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What is an Internet Fandom?

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Have you seen people on the internet discussing the “fandoms” they are a part of? Fandoms are some of the most powerful forces on the Internet. Here’s what these devoted fanbases are and how they bring people together.

Organized Interests

A “fandom” is an organized subculture of people who share a common interest. The people who are members of the fandom are often the most dedicated and invested in the media franchise, and the fandom often goes the extra mile by documenting small details, speculating widely, and creating fan content.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first known use of the term was in 1903. It was occasionally used throughout the 20th century for franchise fan communities such as star trek before finally exploding in the 21st century when the internet made it significantly easier to organize fandoms.

While everyone in a fandom is a fan, not everyone who is a fan of a media property is in a fandom. Fandom groups are part of participatory culture, where individuals are both consumers and contributors to the media. Being in a fandom means being part of organized communities, building relationships, and contributing your own content.

While there can be a fandom for just about anything, an internet fandom typically refers to the fanbase for a particular fictional creative work or published medium. These include books, movies, TV shows, video games, stage shows, graphic novels, etc. 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 tend to participate in many activities on the Internet. The most basic of these is creating spaces online where they can discuss work. In the early days of the Internet, these were usually personalized message boards or mailing lists. Modern fandoms use platforms like Discord and Reddit.

Another thing many fandoms do is maintain a repository of information and knowledge. Often properties that attract dedicated fans have lots of characters, world building, locations, and events. Fans compile this information on user-editable wiki websites. For example, Bulbapedia is a wiki website that contains very detailed information on almost everything related to the Pokémon franchise, from the games to the TV shows.

People in fandoms are also the most likely to create UGC or user-generated content. The most common form of user content is fan art, artistic representations of characters or settings. Many fans also write fanfiction, stories set in the same fictional universe as the property that explore different events and relationships that may not be in the original story. Many of these works explore “ships”, which are canon and non-canon romantic relationships between characters.

Sometimes fan creations can reach incredible levels of scale and ambition. For example, game fans have created custom campaign mods that can rival the original games in length. There are also published fan-created shows, movies, music, and books. For example, A very pottery musicala stage show viewed more than 100 million times, it began as a school production put on by a group of Harry Potter fans.

The good and the bad of fandoms

Fandom behavior is a mixed bag. Some negative behaviors are often associated with groups of hardcore fans. They often engage in antagonistic and insular behavior against other fan groups, with “fan wars” being a common feature of online communities. Many fans also get into infighting within their group, especially when they disagree with certain things. For example, “ship wars” occur between groups with different preferred relationships.

However, the fandom also brings many positive aspects. These groups often help people on the Internet find communities to be a part of and friends who have common interests. In addition, the fandom can bring together people from all over the world, all of them dedicated to a specific interest. On top of that, fans of less financially successful franchises can financially support the property through channels like Patreon or Kickstarter.

RELATED: What is Patreon and how does it work?

Fandom Spaces

Two people dressed as Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper character from the Star Wars franchise.
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There are many “spaces” on the Internet where fandoms tend to organize. The most common fan spaces are subgroups of popular social platforms, like subreddits on Reddit, groups on Facebook, or servers on Discord. These are organized and moderated platforms that can help users make connections with each other, create fanwork, and share news. Also, these communities often host events for their members.

Fandoms are also organized on content-centric platforms. For example, there are many fandoms in Archive of Our Own or AO3. It is the largest fanfiction website 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 fan content and discussions about different franchises.

Lastly, there are plenty of IRL or “in real life” spaces for fandoms to meet. The biggest of these are fan conventions, which can range from small to huge depending on the size of the group and the organizing committee. These conventions can be multi-genre affairs like Dragon Con and San Diego Comic Convention or more geared towards specific groups like Harry Potter either Star Wars conventions Local networks sometimes host fan events with smaller groups as well.

RELATED: What is fanfiction?

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