What is an Internet Fandom?

Have you seen people on the Internet discussing which “fandoms” are part of? Fandoms are among the most powerful forces on the Internet. Here’s what these dedicated fan bases are all about and how people come together.

Organized interests

A “fandom” is an organized subculture of people who share a common interest. Fandom members are often the most dedicated and invested in the media franchise. The fandom often makes an extra effort documenting the details, speculating thoroughly, and creating content for fans.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first known use of this term dates back to 1903. It was occasionally used throughout the 20th century for fan communities of franchises such as Star Trek, before exploding in the 21st century, when the Internet has facilitated the organization of fandoms.

While all members of a fandom are fans, not all fans of a medium are part of a fandom. Fandom groups are part of the participatory culture, where individuals are both consumers and collaborators of the media. Being part of a fandom means being part of organized communities, building relationships, and contributing your own content.
While there may be a fandom for just about anything, an internet fandom usually refers to the fan base of a particular published fiction or medium creative work. They can be books, movies, TV series, video games, plays, graphic novels, and so on. Some of the biggest fandoms on the Internet are giant franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Harry Potter, Star Wars and Minecraft.

What do fandoms do?

Fandoms often participate in many activities on the Internet. The most basic of these is to create online spaces where they can comment on their work. In the early days of the Internet, they were usually chat rooms or personalized mailing lists. Modern fandoms use platforms like Discord and Reddit.

Another activity of many fandoms is to maintain a repository of information and tradition. Properties that attract dedicated fandoms often have many characters, world construction, locations, and events. Fans compile this information into user-editable wiki websites. For example, Bulbapedia is a wiki site that has very detailed information on almost everything related to the Pokémon franchise, from games to TV shows.

Fandom members are also more likely to create user-generated content (UGC). The most common form of user content is fanart, an artistic representation of characters or stories. Many fans also write fanfiction, stories that take place in the same fictional universe as the show, and explore different events and relationships that are not in the original story. Many of these works explore “vases,” which are canonical and non-canonical love affairs between characters.

At times, fan creations can reach incredible levels of scale and ambition. For example, video game fandoms have created modifications with custom campaigns that can compete with the duration of the original games. There are also shows, movies, music, and fan-published books. For example, A Very Potter Musical, a theatrical performance seen over 100 million times, was born out of a school production by a group of Harry Potter fans.

The good and bad sides of the fandoms

The behavior of the fandoms is very variable. Certain negative behaviors are often associated with unconditional fan groups. They often engage in antagonistic and insular behavior toward other fandom groups, with “fan wars” being a common feature of online communities. Many fans also get into internal struggles within their group, especially when they disagree on certain points. For example, “ship wars” are between groups with different preferred relationships.

However, fandom also brings many positive aspects. These groups often help people find communities they can join and friends who have common interests. In addition, the fandom can bring together people from all over the world, all dedicated to a specific interest. In addition, fans of less financially successful franchises can provide financial support to the property through channels such as Patreon or Kickstarter.

Fandom spaces

There are many “spaces” on the Internet where fandoms are often organized. The most common fan sites are subgroups of popular social platforms, such as subreddits on Reddit, groups on Facebook, or servers on Discord. These are selected and moderated platforms that can help users connect with each other, create fan works, and share information. In addition, these communities often host events for their members.

Fandoms are also being organized on content-based platforms. For example, there are many fandoms in Archive of Our Own or AO3. It’s the biggest fanfiction site in the world, with some fandoms like Marvel having hundreds of thousands of stories. There are also websites like Tumblr, which has a lot of content and fan discussions about different franchises.

Finally, there are plenty of IRL or “real life” spaces where fandoms can congregate. The most important of these are fan conventions, which can range from small to large depending on the size of the band and the organizing committee. These conventions can be of various genres such as Dragon Con and San Diego Comic Convention or more aimed at specific groups such as Harry Potter or Star Wars. Local networks also sometimes host fan events with smaller groups.

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