Fandom 1994-2000-ish/Part Two

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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.

Finding Fandom

It wasn't easy to stumble over fandom in the 1990s if you didn't have a specific interest in it. Which doesn't mean it was hard to find!

But fandom wasn't being talked about on tv, or in random newspaper/magazine articles, or being linked to off mainstream sites. Media companies weren't hosting forums to try to corral people's fannishness into appropriate venues, where like-minded people could easily find each other and link off to other more fannish sites; mostly TPTB were sending C&Ds to people who posted pictures of their show, and being very wary of this whole "world wide web" thing that was taking control away from them.

"If you click that link, it will look different than my image; I made my browser's background black before I took the screenshot, so it would look the way it did originally. There were an awful lot of black-background XF sites around then..."

Most fans were careful never to publicly link back to (or even mention) fan sites, to protect each other. If there was a newspaper article about us somewhere, it got talked about and linked (or quoted, if it wasn't online) all over the place, as something rare and strange and worrying (journalists almost always got it wrong, for one thing).

(Fifteen years later, I still twitch when I see people linking to archives or vid sites or individual fanworks in public forums, particularly media-controlled forums. The instinct to hide was instilled that strongly.)

And really, everything, not just fandom, was out of sight in the very early days. The web was brand new, small, and scattered, and consisted of lots of little pockets of interest that weren't very well connected. Search engines were in their infancy, as well, and not everything was indexed.

But pretty much, all you had to do was look around on the web or Usenet for your preferred source's title, and you would manage to find something that would point you in the right direction.

Online Services Companies

I never really used any of these services, so these were outside my realm of experience, but hunting around for links for this post reminded me of them. AOL, Prodigy, GeNIE, CompuServe, even Microsoft Network (?? I have no idea, I don't remember that at all), all had various fan sections where you could find like-minded people. These could include files, message boards, chats, etc.

Here's a list of online services with Due South content as of 1999.[1]

I'm pretty sure that in all of those cases, though, you were siloed into that one area; you could only interact with other people on the same service.

Links Pages

The early web was much less search-based and much more links-based; with search engines only moderately useful, you depended on people linking to things, and fandom took that to heart and linked everything it could find.

Some links pages were found on personal websites that included a lot of other things; some were standalone links pages specifically designed to be a portal to a particuar fandom.

One was a standalone site started up in 1996 and designed to be a portal to all of fandom, and all of fandom owed it a huge debt: KS Nicholas's Fandom on the Net[2]/Fan Fiction on the Net[3]. She was such a godsend to fandom in the mid-to-late 90s, I can't even tell you.

Mega Site: Fandom/Fan Fiction on the Net

I think Karen's Fan Fiction on the Net[4] links page was the first to appear. It included individual author pages, archives, etc. Over the next three years, this grew to mammoth proportions and was getting millions of hits, as one of the key gateways to fandom. Everyone used her site; people would send her links to their pages to be added, because it was the single best way to make sure people would find your stuff. Search engines of the day were sort of iffy, but Karen never let you down.

By her last update in August 1999, the site covered a huge swath of fandom: tv, books, movies, anime & manga, comics & cartoons, soaps, and music; had separate sections for adult (= het) and slash (gen was the decided majority at the time in most fandoms); had specific sections for Star Trek (all versions, broken out by version and other things) and X-Files; broke down things like the ST, XF, and Slash pages into even smaller categories so you could find all sorts of things, from fic to mailing lists to review sites to zines to "articles", which were essays/meta about slash and fandom in general.

The Fandom on the Net pages led to a treasure trove of non-fanfic sites: convention pages, official pages, fandom-specific information pages (episode guides, character listings, anything like that), Yahoo search directories, newsgroups, fan awards sites, fan directories, gaming, SFF, etc., and included a link to the web-based Fannish Email Directory [5] .

This was all pre-Wikipedia and wikis in general, so fans created their own information sources, and some of them were hugely popular. (Writing this up, I've just rediscovered The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5 [6], which I haunted for a while there. <3 )

The Wayback version of Karen's site is an astonishing snapshot of what fandom on the net looked like in the late 90s, and how we kept track of ourselves.

