The Lost Librarians of National Defense?

Information Week has an interesting article up about Lost fandom. It talks about Second Life recreations of Lost spaces, ABC’s official sites, and Lostpedia, the wikipedia for Lost fans:

The Lostpedia statistics page shows that the site has grown to nearly 33,000 pages. The site has received 141 million page views. It has 26,000 registered users, of whom 10 have sysop rights, for increased authority to edit and manage the site.

I talk a bit about fan-authored wikipedia entries and archives in my work about Swedish indie music fandom, but generally this is a neglected area of fandom research. Although, as some apparently realize, it’s a phenomenon with implications that stretch far beyond entertainment:

[Lostpedia founder] Croy said the site has brought him professional benefit in that it’s connected him with many interesting people. The Palo Alto Research Center (formerly Xerox (NYSE: XRX) PARC) contacted him about two years ago to study Lostpedia. “Basically, they wanted to study the way that a group of users collects intelligence, brings it back to a central place, and processes that intelligence, categorizes it and analyzes it and decides what’s good and bad.” PARC looks at each new episode as a big new batch of intelligence dumped on the Lostpedia community. “They want to see how they can apply that to the national defense projects they’re working on,” Croy said.

Fans have at least as much history as anyone — and probably more history than most — at using the internet in innovative ways to collect, label, store and make accessible enormous repositories of information. I’ve spoken recently with music librarians interested in using fan-generated genre tags (like on to assist them in categorizing their library’s music catalogs. Fandoms offer fantastic case studies in the practice of information science. I’d love to see more about this.

How good a friend is a friend?

With my colleague Andrew Ledbetter at Ohio University, I’ve been finishing up a paper looking at relational development amongst “friends” on Our paper’s been accepted for presentation at the Association of Internet Researchers’ annual meeting in Copenhagen in October. Here’s the abstract. Forgive the heavy academese:

Tunes that Bind? Predicting Friendship Strength in a Music-Based Social Network
To be presented at Internet Research 9.0; Copenhagen, 2008.

“Friendship” is an inherently ambiguous relational descriptor. In social network sites, where “friend” is often the only word available to label relationships, the ambiguity seems only to be enhanced (e.g. boyd, 2006; Fono & Reynes-Goldie, 2006; Gross & Acquisti, 2005). This paper seeks to shed light on the nature of “friendships” in one social networking site. Founded in London in 2005, functions as both a social network site and a music recommendation, streaming and, to a lesser extent, downloading service. In May 2007, when it was bought by CBS Corporation for US$280 million, boasted more than 15 million active users in hundreds of countries. To our knowledge, there has not been any academic study of social dimensions of

The data reported here come from an international survey of users. The 559 respondents (36.5% female, 63.5% male) from 48 countries were recruited through messages posted to’s two general interest site-wide discussion forums. Each time one opens a profile page, one’s friends list appears in a random order. Participants were asked to open their profile in another window and think about the first person on that list in answering a series of questions about their relationship. After assessing a number of baseline facts about friendships (number of friends, proportion that began on, average length of friendships), we conducted a 4-step multiple regression analysis to determine the predictive value of four sets of variables on relational strength.

We measured relational strength with the scale used by Chan, Cheng, and Grand (2004), a shorter version of that created by Parks and Floyd (1996). This 18-item scale assesses six of the dimensions Parks (2007, p. 27) argues, “constitute a definition of the relational change process.” These include interdependence, depth or intimacy of interaction, breadth or variety of interaction, commitment, predictability and understanding, and code change and coordination. Because scores on each of these dimensions showed high intercorrelation, we treated the scale as a single measure of relational strength.

We examined four sets of variables’ correlations with relational strength, controlling for each previous set with the introduction of the next set. First we considered demographic factors including age, gender, and geographic location. Second, we looked at partner similarity (homophily) in terms of those demographic variables and musical taste. Third, we addressed the extent to which relational partners use media other than (face-to-face, telephone, text messaging, email, chat, instant messaging, communication via other websites, and postal mail) to communicate. Finally, we examined whether communicating via itself correlates with relational strength above and beyond communication via other media.

