Fandom 1994-2000-ish/Part Three

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In March 2012, Arduinna posted an article on her Dreamwidth journal about some fannish memories. The topic: the period from about 1994-2000 with a focus on mailing-list-based Western media fandom.

It is reposted on Fanlore with permission.

Time to talk about actual mailing lists!

Mailing lists changed over time; in a lot of ways, this goes back to "the medium defined the message" again.

(I'm going to caveat here and say: some of this information is 18 years old and got dug out of very dusty corners of my mind. This is all to the best of my recollection, but take that with a grain or six of salt, please.)

A brief history of lists

In the mid-90s, there were only two ways to own a true mailing list: • Be affiliated with a university that offered mailing lists to its members (faculty, staff - I don't think undergrads had the ability to create lists)This was the oldest, most established way to run a list. • Own your own server and install mailing list software on it, or know someone who had their own server who was willing to let you run lists off it. This was the first small step in the widening of fandom, as it was slightly easier to own/run a list this way, although the number of people who were able to do so was limited.

The other way to run something that functioned as a mailing list, even though it wasn't, quite, was to make a "reflector" list, where you were the central clearinghouse that people sent their messages to, and once a day or so you'd redirect the incoming "list" mail out to everyone on the distribution list. This worked fine, but was slower than a true mailing list.

That was it.

On the downside, that meant there weren't that many lists, and you just had to hope that someone with the right connections was into the same shows you were and was willing to run a list for them. If something happened and a list owner shut down a list, that was it; the fandom could well dissipate, if no one else had the ability to start a list, and tell people where it was.

On the upside, it meant that everyone was playing in the same sandbox. It resulted in a fair amount of friction in a lot of cases, but it also meant that the entire fandom hung out together, and everyone got exposed to all sorts of opinions and takes on canon. It made things feel a lot more cohesive, even if it was driving you out of your mind and making you stay up too late typing up responses to people who were SO WRONG omg.


It really did make for a sense of community, though. People expected to hear different opinions; people were expected to behave civilly. There was no "take your toys and leave" -- there was nowhere else to go (other than the newsgroups, of course). The main list in most fandoms was a place where everyone had a voice, equal to everyone else's voice.

Of course, people still wanted to hang out more intensely with people who thought the same way they did, and what happened there was email loops -- small groups of people who chatted privately amongst themselves about their preferred pairing or canon interpretation or whatever, while the main list chatted more generally. But it was a fair bet that anyone in the fandom, even peripherally, knew in general what was going on on the main list.

Even if you didn't like a list's particular culture, you stuck it out, or just left. The idea of making a second general/main list for a fandom was unsettling, and really implied the breaking of the fandom.

(The exception here, as with many things, was slash; slash was seldom welcome on main lists, which were considered general-audiences, while slash was considered to be always-adult even for the most innocuous observations. So there could be a main list and a slash list without anyone thinking it was breaking the fandom.)

By mid-1997, Onelist had arrived, allowing anyone to make a list for any topic, and by early 1998, fans were using it more and more, although not without some rumbles. Some people were worried because Onelist lists were public -- anyone could see what they were and what they were about, and just sub themselves to it, ack. "Regular" lists were safer, more under the radar where fandom belonged.

In summer 1998, eGroups started gaining users, although most fans stayed on Onelist. The two merged in 1999 (to a fair amount of crankiness from a lot of fans, who preferred Onelist); by that time, people were using these "public" web-based lists to create main-list lists for their fandoms, and starting lists for any show (or whaever) that caught their fancy, without necessarily waiting for a critical mass of interested people. Then in 2000, pretty much just as fans had finished adapting to eGroups and started to get fond of it, Yahoo bought eGroups and turned them into Yahoo Groups (to even more crankiness).

This was a lot of shakeup in a short period, but fandom had been doing even more internal shaking up. The advent of simple, web-based mailing lists that absolutely anyone could start/own/run changed the face of mailing-list-based fandom.

Lists exploded, basically, and by 2000 or so you could find one for anything you wanted, down to particular tropes for particular characters or pairings.

Which was great for being able to tailor discussions! But it meant that newer fandoms were starting out more splintered from the get-go, and it was harder and harder to get a full-fandom experience. We called it the balkanization of fandom, and while it was a natural result of fandom's steady growth, it was also sort of sad; no one's ever going to have that full-fandom experience again.

