Fandom and the Internet

From Fanlore
Jump to: navigation, search
Fandom: Panfandom
Dates: 1990s-present
See also: Zines and the Internet

Click here for related articles on Fanlore.
Fandom online has been shaped by the nature of the internet, the level of access in the general population, and successive waves of both genuine newbies and old fans who are new to a particular part of the internet.

By the late 1990s, "the internet" had become synonymous with the world wide web to most people, but it wasn't always so. Early fandom activity online happened in the private forums of service providers and on Usenet. One common description of fandom migrations online is that fandom started on Usenet in the early 90's [1]; then moved to Yahoo Groups in the late 90's, also creating a lot of single-fandom archives; and finally transferred to Livejournal and/or for most of the 00's. However, while this does describe the shift across internet media for many people, there are other fans who continue to be active primarily on mailing lists or message boards and have never used social networking sites or multi-fandom archiving sites. Furthermore, there are still fans who are primarily active offline.

The arrival of the Internet and the spread of online communication had a profound and lasting impact on pre-internet types of fandom, from how fanzines were devalued and eventually replaced (see Zines and the Internet) to how slash fans responded to the increased visibility (see History of Slash Fandom).

Graphical Timeline: 1980-2010

This timeline shows major developments in internet infrastructure and some early influential fannish spaces.

eFictionFanFiction.NetThe Wonderful World of Makebelieve852 ProspectThe Gossamer! GroupsGeoCitiesUsenet


Early "ISPs"

Early in the development of the internet, most people got access through universities or technical jobs. Few companies provided access to the general public. Those that did operated on a very different model from today: they primarily saw themselves as content providers, selling access to information and private discussion forums or chat features, not as internet service providers, selling access to the internet in general. (In fact, they're rarely referred to as "ISPs" at all; that is merely the modern equivalent of these early companies and what many of them changed into later.)


Usenet is a style of discussion forum that functions something like a mailing list, but posts are deleted from the servers after a few weeks and often not saved by participants. In the past, posts were frequently signed with an e-mail address containing the user's real name. Users often archived posts themselves, had mailing lists they used in conjunction with groups, and developed FTP archives, and later web archives for Usenet content, including fanfiction.

Originally, Usenet was mostly accessible to university students and IT professionals. Every September, there was an influx of freshman newbies until September 1993 when AOL added news groups to its features and opened the floodgates. This is known as the Eternal September. Newbies suddenly outnumbered regulars in such numbers that it was impossible to socialize them all into the pre-existing Usenet culture. This is similar to the cultural conflicts around feral fandoms.

Fandom activity was greatest on Usenet in the mid to late 1990s, but some individual groups still get a lot of traffic today.


MUDs are a type of realtime text-based online environment. (There are several related formats like MUSHes, MUCKs, and MOOs.) Many of them include elaborate worlds and game plots that range from Collosal Cave style text adventures to role playing. Some users primarily use them to hang out and chat in real time (or to cyber). Some influential MUDs have been based on pre-existing fantasy settings like Pern, and a number of them have catered to furries and other subcultures, so while they don't necessarily have a direct connection to traditional media fandom fanfiction, they were extremely influential on early internet fandom and a big part of internet culture in general. Early writing about the internet and people taking on different identities there is often referring to MUDs, not newsgroups or the web.

A number of MUDs were active by the late 1980s. They proliferated in the 1990s. Graphical environments like Second Life, many other widely available forms of realtime chat that require fewer technical skills, and a wide variety of other online gaming and roleplaying options made them less attractive (or even visible) to the average internet user in the 2000s. Nonetheless, they continue to have many fans in the 2010s.

Mailing Lists

Early on, mailing lists were privately hosted, which required money and know-how. Most people had e-mail addresses through universities or companies (most of them containing real names).

Starting in 1998, Yahoo! Groups (and egroups and ONElist, both of which it bought) provided an easy way for the non-tech-savvy to host their own mailing lists for free. Hotmail started providing free (and potentially pseudonymous) e-mail addresses in 1996 and was followed by a number of similar web-based providers. This caused a huge proliferation of fannish mailing lists in the late 90's/early 00's.

The Web

The web initially provided few ways of interacting, was difficult to search, and didn't have all that much content. As search engines developed and different free web-based services arose, it became more and more attractive as a platform for fandom.

