As of this week, Fanlore is out of its beta testing phase.
This is an online encyclopedia, a wiki, which is one of the projects of the Organization for Transformative Works. It’s intended to document the history of fan communities and fan cultures. Right now, its main page says it contains more than 13,000 articles edited by more than 2,800 volunteer users.
As anyone familiar with Wikipedia, the wildly famous and enormous online encyclopedia knows, the distinctive feature of a wiki is that anyone can choose to log in and edit or add or create. Which can mean that such depositories of knowledge grow rather haphazardly, according to the interests of their users and not according to a plan or a taxonomy.
My college students are always rather puzzled that so many of their instructors don’t let them use Wikipedia as a source for papers, the thought being that the voluntary and amateur nature of the information makes it less reliable. But I have been reading that in general, Wikipedia is now considered by scholars who study it to be rather accurate. Over time, it indeed has been self correcting and stabilizing. Probably in a few years academia will lose its suspicion of Wikipedia and allow it as a source for student papers, just as it would any other encyclopedia.
One feature of Fanlore that definitely distinguishes it from the Wikipedia model is its position on what it calls “plural points of view.”
Fanlore is not and is not intended to be a neutral, objective (whatever that means in this postmodern, post-journalistic age!) compilation and description of fan activities.
This has puzzled and even offended some readers of my acquaintance.
Unlike Wikipedia, which advocates neutrality in its articles (achieved imperfectly and to the best of the authors’ ability, of course), Fanlore “contends that all interpretations or experiences are of interest and should be written down. It’s a ‘live and let live’ policy for ideas….”
At its best, this policy is intended to result in “a fan-positive, balanced synthesis of multiple points of view that fans may have on a single topic. It acknowledges and reflects these potentially dissenting perspectives and does not privilege one fannish viewpoint over any other.”
Because of this, Fanlore depends more, perhaps, than a wiki with a neutral point of view policy, on the participation of many and diverse fans, so that many points of view about a specific fandom will be represented.
It seems to me that it’s a positive in that it sets the bar to participation low, which, hopefully, will mean more writers and contributors. It absolves contributors of the obligation to do a lot of research and try to understand the full scope of the fandom they’re writing about. Contributing writers can include their own personal experience, their point of view, and simply add it to the material that’s already there. No need for bending over backwards to be fair to a ‘ship you hate, or to be unbiased about a particular fandom controversy. Someone from the “other side” of those issues will show up sooner or later to give their position its due, in any given article.
But I confess that, as a reader used to a more traditional, perhaps old-fashioned, belief in objectivity as a goal, this plural point of view approach seemed very strange to me when I first encountered it!
In short, according to the Fanlore explanation, “Fanlore is not a traditional encyclopedia that strives to establish a single account of events (as in “Neutral Point of View”). In addition to bare facts, we acknowledge that the history of fandom is a collection of personal experiences and interpretations, many of them only passed along as part of an oral tradition. Because of this, those multiple experiences and opinions are important, and we want to collect and document them as part of our fact set.”
Congratulations, Fanlore, on reaching this important developmental milestone!