General List Etiquette

Many lists had list-specific rules, but there were some general netiquette rules that tended to apply across the board.

Basically, they boiled down to: Be relevant, and don't be a jackass.

Being relevant meant staying on topic; stripping unnecessary cruft from your posts (long sigs, ascii art, most -- but not all -- of the post you were responding to, leaving just enough to provide relevant context for your comments); posting only substantive things (i.e., no "me too" or "me either" posts; those could go off-list).

"Don't be a jackass" meant you shouldn't be a jackass. (Don't flame, don't troll, don't forward list mail elsewhere, etc.)

There were a lot of unwritten rules, too, that people were supposed to absorb. That was easier in the early days, when the Internet rule of thumb was "lurk for a month before you say anything"; between that and fandom being smaller in general, people could absorb list and fandom culture before they started participating.

Gen v Het v Slash

The lines between all of these were much clearer in the 90s. Gen was far and away the biggest part of fandom, and for most fandoms, if there was a "big" or "main" list, it was gen. (The only exception I can think of offhand was Professionals, which was always mainly a slash fandom, and only in the past decade gained a stronger gen side.)

Het ("adult", although by the time I got online people were already calling it het, and "adult" was on its way out and/or being reclaimed as "explicitly sexual" for either het or slash) was next in line, and was pretty well accepted.

Slash was known and mostly tolerated, but usually not on the main list, and often not on the fic lists; you would need to get a separate slash fic list. (This wasn't every fandom, and in fact in several fandoms, the mixing of slash in with the other fanfic brought a lot of people who thought they were gen fans into the slash fold. But the strict separation did happen in places.)

Most "main" or "big" lists were gen, there to talk about the show as a whole, not specific relationships per se. Slash was pretty far under the table at the time; you could find out about it, but you didn't really talk about it publicly. If you were a slash fan you got good at picking up on hints and suggestions and gravitating toward your own kind (and then you'd find a general slash list, and exult.) sherrold told the story of how, in 1995, someone on the Due South list asked if anyone was into slash, and not a single person spoke up -- even though there were a whole lot of slash fans on that list. You just didn't go public with it except to other slash fans (we were all pretty good at hinting around and picking up cues, if it came to it).

Eventually some gen lists were "slash-friendly", where a slash fan could mention slash and not get yelled at for it; conversely, some slash lists were "gen-friendly", where you didn't have to make sure you were talking about a slash pairing, and could safely rec a good gen story without worrying about getting yelled at for it. ("Yelled at" meaning "someone snarks at you", mostly.) But they were still mostly geared toward one or the other.

Not every fandom could support an entire slash list, and there were sources out there that had mainly a handful of slash fans interested, but not enough for a full list of any kind. Multi-fandom slash lists came into play there. The grandmother of them all was Virgule, the first slash list on the net, started up in 1992. It was private and invite-only, though, so wasn't available to most fans.

By the Mid-90s, There Were Other Options

Slash-sis started up around 1995 by Jenny S., with a core of Garak/Bashir fans, I think, but was open to anyone and anything, and got very big and busy, very fast.

Slashpoint started up in October 1996 and grew to about 200 members (pretty damn big for a slash list of the day). This was the slash list that devoured slash fandom; volume tailed off sharply on both Slash-sis and Virgule as people focused on Slashpoint.

There was also "slash" on Onelist. which was a fluffier list than Slashpoint; allslash (for fic) and allslash-d for discussion, rareslash...

I have no idea if the gen or het side of things was developing multi-fandom gen lists or not, but the slashers were forming list-based communities all over the place.

Public and Private Lists

Public lists were ones anyone could join; if you knew the subscribe addy or could find it on one of the free web-based services, you were good. Some of these may have been a bit under the radar to keep membership limited, but people were allowed to tell their friends about them, and you could just email the admin to say you'd like to join, and usually you could. I wound up on a lot of small lists like that, from mentioning fandoms on public lists, and having people email me offlist to say "hey, if you like Starsky and Hutch, you should join [list name I'm redacting because apparently it's still private, heh]!" or whatever.

Private lists were invite-only, and existed for a number of reasons. Some were groups of friends; some were because TPTB wanted to be kept away from any hint of fanfic (famously, J. Michael Strazynski, resulting in the Unrest B5 list); some were snarky; some were closed writer's groups; some were because of fandom wars (the Ray Wars resulted in a bunch of invite-only lists); some were to save bandwidth on the main list so people could go off-topic as much as they wanted, etc.