Early free web hosts include Geocities (1995), Tripod (1995), Angelfire (1996), and FortuneCity (1997),[2] as well as webspace provided by universities and colleges to faculty and students. The use of such webspace either requires the knowledge of HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language) to "hard code" the webpages, or the use of WYSIWYG ("What You See Is What You Get") Site-Builder software that allows the creation of simple webpages by filling in blanks.

Typically, websites created on webspace provided by a university or college are short-lived, disappearing when the student graduates. Sites on free web-hosting services, however, can linger indefinitely. Indeed, provided the hosting service continues to exist, such a site can still be around today even if it has not been updated for years.

Initially, most sites were small. They often were created to provide personal information about the site owner (a sort of precursor of Facebook), but might include tribute pages to favourite fandoms and archive the owner's fan fiction. By the late 90s, however, fans with a knowledge of HTML were starting to create larger resource sites offering information about the fandom as well as assistance for newbies. In addition, before archives with automatic upload became common, fans undertook the hard-coding of large fanfic archives. The content of resource sites and archives was usually restricted to a single fandom.


Many fans identify an era of large, single-fandom archives starting with The Gossamer Project in 1995 and lasting until posting fic to Livejournal became common in the early 00's. The founding of the enormous multi-fandom FanFiction.Net in 1998 and the development of the Automated Archive software and eFiction also had a profound effect on fandom archiving practices.

Journals and Blogs

Journals and blogs took off among the general public starting in 1999 with the founding of Livejournal,, and a number of other sites. Fans were active on a wide variety of these in the early 00's. Around 2002, a large wave of fandom migration to Livejournal started. When Livejournal eliminated invite codes and moved to open account creation on December 12, 2003, even more fans moved from mailing lists and other blog/diary sites.

Cultural Shift

It is more accurate to think of a series of many cultural shifts as different waves of internet users discovered parts of the internet or got online for the first time. One major cultural difference is between long-time zine-producers and readers and a variety of fans active online:

"Ironically, I don't think [there's] a new cultural shift or a widespread view among new fans in young, developing fandoms. The No Profit Ever view is one that was widespread in a lot of the fandom communities I joined online in the 90s. (I suppose it was that resistance to posting online that meant that the new communities that were springing up then were largely untouched by con-going, zine-producing fandom or its norms.) Hysteria over The Man coming to get us and the assumption that every fan agrees that no profit can be made ever is something I associate with old fogeys now. They might be net-only old fogeys, but even so."[3]
In the early days of fandom online, some questioned the whether the Internet would have any impact on fandom at all:
"And back to the net. There seems to be a certain amount of fear about the net changing, the culture changing, fandom changing... Is this actually happening? Is the net changing fandom, or is it just letting us do what we've always done, just faster? "[4]

Zines and the Internet: Visibility

Many fans had a lot of fears and hopes as their activities and creation became more visible. For more on this subject, see: Visbility.

