Fandom is usually associated with celebrities and sci fi/fantasy series. At its most extreme fandom can bring about the kind of cultish dedication that attracts the ridicule and contempt of mainstream society – the kind of legacy that Star Trek fans have had for decades. (I’ll be honest here and put my hand up as a Star Trek fan, but even I had trouble with the level of dedication demonstrated by some fans in the hilarious documentary, Trekkies.) But in the past week, twitter has fostered the development of two rather short-lived but still extraordinary fandom groups: #uksnow and #frylift or #frytrap.
First: #uksnow. This started as a real twitter trend last weekend. A bunch of people from the south of England were bracing themselves for a good dumping of the white icy stuff with a sense of childish excitement. London in particular doesn’t get snow that often, and we were anticipating a good 10-15cm covering of snow around familiar London scenes with bated breath. After the Meteorology Office had issued severe weather warnings, many tweeple were impatient to report on the first flakes to land and ‘stick’, and with little else to do but peer out in to the gathering cold, residents of South and mid-England were fully prepared to lambast the Met Office for failing them their wintery delight. But by lunchtime on Sunday, several areas were beginning to report the appearance of snow, and soon enough, an ad hoc structure to twitter posts began to develop. Very quickly, tweeple began tagging their posts #uksnow, and soon after, on the suggestion of a regular tweeter, the standard structure of listing the first part of a UK postcode (giving the general suburb, but not the street/house) and a score out of ten was established as the best mechanism to report on the appearance of snow – partly in order to encourage the development of a mapping system for snow reports. By late Sunday night, the mapping technology had been developed, and the traffic of #uksnow posts was booming, with up to 100 twitter posts per minute on the subject. By Monday morning, #uksnow was a top-trending tag on twitter, and over the 48 hours from Sunday to Tuesday, the tag had attracted over 5000 individual posts. It’s on the rise again today, with a second dumping of snow hitting west England, Wales and the Midlands. As I type it’s again the top ranking trend, and you can see the live mapping of snow reports on the site that was prepared voluntarily by a committed programmer and tweeter on Sunday.
The fascinating thing about this trend is the level of self-effacing, yet committed tweeting of a populace obsessed with novelty weather, and the shared joy of white vistas and possibly skipping school/work. It’s the shared experience, rather than the subject matter which is important; it may be a low personal investment to report merely on the presence and quality of snow in an area, but when this is accompanied by commentary on the beauty and novelty of the situation, and tweeple begin to post pictures of the phenomenon on twitpic, Facebook and flickr, and mass snowball fights are prepared in advance, the cultish behaviour of fans has evolved from a simple structured posting format. In terms of all-time hashtagged twitter posts, #uksnow is currently sitting at number 13, and by the end of the day today, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t rise by another thousand posts to number 10.
The other episode of fandom that caught the public imagination in London in particular this week, grew from a single post by much-loved British comedian/writer/intellectual and all-round celebrity, Stephen Fry. On the evening of the episode, he had previously spoken of his love for Apple products at the Regent Street Apple store, but after the event, on his way home, he got stuck in a lift. This was what he posted to twitter:
Ok. This is now mad. I am stuck in a lift on the 26th floor of Centre Point. Hell’s teeth. We could be here for hours. Arse, poo and widdle 10:47 PM Feb 3rd from Tweetie.
Immediately there was a twitter storm. Fry’s then 65,000 followers (he now has over 124,000 followers) began to mass retweet his post and to beg assistance from those tweeple nearby to rescue poor Stephen Fry and his fellow, trapped-in-a-lift companions. Fry continued to post updates, including quickly snapped pics from his little cage over the next 40 minutes, while twitter turned into a fandom-oriented support base and shared experience for tens of thousands of people who happened to be online at the time. At its peak, #frylift and #frytrap were collectively generating 100 posts a minute, and when Fry made his final report:
#frylift We’re free! Nice men from Thyssen freed us. Paramount Club had champagne for us at the bottom. I’m allergic, but nice thought x 11:27 PM Feb 3rd from Tweetie
… thousands of people felt they could finally go to bed.
Both #uksnow and #frylift are episodes of fandom because they represent a collective and generally positive shared experience, and they are wonderful instances of twitter providing a sense of immediacy and real time participation. I suspect the perhaps shortlived instances of fandom via twitter will probably increase over the next year, and while the subject matters are essentially (and possibly dismayingly) superficial, there is a lesson to be learned from these phenomena: twitter is a powerful instrument of meme generation and productivity. The development of the mapping system for #uksnow was an extraordinary voluntarily developed measurement instrument, and the mass mobilisation of fans in aid of Stephen Fry trapped in a lift is evidence that even short term fandom can elicit very positive outcomes. It will be interesting to see how productive other twitter-mediated fandom episodes can be.