Georgia Tech Research Finds Fan Communities Are Reshaping the Social Web for the Better

Society and Culture

Science and Technology Society and Culture

Georgia Tech Research Finds Fan Communities Are Reshaping the Social Web for the Better

By
Joshua Preston | May 9, 2016
• Atlanta, GA

Georgia Tech research shows how online communities can build inclusiveness on the social web. A study of user-generated content on fan fiction website Archive of Our Own found that the site includes every tag created by users, making for one of the most robust tagging systems on the web. For example, a search of “merpeople” returns results for 213 similar tags and related content. Modern fan groups predate the Internet by more than half a century (think Star Trek conventions), and their shared interests include everything from science fiction to knitting. But replicating the connections fans make in person in a digital space has proved difficult. Instead, groups with special interests are often forced onto Facebook and other social media with a one-size-fits-all approach to interacting online.In a new study, Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have found one group of fan fiction writers that has created a successful online community, which might serve as a model to help make the future social web markedly different from today’s landscape.By adopting a user-centric approach to design, this community has created a rarity on the web, a “digital commons” without advertising where harassment is almost nonexistent, and a large installed audience enjoys a culture of genuine diversity.The study, from Georgia Tech and University of Colorado-Boulder, is based on the website Archive of Our Own (AO3), an 840,000 member community of fan fiction or “fanfic” writers who post and share user-generated content. The site was launched in 2008 and boasts nearly 2 million story posts to date. Its web traffic outpaces such heavyweights as CareerBuilder and FoxSports, among others, ranking number 418 in U.S. web metrics, according to alexa.com.“AO3’s success demonstrates how beneficial it is …

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