Fan fiction archives, and the opposing natures of the Internet

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Title: Fan fiction archives, and the opposing natures of the Internet
Creator: cschick
Date(s): March 27, 2009
Medium: online
External Links: Fan fiction archives, and the opposing natures of the Internet, Archived version
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Fan fiction archives, and the opposing natures of the Internet is a 2009 essay by cschick.

Some Topics Discussed

From the Essay

The internet is an odd beast. It is this wonderful resource of "free" information at your fingertips. It preserves information in so many different ways, in so many different places, to the point where the idea that "if you don't want it available forever, don't post it" is valid.

But, in reality, it is not free. Mass amounts of money are required to drive this engine forward day-to-day. Search sites and data repositories like the All-Powerful Internet Archive may be free to you and me, but there is mass amounts of money going into supporting those server farms and paying for those pipes.

Those who have the money sustain indefinitely. Those who do not, or who no longer wish to dedicate the funds, eventually shut down. Maybe the site or its information passes to another, but maybe it does not.

This violates the diffuse theory of the Internet, as those that continue inherit or purchase the data from those who cannot sustain. It may weaken the Internet as a whole. But it also keeps that information available, even as it centralizes it.

We trust that the big centralizers of data will never stop paying for their pipes, will never stop maintaining their server farms, as we depend on them to keep information with possibly decreasing actual value available.

Fandom has both embraced and struggled with centralization. When dealing with something like fan fiction or graphic design or vids, it is both a blessing and a curse. Centralization gives new people a easy way into the historical information of a fandom. It gives people a place to reference, it gives people a place to return to. It ties the new to the old.

But in having that, it discourages diversity in storage. Maybe an author decides not to continue to maintain her own fan fiction page because she sees no reason to spend her funds and her energy on that task. Maybe an author feels comfortable retiring and taking her own site down, because people who want to can still access it at that central location.

And that, leads to putting a greater and greater responsibility on those who maintain that central location--as the site forever grows in size, the importance of that site not failing grows as well. is incorporated as some form of business. We know nothing about its internals, though--about how much of the ad revenue it generates goes into supporting the site, about what type of staff runs it and whether it is a sustainable company which can survive through staff turnover.

The OTW is organized as a donation-supported not-for-profit. I've had experience with those. Even ones that have a large base of support and required membership dues often start to fail when the founders start to burn out and retire. Just fund raising itself is at least a full-time job for one, if not a department employing multiple people and many volunteers on a regular basis. And it's a pretty thankless job too. I'm not saying it's not going to succeed, but I suspect the odds are against it.

And then you've got the volunteer run and supported sites. Ironically, despite being the sites probably most likely to eventually fail, the long-term ones still march on. Gossamer, Trekiverse. I think we still march on because there's been an honesty--we know that its by our work and our funds that our sites continue. We can't blame anyone or anything else. We can't blame the community members who fail to come through with money, the ad revenue that falters from month-to-month. It's all about us, and about our internal sense of responsibility. That's also why you don't see much turnover of these sites either, I suspect. They've already landed on people with guilt complexes and obscene senses of responsibility.

Maybe decentralization driven by each individual member of fandom is the answer. But, most decentralization efforts really come to depend on other centralization efforts. Archiving your fan fiction on LiveJournal, or posting your vid to YouTube are just part of other types of centralization. You're depending on a big company without fannish connections to first accept the validity of your content and its right to exist on its service, and you're depending on it not to go out of business. The bigger the company and the better its connections, maybe the better the possibility it will sustain indefinitely. But wasn't that the idea behind LiveJournal's sale to SixApart and eventually to SUP? Again, both heading further toward some form of centralization, and exposing the weakness of that type of centralization.

Everything ends, eventually. We make our decisions and direct our struggles to push that end out into the indeterminate future . . . but one day, it will happen.