Some of these were well-known -- the Sunnydale Slayers, for instance -- while others were not just private, but secret, never mentioned publicly (such as Virgule-L).

You could get an invitation to a private list in a couple of ways. If you were active on a public list and the private list-members or owners liked what you had to say, they might email you to invite you based on that. More commonly, you'd be having offlist conversations with people, and after a while someone would invite you to a list that they were on, because they'd interacted with you enough to know you'd fit in.

I was a newbie with zero connections, and inside two years had been invited onto secret/private/invite-only lists in four fandoms and at least two pan-fandom-ish private lists; within another two years, I was on probably half a dozen or a dozen more, and was running one of my own; I'm technically still running two (one fandom-specific, one pan-fandom), although both are dead. As long as you were willing to talk to people, you found out about things. The main barrier to entry was saying "oh, yeah, that sounds cool, I'd love an invite, thanks!

What Did People Talk About, Anyway?

People talked about everything. Most lists had rules against posting off-topic material, to keep things relevant for everyone, but there was a lot of stuff that was relevant.

Fandom was far more focused on ep discussion back then; fanfic et al were part of fandom, but not actually the focus the way they are today. People were as well known for their in-depth analyses of canon as for their epic case fic. Every week would bring a list-wide discussion of that week's episode (with the usual caveat that only 5-20% of a list's membership would be actively posting; as with most things, most people were lurkers), breaking down what people had and hadn't liked, how the ep tied in to other episodes, what the arcs were shaping up to be (if there were any), you name it.

There were also intense discussions about what constituted canon. We didn't have DVD extras, or deleted movie scenes, or even really interview moments where the creators said that they intended X or Y (okay, we had some of that, but mostly IIRC fandom in general wasn't interrogating TPTB for their interpretaion of things; we were interpreting what we saw).

What we did have, in some cases, was different versions of the same shows.

For instance, if you were a Highlander fan, you wanted to get your hands on the Eurominutes episodes; if you were a Forever Knight fan, you wanted the Canadian episodes.

In both cases, the non-US version had several more minutes of footage, because the show was created for both countries and the US versions had to be chopped up more for more commercials.

This led to debates about what constituted canon, as well; if different people were literally seeing different things on screen, which things counted as actual canon? Was it only the material that everyone had seen? If so, that meant that only the US version was true canon. Or was it everything that aired, or rather that was meant to air, or whatever – Europe and Canada got more scenes, or more seconds at least, so were those extra scenes also canon, even though many fans never got the chance to see them?

A question for the ages, really.

I am going to blatantly copy part of my writeup for Slashpoint on Fanlore to get into some of the other things that came up fairly regularly on lists: During its active years, like other pan-fandom lists of the time, Slashpoint was a clearinghouse of information and discussion. It had announcements of new public lists and archives; announcements of personal websites (or updates of same); requests for betas; zine and vidtape announcements; mentions of articles in the press or academia (both rare, at the time); rants on bad writing and crappy grammar; show-pimping posts; (plaintive) requests for tapes; personal-address changes (how else would we keep track of each other?); slashy actor gossip; con reports; informative links to or quotes from gay sites; philosophical discussions on how people's nationalities affected their fanfic (and slightly less philosophical discussions on using Brit or Aussie English for American shows, or vice versa); spirited discussions of whether criticism was a good thing or not; anime and manga (and yaoi and shounen ai, etc.); the legalities of fanfic; sexual and gender identity; you name it, people talked about it. The list even occasionally had fanfic, including round robins, although fanfic wasn't technically allowed.

That description sums up most lists, really, except that on a show-specific list, you'd get tons of canon discussion as well, and fic and zine reviews, and somewhat less other-show-pimping. But announcements, and updates, and grammar pet peeves, and story pet peeves, and "trapped on an island" fic lists, and legalities, and identity... it was all there, and more.


The one big exception to "people talked about everything" was RPF.

RPF was forbidden on most fic lists, and really on most discussion lists as well, even as a topic of discussion. This was not out of prudery or anything, even though it was not generally as kindly looked upon then as it was today.

It was for fear of legal liability, and with reason. I don't know how many people remember this, or even knew about it, but on the Forever Knight lists there was a story posted in the mid-90s that involved Tori Spelling. it wasn't erotica; it was a gen story, which described her in a manner consistent with the press reports of the day, shall we say. It was posted to be fic list, and I believe it was archived on the FTP archive site.