Medium Sized, General-Fandom Links Pages

The fandom-specific gateway links pages generally tried to give the most comprehensive set of links possible to a fandom; they often linked to other links pages in the same fandom, to help cover any holes.

The links would cover everything: author pages, archives, newsgroups, drinking games, fan clubs, mailing lists, resource pages -- if it was related to the fandom, even just by way of a crossover, it would probably get included.

Here's a gigantic screenshot of an X-Files links page -- click through the picture for the scrollable version. (The Wayback archived version lost the black background, so it's hard to see the links on the page itself now.) It's worth checking it out, to see how varied everything was, and how complete. (I recognize a lot of those author names, and I was never even all that involved in X-Files fandom...)

"Source: a 1997 cache of the page X-File Fan Fiction Links, found on Wayback Same as before, I made my browser background black for this shot."

If you notice a lack of art and vids there, it's because in the mid-90s there was little art and no vids up online. Fan artists were still mostly sending their art to zines and art shows, and it was the late 90s to early 2000s before there started to be a strong fanart web presence; and vidders were distributing vids on VHS tapes, and didn't start vidding digitally in any real numbers until the early 2000s (and even then, slow connections and crappy compression meant a lot of vidders didn't want to post their work online immediately).

The exception to the comprehensive-links idea here is the gen|het|slash divide; a lot of gen fans simply wouldn't link to slash materials or information in the mid-90s, and sometimes not to adult het, either, even on pages meant to be gateways. In return, other links pages would have only slash-related links on them, as a way to make sure people could find the slash, on the theory that there were already gen-heavy links pages out there.

Smaller, More Personal Links Pages

The smaller pages were more curated, generally; where Karen would add anything anyone sent her, and fandom-wide pages tried to cover an entire fandom, a person's individual links page was often to pages that she personally liked, so it functioned as a recs page for sites, pretty much -- tiny little goldmines if you found someone whose tastes overlapped yours.

They linked to many of the same categories as the larger pages, but only their favorites. Ah, here we go -- I was looking for something else, and stumbled over this Links page, last updated in 2001 [7] -- this is a great look at a curated, thorough links list.

So really, by the late 90s, it was very easy to find fandom in general, and new fandoms if you wanted more than the one you started with. You just had to be willing to look. Fans everywhere were doing the work of laying trails for you to follow with as little effort as possible.

Recs Pages

There were also actual recs pages, to point you at good stories to read; some of the best known multi-fandom recs pages in my end of fandom in the mid-late 90s were torch's recommendations (alas, now gone, it looks like - that's what I was looking for when I hit Kestrelsan's links page) and All Jewels Have Flaws, sherrold's recs page. A few years later, Polyamorous Recs [8] joined the fray, and became a go-to recs page for a lot of fandom; it's still going strong today.

Webrings

Anyone could add their site to a webring, which were set up along topic lines, usually. Once you hit one site on a webring, you could navigate through all the other sites by clicking "next" as you went. Multi-fannish sites could have multiple webrings on them, so you could find all sorts of things.

Fanlistings

I admit, I never quite got the point of these, but you could add your name to a web-based fanlisting for a show or character or actor, and then you'd be on the list of fans. Some included mailto links for emailing members, or website links, so you could contact people or go look at their sites if you wanted. Lots of people loved these.

Where the Fans were Talking

Discussion was the primary function of fandom in the 90s, at least in my corners of it; fanfic was great and got devoured, but it was secondary to talking about the show. (Although for that matter, we also talked about the fanfic.) While there were people who only wanted the fic and ignored the discussions, there were also people who only wanted the discussions and ignored the fic. And where today someone watching an episode might think "I wonder what would have happened if he'd accepted the coffee?" and write a 600-word snippet about it, back in the day they were as likely to post the question to their preferred discussion place and start a conversation about it that could last for days. (Or vanish without a ripple. You never knew.) So fans were talking all over the place, and there was a good chance you could find a format that worked for you; if you didn't want to talk, you could lurk and watch other people talking. Like anything else, it was 5-15% of the people doing the talking in most places, while everyone else lurked.

