Mall Rats: What fragmentation in fandom means to you...

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Title: Mall Rats
Date(s): January 19, 2002
Medium: online
Fandom: many
External Links: my geek: let me show you it., Archived version
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Other Essays by ljc

Mall Rats is an essay by LJC

It addresses the fragmentation of fandom, archives and niche archives, mailing lists, and fan communication. Some fannish communities described or mentioned: The Gossamer Project, 852 Prospect, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files,, and alt.startrek.creative.

The essay was first posted to


Once upon a time, online fandoms were much more centralised.

Before the age of Onelist, Egroups, Topica, and Yahoo Groups, mailing lists were few and far between, and fandoms tended to have one main discussion list and one or two main fiction lists. Fans went to one newsgroup to post their fiction, archived it at one major archive, and chatted on one IRC channel or message board.

It was the age of The Gossamer Project, alt.startrek.creative, and LISTSERVs. It was a simple world, a happy world, a world before bandwidth and advertising revenues ruled the Internet. When it was easy for fans to find what they wanted, because there were huge glowing neon signs pointing them towards Mecca at every bend and fork in the road. We were all pilgrims on the same road.

Then, majordomo software allowed mailing lists to be run off Unix machines, and a new generation of mailing lists was born. And from majordomo, Onelist and Topica sprang, and suddenly, listowners were no longer a rare breed. Anyone and everyone started lists—dozens if not hundreds of them, often with the exact same characters and topics, with only slight deviations in their names. For example, DoyleCordy and CordyDoyle have almost all the same members, and the same fiction was posted to each. All that differed was the listowner's name. Cross-posting became a way of life, as did deleting the dozens of copies of the same story that began to appear in our inboxes with increasing regularity as writers carpet-bombed the fandom, desperate to make sure that that one reader who was only on that one list got the special delivery package o'fic.

Once, all roads lead to Rome. Now, it's like Vegas. There's neon everywhere, but it's hard to pick out individual sign posts from among the sprawl.
However, TV and movie fandoms started online in the mid 1990s and later are more prone to the boutique mentality, and if they did not have a central general forum for all types of fan fiction to start with, there is no mall directory next to the food court for a new reader to use to see where they want to go before they start their journey. They are forced to ask directions from other shoppers along the way, but there are thousands of back roads, and there's no shining city ahead of them, no glow of neon on the horizon. Only more shops, tucked away in more distant corners in a vast city. Buffy fandom and its growing-like-a-weed tag-along sibling, Angel fandom, suffer greatly from fragmentation. The current generation of online fans are almost all listowners and web masters, and as a result, the large archives founded in the first few years of the series have become ghost towns. Once the only place to post, six years after its creation, languishes in a perpetual state of "just another archive" and no longer the Giant Which Dominated All Others. Ask any relatively recent Buffy fan about the site, and you'll be met with a blank stare.
Of course, as free web space begins to disappear, and it's no longer as easy (financially, in any case) to just throw a website up, the Internet fandom boom of the last five years should settle back down into a less breakneck speed. One can only hope the cream rises to the top. But in the meantime, the best we as readers and writers can do is support our favourite forums, both in terms of financial support if needed, but better yet, our patronage. Fan Fiction sites are an enormous resource, run out of sheer love at a tremendous cost in terms of time and usually money.