The Life and Death of Fandom Platforms

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Video Essay
Title: The Life and Death of Fandom Platforms
Creator: Casey Fiesler
Date(s): 25 September 2020
Medium: YouTube
Length: 28:27
Fandom: Pan-fandom
Topic: Fandom migration and the shifting usage of digital platforms by fans on the internet over time
External Links:
The title card for the video essay.
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The Life and Death of Fandom Platforms | LiveJournal, Archive of Our Own (AO3), Tumblr, and ??? is a video essay by Casey Fiesler, published to YouTube on September 25, 2020. It explores the subject of fandom migrations and the changing usage of digital platforms by fans over time.

The essay is based on a survey that Casey Fiesler and Brianna Dym conducted (and promoted on Tumblr) in 2018, asking long-time fans to share their memories and experiences of the platforms they had used to create and consume fanworks, and interact with fellow fans, over time. The full results of the survey were published as an academic paper in the journal 'Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction' under the title Moving Across Lands: Online Platform Migration in Fandom Communities. In her video essay, 'The Life and Death of Fandom Platforms', Fiesler set out to share the highlights of the research.


Casey Fiesler, a professor of information science and researcher into fan communities and human-computer interaction, and her PhD student Brianna Dym launched a survey in March 2018 that set out to examine how fan communities move across platforms. They put out a call on Tumblr[1] for survey responses from fans who had been "been part of fandom for at least ten years (even non-consecutively)" and had "used multiple platforms in that time (Livejournal, Tumblr, AO3, Usenet…)". The survey contained a mix of multiple-choice and free text response questions, of which fans could complete as many or as few as they liked.

The post gained more than 2,400 notes and garnered so many responses to the survey that Fiesler and Dym closed the survey relatively quickly as they already had ample data. Another post with some initial data analysis, including a graph that charted fandom platform use over time, was published five days after the initial call for survey responses.[2] Fiesler also gave an interview to Slate about the research and fandom migration,[3] and discussed the research on an episode of Fansplaining (Episode 91, in January 2019), mentioning that the survey had received "almost 2000 participants".

The full research paper based on Fiesler and Dym's survey was published in May 2020 in 'Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction'. The discussion by a number of survey participants of the fandom norm clashes arising from different fandom generations moving to and joining fandom on different platforms also gave rise to a second paper, 'Social Norm Vulnerability and its Consequences for Privacy and Safety in an Online Community', also published in the same journal, and referenced in Fiesler's video essay. In September 2020 Fiesler then created the video essay, 'The Life and Death of Fandom Platforms', to talk about the highlights of the research and the papers and other discussions that it had given rise to.

Excerpts from the Essay

You remember LiveJournal? Were you also reading and writing fanfiction on LiveJournal? I suppose that every generation of fandom has their own idea of what "the golden age of fandom" was. But I certainly remember LiveJournal extremely fondly.

But then what happened? *shrug*

And also before that -- how did we get to LiveJournal in the first place? Where did we start? Was it Usenet? How did we go from like, Usenet to using Yahoo! Groups? But also, people were using fandom-specific archives or even ship-specific archives - places like Gossamer...

So how was the fandom age of LiveJournal born in the first place, and then what happened? Why was there a mass exodus from LiveJournal, and where did everyone go? And what did that have to do with the creation of Archive of Our Own, and what does it suggest about the future of Tumblr?

So all of that - the way that transformative fandom, fanfiction writers and consumers, have moved across platforms over time in these great migrations is exactly what this video is about.

Also, fandom is pretty unique, if you think about it. Unlike a lot of what we think of as current online communities, fandom existed since long before the internet. And I'm also sure that someday, when the internet ceases to exist, and we're all, like, plugged into the Matrix or mind-linked with each other or something, fandom will continue to exist. We are going to be brain-linked into VR stories about our favourite ships.

Because fandom is technology-agnostic. We take whatever we have and we make something awesome out of it.

One participant described Usenet's decline as "Slowly watching a shopping mall go out of business."

