Far from Tumblr, fandom's suburbs are growing their own way
What does it mean to retire to the suburbs on the Internet? Is it possible to escape to the tranquil corners of an online community? To find out, we asked a member of online fandom who’s done just that. Jennifer Walford’s community, Suburban Fandom, is living on the edge.
Walford is one of the most active members of fandom you’ve never heard of. She’s got a blog, a thriving social media presence, and her finger on the pulse of fandom events happening all over New York—the greater New York metro area, that is. Yes, fandom events do happen outside of the five boroughs.
But the coolest part is how Walford’s online migration mirrors her offline migration. In taking up the banner for fans on the margins of the city, Walford may have created an accidental metaphor for the outskirts of fandom migration.
Walford’s Suburban Fandom is a community for people who want to explore fandom in their own communities without having to shell out money once a year for a con or drive into a major city for events. But in Walford’s case, the idea of “Suburban” fandom is an odd combination of offline and online life. Not only did Walford escape the hustle and bustle of city life for the ‘burbs, she escaped the hustle and bustle of fandom’s most prominent Internet community as well.
Fandom on Tumblr is largely divided into two very broad groups of people: those longtime fans who’ve migrated to Tumblr during the gradual mass exodus from LiveJournal over the past few years, and those who discovered Tumblr first and fandom second. It may be hard for fans on Tumblr to imagine how effectively fandom happens outside of that community—but Walford tells the Daily Dot that she doesn’t regret not crossing over to the microblogging site with everyone else.
“I don't believe in jumping on the bandwagon,” she said via email. “I think people have to choose platforms they like and feel comfortable with and run with them.”
For Walford, those platforms are her blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest—especially Twitter and Pinterest. While Twitter is a vast and growing presence for fans, it’s largely been a subsidiary platform. Most fans have their main social presence on other networks. But Walford said that Twitter has given her the most successful response from readers and followers. On Walford’s Twitter, she broadcasts news and fandom-related events for the Yonkers and greater NYC metro area—everything from zombie crawls to boy band nights. “I love Twitter,” she said.
But like posts on Tumblr, tweets are hard to keep up with once they’ve come and gone. So when she wants something more permanent, she turns to Pinterest, which she described as the most “enjoyable” platform. “I like Pinterest because of sheer ease of use,” she said.
Pinterest is a great site for sharing pictures in perpetuity. I read somewhere that the average tweet has an 18 minute lifespan. So I can still share great content over and over and introduce my followers to new content.
Suburban Fandom’s Pinterest has nearly 4,000 fandom bookmarks in a few delightful categories: one for memes, naturally, but also cosplay, Barbie and other dolls, and fandom cakes.
A screenshot of the fast-moving Geek category on Pinterest
Fandom might not seem like a good fit for Pinterest, where interactivity levels are somewhat low. But a growing amount of fandom content has found its way there, mostly under Pinterest’s thriving Geek category.
A self-described 30-something anime fan and nerd, Walford says she notices the gap between her audience and Tumblr, but it’s not a big deal. “I know I'm not reaching that community that is specifically on Tumblr, but I don't mind.”
It’s that laid-back mentality that brought her to the suburbs to begin with, and eventually led her to create her blog. “I chose the name because I live in the suburbs of New York City (Westchester County),” she said:
All of the fandom events usually posted are in Manhattan. I grew up in the Bronx and moved to Westchester 13 years ago and I finally realized that… there are plenty of fan things going on outside of Manhattan in the other boroughs and in the Tri-State area. So I just looking for those events and organizers and Suburban Fandom was born. Of course I include Manhattan events too, but I think it is important for people to know what is going on their neighborhoods as well.
After all, it’s perhaps no coincidence that Tumblr HQ is located in the heart of Manhattan. Walford, who says she’d rather drive to New Jersey than deal with public transportation in the city, says she’s just “not a fan of Tumblr.”
Whatever the parallels, though, fandom’s presence on Facebook and Pinterest is a growing one. Sure, they may not be the traditional hangouts that you associate with fandom. And the infrastructure of fandom seems to mirror that of metropolitan sprawl, where fandom-created memes that originate on Tumblr take days and sometimes months to reach their more mainstream counterparts. A glance at the “Geek” category earlier today showed a user excitedly repinning Tumblr’s home-grown Avenger’s New Groove meme—a fad that’s over 18 months old.
But while that’s the current reality, it’s likely that Pinterest is well on its way to catching up—not to mention the 9 million people who’ve connected their Pinterest and Facebook accounts. And where fandom goes, more and more fandoms will follow.
So for any fans looking for a change in the post-Yahoo land of Tumblr, or for fans feeling isolated in the post-fandom-migration wasteland of LiveJournal, it just might be time to consider a move to the suburbs.
Screengrab via SuburbanFandom/Pinterest