Some Fan Reaction

Comments in 1992

"Those who ONLY use computers to communicate aren't part of fandom because they don't interact with all of fandom, just the circle on the nets. Seems to me there is a prejudice against traditional fans who aren't on the nets or do printed fanzines, like they are 'out of the loop." AND "Geeze, I never said that the printed fanzine was dead or even moribund; I said that despite all the technological innovations of the past decades, it's still extant, albeit in word process-laser printed form. I take strong exception to your comment about those who ONLY use computers, that they are not being a part of fandom. Considering that one night's load of messages on FidoNet concerning SF and Star Trek equals 10 or so issues of Comlink in content and verbiage, I think that participants are indeed part of fandom, even if they don't cling to ink/toner on paper as their primary form of communication. Fanzines are mentioned and comment upon, as are conventions attended, books read, films and TV seen. For some people, such as myself, hooking into FidoNet has enhanced my fannish endeavors in that I'm exposed to and interact with a larger circle of fans. I tend to think of the diverse SF groups on the various networks as a modern incarnation of the Round Robin letters popular in the early days of fandom. Just dependent on computer networks rather than the Post Office." [5]
There's this group of fans in the Baltimore area who have their own microcomputers, one of them which has been set up as an Internet node. For a modest sum, ANYONE with a terminal/computer and modem can have their very own Internet address and complete access to the diverse newsgroups/discussion groups on the Internet. They brought one of their minis to Balticon this year and set it up as an Internet node in their suite. There were VERY few times when they were 'open' that all six terminals weren't occupied with fans interfacing with the Internet. [6]
[A fan talks of Star Trek and computer bulletin boards and makes the first mention of the word "internet" and "email" in this particular letterzine: Comlink]: "The discussions on the USENET Star Trek bulletin boards about the new series, and about the firing of Richard Arnold, have been pretty amusing. Incidentally, to those of you whom I was talking through CompuServe and GEnie - I gave up my subscriptions in favor of FREE access to all the Star Trek info I could possibly want. My university makes USENET available, and there are five bulletin boards on Star Trek alone (not to mention one on Anne McCaffrey's Pern universe and five or six on aspect of SF in general, and one for cat owners. I can be addressed through E-Mail (Bitnet or Intenet). [7]
While there's an overlap in membership and interest, Fanzine-Paper Fandom and Computer BBS Fandom are two very different fandoms. Both, I think, are good and rewarding to the people who participate in them. From a non-Computerist viewpoint, though, I can see certain things lacking in Computer Fandom which I value in Fanzine Fandom (and, of course, BBS fans see lacks in Fanzine fandom). There's a much higher level of ephemerality and an absence of tradition, for one thing -- it may be possible to download and save BBS discussions but apparently, it's rarely done, and few newcomers have access to what has gone before... a sort of a background which gives people a sense of Group Identity. For another: the immediacy of a BBS is such to encourage off-the-cuff writing (and for a largely anonymous audience at that), whereas fanzine writers have at least an eye on the possibility that people ten years in the future may be reading what they're writing now... For a third: almost everyone in the literate world has access to mailboxes, whereas Computer BBS access (despite the vast numbers who have it) is really quite limited -- mostly on an economic basis -- so that a large number of potentially-valuable fans are entirely frozen out. Admittedly, all these objections also apply to some extent to paper fanac, but I do believe that the difference in degree is substantive. [8]

Comments in 1993

I don't know why some fans insist on stating that their way of fannish communication (print vs computer) is best. Both have their pluses and minuses, and both offer fans the opportunity to converse with each other. I've heard it stated very confidently that BBSs will put an end to to fanzines in the very near future. Most fans, those with with money I guess, will use BBSs exclusively to communicate, and the few without computers will be left out in the cold. I suppose it would also be an end to conventions. I mean, why bother with the expense and time of attending cons to talk to a lot of people at once when it can be done from the comfort of your own computer?" The editor responds: "I hope you are at least a little tongue-in-cheek here. Bulletin Boards are great for communicating, but there are SOME drawbacks. Consider this: a conversation that, in Comlink, for example, spans a year, lasts only a week on the bulletin board. There's left time to actually consider the words that one leaves behind in the public arena. Have you ever seen some of the 'flame wars' that take place on bulletin boards? Feelings bruise more easily because people can't read the emotions behind the words of strangers. That's why emoticons were invented. And bulletin boards will never do away with conventions, because nothing beats a good con for one-on-one discussion and vitality. None of this, however, stops me from going in GEnie every night! [9]
The computer is merely a tool for communication. And that's what fandom is all about, communication... BBS conversations are just as interesting and fun as face-to-face talking. Imagine a whole year of Comlink taking place over a weekend." The editor of Comlink replies: "Perish the thought of Comlink online. I have enough trouble doing a quarterly... Imagine the prospects of having to be online every damned day lest someone say something taken wrong and have holy flame wars ablaze. No thank you. I frequent BBS and am amazed at the dedication there. [10]
I was on a panel at Escapade called "Crossing the Line," which was conceived of as an explanation to net fans of how to find print resources, and to print fans of how to find net resources. It turned into much more than that, however, at least for me, and I've been thinking about it for days since. As I began to explain how to make connections to the print world, mundane details like the importance of SASEs, etc., the murmur began to rise of "but why should fans pay for zines when they can get stories free off the net?" Now, that's a fair question, but I wasn't very successful at answering it until Rachael Sabotini, who is fluent in both net and print fandom, explained something to me in words of few syllables. Net fandom, she said, is about the stories. It's about the stories as *product*. That's what fans want. If they can get product free, why should they go to more effort and incur costs to get it? I stared at her for a moment. Then I said, "May I have a totally gut-level and uncensored reaction to that? "*Eeeuuuw*." And suddenly I understood why there was resistance to my explanations of how to establish contact, and suddenly I began thinking about fannish activity and fannish community and fannish 'products', not quite in a new way, but from a perspective I hadn't seen before. And as part of that, I am going to try to drop the term "print fandom," which I think over-emphasizes the importance of zines, of physical products, and replace it with "in-person fandom." That isn't perfect either -- lots of the kind of thing I'm about to discuss goes on by mail and email, not face-to-face -- but it's better. [11]