We found that on average, the relationships were of moderately low strength, just below the midpoint on the scale. friendships were likely to be stronger when (1) the partner was female, (2) the relationship was between partners of different sexes, (3) the partners did not meet through, (4) the partners also communicated face-to-face, on the telephone, through text messaging, via email, via IM, or on another website, and (5) the partners communicated via Homophily, even in musical taste, did not correspond to friendship strength except in the case of sex, where it lessened relational strength. Chat and postal mail did not correlate with relational strength.

These results suggest that – and likely other social network sites – serves as just one node in stronger relationships. By itself, does not seem to lead to strong relationships. As a relationship-formation site, it fosters weak ties. However, in conjunction with other modes of communication, it may enhance already strong partnerships. The findings lend further support to Haythornthwaite’s (2005) theory of “media multiplexity,” in which she argues that the number of media through which people communicate should be added to the definition of “strong ties.” Our results also demonstrate the importance of considering diverse modes of online interaction separately, as well as examining how their use is interwoven.


boyd, d. (2006). Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites. First Monday, 11 (12).

Chan, D., Cheng, K.S. & Grand, H.L. (2004). A comparison of offline and online friendship qualities at different stages of relationship development. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Vol 21(3), 305-320.

Fono, D., & Raynes-Goldie, K. (2006). Hyperfriendship and beyond: Friends and social norms on LiveJournal. In M. Consalvo & C. Haythornthwaite (Eds.), Internet Research Annual Volume 4: Selected Papers from the AOIR Conference (pp. 91-103). New York: Peter Lang.

Gross, R., & Acquisti, A. (2005). Information revelation and privacy in online social networks. Proceedings of WPES’05 (pp. 71-80). Alexandria, VA: ACM.

Haythornthwaite, C. (2005). Social networks and Internet connectivity effects. Information, Communication, & Society, 8 (2), 125-147.

Parks, M.R. (2007). Personal Relationships and Personal Networks. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Parks, M. R., & Floyd, K. (1996). Making friends in cyberspace. Journal of Communication, 46(1), 80-97.

Meanwhile, in search of a soul mate?

The other day I was on The Walt Bodine Show, an hour-long call-in public radio show that’s a longstanding Kansas City institution (as one of my colleagues said “sure, your going to all those international things is ok, but Walt Bodine? Now I’m impressed!”).

The topic was technology and dating, and in particular online dating sites. It was a fun discussion — nothing to do with fandom, but lots to do with online social life. You can listen to it here.

Surrendering to the Realities of the Internet

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams has long excelled at communicating with fans. He’s the faithful author of a long running blog in which he has been very open with his fans. They have built a strong rapport and have a lot of communication going on there. He blogs often and an average post gets well over 100 comments.

Now he’s gone and reinvented as a combination archive and DIY Mashup site. The idea is that fans can replace the official punchline with their own and then vote on which “mashup” is best. In The New York Times Blog, Adams is quoted as saying:

“I’m surrendering myself to the realities of the Internet,” said Mr. Adams in an e-mail message. “People can already doctor strips. We’re just making it easier so people have more reason to visit the site.”

“And it’s fun,” he said. “This makes cartooning a competitive sport. It’s a game changer.”

Excellent as the idea is, and it is excellent indeed, the comments on the NYT post suggest that the site itself is causing problems for some users, especially those with slow connections. There’s also the minor fact that it’s not technically a mashup since it’s not really mashing different already-existing texts together.

And then there are those who think fans couldn’t possibly be as funny as The Author:

This is a terrible idea. It does nothing to make good comics, but is a great way to pander to fans. Some “media” (I guess “art” is too quaint and precious a term for our day and age) shouldn’t be a collaborative effort. All the old-school media types trying to be relevant by handing over the keys to their audience is a sad, desperate, and doomed attempt to stay relevant amidst the swirling currents of change. I don’t want to read a “Dilbert” that some John Stewart-worshiping chucklehead in my office dreamed up. I want to see what comes out of Scott Adams’ brain. I am hoping against hope that this faux-egalitarian, “interactive and conversational” trend will die a quick death as the Internet — and its audience — matures.

