Fan Wikis: the weird, the wonderful and the wild
The fans, fandoms, and fanatics behind fan wikis.
When Harry Potter returned to Netflix, I jumped at the chance to rewatch the movies that more or less defined my childhood. Like many fans of the series, I watched it with a healthy dose of hatred for J K Rowling and wonder at the truly massive world she’d created.
Towards the end of the first movie, I considered whether the last few scenes were true to the book, vaguely remembering Hermione succeeding in some task or another rather than lamely deciding not to help. Thankfully, many dedicated fans had already catalogued every moment of the movie and how it measured up to the original text in a wiki. But not just any wiki, this was a fan wiki.
Fan wikis reflect the passion and dedication of fans themselves. Archives covering written works, movies, music, video games, compiled entirely by volunteers, create a rich source of information for creators and laymen alike. Searching up a single spell that may have been mentioned only once in the entire Harry Potter series can yield deep analyses of its etymological roots, appearances in the series, and a pronunciation guide.
Contributors are much like historians, sifting through the many works that make up large franchises to tease out the tiniest of conclusions, the most niche information. True to form, fans from all over the world band together over a piece of media, weaving intricate tapestries that span across decades of movies, comics, and other media.
Meta content such as essays and articles are also hosted on fan wikis, allowing an even deeper look at our favourite characters.
While this may be of vague interest to casual viewers, it is indispensable to creators. Writers and artists alike have an overwhelming amount of information at their fingertips – perfect for when inspiration strikes.
The origins of fan wikis are varied, with most fandoms hosting their own sites until recently. Fairly easy to code with a vague idea of HTML, fan wikis for every movie, book, video game and comic sprouted during the 2000s. Wookiepeedia, the Star Wars wiki, was so complex that the writers of Star Wars themselves would refer to it rather than their own records.
Eventually, what was then known as Wikia (today called Fandom.com) came out on top, and now archives the contents of those earlier wikis. Co-founded by the man who founded Wikipedia, Fandom.com strives to unite fans and allow them to share their passions with the world. True to the form of a wiki, anyone can edit the millions of pages that they host, leading to a fair few confusing posts about characters’ sexualities. The sources show the extremely niche sources of equally niche information, a testament to the obsessive and excitable nature of fans throughout time.
Interestingly, Fandom.com is a for-profit site, as anyone who has had to click past those annoying autoplay ads would know. This fact has interesting implications for creators and contributors as it means none of the content uploaded to the site can be copyrighted in any way.
Anyone who has casually logged onto Archive of Our Own in the past may have noticed their constant fundraising to fight against increasing restrictions imposed on fanworks as a result of the digital millennium copyright act. In fact, the Organisation for Transformative Works, the governing body of AO3 and guardian angel of all fan creators, only exists to defend the transformative rights of fanworks.
It is interesting, then, that a major source of fannish information is hosted on a for-profit website. Like all sites, copyrighted material can be hosted under fair use, however major media moguls may at any time threaten fans with lawsuits and other punishments. Paramount, for example, has a series of guidelines for fan film makers, restricting fans of Star Trek to 15-minute movies.
While I’m certainly grateful to fan wikis for their meticulous record keeping, the spectre of capitalism hangs low over the horizon for all fan creators. I can only hope that in commodifying a fan site, Fandom.com has pushed against intellectual property laws traditionally used to stifle creators, rather than encouraging them further.