And her lawyers found out about it. They contacted the university on whose servers the lists were run, and told them that there would be action for libel if the story was not removed immediately. The university contacted the list owner, who promptly took down the story, and created a rule that no fiction would be allowed to have a real person in it, without that real person's written permission. (This was huge, in FK fandom; every year there was a gigantic fandom-wide round-robin that was all about the real list members. The new rule meant there had to be “permission slips” from every person who wanted to participate.)

In those days, it was really hard to own a mailing list. If the university had shut down the Forever Knight lists, the fandom might well have vanished. The list owner had to comply with the request, and make sure that the list was in no danger from future action.

This spread as a cautionary tale to other list owners, who instituted similar rules, for similar reasons. After a while the story itself was forgotten, but the list culture standard of no RPF was pretty entrenched by then, and most lists almost automatically had a rule about it, the same as the age statement rules for lists that involve slash. It was just how it was done. RPF writers, as far as I know, were writing away, but the stories circulated hand-to-hand underneath even fandom's radar.

Most mailing lists I'm on still have rules about no RPF, for that matter.


Spoilers in general were harder to come by in the 90s; if you wanted spoilers, you had to actively seek them out.

Most lists had spoiler rules, although they could vary from list to list. What constituted a spoiler was particularly flexible; on some lists, it was anything that had aired within the last day or two and after that anything was fair game, while on other lists episodes were under spoiler protection for anywhere from a week to a month, and upcoming previews might also be protected.

Interviews, magazine articles, etc. were also a matter of list policy; on some lists they were considered spoilers because not everyone sought out that information, while on others they weren't because they were easily available to anyone.

The way spoiler information was presented was also up to each list, but there was a general format that many lists followed. You had to announce that you were going to be giving a spoiler up front (without saying what the spoiler was, of course -- no saying "Spoilers for Daddy Dief!"), usually in the subject line, then within the body of the post, you had to leave several lines of "spoiler space" so that if someone accidentally opened the message (or their preview pane automatically showed them their message), they wouldn't inadvertantly be spoiled.

When I came into fandom, 10 lines was enough space; this climbed to 20 lines as monitor resolution rose and more of the message was likely to be visible.

For safety, it was best to put a character of some sort on every line, because html-enabled email clients deleted empty lines. So to talk about Daddy Dief, your email would look something like this: To: [email protected] From: [email protected] Subject: Spoilers for Wild Bunch

s p o i l e r s p a c e

Puppies! Dief has puppies! That was too cute. Think he'll settle down now that he's a family wolf?

Mary Sue

Anyone who responded to you would leave your spoiler space intact, and answer underneath your comment.

Posting Fanfic

This was pretty much just... posting fanfic, but there were a few differences.

Warnings were not standard or mandatory, and only slowly started to creep in, starting with death stories.

Posting WIPs was not very common; people posted in parts because AOL's email systems couldn't handle large posts, but generally speaking, the stories were completed before they got posted, and they all got posted at once (or at most, spread out over a few days, to keep from spamming a list).

I think it was the rise of that brought in the idea of posting WIPs one chapter at a time, but it was generally frowned on on mailing lists for a long time, not least because the people who did it at the time were often demanding feedback and saying that if they didn't get enough/the right kind, they'd stop writing.

TPTB on the Lists

Many PTB knew about fandom and mailing lists (and newsgroups), and would come hang out and sometimes participate. The list owners would verify their identity and let people know that yes, this really was [Whoever].

On DSOUTH-L, the original Due South discussion list, Due South script coordinator Scott Cooper was a member of the list, and due to the close relationship between the production office and the mailing list, there was a strict "no fan fiction" policy on the discussion list." (quote taken wholesale from Fanlore)

On the Forever Knight lists, Nigel Bennet (who played LaCroix) lurked; everyone knew it, and people kept their more personal (ahem) commentary about LaCroix mostly offlist or in fanfic. Fred Mollin, the FK music guy, was also on the list, and was a bit more active. That paid off for him, as people really liked him; when he finally put out the soundtrack, he announced it on the list, and asked people to buy direct from the distributor to show them that there was enough interest to put the CD out there. I was game, and called the number he gave us, and very politely told the operator "Hi, I'd like to buy one of your soundtrack CDs..." and she started laughing and said, "Let me guess, Forever Knight? We've had a few calls!"

