Taken from something I posted to a mailing list, tweaked slightly to work a little better as an essay.
This is strictly about LJ communities; for my views on personal LJs, see LJ and Me.

written June 15, 2005, posted September 18, 2005


LJ Communities != Mailing Lists

by Arduinna


Among other things that I miss now that LiveJournal (which I don't like) has largely taken over my corner of fandom, I miss subject-based discussion lists where people are expected to stay on topic, so you know that when you look at that list's mail, you're going to be seeing discussion about a subject that you're actually interested in. I miss being able to immerse myself in discussion about a particular fandom, without worrying about being pulled out of that headspace.

I go to fandom as a way to get away from my mundane RL for a while, and I can't do that if I'm reading about other people's mundane RL issues. I like fandom to be a separate thing, not just one more part of mundania. I totally understand that many people want fandom to be completely integrated into their whole lives, no more separate than sitting down to dinner or paying their bills, and that they're not looking to fandom as a way to forget about the bills for a while. This is just All About Me. *g*

Several people on a mailing list suggested that using LJ strictly with communities may be a good way to re-create that list experience: to get fannish discussion without any of the personal stuff, and without having to follow dozens or hundreds of journals hoping to get a few posts on the subject(s) I'm interested in.

So, in hopes of maybe finding a way I could compromise with LJ, I went looking. I used the userinfo for various posters on the list where this discussion was happening, focusing on anyone who'd suggested communities as a way of getting fannish discussion. I figured that would also provide a nice cross-section of fannish interests, since it's reasonable to assume that different fandoms will focus on different things. That gave me a bit over 100 communities, so I went broader, including any communities listed in the userinfo of friends who've suggested that format before, and friends who I believed to be discussion- and subject-oriented.

I wound up looking at 350 discrete LJ communities. (note: I freely acknowledge that this is totally crappy research in academic terms.)

Of the 350 communities that I looked at:

117 were for visual art only (icons, photos, wallpaper, vids, etc).

60 were for fannish creative writing only (fanfic, poetry, challenges, RPGs, story announcements [not recs -- purely for product]).

45 were for general fannish creative works, and recs and requests for same: fiction, fic recs, fic requests, fic announcements, fic challenges, art, icons, vids, or some combination thereof, with no discussion.

36 claimed to be for both discussion and creative works (fiction, fic recs, icons, art, etc.). In the vast majority of these, there was either no actual discussion at all, or 1 discussion post in a page with 20 creative-works posts. Even people's intro posts generally included fiction.

35 weren't fannish at all, or were places for fans to talk about totally nonfannish things (fashion, finances, etc.)

16 were strictly for collections of links going to other LJs, no discussion or creative work allowed (for some reason these are often called 'newsletters' if they're fandom-specific, despite having no articles, etc.).

9 were unknown -- locked, defunct, too confusing to understand, or laid out so hideously I couldn't read the posts to see what they were. (No, really -- try this one and you'll see: )

7 were writing-workshop, research help, or beta-help -- all devoted strictly to helping the process of producing fanfic.

5 were for discussion of what I would call meta topics, although that word apparently now applies to discussing a given fandom's source material. I don't know what the new word is -- these communities are for things that affect fandom at large, or at least big swathes of it, rather than being single-source-dependent.

--- nb: metablog, metafandom, etc. aren't included in this, since they don't have discussions themselves.

4 were for local groups of fans to set up local fannish things such as gatherings or outings.

4 were misc -- for official announcements, dvd releases, 'here's how to figure out LJ/fandom', site updates only etc. -- no creative work, no real discussion.

3 were for academic fannish discussion -- fairly impenetrable to this non-acad.

3 were for critical fanfic discussion (rather than general discussion).

3 were for conventions.

2 were for fannish discussion only, no creative works allowed -- ds_discourse, and fansof24 (closed, members-only).

1 was for bittorrents of an off-the-air show.

= 350

(Notes on some of this at the bottom.)

So, that's less than 1% of my sample that would give me discussion directly in some way on a fairly regular basis. Maybe 2% if I include the 'meta' discussion communities, although I wasn't interested in half of those (the 'law and fandom', the 'gender politics and fandom as seen through the lens of Harry Potter fandom', etc.) That just doesn't feel like communities are actually the LJ version of discussion lists, to me.

My conclusion is that... I wasn't clear about what I meant by 'fannish discussion'. What I mean by that is that I want places where people, in a group setting, talk about episodes, and characters, and the universe the source is set in. Where they can post fiction reviews or vid reviews, if they want to.

Where if someone comes to a conversation a few hours or days later, they can still post and be seen by everyone who was originally watching / participating in the discussion.

