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Fanlore is a multi-authored site for, about and by fans and fan communities that create and consume fanworks. It uses a wiki model, based on MediaWiki software.
Fanlore is a project of the Organization for Transformative Works. Work began on it in December 2007 when the first Wiki Committee was formed. It was soft-launched in September 2008 to a beta version and by October 9 had over one thousand articles. It came out of beta in December 2010. The 20,000 article milestone was passed around June 2012 and the 25,000 milestone on 18 June 2013.
The idea behind creating Fanlore
The initial inspiration for creating Fanlore may have come a month before the post that started the ball rolling for the OTW. On April 17, 2007, Speranza made a post about discovering inaccurate information about Due South on the Fan History Wiki and asked, "Does anyone know who's driving that bus? Is that anything we ought to get behind or should we just, like, back away slowly from the wreck of misinformation?". Cathexys, astolat, and others discussed the possibility of starting an alternative wiki in the comments to the post.
Once the founders of what would become the OTW started to think beyond the Archive of Our Own, they came up with the notion of starting a wiki which would preserve fannish history and fannish lore -- hence the name Fanlore.
(can we dig up posts about this from the very beginning?)
Conflict with the Fan History Wiki
The Fan History Wiki (2008-2012) was a for-profit wiki around which much controversy swirled. When the OTW announced the intention of establishing Fanlore as a place for collecting fannish lore and history, Laura Hale, creator of the Fan History Wiki, was openly skeptical. See Fan History Wiki for more information.
Editing a fan wiki is as much a fannish activity as any other activity in fandom. Fixing links and tagging pages with categories can hit the same buttons as playing Mahjong solitaire and people who enjoy making recs, comprehensive lists of fannish stuff or fandom primers have the opportunity to go wild and connect everything with everything, which makes it also a rich playground for people who love fannish history and puzzles because every piece added helps to get to the bigger picture. Editing can sometimes seem like a solitary activity (and it can be, if you want it to be), but there is always something going on on the talk pages where editors try to figure out where to put the puzzle pieces, what to do with a page and how to improve it, or solve disputes by consensus. Although the editing history of a page and each change is recorded in the history section of a page, casual visitors often have no idea who wrote what. That gives editors a certain level of anonymity which can be appealing to lurkers who may not make bold public entries in their blogs, but who know a lot about what happened when and where and who like to contribute that knowledge.
Some editors have their own self-chosen projects.
Most notable so far is the zine project which was begun by two fans in the summer of 2009.  This project's goal is the documentation of all media fanzines and the things associated with media zine era fandom. As a result, thousands of pages have been created. Many more images have also been added in an attempt to explain and give context to these pages. It is one way to preserve a unique history and to provide future generations of fans a chance to know what media fandom was like in times before the internet.
Other projects include the creation of a comprehensive resource for Mary Renault fandom, for Forever Knight fandom, a record of one editor's love for everything Merlin/Arthur, and documenting the history of fan conventions and vidding. The "must document it all" approach of some of the projects has inspired other editors to try something similar — for example for Digimon Doujinshi, Final Fantasy Doujinshi and ItaSasu Doujinshi — and hopefully it will inspire even more editor projects in other fandoms and for other topics.
Fanlore is supervised by the OTW Wiki Committee, who provide direction, write policies and help documents, promote the wiki, organise and support Gardeners, and communicate with users via the Fanlore dreamwidth community and Twitter. Oversight of the technical aspects of running Fanlore is handled jointly by the Wiki Committee and the Systems Committee.
The turnover rate is pretty high, but see below for the brave souls left standing at the end of each calendar year:
Various discussions about Fanlore policy
Fanlore policies took a fairly long time to write, and some of them have proved controversial in some corners of fandom.
Some policies had already been written when the wiki launched in 2008, but some key features were missing or needed revision. Every revision and addition necessitated a discussion with the users.
The Wiki and Legal Committees, with feedback from Fanlore users, spent a year working on the image policy. Its completion marked the end of the beta period, December 2010.