J. Michael Strazinsky hung out on the newsgroups, and requested up front that no one post fanfic to any group he was on (he didn't lurk, he always announced his presence) so he didn't run into issues of writing an episode that echoed a fan story and having people think he'd stolen the idea. The fans respected that and kept B5 fanfic out of sight, so he couldn't stumble across it accidentally.

So there was a fair amount of it, and for the most part it worked out okay as long as everyone knew what was going on. (And as long as the PTB in question wasn't Aaron Sorkin, the big baby.)

Getting/Trading Source

There was a lot of source-trading going on, all the time. It was slower than today, but it was efficient (given the technological limits) and commonplace, and you didn't have to be friends with someone to trade source with them. It all happened on analog hard copy; everyone was on dialup, no one had any real digital storage space, and there was no such thing as torrents. (You didn't have to have source to trade; you could trade them blank tapes, if they were willing, or cash to cover the cost of the tapes they sent you.) There was also very little in the way of professional source to draw on.

Pro VHS tapes were very expensive in the 90s, when they happened at all, which was rare – it could cost $100-150 per season. (I’m specifically thinking of Highlander here, but it was true of other shows as well.)

When DVDs came out in the early 2000s, they were also very expensive – again around $100-150 per season, and that’s if you got the whole season at once. Many shows were released one disc at a time, at roughly $40/disc – at 4-5 eps per disc over a 26-episode show, you were looking at ~$250 for the full season. They also came out years after the show aired.

I now regularly buy full seasons of TV for less than I paid for one disc of one season of TV 10 years ago, usually within months of the air dates.

Anyway, so. No easily available pro source, which left fans relying on themselves and other fans to record things and then make copies of them.

So what you did was buy blank VHS tapes. Lots of them. In the 70s, this was ludicrously expensive; in the 80s, it was very expensive (I bought a blank tape in the 80s to tape some shows on. I think it cost me $15-20 for the one tape, and I used it over and over and over.) By the mid-90s, tapes were "cheap"; you could buy a package of 3 tapes for around $10-15, I think.

(Caveat: I honestly don't remember exactly how much I paid for tapes in regular stores in the early/mid-90s, so that's a guess, but it feels about right. Lower-quality tapes would be cheaper, higher-quality tapes would be pricier, and the type of store you bought them in would affect the price as well. Buying tapes individually probably ran about $5/tape. I don't think you could get packages of more than 6 tapes in regular stores, which probably ran about $20-25. By the late 90s/early 00s, I was buying packs of 9 tapes for $14 at Costco, a discount warehouse store.)

All you needed to tape your own shows was a VCR. You would tape everything you could: any show you liked (the more you liked it, the higher quality you taped it at), any movie playing on tv you thought you might like, any series pilot you thought sounded at least vaguely interesting, because you couldn't be sure of a repeat. (This was before the days when everything repeated all the time. For a lot of shows, you got one real shot, and if you missed it, you crossed your fingers that they re-ran it all in the summer and you remembered to catch it.)

There was a running cultural joke at the time that no one knew how to program their VCR, everyone just had a flashing clock on the front.

Fan clocks didn't flash.

But recording for yourself is never enough. For one thing, you probably only had the ability to record one thing at a time, so if there was a conflict (curse you, Strange Luck vs. Due South!), you missed something. You might need just one ep you missed; or a full season as it aired; or to get hold of a season of older tv you'd heard about and wanted to check out.

That's where tape trading came in.

You could ask onlist if anyone had the episodes you needed; some people also served as clearinghouses, making full sets of episodes for many many people. You would send enough money to cover the cost of tapes plus shipping, or in some cases you'd send enough blank tapes to replace the ones being sent to you, and then you'd get your eps.

If someone was taping a live season for you, you'd have to wait 2-6 weeks between tape deliveries, depending on how they were recording it (high quality was 2 hours per tape; low quality was 6 hours per tape).

If there was a special tape out there -- someone got hold of bloopers, or there was a spliced-together tape of con footage, or something -- it would make the rounds of a fandom via a tape tree.

Whoever had the original copy -- Person A -- would announce that they were doing a tape tree for it, and ask interested people to send them their mailing addresses. Once there was a list, Person A would make a copy and send that to the first person on the list, Person B, along with a copy of the full list. (They could send their original, but it wouldn't be smart, since things get lost in the mail. Also, the more you play a tape, the more it degrades; it's safer to keep a master copy as pristine as possible.)