Of course the silliness of this perspective is that Scott Adams is still writing Dilbert. If one wants only official versions, they are still being produced, they are still being archived, they’re still there. Fans doing their own thing with support from The Author doesn’t preclude the author continuing to produce work that meets the standards of fans who don’t much want to write punchlines themselves.

And anyone who thinks fans can’t come up with good stuff on their own has been reading too much Andrew Keen and not paying enough attention.

Putting the B(ees) in Buzz

Swarmteams is a project led by Ken Thompson exploring whether the same sorts of processes that insects and other biological entities use to organize group behavior through short term low range signaling can be applied to human social groups such as fans. It bills itself as a

new type of community-engagement platform, which was designed around communication principles used by social groups in nature such as ants, bees, geese and dolphins.

It’s an interactive approach, which aims to connect musicians with their dedicated fans, by enabling them to manage, grow, develop and montetise their own fan bases.

Thompson is testing this with a NESTA-funded pilot project using bands in the UK:

Swarmteams enables musicians to communicate directly with their ‘Alpha fans’ – a core group of about 25 dedicated fans. It works by allowing Alpha fans to create and manage their own “swarm” of dedicated fans. These fans are then encouraged to recruit and reward their own swarm of fans, and so on.

As the number of swarms expands, the speed at which messages are spread throughout the community becomes faster – and more effective.

Their success depends on the ability and commitment of the musician/band to grow and manage a viable and passionate fan base, which they can use to sell their music, recruit other fans and promote their concerts and gigs.

He’s got a few bands signed up now, but is still signing more up if you’re in the UK and interested (click that link just above to sign up).

My friend David Jennings, author of Net, Blogs & Rock ‘n’ Roll, a book I wish I’d written but will settle for having blurbed, is working with Ken to assess the effectiveness of the pilot. And with my grad student Ryan Milner I am helping David some of the background — going through the fandom research looking for things that look like swarming, even if they weren’t called that. Says David:

I wrote last year about Swarmteams cross-platform messaging service, and its application for coordinating networks of fans. Swarmteams is running a pilot project for the music industry this year, supported by NESTA, and going under the name of SwarmTribes®. For many musicians, getting the first 10 or 20 dedicated fans is easy enough — but when it comes to multiplying this number things become more difficult. If and when their fan base does increase, they’re faced with the challenges of managing it.

Musicians need a communication system to interact with their fans, which is adaptable and instantly reactive. They need to engage with their fans, using a means of communication that can be scaled up. This is where Swarmteams can help.

I’m pleased to say that I’ll be working alongside Swarmteams as researcher, reporter and evaluator for the project (also funded by NESTA, but as an independent project). And I’m looking forward to working with Nancy Baym of University of Kansas and her colleague Ryan Milner.

The core of the Swarmteams concept is the combination of a “back to nature” communication patterns and the latest cross-platform messaging technologies.

Swarmteams founder Ken Thompson has researched biological/ecological perspectives on team organisation and coordination (laid out in his Bioteams book). Then Swarmteams have designed a communications system around this, combining SMS text messaging, email, instant messaging and RSS.

Starting with those 10 or 20 dedicated fans, bands and artists can use the techniques and technology first to build a broader base of fans and then to motivate and coordinate these fans around gigs, releases and special events.

I kind of inherently dig the idea of thinking about biological/ecological models for our behavior, especially in the context of the oh-so-techie internet/mobile phone world. It’s cool to see some creative thinking and I’m looking foward to seeing how the project pans out. In the meantime, if any of you can think of examples of things that look like “swarming” let me know. Thompson describes the theory behind it as based on these four points:

1. Any group member can take the lead: Any member can broadcast to the group, create their own swarms, invite others to them and create links and content.

2. Integrated Messaging across phone and web: The ability to message every member of your swarm in one click on any device without worrying about how they are connected.

3. Small is Beautiful …..and Big is Powerful: “Swarm Communities” are multiple swarms on common topics of interest providing scale yet maintaining the small group dynamic.

4. Reach the many through the few: Engage individuals within their communities via their trusted relationships.