The image policy was intended to address two concerns — copyright issues and whether sexually explicit images were allowed — but the copyright aspect has remained the main bone of contention, specifically, Fanlore's fair use of fan art. The Wiki Committee attempted to balance competing interests — the org's principles that fanworks are transformative and that chronicling fanworks on the wiki is legitimate commentary and constitutes fair use vs. fannish understandings about the "unauthorized" reproduction of fanart. On the one hand, U.S. fair use law is an important element of the OTW's mission to defend the legality of fanworks, and Fanlore's policy (which holds that reproduction of some fanart on the wiki is fair use) is intended to support the OTW's legal advocacy work. On the other hand, many corners of fandom consider reposting fanworks without permission to be absolutely unacceptable, even if those reproductions are in the service of chronicling fannish culture and fannish creativity.
Because the Wiki Committee did not report anything substantive between April and October about their progress on writing the policy, people were also concerned about the delay. Fanartist ratcreature was particularly frustrated with the image policy, but when she complained to the Fanlore Dreamwidth community about the Wiki Committee's lack of transparency, a Board member shut her down. She subsequently stopped contributing to Fanlore.
The debate was reopened in 2013 in the comments to an AO3 announcement concerning meta hosting.
Fannish views of Fanlore's image policy
In 2010 Ratcreature wrote:
- I'm not thrilled with the wiki committee. When it comes to fanart it still values legalistic arguments with technical requirements for "fair use" over the near universal convention in fandom that you do not distribute someone's fanworks in public venues against the fan's explicit wishes.
Other fans question why fanzine art in particular should even be documented or preserved on Fanlore saying: "Not really sure why articles about zines need to be illustrated at all, TBH. Maybe like, one picture for "typical style of cover art from this era" or "this was the first zine to include sexually explicit fanart" or whatever. But it mostly seems to be "here are all the pretty pictures we were able to find connected with this one".
In response other fans have pointed out that documenting the history and existence of each fanzine is important: "[Why document each fanzine?] so that people who've never seen a zine before can know what they look like. so that zine fans can see themselves represented, see the history they remember, and see the history they missed. so that people can instantly figure out which zine called "Captain's Log" or "Crystal Rose" or "Sexy Mpreg Panther" the article is actually talking about. Because zine editors weren't always so original when naming their zines. so that the articles can discuss certain individual pieces of art and how fans reacted to them at the time and how they influenced later art, without assuming every reader has their own copy of that art."
And others have pointed out that, particularly when it comes to fanzine art which is inaccessible and subject to loss and damage and decay, that the wiki needs to include a wider range of fan art: "One of the reasons to include some of the interior art is so that the interior artists get representation. Not every artist graced fanzine covers and if we want to talk about a specific artist, it helps to have some example of their styles. Fanzines were for 30 years the only way fan artists had to share their work (besides an occasional art show). Since the only way to get the interior art examples is to manually scan them (because most zine artists don't have websites), and access to the zines is iffy, there will be a lot of overlap and ...over-scanning?. But I don't think anyone here is arguing that only cover artists deserve to be discussed on Fanlore. The issue is how to get examples for all the artists when most of the examples are locked in a box molding away. Also, for many of the zines we have no idea what is in them until someone adds the info to Fanlore. So we have no idea whose art is sitting inside those boxes, let alone which images to choose. It was an analog world back then and it will take time to move the 'data' over to the digital world."
And finally, some fanzine artists and publishers themselves have weighed in on the topic of whether their fanzine fan art deserves to be represented on Fanlore and whether this representation can be legitimately classified as educational: "Concerning art in fanzines: in essence, art created for zines is meant to be seen by as many as possible; it's already been published, so it's not like art from a private collections. For that matter, museum art is frequently reproduced in programs, catalogues, etc. And including art in educational settings such as Fanlore.org is as essential as including quotations in reviewing an author's writings.
So, my short answer is "yes," reproducing the art from fanzines is not only legitimate usage, but necessary that these wonderful (and the not so wonderful) images be preserved. I'd just as soon some of my early attempts at illustration disappear, but then no one would know how much I improved over the years...”
Even while fans discuss the pros and cons of including fan art on Fanlore, some fan artists embrace Fanlore's fair use policy. For example, many fanzine artists have, over the years, lost copies of their fan art and are thrilled to discover it again:
- "When I saw my page I was stunned and then teary. I sold, lost or gave away most of my fan art over the years and thought I’d never see it again. And here it is bringing back so many memories of people I knew and places I’ve been. Thank you."
