💖 Enthusiasm is All You Need

fandoms, fan communities, and the future of social

Good morning, friends 💖 

Welcome to Create Your Rainbow - a newsletter created to understand the role of community, culture, and meaning at the edges of technology. 🌈

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I’ve been doing some soul-searching. A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted about how I’ve put some distance between myself and the onchain space lately. Enjoying the spaciousness of my little world isn’t bad at all. At least it has allowed me some time to gather ideas, heal, and conspire for what I want to stir up online next. As it turns out, it’s not as easy as it used to be. Maybe it’s the whole getting older thing (my birthday was on the 7th), or perhaps it’s the fact that the space is just much more boring and screwy than ever.

Either way, I’m over the mess on all the feeds. It’s time for a cleanse in the form of summertime fun in the woods. Catch me at FWB FEST in August and say hey!

FYI: This has usually been a weekly newsletter. I know I’ve missed a few weeks. I won’t be as strict with the weekly thing from now on, but I will try. I want to ensure that you get only my best work when you read.

This week’s topic is one I’ve talked about before, this time with more depth.

The angelic sacred text of fandom is mystical, filled with subtext, full of whimsy and make-believe. Here, a fandom’s stories are enthusiastically injected with passion shared by millions… this is the power of media we love tapping into.

I’ve been wandering through past loves lately, spending time rewatching TV shows I was obsessed with from 2010 to 2017, sitting with the imagination of those stories we once shared. In my opinion, this was truly a golden age of social media, TV, the internet, and renewed support for comics.

When you step away for a bit, you get a rare opportunity to zoom out and see the holes you can fill unbothered by the noise of whatever space you frequent. This most recent time away from web3 has allowed me to consider if there’s a viable opportunity to bring fandom to the “New Internet” in a responsible way. I now think it’s possible, with a few caveats. That is if we collectively want meaning-making to get away from ridiculous, overintellectualized VC-led concepts like “scenecoins.”

When I look across the vastness of the onchain space over the past three years, I’ve seen a lot of experiments, from PFP collections that attempted to share a collective identity between 10,000 hopeful members to memecoins that hijack cultural moments with objectively horrendous art and frat-like behavior by 20-somethings.

While NFTs have made such an impact on a very small, albeit often obnoxiously loud part of the internet, we find that not only have we lost the plot when it comes to community building, but along the way, we missed an opportunity to create fan communities where interaction doesn’t constantly rely on financialized PvP games.

We tainted our systems with outstanding hubris when we created communities with money at their core rather than connection, care, and human decency. Even DAOs, in their attempt to upend governance, often resort to PvP, not-so-positive-sum games. Maybe it’s time to try some PvE (player vs environment) experiments, bringing stories to life that fans can connect with.

I will acknowledge here that artists and developers have been presented with new open protocols for receiving recognition and greater financial rewards for their work. These protocols are some of the greatest innovations of our time as extensions of the web. These experiments should continue.

Social is a People Problem, Not Just a Tech Problem

What may be obvious to some, namely community builders, content creators, and marketers, isn’t so obvious to the rest of the space, which is largely made up of developers. When we hoist developers on a pedestal simply because they are the people writing code, we invariably leave out the very sound voices of creators and caretakers of the web who are screaming for connection.

This week, Bankless Podcast co-host Ryan Adams started the conversation re: web3 social with hundreds of responses. Most of these boiled down to a need for better content rather than focusing on money, solving UX problems, and loosening the grip on niche experiences, not to mention that social apps are difficult to become sticky overall.

Many people pointed to Farcaster, a protocol I’ve been a big proponent of. I’m still fairly optimistic about the long-term impact of the network there. Still, it certainly has glaring issues that deserve addressing but will be more difficult to resolve in the short term.

The crypto crowd needs to understand that financialized social experiences don’t actually lead to richer cultural landmarks that stick around. In fact, they are typically only as good as the time it takes for a number on a chart to go up.

Capitalism is fine for most use cases of the internet, which has allowed technology to thrive thus far. However, it is increasingly clear that connections between real people require pockets of comfort, narrative, and a long view of stories those same people agree to care about together. This is where aligned incentives come in, something web3 has largely yet to agree on despite its values saying otherwise.

People using social media care about the story behind a meme (hello, Know Your Meme historians or meme pages on IG), lore in the form of serialization, or relationships between artists and their enjoyers. Plus, it’s just nice to have a place to chat with or make new friends. History and friendships take time to build. That’s the whole purpose of a slow burn. People aren’t built for short-term, meaningless relationships; even if ephemeral experiences are becoming popular, they still need help to create a narrative worth remembering.

Fandom Alieviates Loneliness

On the June show for The State of People (watch the recording here), I talked about how fandoms often solve loneliness problems. As I’ve mentioned previously in these newsletter issues, I was part of or helped manage multiple fan communities in a past life. These spaces were intentionally so wildly different than how the onchain space operates while at the same time having a natural, organic decentralized feel to them, all without tokenization.

Fandom has an inherent permissionless behavior built in that is not to be ignored by creators onchain. Here are some things that I, along with many other incredible builders, have done as a community builder to help bring fans together online:

As part of the Carol Corps community for Captain Marvel during comic writer Kelly Sue Deconnick’s run, the Carol Corps Yarn Brigade was created (on Ravelry here). A sub-community of craft girls who made knitted hats, scarves, cross stitches, socks, and other items. Rather than selling them to each other, they were made for and by fellow fans all over the world out of love. We also helped other fans who needed tips with their cosplay, even hosting panels at conventions just for Captain Marvel cosplayers. Another community member and I were also approached to be put in charge of adding fan-created crafts and cosplay to central Pinterest boards where fans could see their creations for years to come.

