3 September 2007

Fansites Are Dead, Long Live Fansites

Every now and then it's good to stop and think about how the internet has changed.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of my surfing the Net. Big deal, huh?

When I started out I wanted one thing: Music. Music is an obsession for me, so naturally that's what I spent most of my time searching for.

Back in 1998, music on the internet was crap. I remember at that time my uncle asking me if I downloaded MP3s. At that time I had no idea what they were, so I lied and said that I did.

MP3 was still gaining traction. There were two reasons for that. First up: speed. A single 3 meg MP3 file could take you an hour to download. Then you had to store the bloody thing on your hard-drive - all four gigs of it. It took only a few hundred mp3s to fill up your hard drives.

And storing them on your hard drive was the only option you had. Storage was expensive, you see. Writable cds wouldn't be cheap enough for another 4 or so years yet. Flash drives wouldn't be cheap enough for another 7.

The other audio option was: Real. It was the streaming audio format of choice back in those days as Windows Media Audio hadn't yet arrive on the scene. Real Player 5 had just been released. It was very exciting.

Real Audio circa 1998 has a certain metallic quality to it. Your favourite band sounded like they were playing in a storm of metallic rain.

While the audio may have been crap, so were the official websites. Record labels were - and still are - pretty slow at appreciating the potential of the internet as a promotional vehicle.

Artist websites were very much a one-page affair. Any news on the site would be at least 3 months old. Oh, and if you were lucky you got some super low-quality pictures to download and, yes, some streaming Real Audio to listen to.

Happily, there were the fansites.

They are and were the guerillas of internet music fandom. They were hosted on Geocities, Xoom or Angelfire and , because of that, had lots of crappy banner ads. They provided the latest news and audio (even MP3 sometimes) and video. They were labours of love and beat the pants off the official websites.

But that was 10 years ago. Things have changed. We now have blogs and YouTube.

Fansites have faded. The RIAA has cracked-down on them sharing audio. The news isn't free-flowing anymore. Admittedly, they must have been time-consuming beasts to maintain.

We still, however, have the official sites. That is one place where nothing has changed. Skint on information, they only ever get updated when an artist has a CD to promote. Boo hiss.

Now that the official sites are about all there is, I can't help but feel a certain nostalgia for the old days and the fansites.

But fansites are dead. Long live fansites.