discussion on this blog about the line between brand loyalty and fandom to critique a MacUser post about what makes Mac users so loyal. Interesting analysis and discussion ensue.

And on another note, I have to chuckle to see that today, Friday the 13th, I’ve seen a huge jump in hits to my interview with Brenna O’Brien who runs the Friday the 13th fan site. Took a few minutes to figure out why that was suddenly so popular again :)

Making offline hay from online fans: the Street Team approach

Street teams have been used for a long time to organize fans to engage in (usually) local promotion in exchange for some kinds of rewards. I’ve recently run across two sites, one European, the other American, that are adapting the street team concept to a social networking approach. focuses on European bands in Europe. One fan of Norwegian band My Midnight Creeps reports:

If you have been to you might have noticed they have a link to which is some sort of street-team collection that includes MMC and several other bands. For some reason I signed up for it, but I figured I would never hear anything about it again. But today I received a package from them, with MMC stickers, flyers, a signed “Histamin” CD (specified to me by name) and a free ticket for the Stavanger concert on Wednesday! How cool is that? (link)

FanCorps seems to be up to the same thing in the US, though explicitly tailoring its message to emphasize converting MySpace friends into people who will actually work on your behalf. They seem more stringent about who gets to be a member of a street team and really emphasize that this is a means to reach, organize, and work with “hard core” fans. I dislike the militaristic motif of the site, fans are not soldiers, this is not war (thank God), but I think I like what they’re doing.

Stickers, flyers… the materiality of fandom maintains its appeal. For all the ‘they’re just forming empty allegiances on MySpace and then stealing the songs’ that may be going on, the fact remains that fans want STUFF and will do things in exchange for it.

I suspect I’ve got at least one reader involved with FanCorps, and I’d love to hear any reports from promoters, fans, bands, about their perception of and experience with how well these web-organized street team sites work.

Update:  Reverbnation, a music social network site that has focused on helping touring regional bands connect with their own and potential fan bases, says in a message sent to users: In the coming weeks, look for our new Street Team feature that will more closely connect artists with their most rabid fans to carry out promotion activities all over the web.

Twitter Fans Unite!

The ever-articulate and insightful Fred Stutzman has written a nice definitive Twitter guide that may be useful to those of you not sure what the buzz is about or looking for a way to explain your new addiction to others. I had written a few weeks ago about Twitter’s potential application as a way for celebrities and artists to connect with fans. That seems a little slow on the uptake, though there are (a very few) famous twitterers to be found. In the meantime, though, not content to wait for a celebrity to create fandom around, Twitter lovers have gone and created Twitter fandom, the first real result of which is probably the Twitter Fan Wiki, which I found via Fred’s article.

The Twitter fans say:

Since the Twitter folks hadn’t put up a wiki yet, it seemed like a good idea to get one going out of the community.

Lately there’s been a bunch of scripts and other cool ideas pushed forward and it’s finally time that we had a place to bring them all together.

Twitter doesn’t do much for me, but this fan wiki is a lot of fun anyway. I got a particular kick out of the “fakers” link, which lists all the technologists (e.g. Steve Jobs), politicians (Bill Clinton), celebrities (Paris, Nicole, Britney,…), and, other categories of individuals who appear to be on Twitter but who aren’t who they claim to be. The list includes a lot of “fictional characters” which goes to show, as ever, that fan-identification will rear its head wherever fans can read heads. Though I’m a little bummed if it’s true that Santa Clause’s twitter posts aren’t really Santa’s. What’ll I tell the kids?

This fan wiki is more useful than the Flickr fan photo group I wrote about here, but it shows the same basic phenomenon where there’s a web2 app that (some) people get so excited about they start acting more like fans than users. Movie stars, rock bands, tv shows, web 2 apps… wait, who let that last one on the list of valid objects of fandom?

I am sure there were some who were really into earlier internet applications, and certainly Apple has had tons of adoration that can only be described as fandom from its early days and now more than ever with iPod and forthcoming iPhones, but I just can’t think of a real (pre-Web 2) parallel to people using a particular internet service they love creating fandom around it. Was there Usenet fandom? AOL fandom? Sure people used those things, and still do, all the time, but did they inspire fan sites and enthusiastic displays of devotion as Twitter, Flickr,, Pandora, and many other “web 2″ sites do? Anyone have any good precedents?