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Survey Results: Fan Platform Use over Time

Particularly for those who were kind enough to participate in our survey last week, or to share it even after we halted data collection (because we received so many responses so quickly!), I wanted to give you something interesting right away. As you know, the academic writing and publishing process can be lengthy, so who knows when you might get a full paper from us! But in the meantime, this was the analysis I did this weekend.

The survey asked for participants to indicate what platforms they use/used from a given list, and also to indicate a date range (e.g., Tumblr 2006-2018). I parsed those date ranges in order to determine for a given platform how many of our participants were active in a given year. (This actually gave me an excuse to write some code for the first time in years. Jupyter Notebooks are super cool.)

(Click on the image above for full resolution!)

The Y axis is number of survey participants who indicated using the platform during a given time, and the X axis is year. (This starts at 1990, though I’ll note there were 10-ish participants who indicated using usenet, email lists, and/or messageboards in the 1980s.)

Some interesting things to note:
(1) See how fanfiction.net has a spike where there was a big drop off but then it stabilized? That’s around the time that they cracked down on adult content.
(2) I expected to see Livejournal decline drastically sooner, but it actually continued to climb a bit after Strikethrough and related things, until Tumblr and AO3 both started getting very popular. Based on what I’ve seen qualitatively so far, I do think that people were starting to leave, but that there had to be critical mass elsewhere in order for that leaving to start going en masse. There were also a lot of people who continued using Livejournal while they picked up other platforms as well.
(3) As my PhD student collaborator Brianna said, we have “a beautiful arc of AO3 and Tumblr being besties forever.” (This makes sense to me based on some findings from my previous work about AO3, and how Tumblr filled in the gap of social interaction left by Livejournal.)

In the “other” category of fan platforms used, the most popular was Discord. This doesn’t surprise me! For the most part, participants had only been active in it for the past couple of years, which is why it didn’t show up specifically in the survey (which was constructed based on interview data we already had). We also saw less frequent mentions of Facebook, reddit, delicious/pinboard, and IRC.

Digging into the qualitative data will give this data much more explanatory power, but I think this is very interesting!

We also asked participants what their primary fandom was for each platform they used. Based on a pretty simple analysis (most popular words!), here are the top five fandoms from each platform:

Usenet: Star Trek, Buffy, X-Files, Star Wars, Sailor Moon

Email Lists: Harry Potter, Star Trek, Buffy, X-Files, Gundam Wing

Messageboards: Harry Potter, Buffy, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Sailor Moon

Fandom-Specific Archives: Harry Potter, Buffy, Stargate, X-Files, Doctor Who

Fanfiction.net:  Harry Potter, Naruto, Buffy, Star Wars, Gundam Wing

Livejournal: Harry Potter, Supernatural, Stargate, Doctor Who, Merlin

DeviantArt: Harry Potter, Naruto, Kingdom Hearts, Supernatural, Final Fantasy

Dreamwidth: Harry Potter, Supernatural, Marvel, Stargate, RPF

Archive of Our Own: Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Supernatural, Teen Wolf

Tumblr: Marvel, Star Wars, Supernatural, Harry Potter, Teen Wolf

Twitter: Star Wars, Supernatural, Marvel, RPF, Yuri on Ice

Note that this is NOT necessarily representative of the overall popularity of certain fandoms on these platforms. Our survey, because it was targeting research questions about fandom migration, asked for participants who had been in fandom for 10+ years. This means that our results skewed older (mean 31; median 30; SD 8.6). And of course, most of the participants are currently in fandom, which means that it also misses people who have left fandom.

It is interesting to see the change across platforms and over time though! My favorite tidbit is how Star Wars was popular, dropped off, and then came back with gusto.

This is only the tip of the iceberg on this data analysis! If there’s anything else that is easily shared as we do this analysis, I’ll continue to do so. Otherwise, wish us luck and I’ll eventually share a completed analysis if/when (fingers crossed!) we publish on this.

I have a list of emails from everyone who participated and wanted to give us that info to share the results. If you’d like to be added to that list, send me an email at [email protected]. Or just feel free to follow me here, or myself and Brianna on Twitter.

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