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Interview: Nancy Baym of Online Fandom (Part 2)

Kyle Bylin, Associate Editor

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Bylin:  The GPS Revolution brings forth the ability to take the music experience of an MP3 player, one in which some critics consider to be ‘socially isolating,’ and enable it to promote ‘networked individualism.’ A term developed by Barry Wellman to describe, “Moving from place-to-place to person-to-person connectivity.” 

With the MP3 player’s forth-coming integration with the Internet, it has the potential to place the ability to engage and interact during consumption into the palm of your hand.

Q:  What qualities of fan empowerment emerge with the mobilization of “Fandom?”

Nancy Baym: Mobility makes it easier for fans to turn each other on to new music instantly rather than saying “you really ought to check out this great song sometime” or “I’ll make you a tape.” Fans do on-the-spot reviewing, posting concert videos, and otherwise getting information and experiences out to other fans much faster than traditional media can.

I’ll read the other fans’ reviews of a show – and perhaps see what it looked like through their cameras – almost instantly, while the official music press will take longer. That changes where you go for information in ways that empower fans. It also – of course – means that fans are scarier and scarier for those who want to control the message online and who want to limit fans’ access to recordings of their performances. Mobile media are an extention of what fans are already doing around music online rather than a huge game changer. The internet has been the game changer, mobility just makes it even faster.

Bylin:  Your results in Tunes that Bind indicated that although two people may display shared taste in music, it alone is not associated with the development of a relationship.  Further suggesting that, “shared interests may foster the creation of weak ties, but conversion of these connections to strong ties is relatively rare.” 

In other words, a social network site like Last.FM may jumpstart new connections, but people must communicate through other means if they intend to progress the relationship further. 

With Internet and GPS on a MP3 player, this would enable Last.FM to create localized networks, allow the ability to broadcast a listening stream, and give music fans the ability to send messages to each other in real-time.

Q:  Would this heighten the potential for greater relational development to occur?

Nancy Baym:  Location-sensitive streaming has potential to get people talking face-to-face who might otherwise never meet, and that can create new relationships. But I wouldn’t want to get too uptopian about it as a means of creating new music community. The women I know who have used iPhone applications to make themselves available for communication with those in close proximity find that what happens is that they get lots of requests from strangers for sex. Music-based locational stuff might generate more interesting interactions, but there are a lot of privacy and safety concerns with broadcasting what you do and where you are to strangers.

In general, though, anything a site like Last.fm does to encourage people to interact with each other will increase the likelihood of relationships developing through the site, but it’s really important that people get out of a single channel if they’re going to build richer relationships with each other. Over the long haul, if shared musical taste is going to lead to close friendships, we need one-to-one communication, we need telephone calls, we need face-to-face interaction. We can’t build close relationships on one site.

On the other hand, we don’t have to have all our music-based relationships develop into close ones. There’s nothing wrong with having weak relationships with people who give you great music recommendations and share your desire to talk about your favorite band. Those kinds of relationships are also valuable, and the internet’s great contribution to music culture may be its ability to help us build so many more of those ties that stay focused on music and don’t have to turn into anything more. We can only handle so many close relationships.

Continuation of Nancy Baym Interview, Read Part One and Three

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