Where the source matters as much, or more, as the derivative works people create based on it. For me, those derivative works should be *part* of the exploration of the show, not the sum total of it. (If for no other reason than that not everyone is creative, and fandom is much the richer when the widest possible spectrum of fans have a chance to bring something to the table.)

And yes, I know, that sort of thing in the form of mailing lists is fading and won't recover. I doubt it will die completely, just as Usenet hasn't died, but it's going to be a bastion of old-timers. Some of us cranky about it. :)

But I was actually hopeful that when people said I could get that via LJ communities, they meant I could get that via LJ communities.

Instead, I'm coming to the conclusion that fandom has undergone not one, but two fundamental shifts when I wasn't looking.

The first was from source/subject-driven fandom ('I like this source material, I wonder what other people think of it?') to personality-driven fandom ('I like this author/artist, I want to see everything they do regardless of source material or even fannish content').

The second, I think, has been from source-driven to... what? derivative-work-driven? It's not just fanfic, it's icons and wallpapers and vids that people swirl around, without seeming to want to spend any time looking at the source itself in any depth. I mean, it boggles me that in 350 communities, I could find a whopping one publicly available one where people could and did focus on the source.

Even the ones where source and derivative works were supposed to be mixed, the preponderance of fiction/artwork and the dearth of any real discussion -- most 'discussion' posts that I saw were actually intros, or fic requests, or research-help requests -- was staggering to me. One of the few that had a steady supply of discussion topics was because the community owner posted regular episode reviews -- every other person was posting creative works.

And again -- I am not saying that's a bad thing, at all. It's just how it is.

I just wanted to point it out, because people are sincerely suggesting going to LJ communities as a way to get the sort of fannish discussion that used to happen on lists, as a way for list-based fans to get what they need from LJ, and -- that doesn't seem to be really accurate, as near as I can tell. Obviously, my sample can't possibly apply everywhere -- there are probably fandoms that are rife with community-based discussion. But that sample covered a fair cross-section, I think, and... yeah. Communities are for derivative works, or links to individual LJs, as near as I can tell.

And fanfic, and icons, and other artwork, and vids, are wonderful things. I don't argue otherwise -- hell, I've written fanfic, made icons, made wallpapers, made vids. I get the whole creative urge thing, and the desire to share that around. I'm not averse to ego-boo, either. *g*

But those things are just a part of fandom for me; they don't encompass everything that fandom can possibly be about. I also want to talk about the source universe, and the characters that we see onscreen, and the onscreen relationships. It's the source that I consider the base for a fandom, not the stuff people create while riffing off a source. The riffing is great, but I want the deeper levels, too.

Given what I saw in communities when I looked at this sample, my guess is that if people are talking about the shows/source, they're saving it for soliloquies in their own personal LJs.

Which leaves me exactly where I was before.



1: I find it almost impossible to locate the date/timestamps on posts to LJ, pretty much regardless of which layout style is used. I don't know why, but I've never been able to easily find them. So for most of these, I don't know how far back in time I looked -- I scrolled down the front page, and sometimes went back a page. If it's a busy community, that could be a day, if it's a quiet community, that could be six months. I've no idea.

2: One of the people I used as source of communities, who has always said she's highly text- and discussion-based, had 81 icon-only communities on her list and 15 art/photo-only communities (not including the ones that overlapped with other people). That obviously helped skew things heavily toward visual art, but I think it's still valid to include. She is one of the sources I would use (or would have used, rather) if I decided to go looking for communities in earnest.

3: Seriously, what is with this new 'meta' definition? Does anyone understand why people are using this term for basic discussion now? I saw it all over the place, with people defining anything that wasn't creative work or recommendations of creative work as 'meta'. Since when did talking about the source become 'meta'? And if basic discussion is meta now, what is the discussion style formerly known as meta now called? (Whether the former metadiscussion of 'discussing the discussion', or the former metadiscussion such as happen(ed)(s) on FCA-L, where broader fannish topics are discussed.)



Probably obvious disclaimer:

I am not an LJ person. I have one, to make site-update announcements, but I basically never look at LJ beyond that. I'm not wired for it. There's pretty much nothing about it that I like, from the physical layout, to the lack of sorting (i.e., to read posts by subject, such as reading what people thought of a specific episode), to being unable to mark things as 'already read' or 'answer later', to the inability to get a particular person's posts on one or two subjects while never seeing the rest of what she says if her other interests squick or bore me, to the blurring of the line between personal and public, and a whole lot more. I react really negatively to all of that, negatively enough to keep me away from LJ pretty much completely.

If you want a detailed explanation of why I don't like LJs, see my LJ and Me essay.


~ fin ~

Feedback of any sort, from one line to detailed crit, is always welcome, at arduinna at trickster dot org.


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