January 7, 2007
What Are the Most Popular Hits for "Fan Community?"

How do you measure who the most avid fan community is? Well, to turn the question around a little bit, which fan community do people seek out the most? That was my initial project last January when I wrote a blurb for the C3 Weekly Update asking about the popularity of fan communities themselves. Looking back at that question now, I have found that a few things have changed yet others have not.

In order to find the answer to this question, I am going to enlist the help of one of our partners here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, Yahoo! Well, actually, I'm just using the search engine in this case. And, for the sake of balance, I'm also going to check Google to see what it finds is the top page for a Web search of "fan community."

When I conducted this experiment last year, I joked about how there might be a page from some major conglomerate media property which was trying to create a space for the fan community surrounding that property, or else a picture of Henry Jenkins or some of the other great scholars here in C3 who have engaged in fan studies at one point or another. Instead, I found the Web site for the Glasgow-based alternative rock band Franz Ferdinand was the top hit on Google for "fan community." I will have to say that I'm shocked, but it shows that music communities in particular have appropriated the language "fan community" into its very fiber, especially based on the celebrity involved with individual vocal performers or bands.

Number two on the list last year? The Artist Currently Known as Prince!

This year, though, things have changed. There has been slight movement in what was the first post that came up. On Yahoo!, the Firefly fan site is the top hit for a search for "fan community," followed by the Web site for the Official Duran Duran Fan Community.

Actuall, Franz Ferdinand still ranks third, and Prince made number five in the search for Fan Community, with a site for A-ha fans in between.

Over on Google, Prince's site ranks first, followed by Duran Duran's. Fan sites for REM, Moxy Fruvous, and a fan of XM radio in general round out the top 5.

Interestingly, of the sites represented, six are for music groups, one for a television show, and one for a media brand.

This exercise may seem somewhat frivolous, but I was talked with a colleague recently about what does and does not constitute a fan community, and it can be an awfully fascinating discussion. Are all gathering places of fans to be called communities? It's interesting to see what sites officially label themselves as a home for the fan community. Some are officially run sites for music performers, while other are fan tributes to them. Seeing which sites seem to be the top hits for a "fan community" search is quite illuminating. As my list has shown, not knowing the exact formula for how Google and Yahoo! comes up with what's at the top of each search, is that certain groups appear to be awfully consistent as the most sought destinations for people looking to find a "fan community." Instead of a generic definition page or something surrounding a television show--with the exception of the Firefly fans--it appears music dominates online usage of the term "fan community" within the media industry.

What can other media properties and/or brands learn from the way these groups have appropriated the language to explicitly form online communities rather than just gather places with resources for fans? Give some of these sites a look and see if you have any idea why they would be sought out in particular for fans searching for a community, quite literally in this case.



One thing to consider may be the terminology itself. Music fans may refer to themselves as a community, while fans connected through a television show or another media production are more likely to use another term; the one I've most often seen is "fandom" with the title of the work as a modifier.

So, for instance, rather than the "Firefly Fan Community" fans of the show often refer to themselves as "Firefly fandom." Very few major fansites or groups for media productions title their sites or boards with the term community. You're more likely to see them using a fandom-specific term or the noun "Fans" as a referent.


That's what I found so fascinating about this use of the term community. I agree that this hypothesis may be true, that there's something more "communal" about music fandom, although I've never teased it out.

What I think sets music fandom apart from television or movie fandom is the way that community is built into the experience. Like my work on pro wrestling fans has found with studying live events, music fans also have a physical community space they meet in, when they come together for a concert with the band. There is seldom an equivalent for television fans, that face-to-face meeting and the formation of a public rather than a virtual community.

That's not to say that virtual communities are less desirable than face-to-face meetings, but there is definitely a different relationship with a music text than there is with a television or film text. You experience songs as communication between humans rather than the construction of a narrative world you can immerse yourself in.

Hope that rant made sense, and thanks for stopping by and further teasing this idea out, Elizabeth.


Oh, I'm around rather a lot as a lurker--just don't often have time to comment.

And I'm not sure that the use of community sets music fans apart as much as it seems on the surface.

I tend to think that television fans have the same dual-layer interactions that music fans do. Both fan communities have a large set of people who interact only through the product--music fans who only listen to the albums (rather than attending concerts) and television viewers who watch the show, or sometimes participate in online discussions.

But both also include a subset of fans who are more involved--those music fans who attend concerts (at which the other fans are at least as much of the experience as the band) and those television fans who attend conventions/meet each for viewing parties/arrange meetings in person. I'd argue that both these subsets approach the original material as a starting point for the resulting community. Many of the behaviors are the same, even if the language is different.

You experience songs as communication between humans rather than the construction of a narrative world you can immerse yourself in.

Maybe. But I'd offer another option. In both cases, the combination of communication and narrative is what creates the desire for community in the first place. It's that focus on the connection between story and conversation that sets both popular music and film/television productions apart from literature or orchestral music or various visual arts, making them spaces for community building.


Very interesting, Elizabeth, and I think you are pretty spot-on. I am more directly interested in fan communities surrounding television narratives than music fan communities, but I'm interested in this use of language. Do you have any idea what might cause television fans to develop a different set of terminology to describe themselves?


Television fandom tends to be descended from science-fiction fandom via Star Trek and Star Wars, with a good crossbreeding from comics and, increasingly, anime/manga fandom.

This is not an absolute. (Xena fandom, for instance, developed without using the structures, techniques, and vocabulary of other television fandoms, i.e. mediafans often consider Xena fandom a 'feral' fandom. Soap opera and wrestling fandoms have separate long lines of descent. Soap opera fandom seems to be descended in part from early Hollywood gossip and trade magazines.)

Music fans are separate.


I'm not sure I understand why music fans are separate, though. (As I don't have as much experience with music fan communities, I didn't feel qualified to answer your question, Sam. My answer would be a longer version of "no.") Wrestling, as you indicated, zvi, developed its own lines of descent. The language, however, has a great deal of overlap with television fandom; soap opera fandom also borrows heavily from the terms the came out of sci-fi fandoms. Is there a reason that music fans don't do this? Is the difference in the amount of overlap between individuals within different groups?

It would make sense for there to be a great deal of borrowing of tropes and terminology, especially if the experiences of television and music fans have parallel causes, but Sam's results seem to indicate otherwise. It's the separation that I find counterintuitive and the most interesting thing about this particular question.


For both zvi and Elizabeth, thanks for the enlightening comments and the discussion about the roots of various versions of fandom. I do think language helps us trace some of this genealogy out, but it's certainly not the only way to understand fan communities.

I think you are largely right in the various forms of descent you point out, zvi. Wrestling fan communities began through newsletters to trade news from various territories before wrestling was ever national and later through tape trading. Soaps fandom has been interesting throughout and is certainly not tied into the sci fi lineage that many television properties are. But Elizabeth is right that the language sometimes has been appropriated, nonetheless.

I'm with you, though, Elizabeth in not knowing enough about music fan communities to understand these divisions.