Newsgroups

Newsgroups were the easiest thing to find, if you had a newsreader and if your ISP or workplace allowed the alt.* or rec.* levels of Usenet [9]. Newsgroups were very active during the 90s, and there was a newsgroup for practically anything you could think of, with more being added all the time. By the mid-to-late 90s the open nature of newsgroups meant they were getting bombarded with spam, though, so moderated newsgroups (like ASCEM -- still kicking, btw) started showing up, and people were shifting more to mailing lists, which had far less spam on them. If you didn't have Usenet access or weren't comfortable navigating it, that left the web. You had to actively search for the particular show (or whatever) title you were interested in, and be willing to do a little link-hopping in some cases. But once you did that, fandom was right there; we were hiding, but we were hiding in plain sight.

Mailing Lists

Relatively easy to find if you went looking, especially after 1997/98, and also very active; you could find out about them on newsgroups, on fan pages, etc. Once you found one, it was pretty easy to find more.

Most discussion lists had associated fiction lists, sometimes more than one -- if there was more than one, they were split into gen and adult, usually. Traditionally, "adult" meant what we now call "het"; some adult lists were strictly no-slash-allowed, so sometimes you'd wind up with a gen fic list, a het fic list, and a slash fic list. The slash fic list usually covered all ratings, because G- or PG-rated slash wouldn't be allowed on the gen list, even though het of that rating would be allowed there. On the one hand, that sucked. On the other hand, if you were a slash fan who wasn't interested in gen or het at all, it made it fabulously easy to get your hands on just the fic you wanted, while het fans had to wade through all the gen to get to the non-smutty het romance stories.

So lists were a stable, active way to get a steady stream of both conversation and fanfic. By 1997 or so (maybe earlier?), at least on the slash end of things, there were even multi-fandom fic lists that weren't associated with specific fandoms, which was a good way to get rarer things (the lists were called things like Rareslash, Allslash, etc.). These came along with the advent of free mailing lists from Onelist, eGroups, Topica, etc.

Message Boards

I was never particularly involved in message board/forum-based fandom, but it was definitely around and active in the 90s.

IRC and other forms of chat

IRC was huge in the part of fandom I was in; not everyone participated, of course, but many fandoms had their own IRC channels set up that you could go into almost any time to find people hanging out, or set up regular chats in their fandom channel on a schedule. I met some of my first fannish friends in a Forever Knight IRC channel; we eventually broke off into a private channel, where we hung out for years. Other people did the same, keeping the main fandom channel more generally chatty so it didn't get overwhelmed with one particular group.

It's still one of the primary ways I stay in touch with people; I'm on an IRC server most days to hang out with folks, at least a little.

The main alternative to IRC chats were AOL chats; I actually paid for an AOL account for years just so I could attend various AOL chats and have my own AIM handle to do one-on-one chatting with people. Fandoms set up their own AOL chats, with scheduled times and rooms (X-Files did this more than any other fandom I was in; I remember those XF slash chats!).

TPTB also used chats to connect with fans; you couldn't ask questions directly, but you could /msg your questions/comments to the chat moderator, who would paste them in to keep the chat moving along in order. In my admittedly hazy memory (I never went to the chats, as I have no interest in interacting with TPTB), eventually AOL chats became the true norm for this, but at one point IRC was also used. This is a transcript of a May, 1996 IRC chat with Paul Gross and David Marciano from Due South [10], for example.

Personal Websites and Archives for Essays and Reviews

This doesn't quite count as discussion, but essays and reviews were a way of participating in a broader fannish discussion, and fans wrote a fair number of essays in the 90s -- they'd be called meta today.

In 1999 the Fanfic Symposium started up as a way to centralize and archive some of these, and there's some fantastic stuff there. But there's a lot more tucked away on people's individual pages like little gems.