[more quotes to come]
More recent digital artists agree:
- This gifset I made which inspired this fantastic story HAS IT’S OWN FANLORE PAGE. I’m seriously so happy (and surprised) right now.:
- "Yay!! I love when fandom things are appreciated! It hasn't happened very often, but I did stumble upon my illustration I did for 'The Student Prince' on fanlore.org and it just made my day."
we should write something about the long road to developing the categories we currently use (with links to the Fanlore dw comm posts and the awesome images depicting category structure changes)
By 2010, Fanlore links began appearing in many LJ and forum posts, mainly by fans who were trying to explain a fannish term, a trope or even provide information about a zine. Many fanzine sellers are using Fanlore links to help fellow fans determine tables of contents and the visual quality of the zine they are considering buying.
- "Thanks everyone for telling me about the history of Jane and the Pros fandom. I just looked up Mel Keegan in fanlore.org and learnt something new:— the meaning of "Filing Off Serial Numbers"!"
- "Best feature of Fanlore ever: All those definitions of Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie WTFBBQ type pairing names and all of the wacky genre/trope terms I've never heard before....Second best feature of Fanlore ever: Long, long, long lists of zines for cheesy 80s crime shows. Also, links to publishers' websites, publishers who are mostly still happy to sell me zines for cheesy 80s crime shows. And they say livejournal era whippersnappers don't appreciate zines!"
- There's a fan wiki called Fanlore.net which documents all aspects of fandom (fics, fan art, fan sites, pretty much any fandom presence online). I have added an entry for Human Target (feel free to update/correct it)...It is a wiki about fandom itself rather than the focus of it and it seems to be setting itself up as a place to find out about various fandoms, a resource for fans and industry types alike."
Other fans value Fanlore for helping them discover new facts about the fandoms they love.
- "Oh fandom is such a wonderful thing! I also recently discovered via the fanlore wiki that there were not one but TWO fanzines containing poetry by Deforest Kelley. It is now my mission to track these things down!!!"
- "Found an e-zine for TOS Spock/McCoy! (thank you fanlore) I did a fistpump, I will admit it."
And, on occasion, they love Fanlore for helping them rediscover old facts about the things they love:
- "First, has anyone heard of the wiki fanlore? It's much like TV Tropes but more dedicated to the history of fandom as we know it. Good for a read (or a dozen). Plus, I found references to the Gossamer Project, an X-Files fanfiction database, probably the largest one I have ever come across, and one of my first sites for fanfiction, even before I found fanfiction.net!
Fans also find a deep satisfaction in tracking down information about their fannish obsessions and gathering it one accessible place for all to see and enjoy:
- "I hope by doing the fanlore article newbies will stumble across it and get involved. At the least, I enjoy collecting the links and information and seeing it all in one place!"
And some fans see the value in simply preserving fannish culture, and the memories of fans, before they disappear:
- "When I think about the Fanlore pages and the stories that were saved from being lost forever I darn near get shivers."
- "Isn't that lovely to have one's presence in fandom remembered by those still in it? How even lovelier that you have years later, newer fans even asking about individuals. Though not without controversy, I suppose that is the upside of efforts such as Fanlore and other places that are endeavoring to keep memories exactly like that alive for those who come afterwards."
Others recognize the value of being visible to one another, of recognizing the value of what we do as fans for fans:
- "The OTW newsletter today made me so happy, and a little verklempt too. The Fanlore section is as utterly divine as [is] that vid. I see what you did there, Fanlore Committee, and what you did was merely say, "I saw what you did there," to all of us who make Fanlore. Lovely. And very much appreciated even if I am too busy to edit Fanlore at the moment."
- "And that's why I'd argue that participating in something like FanLore is a good idea. Because if the people who feel that fandom marginalizes them go in there and say "no, here we are and we're part of fandom" I really doubt anyone is going to disagree with them."
[Wiki squee posts can also be linked here. Not just srz commentary]
Some fans were skeptical about the idea of a fandom-specific wiki:
- "Who uses a wiki to document our history, anyway? And moreover, why? I think it's a bit self-indulgent and silly. We KNOW our own history already. A wiki seems so irrelevant."
