I think if I could cook down the entire Internet to on sentence it would be:
There’s always a bigger freak than you.
Before online-onset, niche interests remained marginalized. Enthusiasts were stranded in their respective locales, unable to get their freak on with whatever appeared to awaken their freaky fancy. Offshoot spiritual sects remained isolated by geography, adherents to a fringe activity or pursuit were happy to indulge their hobby or obsession at a yearly convention, often traveling far and wide to meet with other likeminded people. If you were into angora anoraks, you didn’t bring that up at the church’s pot luck.
Then, as we like to say, the internet changed everything.
As the world became more and more networked (or Friedman-ly flat), individuals were able to transcend their geography and form groups devoted to their favorite TV show or book. Discussion forums and wikis and email lists and blogs and podcasts and videos have sprouted and grown like kudzu along a Tennessee interstate.
Like the furries.
Furries (also known as furry fandom) is a term to describe the hobby of creating and enjoying art that shows anthromorphic characters. Whether in comics, movies or dressing as a favorite cross-species chimera, furries celebrate the possibilities of humans with tails, or whiskers or wings. They even have their own – ahem – confurences as well. As with any group of fans of anything, there are splinter groups and in-fighting and hair-splitting.
And then there’s the yiffies.
Yiffies take the whole furry lifestyle (and isn’t everything a lifestyle these days?) into bolder territory by not only dressing up as their favorite animals or characters but also adding a bit of naughtiness to the mix leading to the term furverts. I won’t get into details lest this essay get flagged in email filters. You can Google it if you like or read this Vanity Fair article from several years ago.
It is a sure bet that without the internet, the furries, furverts and yiffies would have remained relegated to a yearly convention or a photocopied fanzine. But with the networking and connecting of anybody to everybody anywhere, micro-niche groups are able to collate, congregate, convocate and conversate. Even the Goreans and the cosplay-ers.
No one has to be lonely anymore. You can be connected 24/7 to people just like you (with all the great things and not-so-great things implied therein).
If we extend this discssion a little further, past enthusiasm for a Jeep or a brand or a city or a novel we get into the fanfic trend.
Fanfic is short for fan fiction and is fiction written by fans of a TV show or movie or novel using existing characters and settings. Think of a whole extra season of 24 that is written by rabid fans of the series. Or what-if scenarios and cross-overs featuring the Scully and Mulder from X-Files coming to the town of Twin Peaks to investigate Laura Palmer’s death. As with furry fandom, the internet has enabled the fanfic scene to prosper and grow. And there’s even a tighter microniche of fanfic called slash fiction with such pair ups as Kirk/Spock. Draw your own conclusions.
Like a DJ, fan fiction writers take mass-produced art (music, TV, movies) and remix it to their own liking. We’d talked about this a bit back in May.
Sure, the large entertainment companies would love it if they had total control of their brands and stories and motifs and characters but they don’t anymore. And isn’t that the true measure of when a story goes beyond being a committee created piece of art to a citizen/consumer-generated piece of folk art?
Fitting this into the long tail trend: as the price of media creation and distribution approaches zero, more media serving more groups of smaller niches becomes possible and possibly profitable.
So if micro-niches are connected more than ever before and can create their own media to suit their own needs and build a vibrant community what do you do?
You build the receptable, the vessel, the space for a passion group of people to gather together online or offline and talk about what is most meaningful to them. You create tools and tactics so they can celebrate themselves and eachother and their identity as individuals and as members of a segment or group.
In short, if there’s always a bigger freak than you, what do you do?
Get the freaks talking.
How can you get the freaks in your micro-niche to start talking and interacting?