They would get read because people made a habit of visiting author's sites to check for updates, so new stuff didn't go unnoticed.

Where the Fans were Reading Fanfic

To start with, if you were on newsgroups, mailing lists, or message boards, you were very probably reading fanfic there as well, either mixed in with regular discussion or on separate fic-specific groups/lists/boards.

Beyond that, the two main ways to find fanfic was on archives and on personal web sites.

Archives

Lots of fans just hung out on archives, keeping up with all the new fiction and never really interacting one-on-one with other fans. It was a really low-stress, low-social-anxiety way of participating. But if you wanted to, you could often use an archive as a gateway to other parts of fandom, either through link lists on the archive itself, or by following links or information trails in the stories posted (e.g., "Over on the DSouth-L list they were talking about the Hat of Invulnerability, and this story popped into my head" -- boom, you had a list name, and could find the list from that.)

You could find a lot of the fanfic on archives, but not all of it. Even in fandoms where the default was for archivists to take stories off the newsgroup or mailing list and archive them, some authors refused. Some were leery of the web's permanence and visibility and refused to have their work put up, preferring to post only to more protected newsgroups and mailing lists (this was before we knew that newsgroups were forever). Others were fine with web-posting but wanted the control of their own websites, or posted in one archive but not another. But gradually it became increasingly common to let your work be archived, so by the late 90s they were ubiquitous and relatively complete.

A Very Brief, Probably Very Incomplete, Possibly Very Incorrect History of Archives

Archives were a spotty proposition in the very early days. The earliest archives were FTP sites, where stories sent to Usenet or mailing lists would get stored for people to download. You'd get the login information from your list information message, and use your FTP client to go to the ftp site and grab as much fiction as you could at a time - completely blind. You had no idea what you were getting. (You could also get to the ftp site via your browser, but you still didn't know what you were getting, and you would have to download stories one by one by clicking links, rather than grabbing a bunch at a time.)

Even the filenames wouldn't be much help, as computers at the time could only handle file names of 8 characters plus the extension. So say you had a story called Harlequin Airs. Your file name would be "harlequi.txt", or maybe "harlairs.txt", or "hrlqnair.txt".

Some fandoms also had web-based archives, and by the mid-90s these were increasingly common, and FTP archives were being phased out, although for several years they existed side by side.

"Source: a 1997 cache of the page X-File Fan Fiction Links, found on Wayback. Same as before; I made my browser's background black before I took the screenshot."


You can see there that some FTP archives were mirrors of web-based archives as late as 1997, at least; others were the archives for fanfic newsgroups; others archived mailing-list stories.

Web archives were originally all hand-coded, and the stories were in .txt files, not html (although they might be sitting on top of an html background, which was very spiffy indeed). Archivists would make an html front page(s), with lists of the linked stories, and you'd click through to the text, which more often than not looked exactly like an email, because the archivist would take the emails that went to the fic list, copy them into txt files, and upload them as is.

How the archive was set up depended on the archivist; sometimes it was just a list of stories, sometimes you had "stories by author" and "stories by title", sometimes you had categories. Sometimes you had all of that and more, with every story indexed in multiple ways so you could find it no matter what (♥ DS Archive ♥).

Almost every fandom had an archive somewhere, even just a tiny page on someone's personal site that had a dozen stories on it. Fans wanted central places to go find all the stories; we all had bookmarks for people's individual pages (old-fashioned bookmarks, in our browsers, not able to sync across anything), but link-rot was rampant as people changes ISPs and hosts and names and site layouts (oh my GOD the people who just kept revamping their sites and changing their folder structures, so you had to re-drill through their site any time you wanted to find anything, argh.) Sometimes the moving got so ridiculous that you'd link-hop through three or four "I've moved! Please find me at [my new page link], and update your bookmarks!" for the same person until you finally found their current page.

So archives were key, and much-loved, even if they were tiny or ugly. (They also traded hands pretty regularly, and moved locations as one archivist burned out or moved on, and another took over.)