- "No offense to anyone, but, you know, I really couldn't be less interested in Fanlore, its wiki, etc. History of fandom? What if my participations and contributions aren't listed in there - does it invalidate them? And heck, they probably wouldn't be anyway, because I don't write, vid, make manips, or do deep meta. I run communities and post media. Not earthshattering, no. But that really seems to slip below the radar with these groups. If a fangirl squees in the forest and there's no wiki entry about it, did it make a sound?"
The domination of a media fans, lack of diversity, and not enough outreach and engagement with fandom are also common points of criticism:
- "Fanlore is, as it stands, a chronicle of the fannish experience of an extremely small subset of media fans. Have you seen the current incarnation of the Who page? The Harry Potter page? Compare that to the Due South page or the Sentinel page. Though the fandom sizes of Doctor Who and Harry Potter remain enormous, no one is working on them. And I think that is self-perpetuating."
- "Fanlore is a fantastic resource, your one stop shopping spot to link people to when they ask fannish questions. However, I think its track record of engagement with the wider fan communities is horrible. For someone like me, who can dive in and figure out how to make pages, edit, conform to the very much unwritten rules of style for the place, it's an okay experience. For someone less self-teaching in nature, it's got walls a mile high around it. fanlore gets very low traffic and is almost completely ignored by most of the "elites" at the site itself. On a bright note, it looks like some tutorials are in the works."
- "I've been considering whether I have time & energy to dive into Fanlore and add stuff that... I suspect nobody but me notices or cares about. (...) A lot of non-fic fandom is languishing at Fanlore. Gamer fandom, in particular, I notice, 'cos I've been part of that for (eeep!) more than thirty years. (...) But I'm not sure what to do with the wiki. It's... big. And mostly empty, in the areas of fandom that are most dear to me. (...) I do understand that Fanlore was put together by people who are mostly media fen, mostly fic-fen, and therefore it mostly relates to media & fic history and lore. And not because that's what it's intended to be, but because that's where its founders have expertise. And that it's open to all the rest of fandom... but the patterns are defined by media/fic terms, and it's sometimes hard to figure out how to categorize something else."
Another common complaint since the earliest days is a lack of communication.
- "Communication. I think it isn’t happening enough. Or if it’s happening, it’s happening in the wrong places."
- "I get that the OTW right now is focused on getting the AO3 off the ground, and on some other, er, higher profile projects in the wider world. I also think the TWC journal has taken the time of a lot of people who would be naturals at Fanlore writing.
- But when the Fanlore comm is full of ideas and suggestions and discussion, and gets all kinds of comments on posts, but from Fanlore itself, silence--I get very disheartened. And when I think of how futile it is trying to get people interested by tucking away a comm on Dreamwidth and no where else, I get more disheartened."
- "I keep getting bored of editing fanlore for the usual reasons of lack of interactivity. I love editing Wikipedia, but you usually get hoards of people coming by and messing with anything you write there. It's a much more rewarding process, but it takes such a huge critical mass."
- "You know, this is why I go through periodic Fanlore burnouts. There's very little in the way of supportive comments, and what feels like a lot of criticism. Get ignored when you ask for help, but someone will make a comment about a page *one person* worked on being "a mess." Bah. Maybe it's time for another break. /wank"
As of December 7, 2013, Fanlore has 27,297 articles and 37,727 files which have undergone 489,279 edits by 23,077 registered users. The twenty most viewed articles on the wiki, as of April 25, 2012, are:
|The Draco Trilogy ||51,274|
|Merlin (TV series) ||31,273|
|White Collar ||29,751|
|Sherlock (BBC) ||23,717|
|List of Finder Communities ||22,556|
|The Vampire Diaries|| 21,594|
|What to Do About Harry Potter Porn ||18,229|
|Archive of Our Own ||17,067|
|Kinkme merlin ||16,735|
- svmadelyn. Welcome to Fanlore!, posted 28 September 2008 to LiveJournal. (accessed 3 November 2011)
- rbarenblat. Fanlore is out of beta!, posted 16 December 2010 to Dreamwidth. (accessed 3 November 2011)
- Mrs Potatohead. 20,000 articles (accessed 20 November 2012)
- fanlore: Thanks for taking part! (accessed 4 July 2013)
- cesperanza. Arrrrgh: Things I DO NOT HAVE TIME TO DO THIS MONTH, 17 April 2007. (accessed 11 November 2011)
- thread started by cathexys, 17 April 2007
- Hope: This IS my homework... (27 March 2006) (accessed 22 November 2012)
- Looking for Wiki beta volunteers, 24.6.2008: name announcement.