Comments in 1998

By 1998, fans were emailing in their thoughts and feelings about fan fiction and fandom to the the Sci-Fi section of They even included fan fic recommendations and links to their recommendations, along with their names and email addresses. While was not a for profit website, it was hardly a fannish forum and showed just how far fandom had come in terms of embracing the visibility that the Internet provided. [12]

Comments in 2001

A fan in 2001 missed the passion of pre-internet fandom, and the passion of the desperate:

To me, it seems the biggest loss in the metamorphosis to an online existence (which, by its ease, allows many more people to find fandom) is passion. Because it was, for starters, so difficult to even find *out* about fandom -- let alone figure out how to be a part of it -- fandom was restricted to those who were highly passionate about their particular show. There was too much an effort in being a fan to attract those who were only casually interested. Most all fans gave back to fandom, because they realized how rare and precious it was, and looked upon it as something special and unique.

Now, the net allows the most casual of fans to participate, and they come into it wondering what each fandom has to offer them. They want to know what fandom is going to do for them, rather than what they're going to do for fandom. The sense of shared passion about a mutual obsession is gone. I think, for many fans, fandom is just another one of many interests -- which is why they're puzzled as to why some old-timers feel so strongly about "bashing" a story -- and there isn't that feeling of sharing something unique with others who are equally obsessed. I miss that most of all But you can't fight "progress". [13]

Comments in 2002

From a 2002 blog post:
Fanfic is also dangerously illegal. When the stuff was distributed the old-school way, in xeroxed pamphlets at S.F. conventions, it was harder for companies to crack down on it. Now that most fanfic is on the Web, however, bored attorneys can do a Google search and come up with 16 potential lawsuits in 10 minutes. [14]

Comments in 2005

Even as more fans realized that Internet visibility was here to stay, small pockets of fandom continued to fret over the Internet. In 2005, one fan proposed the following panel for Zebracon: "Securing online that many of us are online, how can we sufficiently hide ourselves so that we all don't get slapped with cease and desist letters? With subtopics of web of trust issues, open media (mailing list servers, websites, blogs, etc.), encryption techniques, anonymity and the 'net, etc." Let's face it -- the same things that make it easy to find each other make it easy for TPTB to find us. Does anybody have a plan?" To which one reader commented: "Do we actually need [a plan]? I mean, can we really hide? I think that if we try and fly under their radar, as in don't shove it in their faces, we will be ignored. As we have been since fandom proper started in the ST days. [15]
I am amazed at fans have become, now that they are online. I suspect many of these stories would never have seen the light of day in the era of dead-tree fandom. (There's at least three Due South stories where Benny is romantically involved with his dog.) I remember how controversial it was when fans started exploring pairings other than K/S. People acted like you were breaking up a marriage if you paired Spock with, say, McCoy instead of (or in addition to) Kirk. Now, anything goes. [16]
Being on the net early on, I got to watch fandoms use of it evolve. The newsgroups had their run (and got filled with spam). The web grew more and more important. More chat programs. More EVERYTHING.... The internet obviously changed everything. I think some people assumed fandom just "migrated" there, but I think they're wrong. Some fandoms used it more than others. Others evolved ON it. Some fandoms evolved in parallel on and off net, producing odd conflicts. The "more of everything" factor plays a role. [17]
I think fandom grew and splintered as it got online - there's a lot more people now following various fannish pursuits, but there's also a lot more specialization. Used to be, if you were a fan, you were just 'in fandom' - usually referring to convention and APA/zine publishing fandom, and you could be reasonably sure that a fan in Seattle had a similar outlook and experience as a fan in Tampa. Now, you'll get people who focus their fan energies onto, say, just vidding, or Fullmetal Alchemist fanfic, of Harry Potter roleplay, and who may not have much in common with each other - the Lord of the Rings fanfic BNF in Seattle may not have any connection with the Gundam model maker in Tampa.