B would make a copy, cross their name off the list, and send the "original" (the copy sent to them) to Person C. C would do the same, and on down the line, with the original second-generation copy traveling from hand to hand and being copied.

If there was a lot of interest, Person A might make several direct second-gen copies of their original and start multiple branches of the tape tree, both to get things moving faster and to make sure that the quality stayed as high as possible.

If you wanted to copy your tapes for someone else (or get a copy of a tape-tree tape), you needed a second VCR and the right cables to hook them together. When I started out in fandom, I had to research this on my own; the guys at Radio Shack had never heard of such a thing, and had no idea what I meant by hooking two VCRs together. (The guys at Tweeter, a high-end electronics store, knew what I was talking about, but I couldn't afford their equipment.)

If you were a vidder, you needed much higher-end equipment; I wasn't, and could get by with basic VCRs (four-head, always four-head! two-head were crap.) I actually still have my original Fisher 4-head VCR, which still works.

Anyway, so, copying. The thing with VHS tapes (and cassettes, for that matter) is that every time you play them, they degrade a little bit. Every time you pause them, you stretch the tape a little bit. And every copy you make is lower quality than what you're copying from.

What you got off the air and onto a tape was the first generation, sometimes called a master. The first copy you made of that tape was the second generation; this would be very nearly the same quality as the first-gen tape, and sometimes people would use that as their "master" for making copies for other people, to preserve the quality of their first-gen tapes.

VHS tapes could be recorded at three speeds: SP, or "slow play", which was two hours of footage at the highest quality; LP, or "long play", which was four hours at medium quality; EP, or "extended play", which was six hours at low (but watchable) quality. Most fans recorded at either SP or EP. Apparently everyone else did, too, because by the early 00s it was hard to find a VCR that could record in LP.

(Eventually they developed "8-hour" tapes, which had a little more tape on the spool; you could get 160 minutes at SP or 8 hours at EP. The downside was that the tape had to be thinner to fit more on the standard spools, so the quality degraded more quickly with repeated viewings. These got used, but the default was the 6-hour tapes; most people wanted the better quality unless they were just checking out a show for fun. It wasn't much of a cost savings, as the 8-hour tapes cost more to begin with; basically all it saved was a little space on the shelf.)

If someone made you copies, the absolute best you could hope for was second-gen SP tapes, if they had original, off-air SP tapes to work from. You were more likely to be getting third- or fourth-gen tapes; if your fandom was a show that aired in another country, you were probably looking at 5-10 generations down. By that point, people pretty much stopped counting, and called it nth-generation.

Seasons lasted for 26 episodes back then, so if you had a favorite show you wanted to keep in high quality, you needed 13 tapes -- $45-65. You could get the same show onto 4 regular EP tapes (if you cut out commercials; otherwise, you needed 5 tapes to get the last couple of episodes) for roughly $15.

Cutting out commercials was a personal choice; it was a lot harder than doing it with a digital file. Doing it on your master/off-air tape as you created it meant sitting there with a remote in your hand (or your hand on the machine itself), waiting for the beat that indicated the show was going to commercial and hit pause, watching the commercials, and guessing when the show was about to start up again and hit pause again to release. If you screwed it up, you could cut out dialogue or important footage.

Doing it on a second-generation tape was theoretically easier, since you could just stay paused till the show started up again, then rewind a bit and release the pause -- but every time you rewind and replay the tape, it degrades a little more, and you could start to get soft spots in the tape. (Sadly, this meant that rewatching your favorite scene over and over would result in a fuzzier and fuzzier scene.)

Cutting out credits had the same technical issues, but also brought in issues between people who thought credits, especially end-credits, were useless, and people who thought they were an integral part of the show.

... And that is more about tape-duping than anyone would ever want to know. Moving right along...

So I will wrap up with:

Getting to Know People on Lists

I was in an IRC channel a year or two ago, and someone mentioned in passing that she didn't know how anyone had met people back in the mailing list days; there was a general round of agreement. I was a little baffled, as I knew everyone in that channel from our mailing list days. It just wasn't that hard, if you were willing to talk to people (and if you're not willing to talk to people, you're not going to get to know them anywhere, no matter the venue.)