I don’t claim responsibility for the unprecedented success of the Carol Corps—only one small part made of many amazing women.

We were all fans of Captain Marvel because Kelly Sue was writing a story we connected with and cared about together. Maybe the alcoholism in her past wasn’t so relatable to us, but her tenacity, stubbornness, and feminist leanings at the time certainly were. We could relate to moments when her powers were stolen, even by a friend. This is the universal girl experience. Again, subtext is not to be forgotten in these spaces. So much so that when we came together at conventions, we knew we all had something in common: we shared a clear narrative with characters that was undeniably ours. We had breakfast walks together before conventions. We shared in-jokes and incentives to buy the next book to see how the story would unfold next. The community wasn’t financialized in any way other than buying the material, and the community certainly didn’t obsess over vanity metrics like points for a potential airdrop.

The thing to remember here is that when we were building this enthusiasm, we weren’t concerned about being called community managers or anything of the like, even if that is what we were doing. No, again, we were simply creators exploring a passion for a shared story.

We learned that fandom takes time and a lot of effort. Brie Larson, who starred in the 2019 Captain Marvel film, even went on to don a BFF NFT profile pic, still up to this day, where I was on the community team… talk about a full circle type of coincidence.

During the period from 2011 to 2016, I was also part of a few other fandoms for TV shows like Continuum, Warehouse 13, Eureka, Orphan Black, Battlestar Galactica, and Lost Girl. In a recent rewatch of Lost Girl from start to finish, I was reminded of how that community also created fan connections.

I remember walking into a 2013 Dragon Con panel room full of Lost Girl cosplayers donning leather gear, fake swords, and long brunette wigs. The room was energized by pure love for a TV show that exemplified what it means to build a story with adventure, whimsy, and mystery around such magical characters and their settings. No one was talking about the tech used on set; they were talking about their passion for a storyline with themes, mythology, or how they felt seen by LGBTQ+ representation on TV in a time when it wasn’t so prevalent. There were Lost Girl panels all weekend long, talking specifics about these things regular people were enthusiastic about—fans who, in their spare time, made fan edits or fanfic online found awkward, nerdy comfort in person.

That weekend, I happened to meet Paul Amos, who played the character Vex on the show, in a hotel lobby. We had both stopped for a drink and struck up a conversation. Besides being a fantastic actor, he’s just a regular guy, though, yes, he is very cool and gothy in person too (or was at the time). This was yet another wholesome fan connection that tied together how artists connect with their work in very normal, not-weird ways I’ll always remember.

Fan communities like the ones I’ve described here have yet to have their time in the sun onchain due to so few cohesive stories being shared. The narrative that PFP collections have typically spouted is one of IP or brand-building for the individual instead of shared storytelling. From 2021 to late 2022, users were advised to buy a PFP to turn into an identity marker rather than a character we share an adventure alongside. We were told to make a business out of a singular digital piece of art on which some spent thousands of dollars worth of ETH. This clearly didn’t work as intended.

Is There a Solution to This Madness?

I say all this not to necessarily encourage content creators or fandoms to immediately rush to financialize love for stories and their IP, but to at least consider the possibility of using blockchains for archival and social sharing.

The prevailing solution up until now has been to create a large number of artworks that all look similar, leaving it up to buyers to decide what to do with them. This gave collectors a few options: trade, hold, sell, or otherwise speculate on their value. To me, these actions are eternally boring.

With the MTV News website shutting down this week and no archive available, it’s clearer than ever that we need a way to preserve our cultures. We know blockchain solves this problem, but what about fan communities? We can responsibly build fandoms to facilitate human connection to media in a New Internet era.

First, we must slow down, recognizing that storytelling and mythmaking take time. For more on how we design cultures in an ontological, more holistic context, check out this article from FWB on Designing For Desire.

We must also give creators collaborative spaces in the form of connective apps that allow them to grow and share their creative works into mythologies. With more diverse tools to bring works to life, there will be more opportunities for fan-making. Yes, beyond Twitter, and I’m not sold on a new Farcaster client solving for this at the moment.

Creators need applications to build shared enthusiasm.

This is where my complaint against quests and seasons comes into play. See, many startups and small collectives operate in the onchain space in seasons or try to squish quests into their systems for airdrops or cheap shots at “partnerships” that don’t actually do anything significant for community members. This is flat-out extractive behavior that needs to stop.

As we’ve seen in forms of media like comics, TV shows, and book series, the path to fandom relies on a shared journey. A quest that asks disconnected people to sign up for an app or spend money does nothing to create a communal experience. A season that marks the completion of an experiment without shared episodes (rituals), any sort of plotline or a lesson/moral to be learned does not make for a memorable experience.

And yes, while more difficult, building fandom for a product or tool is possible. Fandom or fan communities are not exclusive to media companies. Developers and founders should work to move away from click-to-earn airdrop farming and instead move toward connection or narrative building. We’ve all seen how lifestyle brand enthusiasts react when launching new products. Again, this takes time and incredibly designed products people really want to use.

Thus, the solution is to find something that people can universally find endless enthusiasm for, which isn’t extractive nor pay-to-win. Love and shared narrative, specifically, should always be free.

Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to create a story (marketing) people can grasp onto. Design a story that people care about (community), a journey they easily gravitate towards when they need connection, both in person and onchain. If your team needs someone with extensive experience in these areas, contact me.


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