April 7, 2009
Wrapping up SXSW: Jenkins, De Kosnik, and Askwith on Fans

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend South by Southwest Interactive in Austin. Between panels, parties, and the constant stream of Tweets, I'm still processing everything I took in at the conference.

For those of you who couldn't make it to Austin last month--and even for those of you who could--I wanted to share the slides from one of the best panels I attended: "Engagement 1.0: Understanding the History of Fan Interactivity," featuring Ivan Askwith, Henry Jenkins and Abigail De Kosnik. Since these three are affiliated with C3, I may be a little biased, but I am sincere when I say that this panel was the most useful discussion fan practices saw at SXSW. I left the presentation with a basic but broad understanding of how fan communities create value and worth. The slides:

As these slides suggest, Askwith began with definition of "fans" that served to frame the discussion.

Jenkins then provided a historical perspective on fandom to suggest that fans have functioned as virtual communities and social networks long before the rise of "web 2.0." Beginning with the example of 19th century toy printing press aficionados, Jenkins illustrated that fans have formed communities around shared interests for a long time. Further, Jenkins provided examples of pre-internet fans engaged in what we think of as "web 2.0" practices including consumer activism, globalization, brand communities, remix culture, participatory culture, and learning communities. This historical framing of fandom proved particularly useful to the marketers in the audience looking to engage fans with their brands. Jenkins suggested that fan communities existed and thrived long before brands decided fans were important, so brands should accordingly court fans through already existing communities.

Abigail De Kosnik's presentation dealt with issues of monetizing fan production. De Kosnik gave examples of commercial fan production--including hip-hop, Doujinshi, game mods, and literary appropriations--to show that certain types of fan production have been successfully monetized while other forms--namely fan fiction--have been distributed free of charge. De Kosnik argued that fandom in all forms makes producers money, yet the female-dominated world of fan fiction has not been able -or perhaps willing--to make money from their productivity. The gendered implication of this argument became especially interesting as De Kosnik and the audience began to ask questions about fan fiction as "women's work," meaning that it's a traditionally unpaid activity done in a "safe space."

SXSW was rife with panels trying to understand how marketers can engage fans. Askwith, Jenkins, and De Kosnik injected the discussion with the cultural and historical context necessary to understand fan practices and how they work.



Thanks so much for this, Sheila. For those of us unable to make it down to Austin this year, it's great to be able to see the slides and get the full rundown of what happened. I agree that understanding the historical, "pre-Internet" precedents for behaviors so often being treated as "new" is crucial for truly understanding how to use those tools from the industry side and from how to understand online behaviors from the academic side.


I agree completely, Sam. It also seems that efforts to engage fans are more successful when they appeal to these pre-existing communities rather than trying to create new ones. I'm thinking specifically of Bravo's purchase of TWoP. They were able to attach their brand to an existing fan space rather than trying to attract fans to a "new" Bravo website. Of course, they still try to attract fans to the Bravo website, but the internet allows for all kinds of interaction between producers and consumers.


Good point. One thing that I've thought a lot about now that I'm working for Peppercom is how conversation itself is quite spreadable. When a brand or entertainment property is looking for promotion and "spreading the word," it seems counter-productive to only want that conversation to only happen in one place and to have that control. Rob Kozinets has done some great writing about how managed community online cuts off the many wonderful things that happen when communities organize and build themselves. That doesn't mean that moderated communities or more controlled environments aren't beneficial, but there has to be some balance between the two and an acknowledgement of all that can be gained from helping facilitate messages spreading (I try to not use the term allow, because the idea that a company could keep a message from spreading is wrong-headed in the first place.).


Where can I actually hear/view the presentation? Would love to see this in its original form.


They did record the presentation, but it isn't up on the site yet. They're still posting a few podcasts every day, so there's a chance it will go up soon. Here's the URL for all the podcasts: http://sxsw.com/interactive/news/videos_and_podcasts. I'll also post something if it goes up.