You made friends on mailing lists during list conversations when you got into arguments or discussions and riffed off each other and basically had a grand old time talking about things; eventually you started taking your conversations offlist and just going to town on everything under the sun.

You made friends when you wrote someone off list to send them a "me too" response to something they'd said, and maybe elaborated a little bit about how much you agreed with them, and they wrote back, and it kept going from there. Or when someone sent you a note off list thanking you for a post you'd made, and touching on something that really mattered to you.

You made friends when you sent someone feedback for a story, and she responded to you, because you had said something specific about what they did that they could respond to. That could be enough to start a conversation that would turn into a years long friendship. Or when someone sent feedback to you and picked out something you were particularly proud of -- or something you hadn't even noticed -- and it made you itch to talk more in-depth about it.

You made friends by offering to beta for someone, or asking someone to beta for you.

You made friends by borrowing or loaning zines to someone, and talking with them about the stories; you made friends by trading tapes, and letting them suck you into a new fandom (or vice versa).

You didn't make friends every single time any of those things happened; more often than not, it would be a single exchange. But not always; sometimes you really clicked.

Basically, there was a lot of off-list conversation going on all the time, among all sorts of people, and you could be carrying on 20 conversations with 20 different people at any given time. And at the same time you would be carrying on public conversations on the main list, possibly with all of those people.

And you didn't just know people online. You had snail mail addresses from trading tapes, and sometimes people would stick little extras in to make things more cheerful. People would pay attention to birthdays (some lists had opt-in "birthday lists", and every birthday would be announced so everyone could chime in to wish someone a happy birthday, even). People would exchange phone numbers and run up massive phone bills (back when long distance calls cost a fortune).

People organized local gatherings of fans where you could meet people in person; people met up at cons across the world. People planned vacations around visits to online friends.

It just wasn't that different from the way it is now. You saw someone whose posts you liked, and you responded to them.

And that is my incredibly long, yet incredibly brief and incomplete, look at fandom on mailing lists.



Arduinna's essay stirred up many memories and generated much interest which is reflected in the multiple comments on her DW post. A selection of the longer discussion threads have been broken out below into rough thematic categories. Note that there may be overlap in some of these threads/discussions. Click on the links below to read further. Go to the original post to read all comments.[1]


  1. ^ WebCite for Comments Page 1; WebCite for Comments Page 2; WebCite for Comments Page 3.
  2. ^ WebCite for "'s the end of this third post -- the part about making friends -- that makes me all misty-eyed..."
  3. ^ WebCite for On the extent of gen fandom in The Professionals and the need for similar posts on non-Western media and/or non-slash traditions.
  4. ^ WebCite for "... I actually find it harder to get to know people now than I ever did during our mailing-list days."
  5. ^ WebCite for On invite-only mailing lists, RPF in Usenet days, the outrageous cost for commercial TV episodes on VHS tape, and age restrictions in fandom spaces.
  6. ^ WebCite for How the essay is generating a wave of nostalgic posts.
  7. ^ WebCite for Lack of computer skills in the 1990s kept many fans from finding slash fandom; making up for lost time.
  8. ^ WebCite for On age statements (and lying about one's age); VHS videotape copy trees.
  9. ^ WebCite for International VHS videotape trees were often the only way for fans in other countries to watch shows.
  10. ^ WebCite for On Forever Knight fandom's first RPF story; meeting your life partner through fandom.
  11. ^ WebCite for "...My whole life as it is now is from those email list/IRC days...."
  12. ^ WebCite for On webrings, spoiler spaces, Y!groups, efiction and listening to the Song of the 56k modem.
  13. ^ WebCite for "...early anime/manga fandom worked in a similar fashion to what you've described..."
  14. ^ WebCite for Star Trek newsgroups, the Star Trek gen and slash divide, and the formation of the K/S Fanfiction Archive.
  15. ^ WebCite for "...oh my god, the tribulations of VHS!.." and " of my best fannish experiences...was when torch posted a new XF story, one part a day..."
  16. ^ WebCite for On founding and moderating the glass-onion, a multi-fandom mailing list.
  17. ^ WebCite for "...Because fuck that: I knew how to program my VCR and everyone else's..."
  18. ^ WebCite for On having to buy both a NTSC and a PAL-capable VHS player.
  19. ^ WebCite for I am "...noticing how I got into fandom in the mid-to-late 90s...and how those experiences have shaped my attitudes as a fan."