The bigger archives were known outside of their own fandoms, and one in particular, Gossamer, was known pretty much everywhere. It was fandom's "too big to fail" archive, which meant that when it looked like it was going to have to shut down, fandom heard about it, and worried. Repeatedly.

"Source: a 1997 cache of the page X-File Fan Fiction Links, found on Wayback. Same as before, I made my browser background black for this shot."

In 1997, archives began to undergo a sea change with the arrival of the Automated Archive software written by Naomi Novik. It was the first time ever that authors could upload their own stories; no more waiting in a queue for the archivist to have time to process the backlog of stories. Amazingly, you could even send stories to a list just by using the AA software -- you'd check a box for what list you wanted your story sent to, and after you hit submit, the archive would have a copy and the mailing list would be sent a copy, properly broken out into as many parts as needed to accommodate the list-length limits.

When this first started up, there was some protest at the fact that suddenly every story that got sent to a list included standardized header content, some of which could be considered spoilers. Many authors preferred not to give any information about their stories, and many readers preferred not to see any information before reading. So after some discussion about how to accommodate everyone, the result was the "Part 0" post, which included the header information and a link back to the archived version of the story, but none of the story itself, which started right up in the Part 1 post.

It also helped standardize story subject lines, which had been entirely up to the poster to decide before, with fairly inconsistent results.

On the reader end of things, suddenly archives could be searchable, across multiple criteria -- you could pick categories to include or exclude, which in those heady days of archives that had hundreds of stories was a blessing.

And then EFiction came along, also automated, with a different interface and different search capabilities. I never liked it as much personally, but it was (and is) very popular, and kept the trend of automation going.

Personal Webpages

Also called home pages, back in the day, and a prime source for fannish goodies. Fans not only put up their own stories (and sometimes artwork), they linked to everything that interested them, from fanfic to resource sites to archives to official pages. They would add information about mailing lists, newsgroups, and chats; they'd put up fannish news and information to spread the word about important things. Lots of fans participated by surfing individual websites, too, as another very low-stress way of participating.

Newsletters

I wasn't entirely sure what section to put newsletters in, but they were explicitly for reading, so they're in the reading section.

These weren't the mainly-links-lists that journalling fandom calls newsletters; these were actual newsletters, with news, information, letters of comments, interviews, sometimes fanfic, sometimes fan poetry, etc., collated by one person (or a few people) and distributed on a regular basis, usually weekly or monthly.

I was on the e-version of a paper newsletter called Black Bean Soup in Starsky&Hutch fandom, and also got an extremely popular B5 newsletter called The Zocalo, which was a treasure trove of weekly information, particularly while the show was still airing.

Monofannish or Multifannish

There's a myth that it was hard to be multifannish in the heyday of mailing lists. It wasn't hard at all, even before Karen's site; it was just that if you didn't have multifannish tendencies to begin with, it was easy to be monofannish and just play in the one sandbox that interested you. You could ignore anything that wasn't relevant to your own personal interests.

Looking for More Fandoms

But if you wanted more, you could find things by link-hopping around the web, just like you found your first fandom. Or if you didn't want to do that, you could even find more fandoms just by being on one list; that also got increasingly easy with every passing year. Even in 1994, though, I was finding out about other fannish lists almost as soon as I joined my first list; within the first year, I was on lists for at least four fandoms, and probably more.

•Sometimes people cross-posted messages to multiple lists, so the other list addresses would appear in the To or CC field along with the list addy you were subbed to. With that information, you could figure out how to send a subscribe message, and join if you wanted; or you could email the poster and ask about the other list(s).

•Sometimes people would mention a conversation happening on another list; all you had to do was write to them and say "hey, [list] sounds interesting, how can I subscribe?"

•Sometimes people would announce a new list they'd started up, posting the info to other lists they were already on.

•Sometimes people just flat-out asked onlist; "OT, sorry, but does anyone know of any lists for [Fandom]?"