I always harp on how the meaning of 'fandom' has changed - used to be the concept of using it in plural was just ... unthinkable. If you were a fan, you were in fandom, and exactly /what/ you were a fan of wasn't that important. It started to change a little bit with the splintering off of media fandom with Trek in the 1970s, but didn't hit its stride until a few years ago online.

Mind you, I find that many people still in traditional fandom and many people in the new versions of fandom have no real clue about the true size of the other's version of fandom. I run into people all the time who think that 'fandom' means fanfic, period, and there are many Old-Tyme Fans who don't really pay attention to fanfic and don't realize how big and elaborate a culture it is.[18]
...I think that the instant availability of fannish material has devalued it to some extent. Once upon a time, to find a person of like mind and interest to oneself was a rare and precious event and they became a friend to be treasured. Online, there are people of at least similar minds and interests just a click of a mouse away: all of them nameless and faceless, hidden behind user names and netspeak, their identities often indiscernible one from the other. This applies perhaps even more strongly to fiction - now 'fanfic', not 'fan fiction', and 'beta read', not 'proofread' or 'edited'. The sheer bulk of it, and its ready availability - for free! You don't even have to pay the $10 for a zine any more! - leads, in the way of familiarity, to near-contempt; one can click on a story, skim through it and go on to the next one, and the next, with barely any effort at all. Never mind that the writer has put as much time and thought and passion into the writing as s/he (usually she, let's face it) would have had to do no matter in what medium she was being published; the finished product is all that matters, and the writer herself is often overlooked, taken for granted, or forgotten altogether. [19]

Comments in 2016

The different fanfic eras explained as lunch:

Pre-internet era: You walk into a room and sit down at a table. Someone brings you a turkey sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a soda. Perhaps you are a vegetarian, or gluten-free. Doesn’t matter; you get a turkey sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a soda.

Usenet era: You walk into a room and sit down to your turkey sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a soda. Someone tells you that over at the University they are also serving BLTs, pizza, coffee, and beer.

Web 1.0 (aka The Great Schism): You walk into a room. The room is lined with 50 unmarked doors. Someone tells you, “We have enough food to feed you and a hundred more…but we’ve scattered it behind these fifty doors. Good luck!”

Web 2.0 (present): You walk into a room. Someone points at the buffet and says, “Enjoy!” You turn to see a 100-foot-long buffet table, piled high with every kind of food imaginable. To be fair, some of the food is durian, head cheese, and chilled monkey brains, but that’s cool, some people are into those…and trust me, they are even more psyched to be here than you are. [20]

Further Reading/Meta





  1. "Does anyone have any information about Star Trek slash fanzines, or Trekkie fanzines in general?" is an extremely early mention of this genre on soc.motss, posted 1 January 1991, accessed 18 November 2012
  2. Free hosting services do not charge the website owners. Instead, they earn revenue from advertisers who pay to place commercial banners on the site, usually at the top of each page.
  3. Franzeska in “Re: Sharing and Preserving Printed FanFic” from Zine List, quoted by permission, 6.1.2011
  4. Janice A.'s post to Lysator on March 24, 1994.
  5. comments from Comlink #52 and 53
  6. from Comlink #51
  7. from Comlink #50
  8. from Comlink #54
  9. from Comlink #55
  10. from Comlink #55?
  11. Crossing the Line, Escapade 1998 panel report
  12. A single page from the Weekly Fan Fiction forum survives and can be read here
  13. a 2001 post at VenicePlace, quoted anonymously, August 15, 2001
  14. Fanfic of the Damned: I like to play a little game when online to avoid working; it's called "find the weirdest fanfic."; WebCite, by Annalee Newitz, June 4, 2002
  15. Post The Technology of Fandom. - Surety? at fandom-tech dated April 18, 2005.
  16. Leigh at 'Slash' Fiction - In Search of a Definition from [simegen-L - June 2005]; WebCite
  17. comment by dragonscholar at Fanthropology: Fandom: Evolution; archive link, January 31, 2005
  18. comment by telophase at Fanthropology: Fandom: Evolution; archive link, February 1, 2005
  19. comment by phoebesmum at Fanthropology: Fandom: Evolution; archive link, February 2, 2005
  20. berlynn-wohl.tumblr, February 29, 2016