- See comment thread started by hector_rashbaum in otw_news post titled "An Introduction to the Organization for Transformative Works". 28 September 2007. (accessed 11 November 2011)
- The Stardate is the date the events from the Star Trek reboot movie take place.
- one of these fans comments: "When I stumbled upon Fanlore in July 2009, all I was planning to do was to add some zines to it in a single fandom. I swear! That's it! But as I did, I was reminded that those zines didn't exist in a vacuum, and that zines touched upon all sorts of other stuff -- cons, flyers, writing contests, awards, production techniques, glossary terms, and were the basis for all sorts of fannish things today. The whole world of pre-internet media fandom became something I wanted to help document. There are bits and pieces of fannish history here and there, but nothing that really ties things together. I thought the best place to do that was on a welcoming wiki where fans could pool their knowledge. And to get the ball rolling? Start writing about media zines, ALL media zines. Not only would this preserve the fanworks themselves, but it would branch out and show, in a much clearer way, how everything fit together, what fans talked about, what they expected from each other, how they viewed their rights as fans, the difficulties fans faced, and how they communicated and created in a world they really cared about. None of it any different that what fans have always been doing, of course, but in a different medium, one before computers." Mrs. Potato Head, Fanlore Journal on Dreamwidth, posted September 4, 2011
- As of November 2011 there are more pages for The Charioteer fan fiction than for Harry Potter fanfiction.
- Policies created in 2009: Fanlore:Pre-1995 Fan Name Use. Policies created in 2010: Fanlore:Intro to Fanlore FAQ, Fanlore:Capitalization, Fanlore:Fandom as a Category, Fanlore:Image Policy.
- See the dreamwidth discussions: Draft of Image Policy for Discussion, 23 April 2010. Image templates and Image Policy FAQ, 21 October 2010. Image policy FAQ revisions, 3 November 2010. Image policy clarifications, 23 November 2010. Some tweaks were made the following year in response to privacy issues related to explicit art: admin post: image policy, identity protection, editorial procedures on October 3, 2011
- The first draft was posted 23 April 2010 and met with considerable resistance -- Draft of Image Policy for Discussion. The second draft was posted 21 October 2010: Image templates and Image Policy FAQ. The time in between was spent investigating technical shortcuts (none found), waiting for input from other committees, and rewriting into an FAQ format following Board recommendations. At one point, the Board also told Wiki to rewrite all of its existing policies in an FAQ format, and time was lost debating how to not have to do that.
- see her August 23, 2010 post disgruntled ratcreature is disgruntled
- ratcreature. communication/development of policies, 18 August 2010
- astolat. Board Post, 18 August 2010. To be fair, she responded after receiving cries for help from stressed-out Wiki Committee members. The Fanlore Dreamwidth community does not have explicit policies on what is and is not appropriate to post.
- See 18 Feb 2013 comment thread in "OTW Board Approves Meta Hosting on the AO3". See also the discussion on fail fandomanon, starting on 23 February 2013.
- So, Fanlore posted its new image policy...posted October 21, 2010, accessed November 12, 2011
- comment in why articles about zines need to be illustrated at all thread in fail-fandomanon dated March 2, 2013; WebCite.
- comment in why articles about zines need to be illustrated at all thread in fail-fandomanon dated March 2, 2013; WebCite.
- comment in why articles about zines need to be illustrated at all thread in fail-fandomanon dated March 5, 2013; WebCite.
- Source: Vel Jaeger, private e-mail correspondence to Morgan Dawn dated April 16, 2013 (quoted at her request).
- Marilyn Cole in private correspondence dated September 23 2010, quoted with permission.
- asdfghjkl When Darkness Sleeps Beside You tumblr post dated October 3, ????
- reni_m commenting in an untitled post, Dated April 7, 2011.
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- Alas, a high and growing proportion of these users are spambots, but Fanlore has a number of gardeners (17 as of November 3, 2011) who, with great satisfaction, block them and delete their edits.
- Fanlore: Special: Popular pages (accessed 25 April 2012)