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Online fan fiction has proven a godsend for hard-core entertainment aficionados, giving them a rare opportunity to create and experience, say, a Xena and Captain Kirk encounter that previously could only have occurred in a galaxy free of copyright restrictions. Until recently, however, nobody had attempted to explore the marketing potential of such online efforts - and given that a quick Google search under "fan fiction" yields 654,000 responses, untapped opportunities abound.
My2Centences (www.my2c.com) is attempting to fill the void with its FanLib technology and the ambitious "Potter Project," an online Harry Potter scriptwriting contest. Through FanLib, the company hopes to provide structure to the fan-fiction process, thus making it more appealing as a promotional vehicle.
"People are obsessed with entertainment. They've got a creative itch that needs to be scratched," explains FanLib creator David Williams, creator of the animated web series WhirlGirl and the brother of My2C chief executive officer Chris Williams. "What we're doing is sort of a twist on the old campfire game where everybody took a turn at creating a story, one line at a time." Adds Chris: "Think two parts campfire game and one part American Idol."
Here's how it works: Every week, a Potter Project moderator asks would-be Rowlings to compose scenes of one to three pages in length based on a rough outline of a fictional scenario. Fans then vote for their favorite scene, with the winning scribe receiving a prize (in this case, scarves and wands from "wizarding emporium" Alivan's Master Wandmakers) and a profile on Potter fan site SnitchSeeker.com. At the project's conclusion, the winning scenes will be assembled into a screenplay.
With the voting component, My2C hopes to foster strong ties with the product being created, much in the way that American Idol was able to make fans feel invested in the success of their chosen contestant. "The idea is to create a deeper connection with the property," Chris notes. "We look at it this way: 'if they build it, they will come.' You need that sense of involvement."
The Williams brothers are obviously keenly aware of the marketing possibilities that could emerge from smart use of the FanLib technology and savvy appeals to online fan communities. To this end, My2C is represented by a heavyweight Hollywood agency that is hyping the company to potential partners. "The best-case scenario is striking a deal with a network for a 'you write the episode' contest based around an existing TV series, preferably one that targets teens," David says.
The agency has also approached advertisers on My2C's behalf. "There are aspects [with the FanLib technology] that could really appeal to major brands," Chris explains. "You can evolve the storytelling process beyond existing properties. Let's say there's a brand that embodies a certain spirit - something like Mountain Dew, outdoors-y, adventure-y. Maybe you let the online audience create something scripted that embodies a brand. That's BMW Films right there."
At the same time, the Williams brothers paint their mission as somewhat noble. They chirp happily about stimulating teenagers' passion for reading and writing, and proudly note that they're providing the younger audience with a constructive online alternative to video games and television. "Hey, if you're sick of stealing music, here's something that's actually productive!," David cracks. The company is talking with a host of educational entities, with an eye on harnessing its technology for the classroom. "A teacher who's looking to connect more with students - there's a potential application," Chris says.
As for the Potter Project, it seems to have enjoyed a successful first three weeks. The brothers say that members of the nascent community have treated each other with respect ("we've seen very little of 'that sucks,'" Chris reports) and that the FanLib technology has, so far, prevented anybody from rigging the voting ("one of our members says that we should be consulting on the California recall," David chimes in). David, who checks in on the community several times per day, says that the submissions have exceeded his expectations in terms of creativity and sophistication; a 14-year-old from Houston was crowned the first week's winner."When you hand somebody a blank piece of paper, what you end up with can be all over the place," he notes. "As an owner of a property, that can make you very nervous. But so far, [the Potter Project] seems to be inspiring the best in people, which is really gratifying. 
- from MediaPost -- Online Fan Fiction - Better than Stealing Music, Archived version by Larry Dobrow, October 3, 2003