The development of online fan communities is a particularly potent form of social networking that extends and enriches the audience’s experience of their favourite popular culture products.
The growth of the Internet as a globalised network of information flow has facilitated the transition of fandom from a localised context to being a cultural activity that enjoys broad global participation. The scope of fandom has grown larger to encompass almost all popular culture products, because niche audiences can form as like-minded individuals interact across time and space to form fan networks. They can research the history of a text/product and feel an affinity or shared history with their predecessors, as well as overcoming the distance of geographical space via the ability to interact within virtual spaces.
Online communities that are formed on the basis of mutual niche interests can have a significant influence on an individual’s sense of self and social identity. According to McKenna & Seidman (2005), this is because the anonymity afforded by online interactions removes the stigmatisation that often exists if one were to openly express their passion for their interests in certain social settings.
In addition to this freedom of self-expression, participation in online fan communities allow individuals to be active consumers as they extend their experience of a show, particularly through discussion with other fans on online forums (Costello & Moore, 2007). Simultaneous access facilitates discussion in which members of a forum are theoretically on a level playing field. However, the advantage of access to a wide variety of information can become a negative aspect of online fandom, particularly in relation to television. This is because of the discrepancies of date and time zone difference and restrictions of access to content in certain regions.
Many television shows are now uploaded to video streaming sites such as Sidereel as soon as they are broadcast, but the global nature of reception results in a fragmented consumption of the show; increasing the risk of ‘spoilers’ for many fans. Of course, one way to overcome this is to simply ignore information before one watches the show.
But, the temptation for a fan to jump ahead in order to participate in the continual flow of information within a fan network is often too hard to resist.
McKenna, K. & Seidman, G. (2005) ‘You, me and we: interpersonal processes in electronic groups’ in Y. Amachai-Hamburger, The social net: understanding human behaviour in cyberspace, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 191-217.
Costello, V. & Moore, B. (2007) ‘Cultural Outlaws: An Examination of Audience Activity and Online Television Fandom’ in Television & New Media, Vol. 8, No. 124, available online: http://tvn.sagepub.com/content/8/2/124