From my initial discovery of the FK main list, I rapidly wound up on the FK fic list, the FK adult fic list, a private FK list, the Due South discussion list, the Due South fiction list, the DS "slash allowed" fic list, the DS adult fic list, the Highlander main list, the HL fic list, the adult HL fic list, half a dozen XF lists, 2 Starsky and Hutch lists, a secret B5 list, a secret Quantum Leap list, the KF:TLC main list and fic list...

And I knew about more lists than I was on.

By the late 90s, I was on dozens of lists across a dozen or more fandoms, multi-fandom lists (discussion and fic), and several private, invite-only lists that ranged from chatty hang-out lists of friends to lists devoted to critical commentary, and all points in between. Also by that point, most of the lists I was on had a slash bent to them; if you were a gen fan, you had even more options.

If you were a newsgroup-based fan, it was even easier; as long as you could read the alt.* or rec.* hierarchies, you could see most or all of the fannish newsgroups available to you. (Some ISPs blocked some newsgroups.)

Spreading the Cross-Fandom Word

It is true that lists were largely self-contained, and that each had its own culture and flavor -- to the point that sometimes it was hard to adjust to a new list.

But lots of fans really were on multiple lists; the six degrees thing works in fandom, too. And if something important happened, the word spread pretty damn fast.

Stuff that transcended list lines (and "stay on topic" rules) were things like plagiarism (Jade is the one I remember best as being hunted down across many fandom mailing lists); articles about fandom that were making the rounds; corporate attempts to shut down fandom (like Fandom, Inc., which spread far and wide, wound up generating a legal defense fund and a mailing list devoted to keeping things like this from happening, and even wound up with a parody by Peter David called How the Grynch Stole Fandom [11]), links to general essays about fandom (like "Pass the Crisco, Spock", for example, the and so forth.

If it was a perceived attack on fandom, word spread fast, and fandom rallied.

If it wasn't urgent, it spread more casually, but it spread.

Language spread, too, and some of it spread well enough to still be in use today. X-Files accounted for a bunch -- sending things like "shipper" (from "relationshipper", describing Mulder/Scully fans) into wider fandom for "fans of a het relationship", giving a balancing term to "slasher" for the first time. (Then fandom morphed it into "someone who likes any relationship" and left us with no term for "person who 'hets' characters". oh well.) And the thing of using an exclamation point between an adjective and a person's name? That's also from X-Files. XF started up the Estrogen Brigades as well, although those faded away after a while. For a while fandom almost picked up "noromo" for "no relationships", someone who preferred pure gen, but it didn't quite stick.

Phantom Menace brought in "chan" -- I've no idea where they got it, other than probably anime, but PM is the western-fandom vector, from the teacher-student Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan stories.

Mpreg spread across lists well before journals started up; so did domestic discipline. I'm tempted to claim Sentinel as the source for both of them, but I think I just happened to see them there first.

So fandom-wide trends, tropes, and discussions were fairly common, even on mailing lists.

Next part: Fandom 1994-2000-ish/Part Three

Comments

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.[12]

References

  1. Due South on the Internet, accessed 17 April 2012
  2. Fandom on the Net, accessed 17 April 2012
  3. Fan Fiction on the Net, accessed 17 April 2012
  4. Karen's Fan Fiction on the Net, accessed 17 April 2012
  5. The Fannish E-Mail Directory, March 2006, accessed 17 April 2012
  6. The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5, accessed 17 April 2012
  7. Fanfiction Resources by Kest
  8. Ployamourous Recs accessed 17 April 2012
  9. Wikipedia USENET Organization, accessed 17 April 2012
  10. IRC LOG, Paul Gross and David Marciano, May 8, 1996, accessed 17 April 2012
  11. Wayback link,, accessed 17 April 2012
  12. WebCite for all comments to Part 2.
  13. WebCite for "On skirting Usenet, lurking on Bulletin Boards, and tracking down Bloggers: the fannish safari."
  14. WebCite for "...And we were young and could stay up half the night chatting and go to work fine the next day..."
  15. WebCite for "The X-Files Gossamer Archives and the origins of the words "shipper" and "chan."