Communities dwindle, and even those who linger will move on eventually when there's no-one left. When you left LiveJournal, did you go to Dreamwidth? To Tumblr? Did you manage to actually keep track of your community, or did it kind of fall apart?


Basically fragmentation becomes a big problem -- when people don't always agree to where everyone's going to go at once. It's a collective action problem.

But on the other side of this, beyond fragmentation, migration can also result in communities being thrown together when they weren't before.

Fan Comments

Thank you for this video, it was so great to watch. And boy did it take me back. I do think Tumblr is still on the rise (or is it? would love to see some numbers on created accounts over time) because there's no really good alternative. I personally have moved from archives for specific fandoms and to LiveJournal, to AO3 and Tumblr, and now I've got one foot still on Tumblr and one foot on Discord. I do miss the LJ communities a lot though, and I get very nostalgic about it. I would also love to see a scientific approach to how review/comment culture changed, if the kudos function of AO3 had a big impact, why people seem to write less reviews these days as it was the case back in LJ (maybe because the sense of community really is lacking?).[4]

One thing I'd love to hear your take on is the rise of what I've been referring to as "neo-puritanism" where a sect of people (often young and full of black and white idealism of what's right and wrong, and/or TERFs) take it upon themselves to try and further police the content posted on fandom heavy sites such as tumblr and AO3. I believe I even saw an attempt at a petition to take down AO3 last year because the site refused to ban any content so long as it was properly tagged. I've seen content creators get spammed by hateful comments accusing them of being pedophiles because of something being WILDLY blown out of proportion, or just floods of anon hate about how "disgusting" someone is for being in a private 18+ discord where kink is discussed under several layers of informed consent before anyone can even access the conversations. It's been so wild to me to see both a rise of enlightenment with regards to sex positivity and kink spaces and queer representation AT THE SAME TIME as this other movement veers aggressively in the other direction towards shame and guilt and accusation.[5]

[Erin B]

I’m a little surprised that Wattpad isn’t discussed here at all...[6]

I think for a certain subset of fandom that remembers old platforms like LiveJournal and Yahoo Groups, Wattpad practically doesn't register as a fan site. I'm somewhere inbetween (AO3 and tumblr were my first platforms and none of my fannish friends use Wattpad), but I know teenage fans who mainly use Wattpad and for whom AO3 might as well not exist. From what I've seen, there is little crossover between the groups.
[Casey Fiesler]
There's more detail about possible limitations of the sample in the paper, but we did ask participants to list other platforms where they create and consume fanworks. We listed two (Facebook and Discord) that were mentioned by > 30 people, which means that Wattpad was mentioned by < 30 out of 1800. That's not to say that it's not a popular platform - it just wasn't in the sample of participants we recruited, for whatever reason!
[Erin B]
Casey Fiesler: I wasn’t criticizing your dataset; I think you’re pretty open about its limits—I’m just a bit surprised that an open call on Tumblr didn’t catch more Wattpad readers. Maybe they’re on other platforms like Instagram or YouTube?
[Casey Fiesler]
@Erin B Hmmm it could be in part that Wattpad is mostly younger fans? Because the survey was about migration, we asked for people who had years of experience on multiple platforms - if someone had joined fandom recently they wouldn't have filled out the survey. But that's just speculation!


  1. ^ Have you been in fandom for a long time? Help us out with our research!, cfiesler via Tumblr. Published March 8, 2018 (Accessed September 26, 2020).
  2. ^ Survey Results: Fan Platform Use over Time, cfiesler via Tumblr. Published March 13, 2018 (Accessed September 26, 2020).
  3. ^ Why Did Fans Flee LiveJournal, and Where Will They Go After Tumblr?, Heather Schwedel, Slate. Published March 29, 2018 (Accessed September 26, 2020).
  4. ^ Comment by Vee via YouTube, September 26, 2020.
  5. ^ Comment by Anthony Jay Crowley via YouTube, September 26, 2020.
  6. ^ Comment by Erin B via YouTube, September 26, 2020.